Ranked as one of the best, but why?

Just finished  a bio of Harry  Truman, the plain-spoken one from Missouri. It is hard to summarize such  a lengthy book(641 pages) and do it justice. I thought the author, Alonzo Hamby did  a good job with what was probably a tremendous  amount of material. For this reader, the book improved as it progressed. I didn’t much care for all the attention paid to Missouri politics, but it did go  along way towards making Truman what he was. For both and bad, his political actions reflected much of those days.

We all know some basics. He was most definitely  a plain-spoken man, a trait that never really let him. It even brought him some  grief while in the Oval Office. Of course, we know about the atom bomb, the firing of McArthur,; which I actually agreed with when I read the account  and  the Korean stalemate. But there was so much more. He was much involved with the establishment of Israel, the impetus behind the Marshall Plan, a stalwart foe of Soviet expansion and of course was the original comeback kid in 1948. “Give ’em hell Harry” came from the dead to defeat Dewey and establish a lasting photo-op among other things.

He was a  devoted family man to Bess and daughter Margaret although he could and did hold  deep  seated grudges. He retained   an almost   visceral dislike of newspapers and due to  a poor speaking style did not do well at  speechmaking. He served at the onset of the media age, which he probably did not like so much. Sort of the opposite of Roosevelt in many ways.

He came unprepared, by and large,to the Presidency and obviously had no transition period.  He probably was at best, a compromise choice as running mate for Roosevelt.

When one examines his 7 and 3/4 term, one is nearly overwhelmed at the major things that either happened in their entirety, were begun or were consummated. The bomb, the Korean War, the Marshall Plan, the birth of Israel, the major expansion of Social Security, a steady but  slow advance in civil rights legislation, the Berlin Airlift, the United Nations and  so  it goes.

He dealt with Stalin, Churchill, McArthur, Eisenhower, McCarthy,Stevenson and many more who were  not so famous at the time. Try Dean Rusk, Clark Clifford and  Sam Rayburn, just  to name a few.

He made some quite unpopular decisions that proved with hindsight to be the best choice. Perhaps that was why he had very low poll numbers his last couple of years, much akin to Bush.

So why is he celebrated and claimed as an example /inspiration by most if not all of his successors, even Obama?

Hamby may have summed it up best in the final paragraph of his book, A   Life  of Harry S  Truman, Man of the People.

” Americans…see him as an ordinary man ( who tried, failed and kept going) who fought for the interests of their own kind, made great decisions, cared about their welfare, and demonstrated their potential… It was not what he did that made Harry Truman an American icon, but who Americans believed him to be.”

P.S. He dearly loved the veto and used its power with gusto, both in word and action. Over his terms there were  250 some cases, more than anyone but Roosevelt . He prevailed all but 12 times. The buck did stop with him, did it not?


March 8, 2010 - Posted by | History | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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