Monday, February 17, 2014

The best US President is.....

Well, today is President's Day, a day we honor two Presidents in particular: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. There are some quizzes on the internet right now allowing you to select a few things and then it tells you which President you are.  Or the articles that discuss the attributes of certain Presidents and qualifies which ones are "the best".  And with all the attention given to JFK due to the 50th anniversary of his assassination, and to Lincoln because of Spielberg's movie, we naturally wish to pick one of them.

But if you were to ask me who MY favorite President is, or who I think was the best President, my answer may surprise you.

Harry S. Truman

What? The country bumpkin from Missouri who could swear like a sailor?  The one known for blasting a music critic who panned Margaret Truman's vocal recital?  The President that got the United States into the Korean War?  The president with the monotone delivery and seemingly no personality?

Yes.  Harry Truman is my favorite President.

One of the best books I've ever read was the definitive biography of Harry Truman by the noted historian and author David McCullough.  He delved deeply into the man, the history of the time, the upbringing, and provided a refreshing view into this person who was in the shadow of FDR, and preceded the calmness of Ike, and the flash of JFK.  Truman is a paradox: surprisingly simple due to his roots in the Midwest, yet canny and shrewd.  He didn't like the political games, but knew how to play them.  He worked hard and truly did believe that the ultimate responsibility lay with him, the President.  For example, he had advisors who assist him in making choices, but if those choices went south, he took responsibility for it.  But there are some wonderful examples of Truman's leadership style that McCullough portrays in his book:

When FDR dies, Truman is called to the White House, where he's told he's now the President.  One of the first acts he does as President is go back to Capitol Hill and meet with his friends in the Senate (who had a deep respect and admiration for Truman).  His statement to his former colleagues is that he cannot do it alone, that he needs their help.  He was humble, and knew that the task would involve collaboration with Congress.  

Another incident cited in the book is when Truman became President, he asked FDR's cabinet to stay on, to provide continuity.  Most of FDR's team and inner circle knew little about Truman.  In fact, Truman and FDR hardly spoke or met during the brief time Truman was VP.  FDR's people had a very low opinion of him, so only agreed to stay out of respect for FDR.  However, they agreed to stay for only a certain amount of time, such was their dislike of Truman.  However, to the man, when their time came up and they could leave the cabinet, they all asked to stay.  They were so impressed at how Truman took on the role of President, and how he respected their opinions, how he listened and even gave them recognition - something FDR hadn't done.  They became very loyal Truman supporters.

There are many other wonderful examples of how Truman's leadership style, which was one of accountability and responsibility, allowed him to govern the United States during that difficult post-war time, and at the beginning of the Cold War.  But it is that leadership style that I look at and realize is a model for how I can be as a leader, how I can encourage fellow people into achieving goals, even ones that seem insurmountable. 

So, my favorite President is, and always will be, Harry Truman.

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