Harry Truman (above right, with Adlai Stevenson), was my kind of guy. A no-nonsense straight shooter who called the shots the way he saw it, he was always ready to shoulder the responsibility for his decisions. He made calls that I would never have had the guts to make – using the atom bomb to avert a bloody invasion of Japan, for example.
But, while I admire Truman as a man, he was not my kind of president. Dropping The Bomb proved a lot more horrific than he could have expected. Was it really the right thing to do? That is still open to debate.
And what about his decision to invade Korea? Who in his right mind needed another war right after the hell of World War II?
On the other hand, nobody can look back on Truman’s decision to integrate the US armed forces with anything but admiration. He did it in the face of popular resistance because, he explained, it was the right thing to do.
Much as I admire Truman, if he were running against Adlai Stevenson today, I would be “madly for Adlai.”
Stevenson never became president so I don’t know how he would have fared. Dwight Eisenhower succeeded Truman, and historians generally give him good reviews. I have reservations about the secret – and often deplorable – activities of the CIA during Ike’s presidency but, compared with the Republicans of today, the old warrior was decent and benevolent.
I imagine that if Stevenson had become president he would have been a lot like Barack Obama.
Like Obama, Stevenson was a thinker, not a warrior. He saw both sides – make that all sides – of an issue, and hesitated to make “shoot-from-the-hip” decisions.
If you stop to think about it, the decisions the American president must make are not to be taken lightly. They impact the lives and welfare of millions. Sometimes they could be the difference between life and death.
But the American public – and especially the media – have no patience with that kind of hesitancy. They want soundbites and headlines, not academic dissertations.
As a result, President Obama is taking flak from all sides over his handling of the Syrian crisis. It doesn’t matter that the president seems to have averted a disastrous military confrontation while ending the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian dictator.
To me, that was a maneuver worthy of Houdini. But to a lot of Americans, it was a show of weakness and indecision.
The president must now endure a barrage of humiliating cartoons and insulting critiques. And he is suffering in silence.
President Truman would not have put up with that kind of treatment. He would have known how to silence his critics.
But Obama is no Truman.
And I, for one, am grateful for that.