A December 2018 “McGroarty for Freedom” Facebook quote meme remained popular in circulation nearly a year later, attributing commentary about politics, wealth, and honesty to former United States President Harry S. Truman:
Underneath a black-and-white photograph, text read:
“You can’t get rich in politics unless you’re a crook.”
— Harry S. Truman
A cursory search revealed that the quote was quite popular among political commentary memes, all widely shared and mostly attributed to Truman. In January 2018, a different arrangement of the same quote and attribution was shared to Reddit’s r/QuotesPorn:
Yet another iteration appeared on the social reading site GoodReads:
“Show me a man that gets rich by being a politician, and I’ll show you a crook.” ― Harry Truman
On Truman’s Wikiquote page, the axiom appeared in a box of quotes marked “disputed.” No other listed quotes attributed to Truman featured the word “crook.”
On the linked discussion page, one Wikipedia editor documented the widespread popularity of the quote and fruitless efforts to substantiate it or attribute it to Truman:
The following quote is said to be that of Harry S Truman. “You can’t get rich in politics unless you’re a crook.” To date, other than in memes and blog spots, I find it difficult to attribute the quote, even paraphrased, to Truman. To date I’ve found no link to a speech, formal or informally, where it appears; nor can I source it through any book or letters he has authored. HOWEVER… throughout the World Wide Web it comes back credited to Harry Truman. Someone please help me if possible, validate a place that PROVES he ever made the statement… in what context it was stated… what brought about him [supposedly]MAKING the statement.
Additional editors reported inability to validate the quote’s veracity. In ensuing discourse, another pointed to a quote from which the internet axiom was likely sourced:
No young man should go into politics if he wants to get rich or if he expects an adequate reward for his services. An honest public servant can’t become rich in politics. He can only attain greatness and satisfaction by service.
That quote appeared on page 306 of Off the Record: The Private Papers of Harry S. Truman, from an April 1954 diary entry. A description for which reads:
Gathered for the first time, Truman’s private papers — diaries, letters, and memoranda — cover the period from his occupancy of the White House in 1945 to shortly before his death in 1972. Students and scholars will find valuable material on major events of the Truman years, from the Potsdam Conference to the Korean War.
A number of memes and blogs claimed United States President Harry S. Truman said “you can’t get rich in politics unless you’re a crook.” That quote appeared to be — at best — a paraphrase of a 1954 diary entry, in which Truman wrote that an “honest public servant can’t become rich in politics.” As additional context, Truman wrote those words 65 years before they appeared on Facebook in late 2018, in a political landscape far different than the one in which the quote attained newfound popularity.