Can we resurrect or clone Truman?
By Joe Grata
Published: Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
My favorite U.S. President was No. 33, Harry S Truman, with or without the “period” after his middle initial.
He served April 12, 1945, to Jan. 20, 1953, while I was a kid too young to know anything about U.S. government, a good thing because now I think I know too much.
Over the years, I have spent time reading about Truman, including a well-known book, “Plain Speaking,” his biography.
While I've never been to the Truman Library in Independence, Mo., I've visited the “Little White House” in Key West, Fla., several times, where he vacationed. I've also watched the late, great actor James Whitmore portray him so well in a one-man show, “Give ‘em Hell, Harry!” at the Hershey, Pa., Community Theater.
I would have written today's column several weeks ago, while the nation's eyes and media were still focused on the inauguration of President Barack Obama and whatever outfits Michelle wore.
However, it was more important to discuss the Mid-Mon Valley's growing drug problems and related criminal activity, the subject of the last two “persona non grata” pieces.
Harry S or S. Truman, it doesn't matter, was a different kind of president in a different day. The U.S. (a.k.a. us) and the world have changed so much, so quickly, since then, albeit not necessarily for the better.
His life from a farm boy to government leader whose legacy blossomed after his death has been documented by many writers. Tales of integrity, accountability, blunt honesty and often unpopular but tough decisions have evolved and elevated him to political folk hero status.
Here's partly why he's more popular now than a half-century ago, demonstrated through a few lesser-known things gleaned from various history sources.
As President, Truman paid for all of his own travel expenses, almost entirely by rail and car.
After Dwight Eisenhower was inaugurated as his successor, Truman and his wife Bess drove back to Missouri by themselves, without Secret Service protection.
Other than their years in Washington, D.C., they lived their entire married life in the modest house that Bess had inherited from her mother and father.
When his days as president ended, Truman's income consisted of a U.S. Army pension reported to have been $13,507 a year.
After learning he paid for and personally licked stamps for the many letters he sent from home, Congress granted him an “allowance” and a $25,000-a-year pension.
When offered corporate positions at large salaries, Truman declined, saying, “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.”
When Congress wanted to award him the Medal of Honor on his 87th birthday, a humble Truman refused, saying it should go for military bravery. He wrote, “I don't consider that I have done anything which should be the reason for any award, Congressional or otherwise.”
During a cantankerous moment, he declared: “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!”
Fast-forward to the 21st century.
The salary of the President is $400,000 a year, followed by a lifetime pension of $180,000 a year, an expense allowance and Secret Service protection.
The Speaker of the House receives $223,500 a year for life while House and Senate members are rewarded with $174,000 for life. Plus, of course, free health care insurance and other perks.
Modern presidents and members of Congress take advantage of their positions and find ways to “earn” income on top of the already generous compensation provided by taxpayers.
Many of today's national officeholders and even state pols might as well wear “For Sale” pins on their lapels.
Harry Truman had a single, prominently displayed sign on his desk, facing visitors to his office and making his intentions unequivocally clear.
It read, “The Buck Stops Here.”
Thought du jour. Can science please find a way to resurrect and clone Harry Truman?
Joe Grata is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.
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