“Do you want to know what I think causes the ruination of lots of men? Three things ruin a man, if you want to know what I believe. One’s power, one’s money, and one’s women.” (Quoted in Merle Miller’s Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry Truman, Page 355, Berkley Publishing Corp., Copyright 1973, 1974).
Truman said he came to that conclusion based on his study of history. “You read your history and you’ll find out.” (P. 356)
It’s well documented that Mr. Truman was an intense student of history, much of which was self-taught. But we might suspect that history was not his only guide, that his take was validated by another source with which he was well acquainted: The King James Version of the Bible, specifically Deuteronomy 17:16-17. It reads as follows:
“But he [the king] shall not multiply horses to himself [i.e., military power], nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the Lord hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way. Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.”
The Contemporary English Version phrases it this way:
“The king should not have many horses, especially those from Egypt. The Lord has said never to go back there again. And the king must not have a lot of wives—they might tempt him to be unfaithful to the Lord. Finally, the king must not try to get huge amounts of silver and gold.”
Think in terms of every sleazy or disgraced public official that you can think of. It’s an odds-on likelihood that the Truman/Historical/Deuteronomic template fits.
Here’s Harry Truman’s exegesis, again from Plain Speaking:
“If a man can accept a situation in a place of power with the thought that it’s only temporary, he comes out all right. But when he thinks he is the cause of the power, that can be his ruination.
“And when a man has too much money too soon, that has the same effect on him. He just never gets to understanding that getting enough money to eat and getting a roof over his head is the thing that throughout history most people have spent their lives trying to do and haven’t succeeded. … If you’ve got too much money too soon, it ruins you by setting you apart from the most of the human race.
“And a man who is not loyal to his family, to his wife and his mother and his sisters can be ruined if he has a complex in that direction. If he has the right woman as a partner, he never has any trouble.” (Ibid)
Truman claimed he could name former colleagues who “got mixed up in that way. But we won’t do it now.” Mr. Truman, you don’t have to tell us now. We get the point. We see it all around us.
It’s no wonder that one of the sauciest quotes to come out of his mouth was this little gem: “My choice early in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the truth, there’s hardly any difference.”
These days we could use a little touch of Harry’s plain speaking, and along with it his other qualities of historical and scriptural perspective.