Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Truman's Presidential Preparedness

I hear some people say that President Obama should get a free pass on criticism because he inherited a complete mess from his predecessor.  I don't complete subscribe to this idea but I do see what people are talking about.  He inherited two unpopular wars, a tanking economy and an untenable political situation.  If you compared this to what Harry Truman faced, Obama's situation seems manageable.

Harry Truman was FDR's vice president for 82 days when FDR died in office and Truman became president.  Unlike today, Vice Presidents were not as involved in the daily operations of the country.  He knew nothing of what was going on with the war.  We were still at war with Germany, which was winding down, and the war with Japan was as hot as it ever was.  Truman barely knew members of his cabinet and it was only after he was president that he was informed of this new amazing weapon, the atomic bomb, that could possibly put an end to the war.  In just a few years Truman went from being unknown worker on this father's farm to being the most powerful person on the planet wielding the most powerful weapon the planet had ever known.  Democracy is scary sometimes.  It is possible that those closest to FDR just couldn't grasp with the idea of losing him so even though he looked quite ill in his later days, the idea of preparing his VP in case of his untimely death did not occur to them.  You have to wonder how history would be different if he had.

If Truman were better prepared by FDR, would Truman have gone into the Potsdam Conference with more realistic expectations?  If Potsdam had gone better, would he have dropped the bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima just a few days later?  Many of the economists at the time expected the war with Japan to continue until at least 1946.  When the war ended abruptly in 1944, the Truman administration was not ready.  The economy tanked in the years to following causing many other problems particularly with labor. Perhaps we would have exuded more confidence if he were better prepared and had more political clout. If he had he may not have felt it necessary to come down so hard on the so-called Communists here at home?  Perhaps the Red Scare wouldn't have happened.

Truman was picked as Vice President for political reasons only. Henry A. Wallace, FDR's second VP, was considered too liberal.  The Democrats feared that if Wallace became president, they would lose the South.  Ultimately, when Truman became president he was much more liberal than was expected.  He was the son of segregationists so no one expected him to be the first president to be outspoken for Civil Rights.  He eliminated segregation in armed forces, opposed poll taxes and appointed committees to investigate lynchings.  He was the first president to address the NAACP.   This was the beginnings of Republicans taking the South and they have had it for over seven decades.


Olga said...

And where is he now that we need him? See: http://www.timegoesby.net/weblog/2012/03/elders-and-voter-suppression.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+TimeGoesBy+%28TIME+GOES+BY%29

ManOfWow said...

hmm! when you come right down to it, requiring an ID to vote is a lot like having a poll tax.