In 1967, Paul Simon was asked to write songs for the movie “The Graduate.”
A song he was sort of messing around with on an acoustic guitar was one with the line, “Here’s to you, Mrs. Roosevelt.” It was about Eleanor Roosevelt.
The song, of course, became “Mrs. Robinson” to fit the soundtrack for the upcoming movie. But in memory of the original version, today I start with Eleanor’s uncle, Teddy Roosevelt.
Teddy Roosevelt was the 26th president of the United States. At age 42, he is the youngest to ever assume the presidential powers.
But Roosevelt was already a celebrity when he became president. He was a noted author, reformer, soldier, outdoorsman, conservationist and even a politician.
He had served as a New York state legislator, New York City police commissioner, New York governor, assistant secretary of the Navy, and vice president.
Well, folks, a celebrity politician is not a new thing. Nor is a politician who, like Teddy Roosevelt, craved attention.
His daughter Alice said, “My father always wanted to be the corpse at every funeral, the bride at every wedding and the baby at every christening.”
But even so, Teddy Roosevelt was a man who got things done. Celebrity was important to him. But accomplishments were more important.
Teddy said, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
But what if you don’t know what to do? Politicians face difficult issues. Teddy said, “When you are asked if you can do a job, tell ’em, ‘Certainly I can!’ Then get busy and find out how to do it.”
I have written about the need for the IRS to be funded. Not to become a monstrous intrusion on our lives. Just to restore the manpower lost from intentional neglect.
Would Teddy approve of a strengthened IRS? Well, first, Teddy said “The government is us. We are the government, you and I.”
Teddy also said, “No man is above the law and no man is below it: nor do we ask any man’s permission when we ask him to obey it.”
Teddy reminds me that a celebrity politician may be OK if he or she is also an action figure. Today we seem to have politicians who want to hold office only to build their celebrity status.
You and I face many issues as a government. What will be done to solve these issues over the next two years? The next four years?
Budget deficit? Meeting the social safety net needs of an aging population? The worst thing you can do is nothing.
The people ask if you can do a job? Just tell ’em how bad you think the other guy did the job. We are the government. Why do we accept these do-nothing celebrities?
Oglethorpe University is a small liberal arts institution in Atlanta. It has no football team. It was the location of a famous speech given by Teddy Roosevelt’s fifth cousin, also a president, Franklin Roosevelt.
Franklin said, “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”
That must be a Roosevelt trait. Do something, even if it doesn’t work. The worst thing is to do nothing.
Done with a hard, action-packed day at work? Relax in your favorite chair, turn on the television and hear a celebrity politician tell you how the other side hates you and the country and needs to be investigated.
Innovative institutions (business, not-for-profits, youth sports organizations, and so on) solve problems with diverse people working together to try something. If it fails, try something else.
You know that’s how you see things accomplished in the institutions, including your own family, that you participate in.
Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it. Probably said by a friend of Mark Twain, and it describes our political fate.
We pick the un-Roosevelts. Coo, coo ca-choo, Mrs. Roosevelt. Laugh about it, shout about it when you’ve got to choose, every way you look at this you lose.
James R. Hamill is the director of tax practice at Reynolds, Hix & Co. in Albuquerque. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.