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Give Me Patrick Henry...
or give me the TV Guide.

March 23, 1999

On today's date, back in 1775, Patrick Henry gave his famous "Give me liberty, or give me death!" speech at the Virginia Provencial Convention (pictured to the right in the P.H. Rothermel oil painting). Just a year short of the 225th annversary of that great speech calling for independence, American politics is on the brink of falling under the domination of another insidious tyrant: boring people in government. As the flambouyant LBJ fades into the dust bin of history, along with all of his entertaining cronies, we are now standing before a canvas painted all shades of gray. Al Gore. Liddy Dole. Lamar Alexander. George Bush, Jr. And that is on the national scene. When you look at the states, and their legislatures, you see an even more boring palette emerge. You might say that Jesse Ventura, Governor of Minnesota, breaks the mold, but the truth is that from Pete Wilson of California to Paul Cellucci of Massachusetts, Jesse stands out as the exception, far from the rule, to armies of charcoal gray suits and men and women of all-business and very little humor. It may be a sign of our times. Today, entry into government, especially electoral politics, is the occasion for extremely close scrutiny of candidates' backgrounds. Drugs, sex, and rock and roll, lurking under the covers almost always eliminates some from even standing for election, let alone running. Mario Cuomo. Colin Powell. The result is now becoming clear. Boring people, who have no background (and probably no real life before election) making the laws that bind and clog our lives. The reason that Clinton is still so popular (although I predict a precipitous decline from here on in) is that he was certainly entertaining. His peccadilloes and shenanigans made us all laugh, spawned an entertainment industry, and sold newspapers and talk show commercials by the bushel-full. More people watched Monica's interview than the Superbowl. But day in and day out, American investigatory politics is attracting the minutely uninfected who toss their hats into the ring almost unnoticed and surely without excitment. And so, "the ring" becomes less and less interesting. Great ambition, like great artistry, takes great ego. But politics today is becoming more and more a job, not a career. State legislators make in the $50,000 to $100,000 range around the country, so it's a good week's pay. Making laws is becoming like making the donuts. It's a product, you work eight hours and go home. Two weeks vacation, holidays are paid, and you get an expense account. Controversy must be avoided, consensus is the way to go. Leadership? That's risky.

So where will the passion of a Patrick Henry come from when we need it? Hmmm. Pass me the TV Guide, there must be something on. It can't just be all reruns.

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