To most Americans, the name Thomas Marshall means nothing, although he was vice president and served two terms under Woodrow Wilson in the World War I era.
But Marshall was a witty man, and we have him to thank for one of the great political lines of all times. Bored with a long-winded colleague’s speech in the Senate about what this country needs, Marshall reportedly leaned toward a friend and, in a stage whisper, blurted out, “What this country really needs is a good 5-cent cigar!”
Pomposity was rarely punctured so deftly, and his zinger lives on as an example of the plain thinking too often absent in the halls of power.
Inflation killed 5-cent cigars, and tobacco prohibitionists are snuffing out the rest, but Marshall still inspires wish-list thinking. In that spirit, here are my wishes for 2014.
America needs leadership, but not the pound-the-table, I’m-right-you’re-wrong kind. We have lots of that, and it can work for a while, but doesn’t usually produce long-term results. People wear out and resentment boils over.
The qualities of leadership I want were, oddly, captured in a photograph taken on Air Force One. It showed former President George W. Bush, Laura Bush, Hillary Rodham Clinton and three top members of the Obama administration — Attorney General Eric Holder, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and first friend Valerie Jarrett — gathered around a table.
These rivals were united to fly to the Nelson Mandela memorial service. President Obama and Michelle Obama were on board, but not with the group when the picture was taken.
Remarkably, the photo showed everybody laughing, with the caption saying Bush was sharing photos of his oil paintings. -- Unless you knew differently, you’d assume they were all the best of friends. They were casually dressed and looked so comfortable, I found myself thinking that only in America could people who fought such bitter political battles — and still do — share genuine pleasure in each other’s company.
Imagine if we had more of that, a sense that all of us, including the political class, have more in common with each other than we usually admit. The approach might shrink the things that divide us and remind us that we are all Americans, and that ought to count for something. At least occasionally.
My second wish also applies to politicians, but everybody else, too: It’s for modesty. I like modesty and yearn for more of it.
To continue reading Michael Goodwin's column in the New York Post, click here.