Simplistic lenses

Here is a bet for you. If you’re old, we will just have to speculate on how and where we will settle it. If you are young and you want to bet, I suggest you clip this. Stow it where you can read it again ten, twenty, thirty years from now.

The bet is that President Bush will be called a great president. By folks who read a lot of history. And by a lot of the people who write history.

Here are a few reasons why I make the bet:

Harry Truman is highly regarded by a lot of people today. The Bush presidency is eerily similar to his. Each man was unpopular, Truman more than Bush. Gallup had Truman’s support at 22% vs. 39% for Bush. Even Truman’s mother-in-law was against him. And she told people so - including him.

Each man took us into unpopular wars. Each pushed on when the wars went against us. Each shuffled generals and tactics. Each faced a million armchair generals at home who knew better. Each was labelled “dumb” and “stubborn” by opinion makers of the time.

(Lincoln had a similar fate with an unpopular war. He changed generals and changed them again. He was called a fool and lampooned in cartoons as an ape.)

Truman did not consult with allies when he committed us to protect Greece and Turkey. Or when we dropped the atom bomb. He did not consult with congress when he pledged our help to South Korea. Doesn’t that sound familiar today?



The eastern elite despised Truman. They scoffed at his southwestern accent and rough mannerisms. Sound familiar? The high society crowd in Washington belittled him. He, in turn, ignored them and their balls and dinners. His idea of a grand evening was to watch the sun descend with Bess. Frosting on that cake was to go to bed at nine.

Bush keeps similar habits and similar bedtimes. He ignores the fancy dress crowd. And he is rarely moved to have a state dinner.

Truman was reviled then but is widely respected today. The biggest reason for his redemption: He had to make decisions that altered the fate of huge chunks of humanity. Today most folks think those decisions were the right ones.

He decided we would defend South Korea. He decided we would commit our fortune to the Marshall Plan. To help war-ravaged Europeans recover. He decided we would defend and assist other nations against communists. He decided we would sustain West Berlin with an airlift. One that spat in the face of Joe Stalin. He decided we would recognize and support the infant nation of Israel. He decided to drop atom bombs to end the war.

People hated him for making these decisions the way he did. Today most people feel he was right in most of them. There is no doubt the peace and prosperity of Europe was built on what the Marshall Plan wrought. There is no doubt South Koreans owe their phenomenal prosperity and freedom to Truman’s decision to save them from communists.

Truman’s support of Israel was essential for that country. And horrible as it was, if you run the numbers on the atom bomb, it saved more lives than it took. And Truman’s decision to occupy Japan and force it into democracy did much to nurture that modern power of today.

There is a good chance many of President Bush’s biggest decisions will look pretty good a few decades from now. My humble opinion, anyway. Nobody much remembers Truman’s most pesky detractors. I suspect the most vocal of Bush’s critics will be forgotten. And many of his decisions and policies lauded.

There are always a lot of “ifs”, of course. If Iraq and Afghanistan survive with representative governments, Bush’s decisions to invade them will look good. And 50 million people given freedom by those wars is a goodly number. If they remain free they will likely prosper and influence their regions in good ways. Just as Koreans and Japanese did.

Libya disarmed because of Bush. It appears, for now, North Korea is disarming. Because of Bush, Pakistan ‘fessed up about peddling nuclear technology. Our spooks now believe Iran halted its nuclear weapons program two months after Bush invaded Iraq. All of these murky caldrons had bubbled for decades. Iran’s weapon program ran for 15 years. Why did they choose to end it? One of the better guesses is that they feared what Bush might do.

At any rate, there is a lot less nuclear mischief afoot than when this man entered the White House.

Beyond that, his decision to insist on huge tax cuts will be applauded by most economists for decades. Just as similar cuts by three earlier presidents have been.

A last trait he shares with Truman is simplicity. Truman peered, and Bush peers at situations through simplistic lenses. This has made Bush the target of complex-thinking critics. As it did Truman. He loved to make fun of the “Hahvahd-educated intellectuals” who attacked him.

All presidents, like this one, make lousy decisions. Some get to make decisions that are of huge historic significance. President Bush certainly has. My guess is that a lot of them will be seen, years from now, as good decisions. If they are, he will be given the sort of respect we now give that man so many Americans once hated, Harry S Truman.

From Tom ... as in Morgan.

For more columns and for Tom’s radio shows (and to write to Tom): tomasinmorgan.com.

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