(First published in May)
It’s after Memorial Day now, and since this is an election year, the game of politics will begin to be played in earnest soon. Today I’m reflecting on some political memories of my own.
The house I grew up in was probably not normal. Our dinner conversations often involved politics and philosophy – not quoting Socrates or anything, but discussing right and wrong, positives and negatives, and such.
I took an interest in politics early on. I was politically aware, if not politically active. In 1968, after the Republican convention, vice presidential candidate Spiro Agnew made his very first campaign stop in my hometown of Oshkosh. We went to the airport to see him speak. He looked like a cross between Joe Biden and Ed McMahon. He was later found guilty of corruption while Maryland’s governor, and resigned as vice president. But, on that day he was impressive.
In high school I went to Washington, D.C. as part of a government study group, and while there met and heard a number of administration members along with my congressman at the time, and William Proxmire, who was one of Wisconsin’s senators for about 100 years, famously spending about $100 per re-election campaign. Not $100 million. $100.
While in Duluth, I we met Independent Party candidate John Anderson, and he gave a good speech, but completely ignored my wife when we gathered to talk. Maybe he was an old-school sexist. Also in Duluth, the Jaycee club I belonged to invited Eugene McCarthy to speak at our meeting in the basement at Pizza Hut. (Our president at the time REALLY liked pizza.) McCarthy had run unsuccessfully for president several times as a liberal, anti-war candidate, but by 1980, according to Wikipedia, “Dismayed by what he saw as the abject failure of the Jimmy Carter presidency, he appeared in a campaign ad for Libertarian candidate Ed Clark, and eventually endorsed Ronald Reagan for the presidency.”
We also met the aforementioned Mr. Clark, and the picture he painted of Libertarianism was very compelling, if not totally realistic.
While working for Wisconsin Public Radio I met Governor Tommy Thompson at a WPR donors’ event at the governor’s mansion, and Governor Tony Earl at the studios.
So, what do I think about all these people? Back in the 19th century, Lord Acton of England said this: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” Some of these people I’ve seen and met over the years may have become somewhat corrupted, but only because we allowed it by giving them more power than we should have given up. Our founders didn’t foresee career politicians, but rather citizen legislators, and a public and press that would hold them accountable.
Maybe we need to revisit that.