Channeling George: What Harry Truman Told George Washington About Bill Clinton

tags: Bill Clinton, George Washington, Harry Truman, Channeling George

Thomas Fleming has been publishing reports on his midnight conversations with George Washington on HNN since 2011. It is one of our most popular features.

I just had a visit from one of my favorite ex-presidents.

Who might that be?

The man from Independence – Harry Truman.

He’s one of my favorites too. I spent two weeks in Independence, talking with him for a biography I wrote in 1972 in collaboration with his daughter Margaret. I came away convinced he was a great man. He made me proud to be born and raised a Democrat. What’s on his mind?

Another ex-president – Bill Clinton.

He’s not one of my favorites. Why is Harry worried about him?

Harry went on Google and found a study of the net worth of all the presidents. He was pleased to discover that he was at the bottom of the list –– with one of the lowest net worths of any president. When he left office in 1952, he was bombarded with offers to give speeches for large chunks of money. Others wanted him to become honorary chairman of some foundation or corporation with an even bigger yearly chunk of money on his plate. He turned them all down. “The presidency of the United States is not for sale,” he told them. He went back to Independence and lived on his pension, which did not pay a lot of money.

Let me guess why Bill Clinton is bothering him. According to a statement he made recently, when he and Hillary left the White House they were broke. They had to borrow money to stay afloat. Then Bill started making speeches and urged Hillary to do the same thing. Sixteen years later the Clintons are worth $81 million.

You’ve got it exactly right. Since the day they left the White House the presidency has been for sale. What’s even more sickening are some of the people that Bill Clinton gives speeches to. They’re ethically questionable billionaires from foreign countries with complicated business deals on their agendas. In one recent year Bill was getting $1 million a speech. No one pays that kind of money without considering it an investment against future favors.

What is Harry Truman’s answer to the smelly problem?

He wants whoever runs against Hillary to promise to pass a law forbidding ex-presidents from taking more than token amounts of money for a speech. That will put her and Bill in a nice bind. Beyond that, he hopes that exposing the Clintons’ greed will create not a law but a principle that should be a foundation stone in our choice of presidents.

What would that be?

The idea – which Harry Truman believes is a proven fact -- that the American presidency is the greatest office created by the mind of man.

You had a lot to do with the creation of the presidency. Do you agree with this estimate?

To say yes makes me sound arrogant. Fortunately, I had a partner, Jemmy Madison, who had a lot to do with making sure the devil was not in any of the details. My contribution was the previously daring idea that a single individual can honorably exercise powers coequal to Congress. I believed our nation could and would produce such men, who would provide the visible emotional leadership that Congress – or any other group of men – cannot in the nature of things provide. Leadership must always have a personal dimension, which only a lone individual can supply. It was the most daring idea I or Jemmy Madison ever confronted. But in long hours of discussion at Mount Vernon, we decided it was worth the risk. History has proven us right, especially in moments of crisis such as Abe Lincoln faced.

I begin to see why you agree with Harry Truman. You’re not bragging, You really are stating an historically proven fact. It adds an enormous dimension to the presidency. It becomes an asset too precious to damage or diminish in any way.

That is why Harry – and I – think anyone who harms the presidency should be banished from American politics. Not by a law but by the consent of a majority of the American people.

Harry thinks Bill diminished the presidency?

When he had sex with Monica Lewinsky in the oval office, he gave the word diminished a subterranean meaning it never possessed before. It is the most brutal, blatant violation of the presidency’s ideals that anyone has ever committed.

He was impeached for lying about it. On television, no less. To the American people.

But the Democratic majority in the senate failed to convict him. Harry thinks this was a tragic betrayal of the Democratic Party’s traditions, which reach all the way back to Thomas Jefferson. Essentially the party dared to insist that individual Americans could make good judgments – and elect good people. The failure to convict Bill Clinton deepened the damage of his original violation. Harry says it has become a terrible wound which can only begin to be healed by Bill’s total withdrawal from American politics.

Where does that leave Hillary?

It leaves her face to face with the need to agree with this banishment and repudiate her husband as a politician, for all time. If she can’t do this, she doesn’t deserve to be elected president.

Wow. Mr. Truman goes for the jugular, doesn’t he?

Sometimes that’s the only solution to an otherwise insoluble moral challenge. It explains why, in defense of the great office we’ve all shared, almost all the presidents here in Elysium are wild about Harry’s answer to Bill Clinton.

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