February 8, 2016
By Arthur H. Gunther III
Any good farmer knows that if you don’t plant the best seed in cultivated soil and nurture growth against nature and other adversity, the pickings will prove slim. Simple truth, but the basics are often overlooked. There is also the true story of a prize-winning corn grower who shared his special seed with his neighbors. Why? Because corn is pollinated, and he did not want his own fine crop reduced in quality. Practicality is the farmer’s suit.
If Will Rogers were still with us and offering his homespun take on politics, and, specifically, this year’s “presidential” campaign — if you can call it that — he would most likely use farming references, among other commonplace themes. His genius was in explaining the profound with simple examples.
Perhaps one of his analogies today would be the fact that when most politicians, particularly leaders, move on, they make lots of money. Both Clintons are an example, so are the Bushes. Speech fees, serving on corporation or other boards, and sheer star power bring in big bucks. Rogers might offer in contrast the last will and testament of the great optimist, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, the “Magnificent Yankee,” who bequeathed the bulk of his estate, some $250,000, to the Government of the United States.
He did so because he believed in the institution, the fundamentals of which he helped secure but also because he knew that such seed money, however small in comparison to even a Great Depression-era national budget, would make all the crops grow with more vigor and strength. So, he was a farmer of sorts.
Another Rogers example, if he had lived, would be Harry S Truman, who upon leaving office and arriving by train — not a presidential jet — to his wife’s Independence, Missouri, house, was told by Bess to “take the valises up into the attic, Harry.” The president, who assumed the reins in World War II and managed into the Cold War, knew his power ended with President Eisenhower’s oath. Truman so greatly respected American history that he understood you had to humble yourself once out of office. There was no royalty, and, besides, even the grandeur of the White House is supposed to end for the individual with the term of office.
The former president also refused to join boards for he would not trade on the presidency. His poor economic situation (ex-presidents had no pensions or Secret Service aides in 1952) ended only with publication of his first book.
None of us know, and Will Rogers would not have been able to forecast either, where the 2016 presidential race will go and how it will end. Will there be yet another potential leader who sounds good, makes promises but either cannot govern or is blocked from that by the growing special interests? Will there be a non-thinker, a platitude-offering person in the Oval Office, with the red nuclear button at bedside?
Will the new president be so very well-intentioned, even bright, but kept from reality by the great ring of advisers, aides, generals and others who have his ear when no ordinary person can get the people’s words (“commonsense”) across?
The farmer knows there are fields to be cultivated, not only his, and that against adversity of all sorts the best seed must be planted, and for all. Holmes and Truman were American “farmers” who saw public service as a privilege, a trust. Anyone now on the stump willing to get behind a plow?
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org