The Last Public Servant
We’re not ranking leaders or presidents. But we cannot help thinking about the people we elect who disappoint us, who make grand and stentorian promises to save the middle class, keep us out of foreign entanglements, revise the tax code, cut the deficit, finds jobs for all Americans.
Looking back, though, to the end of World War II, we have found some examples of men who kept their promises, or who at least put those promises ahead of their own financial welfare. Every once in a while, we run across the names of leaders who managed to do both, or who tried to do both.
Let’s posit for a moment that each leader or would-be nominee really and truly believed what he or she espoused.
And for the sake of argument, let’s delete the names of those who are imagining a run for office in 2016.
Why does looking backward seem a sensible occupation? Because if we don’t, we’ll be sentenced to a continuing run of charlatans whose grandest hope is a best-selling book and a lecture tour.
And this is before ideologs grabbed the reins of the Republican Party.
Does the name Harry Truman ring a bell? A man of whom little was expected but who delivered big time. A man who was not afraid to work with members of both major political parties to get what he wanted. And what was that?
Total victory in the war.
A plan to assist former enemies into the lifeboat.
Action to keep the steel industry on an even keel.
Legislation that would promote racial equality in the Armed Services and out.
And of course legislation that allowed GI’s to go to colleges on their return for very little of their own money.
Truman was followed by General Dwight Eisenhower, a man who was shy and would have ducked if could. But he stuck with it, and gave us victory –or at least a truce in Korea; the infrastructure for a super-highway system, solid advice and warnings about the “military/industrial complex’; a Supreme Court that addressed racial inequality and that brought “separate but equal” to an end. We do not believe he was responsible for the nearly total ignorance of this new law in the South.
JFK stared down the Russians in Cuba, not to mention the educationally bigoted adminstrators of schools in Dixie.
Lyndon Johnson gambled and won big and lost big. He passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Great Society, Title Nine. He was sucked into Vietnam and became a lame duck president.
Richard Nixon was a crook, but he opened China to the world. Then he closed down the American flag by being impeached for good and natural reasons.
And Gerald Ford, with a lifetime of experience in Congress, pardoned Richard Nixon and lost his only bid for a singular presidency.
With the exception of Jimmy Carter, farmer, nuclear submarine commander, businessman, what followed has been all downhill.
The nation became populated by “exceptionalism” and people said to themselves, If he got his, why not get mine.
So they did. Political promises came second in the race to running up personal fortunes. The run for state or federal office became only a matter of earning as much money as possible. Voters realized that this country was as corrupt as any other.
“Ear marks” went bananas, lobbyists began writing legislation to favor their own positions, the rich were elevated to a separate class among First Amendment adherents. Being elected now meant health insurance and benefits, social security, pensions and working on average no more than two days a week. Not much one can do for one’s nation in a hundred days.
The Clintons began selling overnights in the Lincoln Bedroom. George H. W. Bush was a throwback but decent. His son was neither, allowing his advisors free reign internationally and bringing the reputation and the economy of the country to an all-time low. And few there are who can read and understand our current occupant of the Oval Office.
We tiptoe through these fields of tulips as we watch, and understand, what has been happening in Washington D.C. these past two days. For the next twenty or so months we’ll be tuning in to see which of these egocentrics imagines himself Caesar. Some have a modicum of experience; others have only dreams induced by newly legalized drugs.
But we should remember the last time we went through this weird selection process. And, please God, remember it.