Monday, December 26, 2016

TRUMAN VS TODAY

Recently borrowed "Truman" DVD and was inspired by one line to write this post.  "How many times do you have to be hit on the head before you figure out who is hitting you?"  The line came from a train campaign speech in 1948.  He pointed out that after the war there was no recession because they took care of the veterans and others.

The Republicans spend their energy and money telling everyone how awful  the Democrats are.  The facts tell a different story, but most eligible voters don't have the time to understand the real facts.  It is almost always the Democrats that raise employment, lower the debt and boost equality for minorities.  Unfortunately for too many years too many people the Democrats have  been associated with a dirty word--"liberal."  Liberal has come to mean favouring socialism which somehow translates to a dictatorship.  Those who want to cut regulations certainly see Democrats as potential dictators.

Corruption forms the base of getting elected.  Truman tries to avoid it, but then ends up making deals and finally walking away, before being lured into more public service.  Gets elected to the U.S. Senate just before the bombardment of Pearl Harbour.  He is chosen to lead some queries against corruption with war contracts.

He attempts to not being nominated as Vice-President, but is shamed into it by Franklin Roosevelt.  The war is not yet over and Truman becomes president upon the death of Roosevelt.  Truman was never considered a great president during his term in office, but now is much more admired.

He is famous for posting "the buck stops here" on his desk.    The war was still on and it fell to Truman to make some difficult decisions.  He had a desire to understand and to avoid excuses. They were never lightly made and studied over before being made.

Perhaps the biggest decision was to use the atomic bomb.  Easy to criticize now, but then he had the weight of tens of thousands of expected American deaths and wanted to end the war sooner.

Unlike many other conquerors Truman saw the need to rehabilitate both the enemies and allies that fought in Europe and Asia.  The Marshall Plan was truly unique and is responsible for today's relations with Europe.  NATO was also initiated under the Truman administration.

After consulting with one of his home state friends he decided to support the State of Israel.

Civil rights were in a sorry state and Truman from Missouri was very conscious of it.  The Democrats  were dependent on the southern white vote, but Truman took steps to advance blacks, particularly in the military.

The Korean War caught Americans off guard, but he managed to get an international alliance to fight off the Communists.  General Douglas MacArthur was a war hero and had accomplished a brilliant manoeuvre over the Korean enemy, but  soon over drew his authority and endangered diplomatic concerns.  He was loved by American people, but many insiders felt he had to go.  Truman was offended by what he saw as arrogance.  In the movie it showed that Truman's mother-in-law was upset that Truman was considering firing the hero.  Truman did dismiss MacArthur who was more popular than himself.

Anti-Communist hysteria was developing headed most noticeably by Joe McCarthy.  Truman felt he was a liar, but recognized he was popular.  In the movie someone tried to hand him some embarrassing evidence and he was told that the information could be distributed without being tied to the presidency.  Truman not wanting deniability put an end to scheme to stop McCarthy, feeling that the truth would eventually come out.  He didn't want to dirty the office of President.

He left with an approval rating of 32% and no White House pension or Secret Service protection.   As time went by he was appreciated as one of the better Presidents.  My father had given me a book about Truman several decades ago and I was struck by the characterization that he was a plain speaker.

Like Obama, Truman presented an understated dignity.  It is depressing to think how misleading blustery behaviour is favoured by voters who have not really examined the issues.  "Truman" was a good reminder of decency and a true public servant.  I believe the public will look back on Obama as an under appreciated lost opportunity.

Gary Sinise who played Truman was said by  reviewers to have  studied mannerisms and projected a realistic portrayal.  The movie lasted a little over two hours and was very effective at covering the important moments of his life.  Archival films are used to bring out the feelings of the time.  Colm Ferore, an actor familiar to Canadians played a key role as a Truman confidante. Directed by Frank Pierson who has been involved producing, writing or directing with some popular tv series including Mad Men (not seen); "The Good Wife" and one I used to watch with my father, "Have Gun will Travel."  Tom Rickman adapted David McCullough's novel.

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