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John F. Petrone

Balconies, Bathtubs and Change

(2 February 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. XII No. 5, 2 February 1948, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Militant is on the ball when it comes to covering. Truman’s strikebreaking, encouragement of high prices, responsibility for witch hunts, fomenting of war, etc. But it seems to me to have fallen down on the job of reporting a story that has many people yelling bloody murder – the celebrated case of Truman and his balcony. In the interests of keeping the record straight and enabling our readers to take a position on this question, let’s review the main issues involved.

First, there is the question of Truman’s whole method. To quote Harold L. Ickes:

“With all the ‘hush-hush’ of the Pendergast Gang getting ready to steal an election in St. Louis, President Truman, an honored and dues-paying member, has suddenly announced that a contract has been let for mutilating the south facade of the White House by building thereon a scabrous balcony. President Truman has not asked the people what they think about his proposed liberty with their White House. He simply tells them what he proposes to do.”

He did consult the Commission of Fine Arts, but when its members unanimously voted against it, Truman stubbornly went ahead just the same.

Second, there is the question of the balcony’s cost, which will run to $15,000. An angry suburbanite matron explodes: “The inconsistency of using money for unnecessary government expenditures while sending, Congress a message dwelling on the dangers of inflation!”

Third, where is the $15,000 coming from? Frederick Muhlenberg (R., Pa.) took the floor in the House of Representatives and pointed out:

“The president has indicated that he will use maintenance and repair funds for a capital improvement. It is just as illegal for him to do this as it would be for any one else to switch funds from the specific purpose for which they were authorized to another purpose.”

Fourth, and most frequently heard, is the complaint that Truman’s procedure in this matter constitutes a violation of “good taste, propriety and historical feeling” because no temporary tenant of the White House has the right to change the structural appearance of this “national shrine.”

Truman apparently can endure charges of secret maneuvering, arrogance, promotion of inflation, misuse of funds, etc. But the charge that he doesn’t have an “historical feeling” got under his skin, and he heatedly defended himself against it at a press conference. As a matter of fact, he said, historic precedent is on his side. Those who are condemning him are the same kind of people who wanted to lynch the wife of President Fillmore when she installed the first bathtub in the White House way back in the 1850’s. With that argument Truman felt he had neatly floored his critics. After all, who is going to take a stand against bathtubs?

Well, there you have the facts and you are free to draw your own. conclusions. Personally, I think we can all agree with one aspect of Truman’s argument: It’s about time some changes were made in the White House. And I am not talking about architecture.

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