With the political season heating up in this country, one of the things that seems to be in the wind is a generalized dissatisfaction with politics and the candidates who people the scene.
It is tiring to be around people who posture and promise but give no evidence that they have principles for which they would sacrifice ... unless of course it is to sacrifice someone else. Where is their substance, their sand, their track record as credible human beings?
During World War I and thereafter, there were dollar-a-year men, people who served the nation for a nominal fee because they already had enough money and they hoped to bring some skill to bear in parlous times. And while there are latter-day businessmen who have done the same, it has been a long time since I heard of a politician who, while wealthy in his own right, declined a salary because s/he felt that the effort was part of his or her civic responsibility.
People of substance. People who lack substance. I guess the bottom line is that individuals pick their own substance. But I do think that a feather-merchant lifestyle -- never willing to sacrifice or do something contrary to a personal best interest -- is pretty sad stuff.
When it comes to people of substance, I think again of Charles Monroe whose 1939 interview I keep as a permanent reference link on this blog. Charles Monroe was not a high-profile person. He was the town mail clerk in New Marlborough, Mass., where he lived. But he was also a man to take seriously, whether you agreed with him or not.
For example, here is an excerpt taken from the interview, one that does not depict a vapid character:
"I try to be a good citizen by performing certain public and personal
duties which most of my friends would throw up their hands at if I
suggested they perform along with me. In my opinion there's too much
'passing the buck' going on today. I don't like many of our laws -
capital punishment, for instance - but since I'm a voter and a sustainer
of our form of government, I of course automatically make myself as
responsible as any other individual in the upholding of our laws. As a
sort of an 'accessory to the fact' I once forced myself to attend an
execution down in Sing Sing prison where my brother-in-law holds a good job. It was an ugly business. One witness
fainted and another vomited, and it was a big relief to get out of
there. I felt like the executioner myself, as I was partly, for the
fact that we do not press the button or cut the rope doesn't let any of
"But if I can't convince you that I was a killer in that instance,
you'll have to grant that I'm a killer of pigs and cattle, for I've
often helped farmers butcher their live stock. I've done this to
satisfy my own conscience, for I'm a meat eater, and being a meat-eater,
why shouldn't I assist with the dirty work? You smile!"
Yes, Monroe's interviewer smiles. Perhaps a little nervously. Here is a man who is willing to challenge his own beliefs by following them and putting them to the test. This is a man of substance. There is no need to believe what he believes or act as he acts, but I think it is worth noticing that he has a courage that others may lack ... the courage to investigate what otherwise are just feather merchant beliefs. Leadership requires a willingness to tell a certain number of lies, but an unwillingness to acknowledge those lies, those compromises, those excuses ... well, it is not the business of substance.