Joseph H. Cooper

Monuments to Decent Lives

ROWAYTON, CONN. - I saw myself as presidential timber. This was 50 years ago, fresh from a triumph in the student government election in my elementary school. Proudly I pinned the yellow button around the belt loop of my corduroys. Affixed and centered atop the yellow button was a smaller button; white with blue lettering that proclaimed my hegemony over fourth grade.

One student government triumph followed another all the way through to my junior year in college – when realpolitik reared its head. It was the late '60s, and I learned through campus politics what no political science text could impart: I didn't have the stomach for politics, and my skin wasn't thick enough.

So I feel for the families of those who enter "the lists" and joust for positions on a ballot; who brave caucuses, primaries and the battles of election campaigns. Invariably, they lose the leeway to be candid, forthright, genuine. It takes a different grain to be presidential timber.

And, let's face it, there are few Mount Rushmore lives.

It takes a special kind of following to warrant being memorialized on a postage stamp, let alone on coin or currency. And few careers command hours of prime-time tribute or require a library to house hundreds of pages of recapitulation and self-justification.

Still, each of us, in our own way, carves out a bit of history that should be set down – for our own edification, and for each of our families and a few friends.

Not the way former President Clinton's My Life goes on for more than 900 pages. Volumes don't always tell the whole story. Much can be conveyed with levity and brevity.

Not the way presidential nominees' lives are IMAXed and over-amplified. Volume doesn't always speak volumes. Enlargements sometimes make pictures fuzzy.

Not the way former President Reagan's passing brought forth hours of selective recall and mass veneration.

Still, video highlights of Reagan's self-effacing quips and Clinton's thoughtful articulations do provide seminars in communication. While few of us have any claim to public audience, let alone public outpourings, we can still aspire to some kind of special conveyance – some kind of transfer of recollection to the next generation.

I have only one constituent – a son. Without fanfare, I have inaugurated my own campaign, not just for approval ratings but to pass down a bit of my history – a sense of the little moments that made big impressions, and are housed in my mental archives.

I want my son to know how I felt when:

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