Letters to the Editor

Time now for enrichment, not jocularity? | Latte Guy | Feb. 6

The year 2008 will likely be best remembered as the year in which we elected our first African American president. But it would be a shame to forget that 2008 was also a banner year for political comedy, particularly comedy of the unintentional variety.

In that regard, who among us won’t miss George Bush and his war with the English language, Elliot Spitzer and his high-priced hookers, John Edwards with his hair and hypocrisy, Hilary Clinton and her Bosnian snipers, Ted Stevens and his home remodeling project, or Larry Craig and his wide stance.

And John McCain, of course, gets special mention for his willingness to run one of the most unintentionally funny presidential campaigns in recent memory, a campaign that gave us both Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber. But for the grace of God (with an assist from Barack Obama) Sarah Palin might today be serving as vice president in a McCain administration and Joe might be the treasury secretary, or more appropriately, Secretary of Whatever’s Left of the Treasury.

This year is at least starting off on the right foot with disgraced Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich opting to boycott his own impeachment trial in Chicago, a decision that hearkens back to Rudy Giuliani’s innovative campaign strategy of deciding to sit out the early Republican presidential primaries until he was mathematically eliminated from the race.

With no presidential election in 2009, we won’t see that kind of shrewd appeal to voters unless Cloris Leachman gives it another go on Dancing with the Stars.

We can also thank Big Business for providing us with a tin cup full of unintentional humor last year. Who can forget the hilarious sight of the multi-millionaire Bosses of the Big Three automakers arriving in Washington, D.C., on three separate private corporate jets to beg Congress for billions so they could keep building automobiles that Americans don’t want to buy?

Congress did its part to add levity by scolding the Big Three before handing them their checks.

For good measure, Congress also threw taxpayer money at the banking, securities and insurance industries, who promptly offered their heartfelt thanks to the hard-working American taxpayer by using their bailout money to buy more private jets and to pay lavish bonuses to the very same senior executives who managed their companies into needing the bailout in the first place.

I know, side-splitting stuff. Makes you proud to be an American, doesn’t it?

A decade or so before the last Great Depression, a man who really was proud to be an American offered this advice to his countrymen: “You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You and I are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”

Woodrow Wilson was our 28th president. A former president of Princeton University, a former governor of New Jersey, and a leading intellectual of the Progressive Era, Wilson led the United States through the First World War. He helped raise billions for the war effort with Liberty Bonds.

He instituted the draft and imposed the income tax, both wildly unpopular but necessary in a time of war. Women won the right to vote during his administration.

After the war, Wilson went to Paris to sign the Treaty of Versailles and to help form the League of Nations. Largely for his efforts to form the League (which, ironically, the United States never joined), Wilson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919.

Wilson was no saint, and the accomplishments of his administration and his place in the ranking of great American presidents are hotly contested topics among historians. But when it came to defining what it means to be a U. S. citizen and a citizen of the larger world, I think our current business and political leaders would do well to heed Mr. Wilson’s advice.

Tom Tyner is an attorney for the Trust for Public Land. He is author of “Skeletons From Our Closet,” a collection of writings on the island’s latte scene.

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