Editor’s note: A version of this piece first appeared at USAToday.com.
I have awakened on November 7 to learn that your bid for the presidency was unsuccessful. In the midst of the disappointment that I share with you, I want to thank you for devoting years of your life to the wearisome task of running for president. Millions of Americans are grateful to you.
You have been one of my heroes for the past 48 years. I still recall vividly the valiant cross country race you ran at our Cranbrook Homecoming in October of 1964 – a race when you willed yourself to run faster than you ever had until, near the end, oxygen starvation set in, causing you first to stagger, then to collapse just 30 yards from the finish line. I can still see your face, ashen and contorted in pain, as you ignored the torture of the cinders on the track scraping against soft skin and began to crawl. Even though every other runner passed you, and you had nothing to gain – other than surcease of agony – from dragging yourself to the finish line, you refused to quit until you reached your goal. Your brave effort touched me deeply. That’s when I learned that you were special – a man of character, commitment, heart and guts, someone who embodied the indomitable American spirit.
I also admired your exuberant joie de vivre. You loved life, and I can see that your great capacity for love found abundantly happy fulfillment in your life with your wife and sons. I also remember your friendship with Chester, our night watchman at Cranbrook. At prep school, there can be a tendency to disregard the support staff, to take them for granted like the furniture, but you reached out to that good, simple, kind, salt-of-the-earth security guard. (Just for the record, I befriended Chester, too, during my senior year, so I feel we share that bond.)
Nobody can doubt your love for our country. Whereas your opponent concentrated on lining up support from key special interest groups, your focus was more akin to the patriotic statesman than the opportunistic politician – it was so clear that you wanted to get our country back on track. As we can now see, that wasn’t to be.
What occurs to me is that, by losing the election, you might have been spared a cruel fate. If elected, you would have inherited an economic mess. The problem isn’t just the looming fiscal cliff and debt ceiling, but the overall financial situation of our government is clearly unsustainable and nonviable. Entitlement spending has mushroomed so that it – combined with interest on the national debt – now consumes virtually every dollar of tax revenue. That means that the various departments and agencies that we normally think of as “the federal government,” from the Pentagon through the EPA and everything in between, is being run on borrowed (or “quantitatively eased”) dollars. No president could trim entitlement spending or shut down enough of the government to stanch the flood of red ink. Government indebtedness will continue to balloon and our currency will continue to be debauched, and it would have been impossible for you, given the prevalent attitudes of the people, to halt that insidious process. You might have tried by firing Ben Bernanke and replacing him with someone who would stop quantitative easing, but that would have caused interest rates to rise and the federal government to become insolvent, triggering a crisis that would have made you a vilified president.
The presidency at this juncture in history strikes me as an impossible job. Both domestic and foreign policy seem to be Gordian knots that no mere mortal can cut. I know, though, that you would have valiantly been willing to give your all in the attempt to help your country at this difficult time. Your path as president would have been as excruciating as those last 30 yards of that cross country race you ran so long ago, but you would have addressed the challenge with the same determination and commitment as you did then. Now those awful burdens you would have been willing to shoulder fall on your opponent, and we’ll see what kind of shoulders he has.
You gave years of your life for the chance to be of service to your country, Mitt, and you lived by our school motto, “Aim High.” You did us proud.
Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson is an adjunct faculty member, economist, and fellow for economic and social policy with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.
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