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Where the Buck Stopped

January 6th, 2009

A few weeks ago I was quite disillusioned with the political antics taking place in a neighboring state (which continue to lead to great confusion).   But coincidentally I saw an email about Harry Truman that day, one you may have come across before.   In his day, Harry Truman was not a popular President.  And he was charged with making the kind of decisions that we hope no one will ever entertain again.   But he made them with courage and conviction.  

With the passage of time his legacy has grown along with the appreciation we feel for someone who led such a humble life, especially after leaving office.  I think I would have enjoyed meeting him.  In some ways I feel like I already know him, or at least can identify with him, in part because he hails from Missouri.   But also because I had the chance to wander around Wake Island on a transitory visit once- a desolate, historical place in the middle of the Pacific Ocean where President Truman journeyed to that historic meeting with General Douglas McCarthur… only to relieve him of command six months later.   

I also know of him from reading the excellent biography of Truman written by David McCullough.   (Side note: I haven’t read very many Presidential biographies, but some of our more ambitous blogging friends have chosen to undertake that effort in total…  It’s neat to read where Ed at Riverbend Journal shares his thoughts about a George Washington biography for example.)

But my distinct impression about Harry Truman is that he was one of the hardest-working and more principled leaders (and yes, politicians) our country has produced.  And that he was quite a simple man in terms of needs.

I don’t know who wrote the following, but it’s fairly accurate according to Snopes… (Side note 2:  How did Snopes become the WWWebs leading authority for getting to the bottom of urban legends, myths, scams, rumors and half-truths anyway?  It’s a great “first place to check” for those questionable emails that too many people always seem to send out.)   

But what is written below about Truman is such a stark contrast to what we see today throughout the political landscape that I thought it worth sharing.

Harry Truman, from Missouri, was a different kind of President.  He probably made as many important decisions regarding our nation’s history as any of the other 42 Presidents.  However, a measure of his greatness may rest on what he did after he left the White House.  Historians have written that the only asset he had when he died was the house he lived in, which was in Independence Missouri .  On top of that, his wife inherited the house from her Mother.
          
When he retired from office in 1952, his income was a U.S. Army pension reported to have been $13,507.72 a year. Congress, noting that he was paying for his stamps and personally licking them, granted him an ‘allowance’ and, later, a retroactive pension of $25,000 per year.

After President Eisenhower was inaugurated, Harry and Bess drove home to Missouri by themselves.  There were no Secret Service following them.

When offered corporate positions at large salaries, he reportedly declined, stating, ‘You don’t want me.  You want the office of the President, and that doesn’t belong to me.  It belongs to the American people and it’s not for sale.’

Even later, on May 6, 1971, when Congress was preparing to award him the Medal of Honor on his 87th birthday, he refused to accept it, writing, ‘I don’t consider that I have done anything which should be the reason for any award, Congressional or otherwise.’  (President Truman passed away just over a year later).

He never owned his own home and as president he paid for all of his own travel expenses and food.
Modern politicians have found a new level of success in cashing in on the Presidency, resulting in untold wealth.
Today, many in Congress also have found a way to become quite wealthy while enjoying the fruits of their offices. Political offices are now for sale.

Good old Harry Truman was correct when he observed, ‘My choices early in life were either to be a piano player in a whore house or a politician.  And to tell the truth, there’s hardly any difference.’

President Truman died on the morning of December 26th, 1972 in Kansas City, Missouri, just over 36 years ago.  A write-up by Mary McGrory in the Washington Star the next day remembered him in a simple and profound manner.

“He was not a hero or a magician or a chess player, or an obsession.  He was a certifiable member of the human race, direct, fallible, and unexpectedly wise when it counted.   He did not require to be loved.  He did not expect to be followed blindly.  Congressional opposition never struck him as subversive, nor did he regard his critics as traitors.  He never whined.”

“He walked around Washington every morning- it was safe then.  He met reporters frequently as a matter of course, and did not blame them for his failures.  He did not use the office as a club or a shield, or a hiding place.  He worked at it… He said he lived by the Bible and history.  So armed, he proved that the ordinary American is capable of grandeur.  And that a President can be a human being…”

May we always be so fortunate as to find such men- and women- as our nation’s leaders.

2 Responses to “Where the Buck Stopped”

  1. Ed Abbeyon 07 Jan 2009 at 8:41 am

    In a very big coincidence, I opened an email from a friend not ten minutes ago with that very same splurb about Truman, the first time I had read it. I can’t wait to read McCullough’s bio on Truman but I have a few presidents between Washington and him to get through first.

  2. Beauon 08 Jan 2009 at 2:12 pm

    Ed- That’s funny… and you’ll enjoy the bio. If you’re going in order, there may be another one published by the time you get there!

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