Monday, May 07, 2007

The Truman Primary

I was somewhat elated to see this story as Harry Truman was one of my favorite Presidents in US history. He finished the job of fighting World War Two as the man who was elected to four terms during the time of the Great Depression and World War Two had passed on. He seemed to have been a fighter too in his bid for reelection and he recalled a popular general after he seemed to have showed his commander in chief his contempt. He had the challenges of waging a "Cold War" and getting America ready for a post war America. When Truman left the Presidency he wasn't very popular, but he does at least have a positive legacy to leave.

So in 2007 as candidates are seeking to replace President Bush the candidates on both sides of the aisle are using Truman as an example...
They all want to be Harry Truman. Hillary Clinton invokes his iconic sign (THE BUCK STOPS HERE) to call for better treatment of wounded veterans. Barack Obama reminds us that Truman was the first politician bold enough to call for universal health care. Rudy Giuliani notes that Truman was unpopular in his day, but if he hadn't stood up to the Soviets in the late 1940s, asks Giuliani, "Who knows how much longer the cold war would have gone on?"

There are some eternal verities about politics—chiefly, that most politicians are (surprise, surprise) carefully calculating and keenly attuned to what is possible. There are some eternal truths about history, too. History has a habit of changing its mind. The case of the now sainted Truman, the Platonic presidential ideal of 2008, is an example of just this phenomenon. In 1953, when Truman left Washington for Independence, Mo., few were unhappy to see him go. His administration was accused of corruption and the Korean War was stalemated. Yet as the years passed, his stature grew. His candor stood in welcome contrast to the obfuscations of Vietnam- and Watergate-era Washington; the policy of containment stood the test of time, and his sense of responsibility—he really did believe the buck stopped with him—loomed large in an age of buck-passing. Love him or hate him, he made the tough calls, often courageously, and history has rewarded him for it.

Buffeted by war, unhappy with President Bush, many Americans—Democratic, Republican, independent—seem hungry for a Trumanesque figure, a truth-telling, bare-knuckled president who will give it to us straight. The question now is whether anybody in the 2008 field can measure up.

Americans say they want to see courage from their politicians. As the historian Michael Beschloss illustrates in his new book, "Presidential Courage," the greatest presidents were willing to risk their political careers to do the right thing for the country. Being courageous is usually hard to fake; voters, even apathetic ones, have a way of spotting phonies. But it is difficult to tell whether a candidate will make the hard choices until he or she actually becomes president—by which time, it's too late.

Most of this is only on the first page of this article from MSNBC, but it's interesting. The question is, does America really need this type of President right now?

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