This DVD – which should not be confused with the same-titled 1975 film starring James Whitmore – offers a September 1961 episode of David Susskind’s television talk show that featured former President Harry S. Truman as the guest.
Truman was, not surprisingly, direct and charming in his answers, which covered a broad scope of political and personal topics. Although Susskind’s questioning is, uncharacteristically, often too polite, Truman compensates by offering highly opinionated comments ranging from salaries for teachers (he believes they were much too low) to the power of the media (he warns about corporations controlling both print and broadcast outlets) to potential for atomic energy (he speaks vaguely of some untapped potential and the need to test the science with more vigor). Truman expresses disappointment on the growing movement of non-aligned nations led by India’s Prime Minister Nehru, but he saves most of his disapproval to the Soviet hegemony and repeatedly refers to it as “totalitarian” rather than “communist.”
Susskind’s questioning overlooks several of the hot-button issues of that year (Castro’s Cuba and the civil rights movement are strangely absent from the conversation), but he allows Truman the opportunity to discuss the historical evolution of the presidency. By contemporary standards, Truman’s approach to presidential leadership is refreshingly honest and unapologetic.
“The worst thing you can do is make no decision,” Truman remarks. “If a decision is wrong, then just make another one to fix it.” Really, how can one argue with that?