I really hoped you would return my call, as I believed you would. Our brief conversation earlier this evening was ill-timed, I had much to say to you, on this our Country’s 235th Birthday. You were at dinner with your family, awaiting the fireworks display, I had to help someone near and dear to me. I thought you understood my excitement and desire to share my thoughts of this day with you. So I send them to you publicly, and hope that my thoughts may inspire others besides you; perhaps a young girl in whose eyes the reflections of her country’s birthday fireworks kindle a fire to know, to understand politics; perhaps a college coed who wonders what she can do, how she must prepare, to serve her country in the best political sense.
I am an old political war-horse, but the ground on which we joust is fresh and new. I am very proud of you, of your academic achievement, of your will to define and seek success, and of manner in which you parse problems and seek the simplest answers. And now, as you go off to seek a legal education, with a love of the Constitution in your heart, and an understanding of freedom’s cost in your mind, I have a few words to share with you. You have come from an outer island in the stream of the American Dream. You are a single mom of three children, you are the first of your family to receive a university degree, magna cum laude no less, and your life has not been easy, often because in the past you made choices that fit your culture, not your talent. To say you have overcome great obstacles, crossed a great gulf is an understatement. Through all of this, you have always known that you would find a better way, build a better life, and affect, in a positive way, the lives of those who you love.
If you do no more than earn a degree in law and put that knowledge to purposeful use, to the good of the common weal, you will have done far more than ever was expected of you, and frankly far more than most of your fellow legal practitioners will ever accomplish.
But you have said, you want to do more, you want to serve your country, you want to seek a seat in the Congress of the United States. Today we celebrate the birthday of America’s Independence. As a native-born Georgian, you no doubt know of our three state citizens who proudly and perhaps foolhardy signed the Declaration of Independence on July 2, 1776. Lyman Hall, a minister, Button Gwinnett, a Planter and George Walton, a lawyer, all risked life and limb to secure the right to live freely, to choose how they were to be governed, and to worship God as they pleased. What is interesting is that Georgia had been settled for only 43 years, and yet it was among the most vociferous in demanding Independence.
July 4th is a day of great celebration, but let me remind you of a day of far greater importance to you and me, to us all. Each September 7th passes with little fan fare, no fireworks, no speechifying, no real notice; but on that day in 1787, The Constitution of The United States of America was signed, and because of those signatories (albeit with some amendment), you are now able to consider that the act of governing yourself by representing others is possible. Georgia had 4 delegates to the Constitutional Convention, 2 of whom signed the document, Abraham Baldwin and William Few. Two other framers from Georgia, William Houstoun and William Lee Pierce, we unable to sign. (This is interesting in that your two sons are named similar to these two recalcitrant framers, and without your knowledge of this fact until the moment you read this essay!)
Who were Georgia’s first Congressmen? Abraham Baldwin, James Jackson and George Mathews were elected to the House of Representatives; William Few and James Gunn by the Legislature to the Senate. Remember these names, these Americans brought honor and credit to their positions, and evermore their families could claim with pride that an ancestor had served in the Congress of the United States.
If you work diligently and persist, some day your family’s name will be entered on that Roll of Honor, and your children and their children and their children’s children will speak of you with admiration and we hope with a desire to emulate your participation in government and politics.
I had hoped to share these thoughts with you personally tonight, but I see why so few people ever return my calls. The History , the History, the History of it all! It is so easy as a student of political science to follow in the footsteps of your teachers, to speculate, to study the philosophy of great thinkers, to marvel at their cleverness or be entranced by their words. But very few of these “political scientists or philosophers” ever ran for office in a representative democracy, even fewer ever paid the personal price, ever suffered the political attacks, ever was subject of invasive journalistic scrutiny. All of which you will experience when you run for Congress. These university professors, these idols of the undergraduates, they have talked the talk, but very few have ever walked the walk! Thinkers are mostly braggarts and blowhards, I know this as a personal, a very personal fact. As a candidate, you will be challenged not only on your political positions, your life’s work, your marital situation and previous marital status, but on your gender, on the very fact that you are a woman. Quick, which amendment gave women the right to vote, and in what year? The 19th in 1920.
Women today remain grossly under-represented in State and Federal legislative bodies, and here I will impart wisdom with which I hope you agree, and use it well to become elected. Almost every woman running for Federal office, from the Presidency down, suffers from a lack of understanding of how to be elected to the office they seek. Palin, Bachmann, Clinton, Ferraro, all fail to “project electability” to the media and thus to mainstream voters. Their failure? They all act like cheerleaders, not coaches! As an old ball player, I am wont to use sports analogies, but the truth is, you will not be elected in Georgia if you are noisy, overly enthusiastic and run on sound bites and photo-ops. Here you are most fortunate, for you have always chosen, other than with husbands, substance over satiety, and with husbands, you had little culturally to choose from. You have even now a most valuable political asset, a characteristic that the media wags and talking heads have long admired but seldom found in candidates, you have “gravitas.” You are not loud, but you will be heard; you are not ponderous, but you are thoughtful; you are not pretentious, but self-effacing, yet not overly modest. If you run for office on a platform (who uses that term anymore) built on your experiences and resultant beliefs, if you present yourself as a Coach who will win for the voters the results they desire; if you talk about how you will lead your constituents and where they will always find you, then you will fulfill the promise you so plainly manifest today. Cheerleaders are wonderful to watch, and certainly entertaining, but coaches, leaders, win the games. Call me some time and I’ll tell you who the players are, and how to pick your team. After all, to my everlasting yellow dog democrat disgrace, I helped start this right-wing republican Juggernaut in the South, and I’d like to help end it. We don’t need parties, we need people committed to America, to Georgia, to the family, and to individual opportunity. And that is what July 4th and September 7th is all about!