Politicians and the press

Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Bob Mitchell Ozark Views & Comments

In these days of politicians and their cronies grabbing a large share of news coverage in this country, I will never forget there were two politicians who I have always admired. One was the late Missouri Secretary of State Jim Kirkpatrick, the other was the late President Harry S. Truman.

Anyone who has followed my writings over the years will have little doubt understanding my absolute admiration for Kirkpatrick. He was a personal friend, and possibly more importantly, he was a friend of Cassville.

On the other hand, Harry Truman and I were never close. Although we met once in Springfield and another time in Key West, Fla., we never reached a first-name level.

Press sessions

When the late president was using the Naval Station at Key West and its Little White House as a vacation getaway, I was required to attend daily press conferences just in case one of the White House press corps members got sunburned and needed assistance by the Navy.

I was introduced to the president one day. He recalled our meeting in Springfield when I was a college student and he was campaigning in 1948. I got a kick out of his recollection that my uncle, Means Ray, was on his train and what a fine gentleman and good mayor of Jefferson City he had been.

A couple of times during those conferences, when things would get a little tight, he would make reference to his pleasure of having a "fellow Missourian" there to understand the situation. I never let on that I didn't have the faintest idea of what they were talking about.

Letters from Truman

Some time ago, I was going through some files and ran onto a news release from the Missouri Historical Society that was talking about public documents and focusing especially on the "venting of Truman's political frustration in letters to his mother, sister and daughter." After all, who could you confide in who was more important to your life?

Some of Truman's comments in the release about The Family Letters of Harry S. Truman to his mother, Martha, his sister, Mary Jane, and daughter, Margaret, will follow.

'Dear Mama'

Even in the hectic early months of his succession to the presidency, Truman continued to pen handwritten letters to his mother and sister every 3-6 days.

In a manner typically Truman, he drew his mother into his political campaigns and programs, backed his sister's managerial role on the family farm and pushed his daughter to develop educational and career aspirations unlimited by the gender expectations of the times.

In 1945, he wrote his mother and sister in Grandview, "I'm trying to make a job out of the vice presidency, and it's quite a chore."

I wonder how many who have followed him would express the same opinion?

He didn't hold that job long, later writing about receiving a call to "go to the White House as quickly and quietly as he could." With a touch of irony, he continued, "I had hurried to the White House to see the president, and when I arrived, I found I was the president."

Truman gave his mother and sister accounts of meetings with Stalin and Churchill, but also gave his sister advice about her car: "Keep 35 pounds of air in the tires and have it greased once in a while, and have the oil changed every thousand miles." Wouldn't service people today like to have that get started again?

Staff trouble

When having problems with one of his appointees, whom he eventually fired, Truman had this comment, "Now he's out and the crackpots are having conniption fits. I'm glad they are. It convinces me I'm right."

Office toll

After his mother's death in 1947, Truman relied on communications with his sister about the toll his office was taking on him. "A man in his right mind would never want to be president if he knew what it entails," he wrote. "Aside from the impossible administrative burden, he has to take all sorts of abuse from liars and demagogues." Sound familiar?

The letters reflect his political events and decision revelations, while sometimes in later years going to his daughter, were general in nature. On the other hand, those of the incisive and caustic political ramifications had gone to the one he deeply loved, his mother.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat.