Harry S. Truman: The Man from Independence

By William F. Levantrosser | Go to book overview

12
Harry S. Truman, Leadership, and Public Opinion

Manfred L. Landecker

It is possible to trace various pressures on the presidency; but in the final analysis it is very difficult to evaluate the manifold influences which play a part in the decision-making process. President Kennedy spoke of the multiplicity of factors involved in decision-making. Theodore C. Sorensen quoted president Truman as saying "no one can know all the processes and stages [of a President's] thinking in making important decisions."1

It is a difficult task to evaluate the influence of the public on President Truman's decisions. One pitfall is that there is a considerable element of hindsight involved in a President's assessment of the role of public opinion on a particular decision. Truman scholars agree, almost without exception, that he had a clear-cut vision of his executive responsibilities and an appreciation of the educative functions of the executive office, particularly with regard to foreign affairs. In his book Mr. Citizen Harry S. Truman wrote:

The most dangerous course a President can follow in time of crisis is to defer making decisions until they are forced on him and thereupon become inevitable decisions. Events then get out of hand and take control of the President, and he is compelled to overcome situations which he should have prevented. When a president finds himself in that position, he is no longer a leader but an improviser who is driven to action out of expediency or weakness. 2

Truman was well aware of the special character of the pressures that confronted his administration in the period following World War II. "In normal times," he wrote, "lack of leadership may be harmless, though it can hardly be considered a national asset." He had to make rapid decisions about such developments as the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, the Berlin blockade, and later about

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