Vail Daily columnist Butch Mazzuca: Not quite Truman, either |

Vail Daily columnist Butch Mazzuca: Not quite Truman, either

The Obama team’s new campaign film “The Road” is artfully photographed and poignantly narrated by Tom Hanks. The film portrays President Obama as a hero who overcame great odds and creates a story about all the problems the new president faced.

Shortly after the film begins, Mr. Hanks delivers the theme of the president’s re-election campaign: “Not since the days of Franklin Roosevelt had so much fallen on the shoulders of one president.”

For those not overly familiar with U.S. history, Hanks’ message appears credible. After all, for the past three and half years hasn’t the administration told anyone who would listen about the overwhelming problems it inherited?

No one disagrees Mr. Obama inherited problems. But doesn’t every president inherit from his predecessor?

When Mr. Hanks says, “Not since the days of Franklin Roosevelt …,” I’m compelled to ask if the Hollywood star ever heard of Harry Truman, who assumed the presidency upon Roosevelt’s death.

When Truman took office, America was still fighting a world war on two fronts. The first major decision he had to make was choosing between incurring an estimated half-million more American and a million-plus Japanese casualties in an invasion of the Japanese islands or using the atomic bomb to end the war.

But that was just the first of the issues Mr. Truman inherited. Immediately after the war he had to reintegrate 16 million servicemen back into the economy.

Meanwhile, Europe lay in ruins and had to be rebuilt lest the Soviet Union extend its sphere of influence over the entire continent. To prevent catastrophe Truman sanctioned the Marshall Plan, thus saving western Europe.

Then, in 1949, the Russians stunned the West by detonating an atomic bomb, altering the world’s geopolitical calculus.

Less than a year later, North Korea invaded South Korea, aided by the Chinese, and America was again fighting a war halfway around the world.

In the midst of all this, President Truman contended with a nationwide steel strike, numerous domestic commodity shortages, and a megalomaniacal general (Douglas McArthur) who wanted to introduce atomic weapons on the Korean Peninsula.

The United Nations was created on Truman’s watch. He authorized the Berlin airlift, keeping the Russians from starving that city, and was instrumental in the creation of NATO.

It was also the Truman Doctrine that became the basis of American Cold War policy for the next 40 years.

Mr. Truman’s response to these truly daunting problems was pure elegance: “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

When I hear pundits rationalize President Obama’s lack of accomplishment by referring to the overwhelming problems he inherited, I suggest they contrast Mr. Obama with Harry Truman, who when questioned about his inherited problems said, “The buck stops here!”

If someone finds reason to re-elect the president, God bless him or her. But I don’t want to listen to their nonsense that the president “didn’t fully understand” how bad our economy was, unless they are willing to concede they would use a pediatrician who “didn’t fully understand” how bad their child’s life-threatening illness was.

Leaders are defined by what they accomplish, not by what they inherited.

By virtue of his character, Abraham Lincoln’s ensured that the words, “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth,” became a reality.

John F. Kennedy inspired millions when he said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

Ronald Reagan used just six words, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” to initiate the collapse of Soviet communism.

Taken together the aforementioned presidents preserved the union, reintegrated the nation after World War II, created a bulwark against Soviet communism, put an American on the moon, and freed Eastern Europe.

Part of a president’s job is to select people who can accurately diagnose problems and then orchestrate solutions. Yet three and a half years after Mr. Obama’s election, unemployment remains over 8 percent, we’re $5 trillion further in debt, the deficit has doubled (instead of being halved as the president promised), and the cost of energy continues to rise.

Yes, President Obama inherited complex problems. But as we near the end of his term, the economy remains sluggish and all the hyper-talk about if he hadn’t done this or done that, we would be in worse shape is unprovable speculation emanating from his supporters.

Only the naive expected Mr. Obama to face the nation’s problems as squarely as Presidents Lincoln or Truman.

But even Mr. Obama’s opponents didn’t foresee the administration’s continual whining and refusal to be held accountable. Does anyone actually believe “The rich need to pay their fair share” suggests the same leadership and acceptance of responsibility as does, “The buck stops here”?

As one presidential hopeful opined, it appears that in three short years the president has gone from “Yes we can” to “It’s not my fault.”

Quote of the day: “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm”-Publilius Syrus

Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes regularly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at

Support Local Journalism