Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Comparing the Past to the Present

I just got done reading biographies of Presidents Truman and Eisenhower.  I grew up when Kennedy was President and have been familiar with all our Presidents since then.  But recently, I had heard some interesting facts about both of these men and realized that I really didn’t know much about either of them.  So, I decided to read some biographies and learn more about these men.  

It was very interesting reading about their backgrounds, behaviors, and achievements.  I couldn’t help but compare and contrast them to our recent presidents.   It became very obvious to me that these men far outshine the last four presidents in almost all aspects.  Here are some interesting things I learned.

Both Truman and Eisenhower came from very meager backgrounds.  Truman was from Missouri and Eisenhower from Kansas.  Both were born on farms and worked on farms.  Truman was a farmer up until he was 35 and lived in the attic of his parent’s home.   Eisenhower went to West Point to get an education and because he didn’t like working on the family farm.  Eisenhower had no connections to get into West Point.  The Senator from Kansas held an exam contest to pick his nominees.  Eisenhower decided to take the test and scored second highest.

The grandparents of both Truman and Eisenhower were pioneers and made their homes on newly settled land.  Truman’s mother had lived to see the Civil War, electricity, automobiles, telephones, WWI, WWII, and her son being President – an incredible amount of change.

Truman married a girl he met in grammar school – Bess Wallace.   They lived in Bess’s mother’s house in Independence and retired there after being President.  Throughout her life, Bess’s mother never felt Harry was good enough for her Bess – even after he had been President. 
Every business endeavor Truman tried failed.  He never went to college.  He got into politics reluctantly at the urging of a local political “boss” who suggested he run for County Commissioner.  That same person suggested he run for the US Senate.  He enjoyed being a Senator and made a name for himself in ferreting out waste in military spending.  His efforts saved the country millions.

Eisenhower also got into politics reluctantly.  Coming home a hero from WWII, he was urged to run for President by friends.  Truman had urged him to run in 1948 and said he would step aside and not run in 1948 if Eisenhower wanted to run.  Eisenhower waited to see if there would be a groundswell of support for him.  After winning the New Hampshire primary, he decided to run.

Truman didn’t want to be Roosevelt’s VP and repeatedly turned down the requests.  Two days before the 1945 convention, Roosevelt called him and told him if he didn’t run for VP then he would be the blame for the Democrat’s losing the election and then abruptly hung up the phone on Truman.  Truman reluctantly agreed after listening to Roosevelt’s threat.

Truman had only two meetings with Roosevelt while being VP and one was a photo op.  Truman did not know anything about the atomic bomb and had no briefings on the war status prior to Roosevelt’s death.  When Roosevelt died, Truman said there were probably one million people more qualified than he to be President, but he was now handed the job and would do it to the best of his abilities.  When Mrs. Roosevelt informed Truman of her husband’s death, he asked if there was anything he could do for her.  She responded with “the appropriate question is if there is anything I can do for you, Mr. President”. 

It took Eleanor Roosevelt three weeks to move out of the White House and required 22 army trucks to move her belongings.  For the Truman’s belongings, only one army truck was required. 

The Truman’s did not like living in the White House.  Truman thought it was haunted.  Bess hated it and spent May thru Oct of each year back in Missouri.  The Truman’s got to know each servant and staff in the White House.  When guests came to the White House, Truman made a point to introduce the staff to the guests.  One staff member said Truman was the first President to treat him like a man.

The Truman’s had to buy all the food for themselves, their guests, and the White House staff (32 people).  The Truman’s barely got by on the President salary, which was $75,000.  When he left office, he was pretty much broke.  Two months before leaving office, he took out a loan to help pay bills until they could get back to Missouri.  

Both Truman and his wife were bourbon drinkers – usually Old Grand Dad or Wild Turkey.  Truman had a shot of bourbon every morning after his morning walk.   At one of their first cocktail hours in the White House, Bess asked for an Old Fashion.  She later told the head butler it was way too sweet.  The next night the staff tried a different recipe and got the same feedback from Bess.  After doing some inquiries, the next night the staff poured Bess two ounces of 100 proof Wild Turkey bourbon over ice and waited.   Bess responded that it was one of the best drinks she ever had. 

Both men spent a great deal of time with their families.  A typical evening for the Truman’s was spent reading or playing music.  Truman was an accomplished pianist.  The Eisenhower’s liked watching TV while they ate dinner.  Eisenhower loved old western movies and would watch the same ones over and over.   Both men loved playing cards.  Truman played poker and Eisenhower played bridge.

When Truman vacationed, which was infrequent, he would either go back to his home in Missouri or go to Key West and stay at a naval base there.  Eisenhower had a farm at Gettysburg, which they didn’t visit much while he was President.   They also had home at Augusta National Golf Club and spent most of their vacation time there or at Camp David.

When dealing with a major issue, Truman’s philosophy was that he didn’t care about the politics, his image, or what the party thought.  He did what he felt was in the best interest of the country.  Eisenhower was similar.  He didn’t think it was the Presidents role to make policy.  That was the job of Congress.  His job was to uphold the constitution and carry out the laws of Congress. 

Truman gave over 380 press conferences while serving as President, averaging 40 per year.  Eisenhower averaged 29 press conferences per year.  Compare this to the current President who has given only 17 in 3 years.

Truman had a Republican Senate and House during 4 of his years.  He had many friends in the Senate and lunched with them regularly.  He asked his Senate friends to call him Harry and not address him as Mr. President.

Eisenhower had a Democratic Senate and House during 6 of his years.   He did not fully trust the Senate and House leaders and did not always agree with them, but was able to work with them.  He got together with Sam Rayburn (Speaker of the House) and Lyndon Johnson (Senate Majority Leader) weekly for drinks and got much accomplished in these informal meetings.

Eisenhower held weekly meetings with his cabinet and used them to help him deal with key issues.  Compare this to the current President who has only met with his cabinet 17 times and only twice in 2012.

When Truman left office, they left for Missouri on a public train out of Washington.  No secret service escort was provided.   The Eisenhower’s drove their car home to Gettysburg.  Also, no secret service was provided.  After Kennedy’s assassination, secret service protection was added for ex-Presidents.  When they showed up at the Truman’s house in Missouri, Truman repeatedly ordered them off the property.  Truman reluctantly agreed to let them in after LBJ called and asked Truman to reconsider. Eisenhower also did not care to have secret service protection but later agreed to it.

When Eisenhower returned to Gettysburg, he had to learn to drive a car and learn how to use a telephone.  While Supreme Commander in Europe for 3 years, President of Columbia University, and President for 8 years he never had to drive himself or make a phone call.  When he left the Presidency, he asked to be recommissioned to his rank of 5 star General so he could retire at that rank.  He preferred to be called General versus Mr. President.

Both men were buried in private ceremonies in their home towns.  Truman is buried in Independence, Missouri on the grounds of the Truman Library.  Eisenhower is buried in Abilene, Kansas in the chapel on the grounds that house the Eisenhower library.   At his request, Eisenhower was buried in a standard Army issue $200 wooden casket wearing his WWII uniform with only three medals of the numerous medals he was awarded.

Both men laid the foundation for much of the world order as we know it today.   Our country had its most prosperous periods under both men

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