Three former members of President Harry S. Truman's cabinet and staff and a Truman biographer last night traded personal impressions and anecdotes of Truman before an audience of 150 at the Institute of Politics (IOP) Forum, in a "Centennial Retrospective" commemorating the 100th anniversary of Truman's birth.
The discussion, which followed a 40-minute biographical film, centered more on Truman's attributes than his policies.
Historian David McCullough, who is completing a biography of Truman, said the President had "a strong sense of self," adding. "He loved being Harry Truman, and was the only president in better health coming out of the White House than when he went in."
But though he was eager to perform his part, he "never for one moment confused the President with Harry Truman," said Richard Neustadt. Littauer Professor of Politics and a white House staff member under President John F. Kennedy '40.
"Mr. Truman saw the Presidency as a human continuum from George Washington on into the future," he said, noting that the President made his decisions with long-term effects in mind.
Truman's Administration had "less ego than perhaps any other," said Frank Pace Jr. who served as Secretary of the Army and Director of the Bureau of the Budget under Truman. Truman appreciated modesty and "was able to say very complex things in a very simple way," he added.
Pace noted that Truman's great physical energy and "willingness to reach out for responsibility" made him particularly well-suited to be President, while Clark M. Clifford, legal counsel to Truman, praised Truman's humanitarianism and his courage to stand by an issue and "see it through."
The event opened with the first public screening of "Truman: a Self Portrait," a collection of still photographs and film clips tracing Truman's childhood and political career, produced by the Smithsonian Institution for the centennial retrospective.
Yesterday afternoon, Clifford conducted a seminar on Truman's leadership qualities for Kennedy School students.
The goal of the Forum discussion was simply "to elicit Harry Truman," William Trucheart. Director of the IOP Forum, said yesterday, added. "He is someone who is not familiar to people of college age, but is a man who is very much worth remembering."
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