Harry and Arthur, Truman, Vandenberg and the Partnership That Created The Free World by Lawrence Haas (University of Nebraska Press) is a timely primer on how bi-partisanship should work in Washington.
Harry is Harry Truman, President of the United States from the closing weeks of World War II into the Korean War. Arthur is Arthur Vandenberg, the leading Senate Republican on foreign affairs. Together, they got the Congress and the American people to support the creation of the institutions of post-war foreign policy—the United Nations, the Marshall Plan, and the North American Treaty Organization (NATO).
Lawrence Haas, Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy at the American Foreign Policy, takes the reader, step-by-step, through the growth of the alliance and friendship between the two key leaders of immediate post war America.
Truman, who entered the White House upon the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was all politics, a product of the Kansas City Democratic machine. Vandenberg, a former newspaper editor from Michigan, was from the conservative Republican heartland, an region infamous for isolationism.
They arose to the twin challenges of setting up the institutions for world peace—the United Nations—and security from Soviet expansion in Europe—the Marshall Plan for massive economic aid to reconstruct Western Europe and the NATO military alliance to discourage Soviet military moves beyond Eastern Europe.
Vandenberg is the hero in the book. At the time, the Republican Party was split between its internationalist Eastern wing, and its isolationist Midwestern wing. Time after time, Vandenberg successfully negotiated with Truman to moderate the rhetoric so he can get isolationist Republicans to vote for the United Nations, the Marshall Plan and the NATO treaty Vandenberg’s support was especially critical since Republicans controlled both Houses of Congress since Republican from 1947-1949.
Together, Truman and Vandenberg established the principle that politics ends at water’s edge, meaning that in foreign affairs both parties stand united.
In retrospect a bipartisan foreign policy has not served well. Since the Truman-Vandenberg alliance, the party out of power has often failed in its responsibility to challenge risky foreign adventures.
No Republican voted against the Tonkin Gulf Resolution which gave Democratic President Lyndon Johnson a blank check to wage war in Viet Nam.
Only one Democratic Senator, and 66 Democratic Representatives voted against President George W. Bush’s U.S. Patriot Act which gave the government the power to restrict civil liberties and privacy. The endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq followed with Democratic support.
Bipartisanship, however, is useful for developing balanced legislation in the public interest.
With the advent of the 24 hour news cycle and the viral nature of You Tube, Facebook and Twitter, bipartisanship has proven lethal to many political careers.
It would be good for our leaders to read Harry and Arthur, and return to a shared concept of working together for the public good.