Friday, July 29, 2011

Literature And Politics Mix: Edmund Ross and Everyman

I suppose the current House of Representative membership would consider Profiles in Courage a leftist tract because it lists John F. Kennedy as the author.  In the current political climate, everyone might be better served if Theodore Sorensen, the man most responsible for the book, had his name on the cover.

The profile I remember most is the one about Edmund G. Ross.  Ross famously cast the vote that allowed President Andrew Johnson to remain in office.  Ross know the ramifications of his vote.
Later in life he wrote of the vote, “I almost literally looked down into my open grave.  Friendships, position, fortune, everything that makes life desirable to an ambitious man were about to be swept away by the breath of my mouth, perhaps forever.  It is not strange that my answer was carried waveringly over the air and failed to reach the limits of the audience, or that repetition was called for by distant Senators on the opposite side of the Chamber."
He immediately faced vitriolic attacks.  I do have to admire the style that American writing has lost.
After the vote, Kansas Supreme Court Justice L.D. Bailey sent a telegram to Ross, "the rope with which Judas Iscariot hanged himself is lost, but Jim Lane’s pistol is at your service."  A Kansas newspaper editorial read, “On Saturday last Edmund G. Ross, United States Senator from Kansas, sold himself, and betrayed his constituents; stultified his own record, basely lied to his friends, shamefully violated his solemn pledge and to the utmost of his poor ability signed the death warrant of his country’s liberty.  This act was done deliberately, because the traitor, like Benedict Arnold, loved money better than he did principle, friends, honor, and his country, all combined.  Poor, pitiful, shriveled wretch, with a soul so small that a little pelf would outweigh all things else that dignify or ennoble manhood.”
Ross was far from perfect; in fact, he was something of a political scoundrel. Still he did the right thing for the country in the face of radical opposition.

I don't expect Representative Kristi Noem to emulate Ross and do the right thing to prevent default.  My doubts don't spring from the fact that she was named one of the 50 Most Beautiful people in Washington.  I doubt her ability to do the right thing because of these two explanatory paragraphs.
Last fall’s campaign, in which she defeated Democratic incumbent and 50 Most Beautiful People alumna Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, was rife with images of Noem with gently mussed hair near a bale of hay or leaning against a fence post in the pasture.
Noem quickly became a star in Washington, having been asked by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his advisers to join the GOP leadership team before even getting into town.
 In short, Noem used her looks to get elected and get a leadership position for which she had not proven herself.  That cynical use of one's physical features reminds me of the allegory Everyman.  In the play, Beauty, as a character, tells Everyman, "Here at your will be we all ready. / What will ye that we should do?"  At the conclusion of the play, Beauty leaves Everyman at the sight of the grave. 
What—into this grave! Alas! Woe is me!(795)
Yea, there shall ye consume utterly.
And what,—must I smother here?
Yea, by my faith, and never more appear! In this world we shall live no more at all, But in heaven before the highest lord of all.(800)
I cross out all this! Adieu, by Saint John! I take “my tap in my lap” and am gone.
What, Beauty!—whither go ye ?
Peace! I am deaf, I look not behind me, Not if thou wouldest give me all the gold in thy chest.(805)
[Beauty goes, followed by the others, as they speak in turn.
At the sight of a her political open grave, I expect Noem will follow Beauty's example and leave ordinary citizens to deal with the ramifications of default.

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