When did our choices for public office go from the Best and the Brightest to the Rest and the Blighted? Forcing us to pick our poison. To make our decision based not on vision, or ideas, or policies for the future, but on who will do the least amount of damage to the country.
How did it come to this?
While in this case the choice is clear—a deranged and dangerous would-be potentate with delusions of grandeur all out of proportions to any innate abilities or a kindly, old, but experienced statesman past his prime—it begs the question.
How is it we cannot find a Joe Biden of twenty years ago? Or a John Kennedy? Or a Dwight David Eisenhower? Or, more troubling, why would the candidacy of a woman almost certainly be doomed to failure because she is a woman?
Where are the candidates of experience, character, and, despite the uncertainties of life, of an age able to offer years of service without the approaching concerns of the inevitable? Why is it we limit our choices to people at the very cusp of their life expectancy?
We put a minimum age of thirty-five to be President, thirty to be a Senator, and twenty-five to be a Representative so age has always been a valid consideration. We recognized life experience is a necessary element to serve in government, but one could argue there is an equally valid expiration date on the other extreme. I’m just troubled that it seems to be a consistently problematic aspect of many of our elections.
I’m not suggesting excluding those of a certain age just because of that fact, but it is a element to be factored in. There are no septuagenarian military commanders because of the demands of the position. The job of President of the United States, which includes being commander-in-chief, is the most demanding job in the world. A simple comparison of any President on inauguration day and on the day they leave office shows the debilitating effect of eight years of making (what should be) heart-wrenching decisions with global impact lasting decades.
It is not the job for the faint of heart. While there are no guarantees on the length of one’s life, we all lose something in our physical abilities as we age. The inevitabilities of life are a reality we must take into consideration.
We have a torch to pass to a new generation, but no one seems willing to accept it.
Loren Eisley, in his book The Unexpected Universe, compared American society to the Odyssey of Homer. He wrote this in 1969, but it has become even more clear today.
“In the restless atmosphere of today, all the psychological elements of the Odyssey are present to excess: the driving will toward achievement, the technological cleverness crudely manifest in the blinding of Cyclops, the fierce rejection of the sleepy Lotus Isles, the violence between man and man. Yet, significantly, the ancient hero cries out in desperation, “There is nothing worse for men than wandering.”
The words could just as well express the revulsion of a modern thinker over the sight of a nation harried by irrational activists whose rejection of history constitutes an equal, if unrecognized, rejection of any humane or recognizable future. We are a society bemused in its purposes and yet secretly homesick for a lost world of inward tranquility. The thirst for illimitable knowledge now conflicts directly with the search for a serenity obtainable nowhere upon earth. Knowledge, or at least what the twentieth-century acclaims as knowledge, has not led to happiness.” (Eiseley, Loren. The Unexpected Universe (p. 5). Library of America. Kindle Edition.)
I think Eiseley made a prescient and compelling argument about the dangers of the unfiltered, unreliable, and unmitigated deluge of “information” pretending to be factual knowledge flooding all facets of the media; social and traditional.
Our once important asset of reliable and unbiased news and the power of the free press has been compromised by our childish short attention spans, craving for continuous entertainment, and disdain for critical thinking.
I think much of the upheaval that was the 1960s with the race riots, the chasm of Vietnam, the growing horrors of the Cold War, and the early rise of nationalism with the fading memories of World War II all contributed to a rewriting of the American self-image. We see the concept of selfless service to country without ambition as foolish; one must take what is yours or have it taken from you.
This attitude, coupled with the loss of the art of compromise where everything must be a zero-sum success, led to a generation of politicians who see remaining in office as the goal. The epitome of success is getting elected and clinging to that position at all costs. Legislative accomplishments or improving the lives of Americans are minor considerations. Such things are useful tools only as long as they insure continuity in office.
We are faced today with a Hobson’s choice. Any impartial analysis of the current course of American policy, practices, or discourse can only reach one conclusion. The time to stop this descent into a society torn asunder by our differences, racked by racial disparities, infected with the scourge of white supremacists, and diverging from embracing science with compassion is upon us. While Mr. Biden may no longer be the best and brightest, he at least is a reminder of our better angels.
Perhaps this can be the new beginning. Mr. Biden can remind us of the once vibrant future, what we have lost, and the generation of Kamala Harris can be the herald of a new course for America. Perhaps she can champion the call for a new generation to accept the torch.
We must resist the siren’s song of the past and turn our vision to the future.
“Come closer, famous Odysseus—Achaea’s pride and glory— moor your ship on our coast so you can hear our song! Never has any sailor passed our shores in his black craft until he has heard the honeyed voices pouring from our lips…”The Odyssey of Homer
It is time for us to stop looking to the past for the solutions to our problems and embrace the brave new world.
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