February 16, 2004
The Best President
I have lived with a dozen Presidents of these United States. FDR was a genius, and was worshiped by millions as a savior. His was a hard act to follow, but Harry Truman brought it off. Truman lacked the generalship and stature of an Eisenhower. He didn't have JFK's vision or raw talent, nor the political skills of an LBJ. The cunning of a Nixon was foreign to him, and he was stiffly lacking in Jerry Ford's easy ways with people. He was neither as smart nor as empathetic as Carter, nor was he as effective in his role as a Ronald Reagan. He lacked the patrician presidential manner of Bush the Elder, the intellect of a Clinton, and the White House discipline of Bush the Lesser.
What Truman had was the right combination of moral courage and humility. Neither of these attributes standing alone would have been sufficient. If moral courage is the wind that fills the sails of the ship of state, humility is the compass that keeps it off the rocks. Command of both these instrumentalities is essential in a good skipper.
It was Harry Truman who unflinchingly faced the critical decision to unleash nuclear hell on the face of this planet. Truman integrated the military and began the final chapter in the freeing of our enslaved population. It was Harry who drew a line in the sand across the Korean Peninsula to check the global expansion of communist totalitarianism. It was Truman who defied the traditional power base of his party in the attempt to nationalize a key industry and bring order out of labor-management chaos. It was Harry's House that produced the Plan that rebuilt post-war Europe into an arsenal of democracy. It was Give 'em Hell Harry who fired the most popular General of his era to preserve the essential democratic principle of civilian control of the military. That is a fair score card for any man to sign (but Harry was no golfer).
Having lived with an even dozen of these men, there were a couple larger than life and a lot more who were flawed like the rest of us, and who were perhaps smaller in stature than a President ought to be. In that crowd, Harry Truman was just life-sized. My hat is off to that failed haberdasher from Independence, Missouri, who did the best job of being President of my country that I have seen.
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