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MSNBC's Joe Scarborough Discusses His New Book On President Harry Truman


When Joe Scarborough was a Republican congressman some 20 years ago, he had portraits of two presidents on his office wall, Ronald Reagan - that surprised nobody - but also Harry Truman, a Democrat who, as Joe Scarborough explains in a new book, was derided as a rube and a strange little man but who, as Joe says, exceeded all their low expectations. His book - "Saving Freedom: Truman, The Cold War, And The Fight For Western Civilization." Joe Scarborough - "Morning Joe" on MSNBC - joins us. Thanks so much for being with us, Joe.

JOE SCARBOROUGH: Thank you so much, Scott. It's great talking to you again.

SIMON: Why - nice to talk to you again. Why was Harry Truman up on your wall?

SCARBOROUGH: You know, so I was raised in the 1960s and early '70s by conservative parents. And the definition of conservative in our - in the Scarborough household was being, you know, Cold Warriors. And I always thought throughout high school and college when I was reading about the Cold War and studying it that, you know, one of those presidents started the Cold War, and one of them ended it. And actually, the starting of the Cold War was far more difficult because Harry Truman and having to confront Stalin and having to confront the, you know, Soviet Union's efforts to expand westward - he not only had to deal with isolationist Republicans, but he had to push back progressives in his own party.

And Truman was a simple man compared to, certainly, Roosevelt, the person he succeeded. But he had more difficult decisions that he had to make in the first six months of his presidency than most commander in chiefs have to make over two terms.

SIMON: Yes. Well, run those down for us 'cause it's kind of stunning. And to in no way, obviously, diminish Franklin Roosevelt's leadership, you suggest that on some things, Truman was actually more cleareyed.

SCARBOROUGH: Well, Harry Truman in an interview after he left the White House said heroes know when to die. And Truman claimed to be talking about Abraham Lincoln leaving a mess for Andrew Johnson. But actually, I think most people suspect that he was talking about FDR. And it's interesting. For all those who think that Joe Biden is having a difficult transition right now, look back to what Harry Truman had to deal with. FDR knew he was dying during the campaign. He told Truman, hey, don't fly in planes; one of us needs to stay alive. Truman got sworn in knowing that he was going to be president sooner rather than later.

And yet, when FDR died, Harry Truman knew nothing of the Manhattan Project, knew nothing of the secrets in government. He found out after his first Cabinet meeting when Stimson came over and said, hey, I need to talk to you about something. And within several months, he had to make the decision on, you know, how he was going to wrap up the war in Europe, whether he was going to drop atomic bombs on two Japanese cities.

And then, of course, this book talks about what happens a year and a half later when it becomes obvious that Stalin has designs on Greece, on Turkey and on Central and Western Europe. And then Harry Truman has to get to action and has to really create a revolution.

SIMON: And at a time when a lot of Americans were just tired of war, right?

SCARBOROUGH: I mean, most Americans had - didn't want to - did not want to have to confront who they considered to be a good ally during the war. They'd been exhausted by four years of war, by 400,000 deaths, by rationing. The last thing they wanted to do was beat Naziism back and then have to worry about Soviet communism. But that's exactly - that's the - you know, Harry Truman had said to his Cabinet - he said, guys, this is going to be the toughest selling job I'll ever have as a president, is to push people out of the isolationism in peacetime that really had been in the American tradition since George Washington's farewell address.

SIMON: Joe, while we have you, I have to take advantage of the opportunity to ask you this question. Donald Trump has been good for cable news ratings. Going to miss him as president?

SCARBOROUGH: Oh, my God, no (laughter). I remember the Les Moonves quote - bad for America, good for cable - or good for TV ratings. And I remember saying to Mika, my God, I would take cancellation at any moment. It's thoroughly exhausting and sort of a 24/7 news culture that's focused on responding to Donald Trump's latest shocks, his latest tweets. And it's actually bad for America. That sort of news coverage has been bad for America. And where politics - and this has been happening over the past 20 years. And cable news deserves much of the blame, as does political talk radio and now Facebook. But politics has become a sport. You know...

SIMON: Yeah.

SCARBOROUGH: ...Even when I was in Congress, I could sit down and talk to the most liberal Democrat, and we could figure out a way to strike a compromise on long-term care or on education reform, and we could get it done. These days, because it's become so tribal and become such a sport, and I think in large part because of the media, it makes it impossible to strike the deals that you have - the sort of deals that Harry Truman did with, you know, Chairman Vandenberg to...

SIMON: Yeah.

SCARBOROUGH: ...Pass the Truman Doctrine and NATO and make the changes he made.

SIMON: Joe Scarborough - his book, "Saving Freedom" - thank you so much for being with us again. Take care.

SCARBOROUGH: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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