Corrupt Hive

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In Memorum: Everett Dirksen

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Last week marked the anniversary of the death of Everett Dirksen. If people think of him today at all, they think of him as one of the Republican proponents of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or as one of the main supporters of the Vietnam War. Less well known is the fact that there is a U.S. Senate Office building named after him. I once worked there.

I think about Senator Dirksen today not for his policies or his politics but for his character. In his eulogy, President Richard Nixon had this to say of Dirksen, “As he could persuade, he could be persuaded.” I first become aware of this quote during my 20s by reading “Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History” by William Safire. At that time, I was heavily involved in Toastmasters International and spent much of my time making speeches throughout the Washington DC area. To that young man, there was nothing more thrilling than speaking in front of ten, twenty, or even a thousand people and watching them bend and move to the force of your oratory. It was addictive.

Many years have passed since that time and I haven’t given a public speech in a decade. The intervening years have taught me a lesson, and it is the lesson that Everett Dirksen seems to have learned: that while it is a mighty power to be persuasive, it is an equally great power to be persuaded. The tragedy of our political discourse today is that there is no one left to be persuaded. Everyone is in some camp, a solider in the army of some candidate, outfitted with quick retorts and prepared to fire at the first sight of any living thing. This is not democracy, it is merely the pursuit of war by other means.

It seems to me in my middle age that what Nixon said about Everett Dirksen is perhaps the greatest thing anyone can say about another human being. If a man is to convince others that he is right, he must not just listen, he must not just be open minded, he must be persuadable. If he is not persuadable there is no conversation, there is no discourse, there is simply a shouting match under the cloak of politeness. If America is to uplift itself from the cultural morass in which it finds itself, it must learn again to enter into a conversation with an open mind, a willingness to admit when one is wrong, and if necessary, to look a fellow citizen in the eye and say, “By gum, I hadn’t thought of that. You’re right.”


Written by Daniel

September 15, 2008 at 5:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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