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Chapter Eleven To Err Is Truman Presidents do not have an easy time after a war. The House of Representatives impeached Abraham Lincoln's successor, and the Senate failed to convict him by a single vote. The Senate defeated Woodrow Wilson over the League of Nations and Treaty of Versailles. At the outset the American people gave Roosevelt's successor an approval rating of 87 percent, but a year and a half later they could not say enough critical things. For the congressional elections in November 1946, the Republican party campaigned on a slogan of "Had enough?" and won majorities in both Houses for the first time since 1928. A freshman Democratic senator, J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, proposed that the nation's chief executive appoint Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg , Republican of Michigan, as secretary of state, and resign; under the then law of succession, this would have brought Vandenberg into the presidency. 1 As soon as the war was over an avalanche of criticism descended. Some of it was of the usual sort after a war; when the president was a war leader it was difficult to say anything about him. Some arose because Roosevelt had held the presidency so long that people had become accustomed to himthey had accepted a notion of what the presidency was like or the type of man who should hold it, and when Truman came along he fractured this notion. People said power had shifted from the Hudson to the Missouri. They saw a Missouri Compromise. They remarked on the new president's rural ways, such as his visit to a county fair in Caruthersville, Missouri, in the autumn of 1945, something Roosevelt never would have done. Everything he did seemed in contrast to Roosevelt, and critically so. The critics also pounced on the qualifications of Truman's White House assistants, beholding a set of appointees who, they said, never deserved to take up duties at such an address as 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Robert S. 218 219 / To Err Is Truman Allen and William V. Shannon in The Truman Merry-Co-Round described the Truman staff members as a group of stumblebums and weary, faceless hacks: "The mere announcement in April, 1945, that Harry Truman was President flushed them out of every dark cove and thicket." The Truman administration gave fat jobs to fatheads. At first the appointees were funny rather than dangerous: "They were not putting their hands in the till; they were too busy putting their feet in their mouths."J Then their qualities emerged. They brought to mind the assistants of President Harding. Actually the White House staff under Truman was quite a decent group, equal to or better than the Roosevelt staff. The president's principal assistants , such as Ross, Steelman, and the others, performed well. Not that there were no troubles. At the beginning the staff seemed far from perfect, and Robert Nixon, who became a staunch friend of the new president, years later described to an interviewer the people he first saw in April 1945: "Truman brought a bunch of incompetents down to the White House," he said. "They didn't know first base from breakfast." The president himself told him, he said, that coming into office put him in a quandary. "How can I bring big people into government when I don't even know who they are, and they don't know me? They know the power of my position, but I've had no broad contacts in life. The only people I knew to bring down to the White House were those that worked in my office on the Hill. All of whom were little smalltown people. That's all they were."2 But there were no real, lasting reasons to believe the staff incompetent. It was only the impression that circulated that made them seem that way. Once in a while, and never in the top tier of assistants, someone would misbehave. The president's first airplane pilot, Lieutenant Colonel Henry T. "Hank" Myers, unbeknownst to the president, was dealing in automobiles, at a time when a new car was hard to get. He resigned in 1948, upon a complaint by the president of the Capitol Cadillac Company; by that date Hank had purchased three Cadillacs, a Packard, a Lincoln, a Chrysler, and was about to accept a Plymouth. His was a case not of incompetence, of course, but of impropriety. A somewhat similar case was that of an erstwhile passenger agent of...


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