I guess our politicians have always been a little grabby. I mean, it’s power they seek, right? But today, they are also grubby. Grabby and grubby.
How else to label Hillary Clinton’s whining that she exited the White House impoverished and then somehow her husband accumulated $100 million trading off his service in the nation’s most august, hallowed, and powerful office?
Barack Obama and his wife will do the same, I have absolutely no doubt about it.
Which brings me to a piece by Peggy Noonan today in the Wall Street Journal about Harry S Truman. It’s not well known, but Truman actually was broke when he left the White House, and not because he had stacked up legal fees defending himself against charges of sexual escapades with the underaged staff.
Unlike today’s politicians, he came to Washington without riches and left the same way.
And his prospects were not great, because his rectitude outweighed his avarice. And because despite being a man of humble means, he was a gentleman of sublime classiness.
From the article:
He didn’t know how he would make a living. His great concern was not to do anything that might exploit or “commercialize” the office he’d just left. He was offered small fortunes to associate himself with real estate companies and other corporations but he turned them down. Mr. McCullough: “His name was not for sale.
He would take no fees for commercial endorsements or for lobbying or writing letters or making phone calls. He would accept no ‘consulting fees.'” Offered a new Toyota as a demonstration of harmonious relations between the U.S. and Japan, he refused: It might look like a product endorsement. Anyway, he believed in American cars.
He tried a few things but eventually became financially secure only five years after leaving office, when he sold some family land that it hurt him to part with. He’d worked it as boy.
We live in a time when politicians relentlessly enrich themselves. We are awed and horrified by the wealth they accumulate, by their use of connections, of money lines built on past and future power. It’s an operation to them. They are worth hundreds of millions. They have houses so fancy the houses have names. They make speeches to banks and universities for a quarter-million dollars and call their fees contributions to their foundations. They are their foundations.
They grab and grub. They never leave. They never go home. They don’t have a “home”: They were born in a place, found a launching pad, and shot themselves into glamour and wealth. They are operators—entitled, assuming. They “stand for the people.” They stand for themselves.
Yes, we live in such a time.
Selflessness is not just a virtue. It leads to policies that remove ego and, as often as possible, political considerations. And those are better policies.
We are forced to abide an age of degeneration and narcissism among our politicians. And because of the crises they have created, we need our old, self-abnegating leaders more today than ever.