Dear Barack

A letter from his old pal, Harry Truman.

Let me come right to the point: You have spent far too much time on this silly damn “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” nonsense. Back in 1948, my similar hot-button issue was segregation in the armed services. Did I look to Congress for direction? With all those Southerners running the place? Not on your life, I was the commander in chief. So I just wrote Executive Order No. 9981, and, on July 26, 1948, problem solved. Just do it — that was my motto. Now, I realize that since my day the Congress has presumed to take over this issue. They base their irresponsible meddling on a reading of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, which gives them the power to make rules for the “government and regulation” of the armed forces.

So, we have “government and regulation” of the armed forces versus “commander in chief” of the armed forces. There’s some unresolved business here.

A fair reading of these two apparently conflicting mandates would, I think, hold that statutes can be passed necessary to the protection of civil liberties. For example, to support the newly written U.S. Code of Military Justice, the Congress created the U.S. Court of Military Appeals — the record in World War II, you see, suggested that military justice was to justice what military music was to music. But when it comes to operations, the president is in charge.

Congress must not be permitted to pass any law that interferes with the president’s responsibility to effectively command the armed services. And only the president can determine what interferes and what doesn’t. Some argue that gays in the military would adversely affect morale. Upwards of 70 percent of troops polled don’t think so, but in any case, this is the president’s call, not the Congress’s. Looked at from another perspective, what about all those linguists who have been let go? Has losing all this talent reduced military effectiveness? Your call, Mr. President.

So write and sign that Executive Order. If the Congress wants a constitutional fight, I say let ’em have it. When I cashiered Gen. MacArthur for insubordination, everything hit the fan. “His Majesty” was a damn hero — hey, the blowhards tried to run me out of town. Some tried for impeachment. Today this same bunch would be likely write a bill that “regulated” military operations in such a way that I would have to get their approval first. Back then, as I read the Constitution, me firing the general wasn’t any of their damn business. If I’d have let MacArthur continue to speak out against our policies, all hell might have broken loose — and it sure wouldn’t be those blowhards who would have taken the fall. It would be the commander in chief, and that would have been me.

Now that’s you, Barack.

About those taxes. Until January, you still have a majority in both Houses, and don’t let them tell you that the “people have spoken” and “that you still don’t get it” and other such bunkum. Go ahead and propose a bill that keeps the middleclass cuts and let rates for top 1 percent rise back to Clinton-era levels. The plutocrats will scream to high heaven — it’ll cost jobs, they’ll scream, you never raise taxes during the recession, all that usual claptrap. FDR heard it all — hell, even Bill Clinton got the treatment. They will again claim that lower taxes always produce jobs and make the GDP take off. Pure poppycock, of course! If it wasn’t poppycock, we wouldn’t have watched the national debt double, first under Reagan and again under Bush II. They like to point out that Kennedy followed the Republican game plan, but Jack had inherited a tax rate from the Eisenhower era that saw these same rich people paying not 39 percent, but 91 percent! You might say that taxes have already been reduced, even if promises haven’t exactly been kept.

So go with your preferred bill, which lets the tax cuts expire for only the wealthiest. Yes, Republicans will likely kill it with a filibuster. Then the new House will pass a bill reinstituting the Bush cuts. The bill likely won’t get past the Senate (if it does, you get out your veto pen). You then take your case to the public. Faced with a choice of getting nothing or giving you what you want, which would help out 99 percent of the country, what will Republicans do? I like your chances. In any case, you’ll have finally gone on the offensive.

I’m not saying you aren’t doing a good job.

Not even FDR faced the mess Bush and the Republicans left behind. You’ve already put into place impressive legislation; so, yes, you have exercised leadership. But in a democracy it’s important to “display” leadership as well as to “exercise” it. So far you aren’t doing so good on the display front. Consider: Only 20 percent of the under-30 set even voted this time. In 2008, 50 percent of them voted. These are your people, and you didn’t lose them on issues. They stayed home because by election time they couldn’t figure out what you really stood for. You are the commander in chief. But, to many supporters, you sometimes have looked and sounded more like the “conciliator in chief.”

Starting with DADT and taxes, show them that you understand the difference and you’ll be a winner. And God knows, America could use a winner right about now.


Harry S. Truman

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About The Author

Robert Herold

Robert Herold is a retired professor of public administration and political science at both Eastern Washington University and Gonzaga University. Robert Herold's collection of Inlander columns dating back to 1995, Robert's Rules, is available at Auntie's.