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A Man With Qualities

By From the May 2014 issue

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The last of the honest Democrats made his presence felt the other day when he said he might make a run for Congress this year. Coming off a nine-year stint in prison, former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards, now 86, indicated he’d first have to figure out “all the legalities” before making it official. But he liked his chances. And journalists liked the opportunity his reemergence gave them to recycle some of his greatest quips, not all of them with sex on the brain. (About a political opponent: “Dave Treen is so slow it takes him an hour and a half to watch 60 Minutes.”) And if it was about sex, there was always a political context. (“The only way I can lose this race is to be caught in bed with a live boy or dead girl.”)

Now I’m not sure if he said the following, perhaps in an earlier Louisiana life, but he might as well have, when caught in the act and insisting, “Who you gonna believe, me or your lyin’ eyes?” That quote set a standard and it may be the only one our current president abides by. Its latest variation sounds something like this: If you don’t like your Obamacare plan, you have to keep it. The debate is over. We will take no questions. Just get in line and wait your turn, however long it takes. You’ll like the numbers we’ve invented. Smashing success is what it is. Was this once a great country, or what?!

Incidentally, why is he including the supposed three million who get to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26 as net enrollers in Obamacare? Or does he assume they’ll never have to turn 26? Just asking. To think he’s the one using “Groundhog Day” against Republicans.

When discourse is reduced to happy contempt for purpose or meaning, how do we keep going? Is public life so devoid of quality, that there is no one out there worthy of respect or simply by virtue of his qualities an automatic recipient of gratitude for the good work he does? Back in the day, presidential aide and flack Jack Valenti famously observed in a speech, “I sleep each night a little better, a little more confidently because Lyndon Johnson is my president.” It didn’t go over too well, not because we’d already become a mean and cynical country, but because—Valenti’s sycophancy aside—LBJ just didn’t strike anyone as particularly impressive or likable. Since then perhaps only one president, Ronald Reagan, has enjoyed such affection, as was confirmed by the nation’s reaction to his death, but by and large we have moved away from openly admiring anyone in public life. PC liberalism has poisoned discourse, and the only allowable heroes tend to be the first minority this or woman that or some new convert from conservatism. If it’s rammed down your throat, it won’t be regurgitated as respect.

But then from time to time, miraculously if one thinks about it, in some corner or other, one detects the existence of an exceptional, solid, too-good-to-be-true public servant. His work speaks for itself, he’s endured obloquy, his character and mind shine amid great personal modesty and American normalness. Matthew Walther’s profile of Justice Samuel Alito appears on page 26. If ever I have trouble sleeping I’ll turn to it in the dead of night and happily remain awake the rest of it pondering our good fortune. 

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About the Author
Wlady Pleszczynski is editorial director of The American Spectator and the editor of AmSpec Online.