Tuesday, January 15, 2019

"The Buck Stops Here"

On the evening of January 15, 1953, President Harry Truman broadcast a farewell address to the nation.  Most of the remarks summarized the events during his presidential tenure, but he also talked about how he conducted himself in office.  At one point he said, “The greatest part of the President’s job is to make decisions—big ones and small ones, dozens of them almost every day.”  And, he added, “The President—whoever he is—has to decide.  He can’t pass the buck to anybody.”

Indeed, the slogan “The Buck Stops Here,” is the one most commonly associated with Truman.  He had a desk sign which said just that.  The sign was made at the federal penitentiary at El Reno, Oklahoma, and was given to him in 1945. 

The idea that Truman expressed in this plaque was echoed in a different, but similar, way by President Kennedy in the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs fiasco.  At a news conference in 1961 he remarked, “There’s an old saying that victory has 100 fathers and defeat is an orphan.”  

Understanding that the buck stopped with him for the ill-fated adventure, he added, “Further statements, detailed discussions, are not to conceal responsibility because I’m the responsible officer of the Government.”

Truman and Kennedy articulated a good reminder for any president.

Here’s my copy of the famous sign, which was obtained at the Truman Library a number of years ago. 

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