Saturday, September 28, 2013

Politician or Statesman?

John Gibson, 1943.  From the Collection of
The U.S. House of Representatives.
For some localities, election season is just around the corner and signs imploring "Vote For Me" are appearing on lawns and roadsides daily.  These are mostly local elections, but the same principle  applies.

I was reading the weekly newspaper for Dallas, The Paulding Neighbor, earlier.  It's a very small, sleepy little community so most of the 'news' is High School sports, government functions and community groups holding events.  Strangely almost, it's also one of the most well written papers I've ever picked up.  People who put a great deal of thought into what they have to say contribute columns and the editing is equally well done.  Very impressive!  One of the articles this week is about the late John Gibson and the GI Bill and I'm going to quote, without permission, fairly extensively.  Credit for quoted material belongs to Loran Smith, a guest columnist for the paper who is otherwise employed in sports communications for the University of Georgia.

Many people have been captive audience when I've talked about a conversation I overheard 15+ years ago that left a deep impression on me.  An elderly gentleman was lamenting to his lunch companions at the next table about politicians.  He commented extensively about how 'in the old days' our elected government were statesmen and not the politicians of today.  One of his companions asked him to clarify what he meant; what the difference was.  He said something along the lines of "A statesman is someone who cares more about doing the right thing for the people who chose to put him in the job while a politician is more concerned about doing what's going to be good for his own finances and re-election."

Seems like we have a lot of politicians in office these days...

And that made finding a story of a real statesman quite refreshing!

"Today we hold a jaundiced and cynical view of Congress, its function and its membership.  Have you heard anything positive about the government lately?  Government still works in my view.  I can't cite any recent examples, however."  That is the opening Loran Smith uses...  He continues telling us about John Gibson's role in history when, in 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted Congress to pass the Serviceman's Readjustment Act.

"There was not that much disagreement on doing something for our veterans who fought so gallantly in World War II, but to move the bill to the floor for a vote it had to get out of committee.  There was a deadlock, 3-3, and FDR needed Gibson's vote.  But the Congressman was nowhere to be found.  He was back home in Douglas (Georgia) - and nobody had an inkling of his whereabouts.

"Radio stations broadcast reports asking for help to locate the Congressman.  State troopers stopped people on the highway and asked if they might be [or know where to find] Rep. Gibson.  Finally, he arrived home and answered the phone.

"It was Washington calling, asking that he return to the Capitol post-haste.  Eastern Airlines had a 2:30 a.m. flight out of Jacksonville.  Congressman Gibson rushed to the Jacksonville airport.  The pilot had been told not to take off until Gibson was aboard.  The plane landed in Washington at 6:37 a.m.  Gibson immediately showed up to cast the tie-breaking vote, which led to the passage of what has become known as the G.I. Bill.

"Passage of the bill was one of the greatest decisions in the history of our government.  Not only did it show appreciation for our servicemen, it was also an investment in our country which paid far-reaching dividends.  It was a salute to higher education.  It changed the face of America.  It created a vast and productive middle class.  More than 14 million servicemen enjoyed benefits as they became more educated when they otherwise could not have been able to afford it."

Even more than his remarkable link to history, John Gibson should be remembered as someone who was elected to Congress for three terms and went there TO SERVE!

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