Congressman Emanuel Cleaver on Saturday offered a history lesson involving Harry Truman to shed light on a current political controversy.
Cleaver was at the Truman Library in Independence to accept the city of Independence’s annual Harry S. Truman Public Service award.
“This award ... touches my very soul,” he said.
The congressman noted the criticism that has been aimed at President Obama, who has used executive orders to achieve some of the aims he cannot get passed in a Republican Congress.
Cleaver called for some perspective. Ronald Reagan issued 381 executive orders, George W. Bush issued 291, Harry Truman issued 901, and Franklin Roosevelt issued 3,522. So far President Obama has issued 172.
Over the years, those have covered “too many topics to mention,” he said, adding that the point is what the action actually is. One was Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Another was FDR ordering the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, something for which “our shame has not yet been brushed away,” he said.
“ ... executive orders can be good or bad,” he said.
Truman, like Obama, faced a Congress held by the other party and not eager to act on his agenda, and he issued many executive orders. One of them – seen as politically risky at the time but courageous today – was his decision in 1948 to order the desegregation of the armed services.
“With the stroke of a pen,” Cleaver said, “President Harry Truman actually kicked off the 20th century civil rights movement, which continues today.”
He said Truman’s record of public service is to be commended and emulated, even as that service can take many different forms.
“We all uniquely fit someplace,” he said. “Struggling to find where you fit is something we all should do.”
Not all service, he cautioned, needs to be done in a public way. Cleaver, a Methodist minister, cited the Gospel of Matthew and its admonition “not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.”
Cleaver, a Democrat whose district includes Kansas City and much of Eastern Jackson County, noted that Washington, D.C., has no monument to Truman. Last week he filed a bill, supported by Missouri’s other seven U.S. representatives, to rename Washington’s Union Staiton for Truman. Sens. Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt have filed similar leglslation.
As president, Truman flew some but also took the train often, and he was in and out of Union Station quite a bit.
“We believe that this bill will pass,” Cleaver said.
The Truman Public Service Award is given each year on or near Truman’s birthday. Past winners have included Presidents Ford, Carter and Clinton, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, several senators and congressmen, historians, journalists and others.
“It is the highest honor that the city of Independence bestows on a civilian,” said Mayor Eileen Weir.
The city also presented “Community Special Recognition Award” to the Missouri Mavericks, the Central Hockey League team that plays in Independence.
The Mavericks, founded five years ago, have helped a wide range of local groups through volunteering and raising money. For example, jersey auctions and the Chuck-a-Puck event at games raise money.
“Last year alone, the team raised more than $1 million for local charities,” Weir said.
The team has worked to aid the Community Services League and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City since it was founded, and that list has grown to also include the Child Abuse Prevention Associaiton, the Great Plains chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Habitat for Humanity, the Rainbow Center, Hope House, the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the Folds of Honor Foundation.
“This has been amazing support that we’ve received from the city of Independence and surrounding communities,” said Brent Thiessen, the team’s president and general manager.
The team also has honored Truman, the nation’s 33rd president. It has retired the number 33, worn jerseys with Truman’s likeness and given away Truman bobbleheads.