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Wednesday, 08 August 2007 00:00

Use the ‘front porch’ barometer for politicians

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By John Armour

If you’ve read many of these columns you know I’m addicted to politics. My spouse, among others, tells me from time to time to cut it out. You may also know I live in a restored farmhouse at the end of a half-mile gravel road in Highlands. There is a connection between those two facts.

Consider what happens to anyone in a high position in American politics — or running for such a position. I’ve observed the behavior of many men and women who are — or are running to be — members of Congress, senators, or worst of all, president. Notice that no one ever publicly runs for the job of vice president. It is just the booby prize for some who ran for president and didn’t make the grade.

Henry Cabot Lodge, about 50 years ago, was the only person I recall who said he was running for vice president. Since he’d already debased himself with that comment, he did not achieve his minor goal. But I digress.

You, too, have seen enough of the behavior of these people so you can affirm what I am about to say. These people are protected from reality. The higher the office they hold, the greater the phalanx of eager beaver staff they have, to shape, mold, spin and outright lie to make every word from the Great One’s mouth seem like commandments from God. And furthermore, the first, last, and greatest role of all those staff members is to assure the Great One that he, or she, is right.

Back in 1968, Life magazine ran a photograph of Gene McCarthy on its cover. He was all by himself, paddling a canoe on some backwoods stream. The point was, of course, that he “went his own way.” But ask yourself this question. Have you ever seen a photograph of any of the current politicians, out in the real world, by himself or herself?

Never. They don’t do that. More’s the pity, because that’s part and parcel of why they are divorced from reality.

Every single day, I look at the changing light, color, shadows and weather, on the Blue Ridge Mountains. Those mountains were here, 250 million years before I was born. They will be here 250 million years after I’m gone. That sort of reflection goes a long way toward “taking a fella down a peg or two,” as they say hereabouts. Or, in language more common elsewhere, the majesty of nature teaches humility to mere humans.

My family is wont to say that I need such an education from time to time. But compared to “leading” politicians, I am a piker in the ego department. Because I’ve spent hundreds of hours in the company of representatives, senators, candidates for president, and occasional presidents, I can vouch for this conclusion: Most of them are corrupted by their environment. Very much like the tales one reads of English and French nobility, being surrounded by an environment which treats them better than everyone else, they come to believe that they are better than everyone else.”

With your observation of “higher” politicians, do you reach the same conclusion? Do you also conclude that the exceptions to that rule, the politicians who are not full of themselves, are few and far between?

While we’re on that subject, let’s talk about state legislators. I’ve often said, and put in writing, that the Congress of the United States would improve vastly in competence, honesty and fair representation of the people, if all the current Members of Congress were put out on the street, and replaced with state legislators chosen at random. The reasons for that are two — most state legislators’ constituents can reach them with a local phone call, and most state legislators have nothing like the insulating, groveling staff that congressmen do.

So, I propose the front porch rule to evaluate candidates who want high office. Sitting on the porch means simply being in a certain place. But “settin’ on the porch” has a more complex meaning. It means being in an old-fashioned rocking chair, on a wooden porch, with good friends, having a good conversation, probably about the time the sun’s going down.

Ask yourself if a given candidate would look comfortable and content, “settin’ on the porch” with you and yours. If not, it just may be that candidate has spent entirely too long, isolated from the real world, and needs to be retired from politics for a spell to get his or her head on straight.

(John Armor practiced in the U.S. Supreme Court for 33 years. He lives in Highlands and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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