Yeah, pretty much. Truman was very candid and didn’t have much of a filter. He’s also one of the only Presidents who actually gave his personal and historical opinion about nearly all of his predecessors (and the successors that he lived to see take office).
At one point he [Eisenhower] says to me, ‘Who’s your chief of staff?’ I held my temper. I said to him, ‘The President of the United States is his own chief of staff.’ But he just could not understand that. In all the years he was in the White House he never did understand that the President has to act. That’s why the people of the United States elect you They don’t elect you to sit around waiting for other people to tell you what to do.
Now when Castro came into power, if I’d have been President, I’d have picked up the phone and called him direct in Havana. I wouldn’t have gone through protocol or anything like that. I’d have called him up, and I’d have said, ‘Fidel, this is Harry Truman in Washington, and I’d like to have you come up here and have a little talk.’
He’d have come, of course, and he’d have come to the White House, and I’d have said, ‘Fidel, it looks to me like you’ve had a pretty good revolution down there, and it’s been a long time coming. Now you’re going to need help, and there’s only two places you can go to get it. One’s right here, and the other’s — well, we both know where the other place is. Now you just tell me what you need, and I’ll see to it that you get it.’
Well, he’d have thanked me, and we’d have talked awhile, and then as he got up to go, I’d have said to him, ‘Now, Fidel, I’ve told you what we’ll do for you. There’s one thing you can do for me. Would you get a shave and a haircut and take a bath?’
Of course, that son of a bitch Eisenhower was too damn dumb to do anything like that. When Castro decided to go in the other direction for support, Eisenhower was probably still waiting for a goddamn staff report on what to think.
I feel like I answered this one before, but maybe I’ve just seen it in the inbox for a while…
1. Truman would have been quite pleased with it and, if he had been healthy enough to do so, probably would have boasted about it publicly because he was not shy about sharing his distaste for Nixon (or Republicans, in general). LBJ might have privately noted that he expected Nixon to screw up (as he had said when Nixon was elected), but he had a tremendous respect for the institution of the Presidency and wouldn’t have appreciated seeing it tarnished or taken part in beating up Nixon.
2. I don’t believe Watergate would have unfolded differently if a former President was still alive. Nixon still would been in deep trouble and handled it badly. With the exception of maybe Eisenhower, I can’t think of any former President whose advice Nixon would have taken to heart about how to handle such a scandal. Johnson might have been able to defend the idea of a White House taping system since he used one, too, but he wouldn’t have defended Nixon’s actions.
I misjudged you badly. Since that time, you, more than any other man, have saved Western Civilization.
Winston Churchill, to Harry Truman, who Churchill admittedly underestimated and doubted when Truman succeeded to the Presidency upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt
The people can never understand why the President does not use his supposedly great power to make ‘em behave. Well, all the President is, is a glorified public relations man who spends his time flattering, kissing, and kicking people to get them to do what they are supposed to do anyway.
It’s absolutely true.
Truman was urgently called to the White House on the evening of April 12, 1945 and when he arrived, Eleanor Roosevelt told him that FDR was dead. A few minutes after 7:00 PM, Truman was sworn in as President in the Cabinet Room and had a brief meeting with Roosevelt’s Cabinet (which was now Truman’s Cabinet). Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson lingered after the other Cabinet members left and, when he and the new President were alone, basically told Truman, “So…there’s something you should know…”
I’m paraphrasing, of course, but it really wasn’t much more than that at first. Truman was already overwhelmed by being thrust so suddenly into the Presidency — many people don’t realize that Truman was only Vice President for 82 days. Everything was a whirlwind in April 1945. FDR died on April 12th. The Allies were meeting in San Francisco to form the United Nations on April 25th. Mussolini died on April 28th. Hitler died on April 30th. American, British, and Soviet forces were closing in on Berlin as the month came to an end. And, through it all, Truman took the reins of government, attempting to fill a seat held by a President and Commander-in-Chief who had held the White House longer than anyone else in history ever had and ever would.
Imagine, in the midst of all of that, being told for the very first time — and only because he unexpectedly became President — of a massive and devastating weapon that was so new and so unheard of that Truman wasn’t only informed about it, but he had to be educated about how it worked and what it might be able to do (if it worked, of course). Secretary Stimson gave Truman a bare bones description on the night that Roosevelt died. It wasn’t until he was able to get more in-depth briefings over the next few days with other FDR Administration insiders and scientists involved with the bomb’s development that Truman gained a real understanding about exactly what the bomb might be capable of. Pretty crazy, right? Welcome to the White House, Mr. President.
I think that Eisenhower and Reagan probably would have been tempted to seek a third term, if possible. They both had health problems during their Presidencies, but I could see Eisenhower seeking a third term anyway. He had a difficult time stepping away, which is one reason why he waited so long to give Richard Nixon a solid endorsement in 1960. It wasn’t necessarily a lack of confidence in Nixon’s abilities, but partly because Ike felt that he (Ike) was still the best man for the job.
Reagan, like Clinton, loved being President, too. But when Reagan left office in 1989, he was about two weeks away from his 78th birthday and, according to his official biographer, Edmund Morris, there were signs that he may have been facing the early stages of his Alzheimer’s in the last few weeks of his Administration. Since President Reagan looked relatively healthy and definitely looked fit for his age, it’s difficult for people to realize that he was almost a full eight years older than Eisenhower (70) was when Ike left office. Even if Eisenhower had served another term, Ike still would have been four years younger than Reagan at the end of that third term. I think Reagan’s age and deteriorating health would have prevented him from a third term if it was Constitutionally possible. As closely as his public image was protected by Nancy Reagan, there is no way she would have stood by while he hung on for another term and publicly started to suffer from serious Alzheimer’s symptoms.
An interesting thing is that, if they had the opportunity to run for a third term and their health allowed it, I think Eisenhower, Reagan, and Clinton all would have been easily elected to another term. I think George W. Bush would have had a much more difficult time with seeking a third term, if possible. However, I don’t think Bush would have run again even if he was Constitutionally eligible. In those last few months of 2008, President Bush looked SO ready to get back to Texas. Even if his chances of being re-elected were positive, I still think he would have chosen retirement instead of a third term.
As for the second part of your question, I think that Truman would have stepped away in 1952, no matter what. All Truman ever wanted to do was remain a U.S. Senator. When he was suggested as a potential Vice Presidential candidate, he was not interested, and when others reminded him that President Franklin D. Roosevelt likely wouldn’t survive the term, Truman declared that he didn’t want to be President either. Of course, he was elected Vice President and as in the case of almost every VP who succeeds to the Presidency, once Truman got to the White House he wanted to be elected to a term in his own right. Still, before Eisenhower declared that he was a Republican, Truman was suggesting that he (Truman) would be happy to step aside and be Eisenhower’s running mate if Ike wanted to run for President as a Democrat. So, Harry Truman did not mind retiring home to Missouri in 1952, and I think he would have done so, no matter what.
LBJ’s case was different. The fact that he was very nearly upset in the 1968 New Hampshire Democratic Primary by Eugene McCarthy really shook President Johnson up and showed that he was vulnerable. If there wasn’t a serious challenge from within his own party — first from McCarthy and then from RFK — LBJ would have stayed in that race in 1968. Despite his withdrawal from the race, deep down LBJ still had a flicker of hope that the Democratic National Convention would be deadlocked, turn to the outgoing LBJ, draft him into the race, nominate him, and he’d be the conquering hero, vanquishing Nixon and bringing the Vietnam War to an end.
LBJ was also a man of contradictions, though. Throughout his life, he always said that he would die young because all of the men in his family died by the time they were 64 or 65. As much as Johnson was addicted to power and craved the love of the American people (something that he never received like JFK did, which “broke his heart” according to Richard Nixon), he was also deeply worried that another four years in the White House would kill him. Worse yet, he would suffer an incapacitating stroke like Woodrow Wilson. LBJ often had a nightmare where he fell ill like Wilson and was an invalid — a shell of a once-powerful man bedridden or feebly being rolled through the White House in a wheelchair. It was an macabre thing to think about, but it was something that frequently haunted President Johnson, especially because he had suffered a near-fatal massive heart attack in 1955 when he was Senate Majority Leader. The confident, arrogant, impetuous, strong-willed LBJ wanted to take on Nixon and serve four more years in the White House. The sensitive, insecure, depressed LBJ considered resigning, didn’t think he’d live through the next term (1969-1973), and often had to receive a pep talk from Lady Bird to get his act together and go to work. So, with LBJ, it would actually depend on which LBJ you got on decision day when it comes to whether he would have sought a third term if not for the disastrous results of the 1968 New Hampshire Democratic Primary.
By the way, Lyndon Johnson died on January 22, 1973. If he had served a third term, it would have ended on January 20, 1973, just two days prior to the day that he actually died.