In David McCullough’s biography of Harry Truman, there is an intriguing minor character named Paul Hume.
Hume was a music critic for the Washington Post during Truman’s White House years. Truman’s daughter, Margaret, was an aspiring singer.
Margaret Truman’s career took off not because of her vocal gifts but because of the novelty of being the president’s daughter. Reviews tended to be soft and reserved out of respect for that relationship.
Generally, that was true. But then there were the honest ones.
During Truman’s second term, Margaret performed in Washington to an audience consisting of her parents, the British Prime Minister, and 3500 others. Afterward, some gave the performance its expected praises. Author John Hersey remarked privately, however, that “she was really pretty bad that night”.
Paul Hume said so publicly. After speaking positively of her stage presence and her personality, Hume said, “Yet Miss Truman cannot sing very well.”
Miss Truman’s father responded in a very un-presidential way, writing a scathing letter the next day after reading Hume’s review. Among other ‘pleasantries’, Truman said, “Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you’ll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!”
This created quite a controversy and was in the end an embarrassment to the president. But this is not what intrigues me.
Shortly thereafter Truman took a huge political risk and recalled General Douglas MacArthur from Korea. MacArthur’s popularity was very high, and this move, while history has shown it was warranted, was universally criticized when it happened. Few, very few, people in the country supported Truman. But among those was Paul Hume who sent to the president a letter expressing his support.
To be able to speak clearly and honestly without being swayed by admiration or disdain for the person is an admirable trait. It is the ability to have clear vision in spite of emotion. I’m impressed by Mr. Hume.
Years later, Hume was in Kansas City to review a concert of Maria Callas, and decided to drive out to see the newly established Truman library in Independence, Missouri. Truman was there, and seems to have forgotten all the bodily harm he had once pledge to deliver. Hume reported that the two had a wonderful visit.
My heart yearns for reconciliation among men. Our emotion too easily clouds our vision. That’s sad. I’m touched by the model of Mr. Hume.