About a month ago, a friend sent me a description of President Harry Truman’s life which I found fairly surprising. I’ve been pondering ever since what to make of it.
One response is the obvious one – people and our politicians had greater integrity back then. I certainly don’t want to try to defend the integrity of some of our more recent presidents, but I’m not sure about the “it was better in the olden days” approach.
It was this man, after all, who lived most of his life in the same house his wife inherited from her mother who also authorized dropping the atomic bombs against Japanese civilians.
And do I really think U.S. presidents should be expected to retire on their own military pensions and lick their own stamps? Does this really make them better presidents? Do I think the trail of secret service personnel which today a U.S. president will have attached to him or her for the rest of their lives really is an unnecessary luxury?
I think Truman very possibly was a man of integrity. But I also think he was president in a different time. Everything was simpler in those days. We all were.
Here’s the blurb. Whatever else, it got me thinking. But I’m sure there’s no going back to those times.
Harry Truman was a different kind of President. He probably made as many, or more important decisions regarding our nation’s history as any of the other 42 Presidents preceding him. However, a measure of his greatness may rest on what he did after he left the White House.
The only asset he had when he died was the house he lived in, which was in Independence Missouri . His wife had inherited the house from her mother and father and other than their years in the White House, they lived their entire lives there.
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 was no Secret Service following them. When offered corporate positions at large salaries, he 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.”
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 sometimes for sale. (sic. Illinois )
Good old Harry Truman was correct when he observed, “My choices 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!