Commentary – Quentin Kopp

By Quentin Kopp

U.S. President Calvin Coolidge relevantly declared in the 1920s: “It is a great advantage to a president, and a major source of safety to the country, for him to know he is not a great man.” If that reminds us of our current ostentatious president, be grateful to “Silent Cal.” 

Harry S. Truman was a different kind of president, without lavish hotels, golf courses, gambling casinos and office buildings. A symbol of his non-strident greatness relates to the manner in which he lived after leaving the White House on Jan. 20, 1952. Truman once stated: “My choices in life were either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician, and to tell the truth, there’s hardly any difference.” Offered corporate directorships and positions at large salaries, he refused, noting: “You don’t want me. You want the office of the president, and that doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the American people and it’s not for sale.” 

While President, Truman paid for all of his own travel expenses and food. After leaving the presidency, his income was a U.S. Army pension from World War I service in France that amounted to $13,507.72. After disclosure that President Truman paid for his stamps, the U.S. Congress enacted a bill providing him an “allowance” and later a retroactive pension of $25,000. Once President Dwight D. Eisenhower was inaugurated, Harry and Bess Truman drove home to Independence, Missouri, by themselves to live in a house inherited by Bess from her parents. Except for Harry Truman’s presidential years, his wife and he lived there their entire married lives.

Compare that to the Trumps, the Kushners, the Bidens with son Hunter, U.S. Senators Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein with sales of millions of dollars in stocks after confidential briefings three months ago on the spreading pandemic.

The University of California Board of Regents voted unanimously last month to abolish for admission Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and ACT requirements. So did the California State University’s governing board. Last January, the American Legion Magazine reported that for the first time in the Gallup Poll’s 18-year history of asking how proud young people are to be Americans, less than half stated “extremely proud.” A recent survey concluded that only one in six Americans could pass a basic U.S. history quiz. Just half can identify when the Civil War occurred. Sixty percent of Americans couldn’t name nations we fought in World War II. Just 26% could name the three branches of government. Only 40% could identify any of the First Amendment guaranteed freedoms, but 43% knew the number of U.S. Supreme Court justices and merely 37% could identify their member of the U.S. House of Representatives. As noted by some writers, a democratic society can’t survive without knowledge of our history and birthright.

Because of interested questioners, I announce early my recommendations for elective offices Nov. 3, 2020. Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee finishes his permissible terms Jan. 8, 2021. I’ve endorsed Dr. Emily Murase, a former elected Board of Education member and Lakeshore Acres neighbor, and Ben Matranga, who demonstrated his fiscal discipline by his compelling, but futile, voter information handbook argument against Supervisor Aaron Peskin’s oppressive tax on empty stores. (I don’t know any vacant store owner who willfully refuses to rent, and if postponed enforcement of the illogical tax ends this or next year, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and San Francisco Taxpayers Association will sue its legality.) 

I’ve also endorsed for the Community College District Board of Trustees Alan Wong, an Abraham  Lincoln High School graduate and California National Guard member, on expectation that he will initiate an investigation of wasteful, perhaps even illegal, expenditures by the recently-resigned president and his henchman, both of whom possessed records of misconduct in Southern California community colleges. City College of San Francisco is a marvelous educational institution, notwithstanding dismal administration and lackadaisical governance. Supervisor Gordon Mar introduced last month a charter amendment to require $20 million per year transfer of money from the City and County of San Francisco’s general fund to City College, with provision for increases automatically in future years. Unknowledgeable or deliberately ignorant, City Hall officials forget that City College constitutes a separate governmental district under state law, with its own source of state law funding and its own elected governing body that resulted from a 1972 charter amendment by the late John J. Barbagelata and me. Political capitulation by City College elected trustees has resulted in ten campuses, instead of the single Phelan Avenue “Oxford on the Hill.” Selling most of those properties would restore fiscal City College strength for students, faculty, and San Francisco taxpayers.

Finally, I note another foolish effort to attack City Hall corruption, namely, creation in our charter of an elected public advocate, with responsibility to execute duties of the district attorney, Ethics Commission, and even city attorney regarding thievery already exposed by U.S. Attorney David Anderson. The proposed office would enjoy a budget of almost $1 million annually, adding to the approximately $2 million allocated by City Hall to the district attorney for such prosecutions, the Ethics Commission’s $4 million expenditures, and the city attorney’s “integrity unit” appropriation of more than $2 million. Only a lawyer could be elected public advocate, with a two-term limit of four years each.

Such tendentious legislation reminds me that Thomas Jefferson observed: “My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government.”

Quentin Kopp is a former San Francisco supervisor, state senator, member of the SF Ethics Commission and retired judge.

3 replies »

  1. I have my own Harry Truman story….In the late sixties I was in charge of the acute psychiatric unit at San Mateo County General Hospital. We were a receiving unit taking on every variety of problem. We had on the unit an aged man with dementia for whom there was no treatment and no suitable placement. We were bewildered on a suitable disposition, except that he was a military veteran from World War I. The VA was contacted but they did not want a custodial case. Several days passed with no resolution. I came to the unit on another day and the staff nurses reported that he had been Harry Truman’s commanding officer in the War! A few hours later the staff reported to me that they had solved the placement problem. They had called theTruman home in Independence and reported the problem to Mrs. Truman. “The President thanks you so much.” she replied. “We will take care of this.”
    Two and a half hours later the VA called and authorized the transfer. “We knew that Harry Truman would never forget his commanding officer” the beaming staff noted!


  2. additional note: Access to theTruman phone had been no problem….in those days there were still “operators.” The staff got an operator in Independence, identified themselves , and asked to be connected to the Truman home phone….and it was done! Bess, herself, answered!


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