The Buck Stops Here

Truman and Ike Jan 53
President Harry S. Truman (L) and President Dwight D. Eisenhower (R) – President Eisenhower’s Inauguration, January 20, 1953

Harry S. Truman is my most respected President, partly because when I was born in January of 1953, Truman was still President, leaving office a week or so later when Dwight D. Eisenhower was sworn into office. However, it was Truman’s nature that appeals to me.

He was of modest upbringing and background. He was decidedly plain spoken, often blunt and without much pretense. He made difficult decisions and stood by them, most notably, ordering dropping of atomic bombs on Japan in August, 1945. He refused to “cash in” on the Presidency, stating “I could never lend myself to any transaction, however respectable, that would commercialize on the prestige and dignity of the office of the presidency.”

Truman’s character can be summarized by the sign on his desk, which said “The Buck Stops Here!” The meaning of this iconic sign is well known as a statement of personal responsibility. The “Buck”, responsibility and accountability for a decision or a task, stopped with President Truman as he was responsible for the decision, whether correct or incorrect, successful or unsuccessful.

Things have changed dramatically. How refreshing Truman’s honest policy was. The current President seems to have made it his life’s work to avoid responsibility for any consequence that does not result in success, defining the most mediocre outcomes as success further taking credit for successful outcomes that he had nothing to do with. The Buck stops anywhere but with the current occupant of the Oval Office.

As well, the vanquished candidate in this past Presidential Election has difficulty pointing the finger at herself when analyzing her defeat.

This “pass the buck” attitude permeates our government, businesses and personal lives. To pass the buck seems to be the norm and not the exception. It is difficult in this age, with news media and social media flooding us with excuse laden responses and reactions, to look ourselves in the mirror and take blame when proper. But to develop as a person and as a society, we must no longer pass the Buck and must take responsibility for our actions,regardless of the consequence.

Harry S. Truman was not perfect. He was, as we all are, a flawed person. Regardless, his unwillingness to “cash in” on his Presidency and to not “Pass the Buck” sends a message to all of us, some 60+ years later.

Allan Opsitnick