A wide spot in my imagination.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Blessing: May You Be Tossed from the Palace

Yesterday, Buckingham Palace announced that Prince William is engaged. All soon-to-be-weds, young and old, need a word of blessing. So here's one for young Will and Kate:
Yesterday, they announced their engagement. And today, on the Roman Catholic calendar of saints, is the day to honor another princess, St. Elizabeth of Hungary.
The daughter of the king of Hungary, Elizabeth married a German prince. The stories say she loved him. She bore three children. Under the spiritual direction of a Franciscan friar, Elizabeth led a life of prayer, sacrifice and service to the poor and sick. To show solidarity with the poor, she wore simple clothing. Every day, she would take bread to hundreds of poor people.
After six years of marriage, her husband died in the Crusades. Her in-laws looked upon her generosity as squandering the royal purse. They mistreated her and eventually chunked her out of the palace. Elizabeth joined the Secular Franciscan Order and spent her time caring for the poor in a hospital which she founded. She died in 1231, at the ripe old age of 23.
So, for Kate and Prince William: May you (and all of us) be blessed enough to live a life like Elizabeth of Hungary.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Sam Rayburn, Where Are You?

The past often seems prettier than the present or the future. The sharp edges of history are often blurred by the rose-colored glasses through which we look backward.

No, I don't want to go back to the days of coal oil lamps or picking my own cotton or driving wagons. But allow me one misty-eyed plea to the past: Sam Rayburn where are you?

Sam Rayburn was the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1940 to 1961. His term was interrupted twice when his party lost control of the House from 1947-1948 and 1953-1954.

Sam Rayburn is from my neck of the woods (Northeast Texas), and I worked for five years for the congressman who later represented Rayburn's District. In fact, when I worked in the House from 1991-1996, I think some of our constituents thought "Mr. Sam" was still their representative, even though he had been dead for 30 years. So, I'm not unbiased here. I have an attachment to the old, dead Speaker.

Biased or not, I think our country could use him and his type.

Rayburn was not perfect. He was a son of the South and a man of his times, and no doubt those labels showed forth from time to time.

But Rayburn had some traits the country needs.

First, he was by all accounts a fairly shy man. Outside of work, Rayburn didn't have much to say. In contrast, this morning, before the dust even settled on yesterday's election results, the incoming Speaker of the House was bragging and braying on TV, challenging the president and claiming to be the voice of America. Then, this evening, the outgoing Speaker of the House was trumpeting her own successes and staking her claim as martyr for a cause.

In addition to being shy, Rayburn was private. Not only did he keep quiet about most things, he really kept quiet about himself. An example: Rayburn's brief marriage failed. And he said absolutely nothing about it. Compare that to Newt Gingrich, Bill Clinton, John Ensign and their woefully public tawdriness.

Rayburn paid his own way. He never accepted gifts from political favor-seekers. Once he even paid his own way on a Congressional fact-finding trip to the Panama Canal. Reading about Tom Delay's trial about money-laundering and what-not makes me ask even louder: Sam Rayburn, where are you?

Twice Rayburn lost the Speakership, turning over the gavel to his good friend, Massachusetts Republican Joseph Martin. What's notable in the sentence is "good friend." Imagine Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner sitting down for burgers and beer. Maybe they do. I hope they do. But Rayburn and Martin developed a friendship that transcended partisan differences.

The story is told that, after one change in power in the House, Rayburn and Martin agreed not to swap offices. In the Capitol, where "importance" is often defined by real estate, that non-move was an act of humility.

Many lines of political wit are attributed to the dry and reserved Rayburn. My favorite is: "Any jackass can kick a barn down. It takes a carpenter to build one." Sam Rayburn, carpenter, where are you?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Some Disco for Election Night

It's Election Night 2010, and I'm watching old episodes of "30 Rock" on Hulu. Which is kind of odd for a political junkie who once made his living in the halls of Congress.

No, I haven't become one of those cynics who doesn't care; I care deeply about politics and policies. And I don't think I'm sticking my head in the sand; though Tracy Morgan is a funny diversion.

Instead I'm thinking that Gloria Gaynor's disco tune could be a sound track for history.

You remember Gloria Gaynor, of course. Her hit, "I will Survive," topped the charts in 1979. Hum that song to yourself while we take a quick ride through American history:

Benjamin Tillman loudly and ignorantly criticized Theodore Roosevelt for inviting esteemed African-American educator, Booker T. Washington to the White House. Tillman was a blustery, despicable racist. He was also a duly elected member of the United States Senate...and yet, the republic survived.

Joseph McCarthy lied and blubbered about Communists hiding all across the country. His nasty antics inflamed nationalistic fires and turned neighbors into spies. McCarthy, too, was a democratically elected United States Senator...and yet, the nation survived.

Keep Gloria Gaynor singing in your head. Here's a tale from about the time her hit was on the radio:

My hometown once elected a yahoo to the State House of Representatives. He showed up at the State House, turned his chair around backward to denounce his colleagues, then paid one of cousins to shoot him in the arm, and blamed the shooting on Satan worshipers. He was a full-fledged wacko, elected by the good voters of East Texas...and yet, the nation survived.

Richard Nixon. Warren Harding. David Duke. Belligerent little George Wallace preening in a schoolhouse door. The list could go on. All elected by voters who should have known better, done better, been better...and yet, the republic has survived.

This Election Night is far from over. So far, one senator-to-be rejects the Civil Rights acts of the 1960s, and another one is a virulent homophobe. One Senate candidate who denied the separation of church and state has lost an election bid; another who denies it as well is still to be determined. Will these names join history's too-long list of never-should-have-beens?

My best guess is that, in the short-term, the President and other Democrats will have to develop better agendas and tactics. My other hunch is that in 2012, "Throw the bums out," may be the cry against some of those elected in 2010. We seem to be a fickle electorate.

The ship of state will, I pray, list along, edging onward, but rocking and rollicking as she goes. Which brings us back to Gaynor's tune: We will survive. I believe that. I hope that.

Though survival is not always the highest goal. Thriving would be better. And indeed, some sad souls have not survived the perilous history of benightedly elected politicians: Racism, ignorance, lack of concern for social service programs have harmed and killed too many people. We can, we should, we must do better.

Maybe I'm naive, but I lean heavily on the patient and wise words often preached by the good Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

So as it bends this evening, rather than get all a-twitter at the play-by-play results bellowed by braying heads on television, I'll just hum a 1979 disco hit, go back to some distracting chuckles prompted by re-runs, and do what I do at funerals: Commend this election's soul to God.