When I was a kid, late-winter Saturdays included watching old movies on a clunky black-and-white television. Neatly frocked with state-of-the-art rabbit ears, it produced a snowy picture on the less-than-wide screen and diverted my attention from the snowy fields outside our window in a season—to a ten year-old—seemingly frozen in time.
Perhaps John Wayne swaggering or Gary Cooper strong and silent; Sal Mineo playing a renegade Indian (an Italian Indian?); or Fay Wray fainting in the face of a primate’s passion: no matter what the movie, the wintery Saturday afternoons of the 1960s, for me, were safe, warm and wonderful.
Sometimes I even learned something.
Both Tino Orsini and I were taught a valuable lesson on one of those Saturday afternoons; our instructor was played by Burt Lancaster—a broken-down and past-his-prime circus performer—in the 1956 movie “Trapeze.” Tino (played by Tony Curtis) is a young and brash high-flyer determined to achieve the unachievable.
His catcher, Mike Ribble (played by Lancaster), is now crippled, but in days past was the best in the business and the only artist to have completed the dangerous triple summersault.
Despite the distraction provided by Gina Lollobrigida (also a teacher for ten-year-old boys, but that’s a column for a different day), Ribble (in Burt Lancaster bravado we all came to admire) convinced both Tino and the ten-year-old that achieving what many considered unachievable required total confidence and commitment absent of any reservations.
After all, the trapeze artist most admired is the one who works without a net.
But this isn’t about a movie, Saturdays during a wintery youth or, even, the circus. (Well, maybe a little about a circus). It’s about another lesson learned—or ignored.
In 1976, then Senator Bob Dole of Kansas was selected as the running mate to President Gerald Ford. Ford, having replaced Nixon after his resignation in the face of the Watergate scandal, had assumed the office as a result of constitutional succession, rather than a popular election.
Dole chose, amid criticism, to remain a member of the U.S. Senate while coincidentally running for Vice President. Whether it was an electorate turned off by Watergate or a citizenry concerned with retaining politicians too closely associated with the devastating debacle of Viet Nam as the primary causes of a Carter win, Bob Dole not going all in didn’t help the Ford campaign.
Fast forward to 1996: 20 years later, Senator Dole once again sought higher office—this time the top job and a residence on Pennsylvania Avenue. For a while he wobbled; should he remain in the Senate while, at the same time, running for President? Democrats carped and Republican opponents complained.
Finally, after some less-than-desirable results in early primary states, Bob Dole resigned his Senate seat to run for President. In a moving and emotional address to his congressional colleagues, Dole said he was headed for “The White House or home.”
In November of that year, Dole packed up his ol’ kit bag and headed back to Kansas. Clinton, and Dole’s lack of commitment, cost him in the end.
Even more egregious is the example of Senator Joe Lieberman. As the running mate to Al Gore in 2000, Lieberman not only retained his seat in the Senate, but also ran for re-election at the very same time he and the inventor of the internet sought the highest office in the land. That’s self-doubt to the nth degree.
Al now flies around the world on his private jet to both decry—and add to—global warming. Lieberman has since been dumped by the Democrats and, in 2004, endorsed George W. Bush.
And, of course, who can forget John Kerry. In 2004 he gave it his best against Bush, but really didn’t have his heart in it; he kept his Senate seat in the back hip as a backup. Not aggressive enough to attempt aerial acrobats, Brother Kerry was so bold as to moor his massive foreign-built sailboat in a Rhode Island slip safety sheltered from stormy seas and the Massachusetts State Revenue Services.
Forgive my high standards, but this is hardly the stuff of steel spines needed to pull off the triple summersault. Is anyone beside Tony Curtis willing to listen to Ribble?
Kelly Ayotte perhaps. In 2009 now Senator Ayotte was making a name for herself prosecuting cop killers and other criminals as the Granite State’s Attorney General. Suddenly an opening occurred; after reconsidering a post with the Obama Administration, Senator Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) decided not to run for re-election. In a gutsy move, Kelly Ayotte resigned her position as the AG and launched a run for the U.S. Senate.
In a primary, with no guarantee of winning, Ayotte showed voters she was all in. I guess they call it the Granite State ’cause people over there have stones.
In Maine, some politicians think the only rocks we’ve got are in our heads.
It is an old story by now; Olympia is done. Four Democrats and six Republicans are locked in the political version of a family feud to see which of them will take on King. On the Dem side, Hinck and Dill are sitting legislators; of the R’s, Plowman is a State Senator. Maine has a part-time legislature, so they get a pass.
But not three of the candidates—Poliquin, Summers, and Schneider—all of who currently hold constitutional office.
I can hear Moonlight Graham now (oops, wrong movie, I mean Ribble); if Orsini was unable to commit totally, he would never complete the triple summersault.
Serving in the United States Senate is a full-time job. So is running for the seat, as Kelly Ayotte will tell you. If you’re the Secretary of State, the AG or the Treasurer, however, you already have a full time gig.
I just can’t get my mind around the thought that overseeing elections, convicting criminals or keeping the state’s fiscal house in order in no way interfere with running for the U.S. Senate; or running for the Senate doesn’t get in the way of doing those three important tasks. Hey guys, time to decide: Constitutional commitment or candidate for Senate—go for the triple or go home. Pick one.
And do it without a net.
Lucky Cambridge lives and works in Southern Maine. His vocation is writing about politics; his avocation is the pursuit of the perfect nymph.