Our Arizona vacations were trips back in time to some of my favorite western movies and TV shows.
Those cactus covered fields and surrounding mountains evoked memories, especially of the John Wayne-John Ford classic Westerns and the areas around Phoenix are similar to some of the areas in Utah where Wayne and Ford made many of their iconic films.
In the aftermath of my first Arizona post, there were requests for my oft-told story about meeting Duke Wayne. So now, a few years after the second trip, here it is again. If you’ve heard it before, head for the nearest saloon, Pilgrim.
Forty-three winters ago, as I reckon, it was John Wayne versus the anti-Vietnam War crowd at Harvard and the surrounding areas of The People’s Republic of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Duke was cheered and jeered as he sat atop an armored “half-track” which moved slowly through the crowd as light snow fell. Some dissidents lobbed snowballs at Wayne as they shouted in derision. The Duke smiled and waved. At one point, everything stopped as the legendary star hopped out to shake hands amid a flurry of snowballs. It was a bad situation for a reporter attempting an interview.
I called in a few favors and somehow, Duke and his entourage slipped into an empty theater. What felt like an eternity to me, I waited alone on stage for John Wayne to appear. Suddenly, the stage lit up. I froze.
“Hello, Garry!” boomed the Duke in a friendly voice as he ambled in that familiar gait across the stage. After the greeting, my TV persona kicked in. I shook hands with my hero, beaming with pleasure.
I was oblivious to the cameras and how much time had passed. Later, I would learn from the tape that it had been a pretty long interview. Me swapping stories with Wayne including some anecdotes about my stint in the Marine Corps which impressed the Duke. He laughed when I recalled how I’d upset several drill instructors during basic training with my irreverent behavior.
The interview ran long. Towards the end, a press agent had to pry Duke loose to resume his “march” to Harvard.
During a formal, group interview at Harvard, Wayne singled me out as “his pal and former Gyrene.” I remember basking in the glow of that moment as other reporters glared at me. Later, as the crowd dispersed, Wayne approached me and said, “Good to see ya again, Gyrene”.
I offered what must’ve been a dumb smile and said, “Good to see you again, Duke.” I could see, over my shoulders, my crew smirking and giggling. I didn’t care. This was the interview I’d dreamed about.
Back in the newsroom, I walked around the newsroom repeatedly asking everyone if they knew who shook my hand that day. Finally, someone told me to throw some cold water on my face and get on with my job.
They didn’t get it. I had spent “private” time with the Duke. With Hondo, Sgt. Stryker, Ethan Edwards, Capt. Nathan Brittles, and Rooster Cogburn … among so many others. Damn — I had swapped stories with the man who really shot Liberty Valance.
Sadly, there were no personal pictures from that memorable day. No autograph. I’d always felt uneasy about asking celebrities for these artifacts.
Ironically, this gesture apparently opened the door for more candid conversations and some unforgettable social afternoons and evenings with Hollywood legends, Royalty, Presidents, sports heroes, wise guys, godfathers and even Mother Theresa who singled me out from a crowd, chastising me about news coverage. I never figured that one out.
Topping all those memorable days and nights was my afternoon with the Duke. Back here in Arizona, where the Duke galloped through so many westerns, I think maybe … mebbe … I can top that encounter in the future.
So you believe term-limits will solve our political problems.
Why would you think that? Are “old timers” in Congress the problem as opposed to the bloated egos and narrow minds of Tea Partyites and Trumpets? How about those right-wing religious nutters? Most of them were just recently elected, have no understanding of how government works, and to top it off, care nothing for America.
Exactly what problem do you think you solve by making terms shorter? Is that likely to attract better quality candidates? Will it convince people to vote for better candidates? Doesn’t our most recent presidential election prove that people will vote for a bad candidate even when all logic and reason should tell them he or she will not serve their interests?
So you believe we will get better government if no one in congress gets to stay for a long time. Why would inexperience result in better government? Would you choose an inexperienced surgeon? A lawyer fresh out of law school? A barber who has never cut any hair? In what field do we prefer raw recruits to proven veterans?
Oh, right, the presidency. How’s that working for you?
Why do you want amateurs making your laws?
Our founding fathers specifically excluded term limits. Their experience under the Articles of Confederation (the document that preceded the Constitution) proved to them that good people are not interested in temporary jobs for lousy pay in a distant city. The people elected to office under the Articles walked away from their positions — or never took them up in the first place.
There saw no future in it.
When the Constitution was drawn, its authors wanted to tempt the best and the brightest to government service. They wanted candidates who would make it a career. They weren’t interested in amateurs and parvenus. The business of governing a nation has a learning curve. It takes years to get the hang of how things work, how a law gets written. How to reach across the aisle and get the opposition to participate.
The Articles of Confederation contained exactly the ideas people are promulgating today. They failed. Miserably. Do we need to learn the same lesson again?
The absence of term limits in the Constitution is not an oversight. The writers of the Constitution thought long and hard about this problem.
A little more history
Under the Articles of Confederation, our country fell apart. Elected representatives came to the capital (New York), hung around awhile, then went home. Why stay? The job had no future. Their salaries didn’t pay enough to cover their costs while serving and nor pay enough to keep their families alive.
Term limits were soundly rejected at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. They were right. The Constitution aims to get professionals into government. Term limits remove any hope of building a career in government. It becomes a hard temp job without a future.
Myth Busting 101: Congress isn’t overpaid
Maybe they are paid more than you and me but compared to what they could be earning elsewhere, they are paid poorly. What you cry? How can that be?
Most members of Congress are lawyers. The 2011-2012 salary for rank-and-file members of the House and Senate was $174,000 per year. A third-year associate at a good law firm will do that well and after six to twelve years (1 – 2 senate terms), a competent attorney in a good market makes much more.
Senators and representatives have to maintain two residences, one in their native state, the other in DC. If you think $174,000 will support two houses and send the kids to college, you are living in a fantasy world. Which is why many members of Congress have other income streams.
Curiously, our Founding Fathers expected congressmen, especially senators, to be men of means. They felt only wealthy people would be able to afford government service. And they would be less susceptible to bribery. On the whole, they were right. What they didn’t foresee was how many kinds of corruption would be available. Bribery is the least of our problems.
Skill and experience count
Writing a law that can stand up to scrutiny by the courts and other members of Congress takes years. You don’t waltz in from Anywhere, USA and start writing laws. Moreover, great legislators are rare in any generation. A sane electorate doesn’t throw them away.
We are not suffering from an entrenched group of old-time pols stopping the legislative process. We are suffering a dearth of the old guard, the folks who understood how to work with the opposition. It’s the newly elected who are stopping progress.
Sadly, our savvy, experienced Senators and Congressional professionals got old and retired. Or died. They have been replaced by imbeciles.
Above and beyond the skill it takes to write legislation, it takes even longer to gain seniority and peer respect. Frank Capra notwithstanding, Mr. Smith doesn’t go to Washington and accomplish miracles. Newly elected congresspeople hope to build a career in politics. With luck, one or two of them will become a great legislator, a Tip O’Neill, John McCain,Lyndon Baines Johnson, Bob Dole, Ted Kennedy or any of the giants. Anyone you name connected to important legislation was a multi-term representative or senator.
Term limits eliminate great legislators
Term limits guarantee a bunch of amateurs — or worse — fumbling their way around Congress. As soon as they figure out where the toilets are and get reasonably good at their jobs, they’ll be gone. Does that make sense? Really?
If you think your congressman or senator is doing a crappy job, replace him or her with someone you believe will do better. That’s a fine example of term limits.
Don’t elect them if you don’t believe in them
We have term limits. They are called elections.
Throw the bums out. Vote for the other guy. Term limits were disastrous in 1788 and they haven’t improved with the years. Watch the news to see how our wonderful, inexperienced government is doing. If that doesn’t argue against the treasured (but stupid) belief that what Washington DC needs are outsiders, I don’t know what will convince you.
We have outsiders.
Assuming we survive 45s reign and are still a democracy, we will need intelligent, knowledgeable people to set America back on course.
We don’t need term limits. We need better candidates, better representatives. We need men and women willing to learn the craft, who have ideas and can work with each other and other nations to get America’s business done. Our government does not rest on the Presidency. It rests on 435 congressmen and 100 senators.
The President isn’t supposed to run the country
Congress writes legislation and votes it into law. Ultimately, it’s you, me, our friends and neighbors who choose the people to make laws, pass budgets, approve cabinet members and Supreme Court justices.
Whatever is wrong with Congress, it’s OUR fault
The 435 members of Congress are chosen by us and if you don’t like yours, don’t vote for him or her. If someone gets re-elected over and over, you have to figure a lot of people voted for him or her. You may not like him, but other people do.
That’s what elections are about. It doesn’t necessarily work out the way you want, but changing the rules won’t solve that problem. Make the job more — not less — attractive. Treat candidates better so qualified people will want to work in government. Otherwise, you’re creating a job no one wants.
Be careful what you wish for.
Ultimately, it’s all about America. Partisanship, special interests, regional issues, party politics, and personal agendas need to take a back seat to the good of the nation. We need to agree what that means, at least in broad strokes.
If we don’t know what we want from our government, we won’t get it. Term limits won’t fix the problem, because that’s not what’s broken.
Vote for people who believe the good of the country is more important than their personal agenda.
Vote for intelligent people who understand compromise, who have an understanding of law, justice, and believe in this country and what we supposedly stand for.
Of all the birds who come up from the south to breed and sing in the summertime, my favorite is the Carolina Wren. They are the loudest singer for their size of any bird and they have a really beautiful set of songs. I often hear them through the closed windows and wall in the bedroom.
“Ah,” I think, “The little wrens are awake and singing.” It’s a very happy sound, even when it’s another gray day.
They are not normally easy to photograph because they are so active, but they too have decided to spend time hanging on the feeder … that is when the squirrels and the doves finally finish chowing down. It’s hard to say who eats more. I think it’s a tie.
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