Joseph Sabino Mistick: Truth & politics
When Harry S. Truman was president, he displayed a painted glass sign on his desk. On one side were the words “I’m From Missouri.” On the other side, it said “The Buck Stops Here!”
A friend of Truman’s spotted the sign when visiting a federal reformatory in Oklahoma, and he asked for a copy to be made and shipped to the president. It arrived in late 1945, and Truman kept it on his desk and referred to it throughout his presidency.
Truman was often politically incorrect, saying whatever he wanted whenever he felt like it. That is still a quality that many Americans like in a politician. But Truman also told the truth.
And he stood by his decisions, good or bad. He made plenty of bad ones, but he never attempted to dodge responsibility or blame the mistakes on others. There was never any doubt where the buck stopped.
A pack of Democrats will soon be on the campaign trail, seeking their party’s nomination for president. And the Truman model of independent thinking and shoot-from-the-hip political incorrectness — along with an allegiance to the truth — could lead to the nomination.
And that could also be their best play to beat Donald Trump. Trump has that first part of Truman’s formula, always saying the unexpected, breaking with the phony gentility that average folks hate about politicians. But his unwillingness to tell the truth is where he breaks with Truman’s style.
The truth would have served us well through this holiday season, as parts of the federal government shut down in a dispute over a wall on our southern border. Trump says that a physical wall is essential for national security, even though it is widely accepted that border walls are medieval devices that are inevitably breached.
Building a wall is not even the campaign promise that he claims he must honor. His promise was to build a wall that Mexico paid for. A wall that Americans must pay for is not the same. The truth makes a difference here.
And when a second refugee child died in American custody at the border, caught up in the cruel web of Trump’s border policies, he inexplicably blamed the Democrats — anything to avoid responsibility.
Trump had a different view of presidential responsibility in 2013, when there was a government shutdown under President Obama.
“Well, if you say who gets fired, it always has to be the top. I mean, problems start from the top and they have to get solved from the top. And the president’s the leader,” Trump said.
Democrats have to wager that half-a-Harry — the spontaneous, often irreverent and often politically incorrect speech — is no longer working for most Americans. But a full-Harry — with all that plus the truth — could be the best way to beat Trump at his own game.
In a 1948 presidential campaign speech in Bremerton, Wash., Truman launched an attack on Republicans, pulling no punches, as was his style. Caught in the moment, a supporter yelled, “Give ‘em hell, Harry!”
“I don’t give them hell,” Truman shot back. “I just tell the truth about them, and they think it’s Hell.”
Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer
Reach him at email@example.com.
Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.