2018-05-24 / Opinions

This President was a regular Joe and a modest statesman

By LORAN SMITH
columnist

Politics seem to turn people off more often than not these days. It is fashionable to bash those in office, giving them the back of the hand with the same emotional thrust we would give a “Ponzi schemer.” This being an election year, I let a book cause a reflection about the subject of politics.

Do you know a high level politician? If you do, you might hold a different view. You may find that they are not such bad characters although I do admit as we were once were advised by a soothsayer from Stratford on Avon that politicians sometimes do make for strange bedfellows.

Presidential history has always held a fascination in this corner. A good book, regardless of the author’s take, on any president is worthwhile. Such books usually are thick in size and are on the expensive side. But, I have found that they are well worth the investment.

We all have favorite Presidents. One of mine is Harry Truman. A few years ago, I was connected with an annual event in Kansas City and could not wait to tour the Truman library in nearby Independence. This led to engaging encores. Lately, I have spent time with a fine book, The Accidental President: Harry S Truman and the Four Months that Changed the World.

The author is A.J. Baime whose research reminds you that a biography is a lot of hard work, requiring the massaging of a multitude of details. After having read several books by Truman or about him, I found this one the most stimulating of all.

First of all, Truman admittedly did not want to be President. He did not enjoy living in the White House and he did not like the attention that came with him holding the highest office in the land. Imagine how different it is today for a President.

If you peruse his record, appreciating the things he accomplished and recognizing that he went into high office in debt and died a man of modest assets, you recognize that Truman achieved what most of us would want from elected officials – he took the oath of office to serve his country. He finally escaped the jaws of debt with the help of friends after he left Washington.

Plain spoken, this treatise on his Presidency confirms that he was a regular Joe. When the day was done, he enjoyed a bourbon or two and found great emotional comfort by playing poker.

His times were different, but it is mind boggling to think, even in his day, he could slip out of the White House and walk a few blocks to church on Sunday mornings with a chagrined Secret Service detail, wondering where he was. Once, when he was invited to a weekend jamboree at Burning Tree, one of the most prestigious golf clubs in the country, the guests were suddenly shocked to hear piano music, being played with gusto. It was the President who was providing the entertainment. Again, a regular Joe.

Although Truman won an election with the support of the Tom Pendergast machine, no one has uncovered anything illegal or sinister with regard to their relationship.

While I am not a historian, I am an American who appreciates the right to vote and never miss an election. Candidates can be disappointing. Reading the latest book about Harry S Truman confirms certain basics that are illuminating and uplifting: He was a modest man who was elected as a commoner who had no interest in bettering himself financially.

He was a workhorse, not a show horse.

It saddened him when his wife Bess was not with him in the White House.

He was as much of a common sense President as any whoever resided in the White House.

He did his “damnedest” to live up to the oath of office.

He could make the tough decision, such as dropping the atomic bomb on Japan, with reasoned deductions based on his war department’s estimates of the loss of life projected by invading the island nation. He knew the nation and the world did not want to “study war no more.”

He could parry with Stalin, the murderer, and Churchill, the ally who was rightfully concerned about Europe’s future with the brutal Stalin looking over its shoulder.

There are no rules in politics, but if all candidates were required to read Accidental President, perhaps we would be blessed with more statesmen than self-serving advocates.

Selah!

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