Harry Truman’s belief in building a world of neighbors remains “highly relevant” in the 21st century, former President Bill Clinton said Wednesday in Kansas City.
“We have got to learn how to work together, around the corner and around the world,” Clinton said after receiving the 2013 Harry S. Truman Good Neighbor Award.
“Harry Truman got that.”
During an approximately 45-minute address, Clinton urged more than 1,000 guests in the Muehlebach Tower of the Kansas City Marriott Downtown to follow Truman’s example in looking beyond their neighbors’ differences and concentrating on sentiments they share.
“What we have in common is more important,” he said.
He also wished he’d been able to meet former president Truman, Clinton said. “The simple virtues he grew up with and lived by were coupled with an incredibly fine mind, and a steel spine,” he said.
In wide-ranging remarks Clinton referenced post-earthquake Haiti, the thawing of the Greenland ice cap, recent tensions between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, and the Human Genome Project.
The first three represented complex global challenges that have been or need to be addressed, he said.
The last, he added, represented the growing body of evidence suggesting the degree to which the world’s residents may share a common ancestry. He described the excitement which which he described — to his wife Hillary and daughter Chelsea — recent research indicating how some of the DNA in the genome of present-day humans originated in Neanderthals.
“My daughter said ‘Dad, we knew you were part Neanderthal already,’ ’’ Clinton said.
Clinton also described his current warm relationship with the Bush family, “which most people find weird,” Clinton conceded.
He detailed his work with former president George H.W. Bush in responding to the 2004 tsunami in southern Asia, as well as with former president George W. Bush in working to rebuild Haiti following that nation’s 2010 earthquake.
“Barbara Bush refers to me as her ‘black-sheep son,’ ” Clinton said.
But both efforts represent the kind of gridlock-free problem-solving that remains possible when those of different political beliefs work together.
Clinton also cited the work of several writers, among them James Surowiecki, the author of “The Wisdom of Crowds.” That book proposes that large groups of everyday people sometimes can find more effective solutions to problems than a select group of elites.
“The room with 25 people will make a better decision than the room with one genius,” Clinton said. Yet he also despaired over recent voter analysis that suggested that some voters, when possible, will live among those who share their own political beliefs.
“We just don’t want to be around anyone who disagrees with us,” he said.
Every year since 1973, the Harry S. Truman Good Neighbor Award Foundation has honored an individual on or near the birthday anniversary of Truman, who was born May 8, 1884.
Past recipients include former president Gerald Ford; former U.S. senators Bob Dole, Jean Carnahan and Kit Bond; historian David McCullough; news anchor Walter Cronkite and actor Gary Sinise.
Normally, about 500 people attend the event. This year, the foundation sold more than 1,000 tickets, said Peggy Farrell, foundation executive director.
Also honored Wednesday was Logan R. Black, former U.S. Army sergeant who served in Iraq as a combat engineer seeking out improvised explosive devices with Diego, a bomb-sniffing Labrador. He received a veteran’s medal awarded annually.
Diego accompanied Black on Wednesday.
Black emphasized the importance of neighborhood, even in a war zone.
“Our greatest success was where we were good as citizens,” Black said of the armed forces who served with him,.