How Obama can win despite being unpopular

But it was Truman’s triumph to realize that the hyper-partisan Congress was as much a political boon as it was a political liability. Truman seized upon the conservative over-reaching and openly fought against what he dubbed the “Do-Nothing Eightieth Congress.” That rhetorical strategy paid dividends, as voters rebelled against the ideologues and the Democratic base was energized to elect a president they had long disparaged and opposed. Not only was Truman reelected—pulling off the upset of the century in a four-way race with a popular Republican nominee, Tom Dewey, and Democrats running to his left (former Vice President Henry Wallace) and right (states’ rights advocate Strom Thurmond)—but Democrats picked up nine seats in the Senate and a full 75 in the House to recapture both bodies. “The luckiest thing that ever happened to me,” Truman remarked years later, “was the Eightieth Congress.”…

Harry Truman’s 1948 campaign showed how much voters yearn for a strong and demanding leader and how powerful the presidential bully pulpit can be—not just in political terms, but by shaping the narrative, putting his pugnacious adversaries on the defensive, and mobilizing voters to demand a different approach to problem-solving. Rhetoric does not change the facts on the ground or in and of itself provide a new direction in policy. But the absence of an energized and angry president demanding better of the do-nothings in Congress can only lead to something worse.