America’s body politic would be healthier if we had more leaders with Harry Truman’s down-to-earth honesty and sense of humor, TV personality Phil Donahue said Thursday evening.

America’s body politic would be healthier if we had more leaders with Harry Truman’s down-to-earth honesty and sense of humor, TV personality Phil Donahue said Thursday evening.

“You won’t hear false piety for short-term political gain from the nation’s 33rd president,” Donahue said at the annual “Wild About Harry” gala in Kansas City.

Donahue said politics today is too caught up in public piety – he called it “tripping over our robes” – though religious issues should be kept largely private. Can you imagine, he asked, any politician today uttering a line attributed to Truman: “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.”

It’s not just a funny line, he said, but a measure of a man who “asked for no favors and put on no airs.”

“I’m going to be myself. That seemed to be what he was saying to us,” Donahue said.

Donahue also gave a ringing defense of the right to dissent and drew applause when he cited the Supreme Court’s opinion – “There are some places in a person’s life where the state may not go” – in Lawrence v. Texas, in which the court threw out sodomy laws, that is, laws against homosexuality.

The Constitution, he reminded the audience, protects the rights of minorities and dissenters even when the majority overwhelming, even violently, opposes them.

“This is how noble we can be,” Donahue said. “This is what makes me proud to be an American.”

Thursday’s event, with 650 attendees, was the 12th annual “Wild About Harry” gala, and it raised $336,000 for the Truman Library Foundation.

Also, the Harry S. Truman Library Institute gave the Truman Legacy of Leadership Award to former U.S. Sen. Christopher S. Bond of Missouri. Bond, who has just retired after nearly 40 years in public life – state auditor, governor, senator – said it’s as great an honor as he has ever received.

Bond cited Truman’s decision to push through the Marshall Plan to rebuild destitute Western Europe after World War II, leading to decades of peace, prosperity and political stability there. There’s a similar need today, he said, in the Middle East and northern Africa. The desperate poverty of those areas feeds unrest and antipathy toward the United States – making foreign aid a good investment that spares the country the need for military solutions later.

“Before a person can choose his politics,” Bond said, “he has to have enough to eat.”