There is something to learn from Harry S. Truman (1884-1972), the 33rd US President from 1945-1953 when it comes to wielding political power and restraining its potential abuse or misuse.
While serving as Vice President, he succeeded the presidency upon the untimely death of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945. Truman was one of the most controversial US presidents in that most unstable period in World War II. He also holds the lowest and highest public approval ratings in the country's presidential history, but came out as one of the most revered and respected leaders in the US. For two times, he was Time's Man of the Year in 1945 and 1948.
Harry Truman popularized the famous leadership dictum on accountability and command responsibility: THE BUCK STOPS HERE!
Many historians and political analysts agree that Truman's greatness is most felt after his presidency, including his notable demeanor and sense of propriety and simplicity.
After his term, he got many invitations as adviser or consultant, or offers to sit in corporate and business boards. He was also invited to a lot of commercial endorsements with all the perks.
He all turned them down, believing that these offers will only invite a lot of conflict of interest. As a former US president, he knew that he would be bringing the prestige, connections and endowments bestowed upon his former office.
Thus, he was popularly quoted or referred to in various sources by his famous line of restraint: "They were not interested in hiring Harry Truman the person; what they wanted to hire was the former president of the United States. I could never lend myself to any transaction, however respectable, that would commercialize on the prestige and the dignity of the Office of the Presidency!"
When he made a long drive for a speaking engagement, he was stopped and accosted by a New York policeman for making an illegal lane change. He did not use his influence as a former president. In 1971, he thanked Congress for the recognition but refused to accept the Congressional Medal of Honor that the latter planned to bestow on him.
By learning this brand of Truman's restraint, we can ask and reflect about the (mis)demeanor and (mis)conduct of many of the elected officials in the Philippines after this month's national and local elections.
Who makes use of his or her public office - past and present - for personal or commercial purposes? Who makes use of his or her powers of appointment even if they destroy public trust and integrity? Who makes use of his or her position to further perpetuate in power?
And for the first time in our country's democratic history, a President ran and won as a Representative in Congress and bid to be Speaker of the House. Power begets power!
Even if these actuations are legally allowed, it is a desecration when laws are used without a sense of decency. As Truman suggested, the presidency is a natural habitat for conflict of interest; former occupants of the position must exercise extreme restraint.
When power intoxicates, and where wielding power is abused and disgraced, all the more we need moderation and propriety. It is of utmost imperative to summon our very deep sense of Filipino delikadeza.
We need to train in Truman's restraint!