Tuesday, Nov. 2, is Election Day, which reminds me again why I so like those who dare to run for public office.
For most of us, life is a series of private successes and private failures. If you and I are the two finalists to be named regional sales manager of the Great Lakes Shoe Tree Company, the local paper -- when your appointment is announced -- does not add that Shields was passed over "because of nagging doubts about his behavior at the company Christmas party" or because of "unresolved suspicions about his expense accounts."
That's not the way it is for candidates. Everybody you ever sat next to in high-school study hall or car-pooled with knows whether you won or, more likely, lost. Most of us go to great lengths to avoid rejection. But candidates must possess some extra gland that enables them to live with the pain of public rejection.
Personally, I do have one very favorite candidate seeking public office on Tuesday for whom I am openly rooting. But more on that later.
First, let me tell you a short story about American politics and patriotism that begins during World War II when the young man left Notre Dame to join the Navy.
After seeing combat as a gunnery officer and lieutenant junior grade on a destroyer, he found himself and his ship in the Pacific on Sunday, April 1, 1945, as the U.S. invasion of Okinawa began. Six days later, the first mass suicide flights by Japanese planes and pilots, some 400 strong, began.
Our young lieutenant was on deck when the first of three kamikaze planes hit his ship, leaving scores of Americans dead and wounded, and knocking out all the ship's guns, radar and communications.
Fire threatened the U.S. destroyer's own stored ammunition, the explosion of which would have sunk the ship. Acting boldly and at great personal risk, the lieutenant managed personally to get all the stored ammunition away from the flames and the ship out of danger. For his bravery, he won the Silver Star. He never talked about that day or the horror he lived with and through.
He was not that different from so many of his generation who fought and too many of whom died for the American cause they believed to be just. As a young man, his courage was tested -- and his courage and that of so many others was affirmed in the hell of combat. The rest of us are left to ask: Shall we ever see their like again? Or were they the last of a heroic breed?
After the war, the young lieutenant came home to finish college, to marry and eventually to become a college English teacher. As a political reformer and maverick Democrat -- and obviously unafraid of rejection -- he ran for and won five city council terms in his overwhelmingly Republican hometown. He managed to win election to the U.S. Congress in 1964. He lost in 1966. In 1968, as an anti-Vietnam candidate, he lost a close Senate race.
In 1970, he was elected governor of his home state while advocating a state personal and corporate income tax in a state where the concept had never before been mentioned by any serious office-seeker. In the 1974 election, with the state income tax on the books, our ex-lieutenant became at the age of 53 an ex-governor. He went back to teaching and public service.
Now to the 1999 race I'm following: In Cincinnati, a first-time candidate for the city school board makes his case this way: "There are 48,000 kids in the Cincinnati public schools, and the education they get in those schools is their one chance for a decent and productive life. . . . We owe it to them. We owe it to our community and to the future of all our children to make our cities' schools the very best."
This first-time school board candidate is John Gilligan, the ex- Navy lieutenant and ex-Ohio governor who won the Silver Star at 23 and who, at the age of 78, refuses to reminisce about the good old days. Instead, he lives today with his eye on tomorrow.
At 78, with contagious passion and obvious conviction, Jack Gilligan, as he has for half a century, summons the citizens of his city to their high civic duty.
Creators Syndicate Inc.