This week MPs return to Ottawa to debate the federal budget. One of the central arguments on Parliament Hill in the days and weeks to come will revolve around Canadian pension reform. We are told, by way of setting an example that MPs are looking at their own gold plated pensions and perks of the job.
For those MPs pre-occupied with reviewing their own pensions, the story of American Harry Truman’s approach to his Office and retirement is a stellar example from the past. It is to be expected that MPs will not follow this former U.S. President’s actions; yet, it is hoped they may emulate Truman’s principles of fairness and his rejection of assumed privilege (or as we have come to know it north of the border – “Dingwall’s entitlement”).
Here’s a tribute / a lament to a past era and a long-since-gone breed of politician:
Harry Truman was a different kind of President. He probably made as many, or more important decisions regarding our nation’s history as any of the other 42 Presidents preceding him. However, a measure of his greatness may rest on what he did after he left the White House.
The only asset he had when he died was the house he lived in, which was in Independence Missouri. His wife had inherited the house from her mother and father and other than their years in the White House, they lived their entire lives there.
When he retired from office in 1952 his income was a U.S. Army pension reported to have been $13,507.72 a year. Congress, noting that he was paying for his stamps and personally licking them, granted him an ‘allowance’ and, later, a retroactive pension of $25,000 per year.
After President Eisenhower was inaugurated, Harry and Bess drove home to Missouri by themselves. There was no Secret Service following them.
When offered corporate positions at large salaries, he declined, stating, “You don’t want me. You want the office of the President, and that doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the American people and it’s not for sale.”
Even later, on May 6, 1971, when Congress was preparing to award him the Medal of Honor on his 87th birthday, he refused to accept it, writing, “I don’t consider that I have done anything which should be the reason for any award, Congressional or otherwise.”
As president he paid for all of his own travel expenses and food.
Good old Harry Truman was correct when he observed, “My choices in life were either to be a piano player in a whore house or a politician. And to tell the truth, there’s hardly any difference!”