Gov. Palin’s Speech and Harry Truman

(Editor’s Note: Gov. Sarah Palin’s invoking of Harry Truman has stirred up plenty of banter on the Internet. Truman was more than a failed haberdasher, some of the comments say. And a Democrat, others rather unnecessarily inform. He was, among other things, initially refered to by colleagues in the U.S. Senate as the “Senator from Pendergast,” the political machine that fostered Truman’s political career. At any rate…

A closer look at Palin’s speech shows she has quite an affinity for Truman. She said Wednesday:

“Long ago, a young former haberdasher from Missouri followed an unlikely path to the vice presidency. ‘We grow good people in our small towns with honesty, sincerity and dignity.’ I know just the kind of people that writer had in mind when he praised Harry Truman.”

Actually, Truman wasn’t that young. He was a father at 40, a senator at 50 and president at 60. 

Less obviously, Gov. Palin also channeled Truman when she described Harry Reid as the “majority leader of the current do-nothing Senate.” Truman, in his 2 a.m. acceptance speech at the 1948 Democratic Party convention  had a lengthy riff on the failings of the “do-nothing” 80th Congress. In part:

“I called a special session of the Congress in November 1947–November 17, 1947–and I set out a 10-point program for the welfare and benefit of this country, among other things standby controls. I got nothing. Congress has still done nothing.”


“I recommended an increase in the minimum wage. What did I get? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

Gov. Palin tips-her-hat yet a third time to Truman when she said: “We’re supposed to govern with integrity, good will, clear convictions and…a servant’s heart.”

In his first address to Congress on April 16, 1945, just four days after becoming president upon Franklin Roosevelt’s death, Truman ended his speech with these words:

“I have in my heart a prayer. As I have assumed my heavy duties, I humbly pray Almighty God, in the words of King Solomon: ‘Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad; for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?’ 

I ask only to be a good and faithful servant of my Lord and my people.”

Although Gov. Palin didn’t mention this story, here is another illustration of Truman’s character.

Truman experienced a firestorm of hate mail when he wrote a scathing letter to a music reviewer who panned his daughter Margaret’s operatic performance. While the letter is amusing, it was written during the Korean War. White House letters ran two-to-one against Trumam, according to David McCullough’ Pulitzer Prize winning biography.

One letter Truman received — and read — came from Mr. and Mrs. William Banning of New Canaan, Connecticut. Inside the letter was a Purple Heart. 

“Mr. Truman:

As you have been directly responsible for the loss of our son’s life in Korea, you might just as well keep this emblem on display in your trophy room as a memory of one of your historic deeds. One major regret at this time is that your daughter was not there to receive the same treatment as our son received in Korea.”

Truman put the letter in his desk drawer, keeping it at hand for several years, McCullough writes. 

Truman also said that “president either is constantly on top of events or, if he hesitates, events will soon be on top of him” and he encouraged people to “be sincere, even if you don’t mean it.”

And finally: “The only thing new in the world is the history’s you know.”)


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