Harry Truman


By my count, I have lived under thirteen different United States Presidents, beginning with the politically brilliant Franklin Roosevelt to the present slightly unhinged Donald Trump. My favorite, however, is Roosevelt’s successor, Harry Truman. He was the last president who could get out and do things informally. He took morning walks in neighborhoods around the White House. I saw him several times walking through the GWU campus (“You aren’t learning anything sitting around out here, get inside and start studying”), walking to the Riggs bank across the street from the White House. When the White House was being renovated, he walked to and from Blair House across the street. He stood at the intersections waiting for the light to change, engaging in conversation with other walkers. Unfortunately, an attempt by two men to shoot their way into Blair House brought that informality to an end.

I have recently started re-reading his autobiography and I am reminded of why I thought so much of him. His opinions/judgements were very straight forward. One example was his reaction to establishing a permanent intelligence gathering operation. At the conclusion of a discussion about what such an organization should be, he said “I am very much against building up a Gestapo.” It would have been very difficult to engage in further discussion of whatever was being proposed.  (Apparently, that response brought further work as the CIA was established in 1947.)

Another thing that struck me was his reaction to a proposal for the federal government to build a network of airports from coast to coast. The proposition was that flying was to become an addition to railroads as a means of public transportation. He opposed this action because he saw it as pork barrel legislation with federal funds. As air traffic grew, major cities could build and support their own airports when they saw a need.

He followed a man whose ideas about what government should do emerged from a mind that never gave a straight forward approach to anything. Truman’s ideas were very similar to Roosevelt’s, but his approach to implementation was a real difference. I came to see again the man who impressed me when I was setting my character. Listening, discussing, keeping my values in mind and then moving to action has served me well.

  1. #1 by Marvin Mostow on November 5, 2017 - 7:46 pm

    Good for Truman. I know personally the importance of role model.

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