Public Men in and out of Office

By J. T. Salter | Go to book overview

I
HARRY S. TRUMAN "I Don't Want to be President,

BY EDWARD A. HARRIS

THE IMPOSING ARRAY OF BOOKS IN THE OFFICE OF HARRY S. Truman of Missouri ranges from "The Rape of Palestine" to "So This is Florida," and he's read them all, including an unexpurgated edition of the Arabian Nights--which give him undisguised delight. He is, to put it mildly, an odd bookworm. For while he takes a reasonable amount of pleasure in the works of Rabelais and de Maupassant, he is likely to remark that the greatest story ever told is in the Bible, which he quotes at will.

Truman's reading tastes in a sense define his character. As an adept student of Scripture he maintains a towering faith in humanity and the essential goodness of all races. Indeed, at times he looks and talks like a cleric. He is a God-fearing Baptist and a connoisseur of good Bourbon (mixed with ginger ale), a reverent family man, and a master at quiet profanity; in short, a curious composite of Sabattical idealism and refreshing everyday practicality. "After thirty years of politics," he has remarked, "a fellow learns to temper his optimism with common sense. The vast majority of human beings want to do the right thing, if they know what it is."

The fact that Harry Truman has remained basically an optimist is all the more remarkable in light of the thorny path he traveled to attain his present eminence. When he held the post of chairman of the powerful special Senate Committee to Investigate the War Program he was in a rare position to observe human frailties, notably incompetence, greed, and waste. The name "Truman" carried almost unparalleued weight with

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