An ex-President must find a theme for his Presidential Library.
by: D. Kenneth Ross
Zack was now an elderly man, deep lines rutting his face as though thoughtfully patterned to suggest the exact location of each expression he’d ever employed to demonstrate his every spoken opinion. His eyes revealed a marble-like gray, emerging wet from the surrounding whites, with tiny red-lined veins oddly resembling an aging freeway system in a once-vital world. Bright, white hair rapidly receded and gave him the look of intelligence mixed with humor, and a hint of pathos, emphasizing a lack of attention to meaningless detail like many great thinkers of our time. His thin lips belied the fact he still possessed the vocal tones of a charismatic speaker.
Zachary Mathias, writer, politician, and speaker. His last name was actually Mathis, but had been misspelled so many times by teachers and professors (probably because of his first name) he changed it during his college years to avoid endless yammering about why Mathis was simply a contraction of Mathias. Lord, he mused, higher education can be uselessly stuffy and pedantic.
Now, of course, he’d lived with the name-accommodation so long he gave it little thought. What he gave most of his attention was the simple act of concluding things. As a writer and speaker, he’d begun to measure his work in terms of finalizing his journey. He had a substantial body of work, most of it completed, publically reviewed, accepted by a wide variety of experts, and referred to in various scholarly periodicals, particularly those dedicated to the political science and economic structure of the establishment and maintenance of modern forms of government. That work was finished, well accepted or not.
The idea of concluding matters concerned an entire closet full of manuscripts and essays he’d set aside for future consideration. The future, however, was now. At best, he might live another five years. This was not because he had some incurable disease, nor was he depressed or tormented in any way. He was, in his mind, simply too tired to make a viable difference in what he considered to be those things the world of common intelligence needed to confront. So the conclusions he gave his consideration were any items which could shed light on anything he might have overlooked as important enough to actually finish with the added hindsight to which he was now privy. Utmost on that list was the need for his Presidential Library to have a specific point of view. This needed to be done before he could attend to anything else.
Zack had lost his wife, Maryanna, three years back and had already passed through many of the stages of grief, finally accepting her death as an inevitable event owing to her age and the fact she had more than adequately fulfilled her life’s purpose, which was to raise her children and to act as the stabilizing influence on Zack, his writing endeavors, as well as his many speaking engagements. This wasn’t his idea of her purpose, but rather what she stated to both Zack and their children many times. Zack still missed her as though she had died only yesterday. Selfishly, he could think of any number of reasons her purpose had not been completed, not in his eyes, not by a long shot. But, that was selfish.
Thank God’s knowledge of Zack’s true strength, Maryanna was still alive during the eight years he’d served in public office. It was her grace and poise for which he was the proudest during those precarious times. What he’d done was necessary, what she did was above and beyond anything he or the country had a right to ask.
Still, she had stated her purpose to him first when they had just married and were only then out of college, and before he’d convinced himself that he wanted to be a writer of what at the time was considered radical thinking. The conservative point of view to which he subscribed was represented as being the echoing of an archaic mode of government, having outlived its usefulness. What was primarily referred to then, by those people expressing the progressive point of view— considered by many as the final word— was their insistence of the Constitution of the United States as being far too limited in scope of what should be considered as setting forth the rights of the people and the necessity of the government to provide them. They promoted what they envisioned as a living document, which would lend itself more readily to modern changes in the needs of society. At least in their thinking.
The conservative opinion of perhaps not as many, held that the progressives were simply giving themselves the authority to change the Constitution and tailor it to their own needs anytime they deemed it necessary. This, under conservative thought, would thereby degrade it to a vehicle for use by whichever political party might be in power, inevitably leading to the bastardization of the most progressive document for the freedom of the individual ever written.
Way back then Maryanna intuitively knew he had the ability to put on paper those ideas and arguments which lent themselves, not just to the acceptance of political minds, but to the thinking of the majority of voters. How had she been so far ahead of him in recognizing he would choose that direction for his career?
Now it was all winding down and he wasn’t dissatisfied, he was fulfilled. Though not pleased, due mainly to the fact that there was a long way to go to correct all the world and the country had gone through. There were political ideologies to redefine for the benefit of the people and the country. And a generation of younger people remained to be convinced of what the real meaning of the rights of the individual promised. Also, values of the various religions and the State needed to be considered once again, as the original founding fathers had done to clarify in a manner which respected the church, the State, and yet above all, the individual.
Deep inside, Zack was convinced, the difference between Democrats and Republicans wasn’t nearly so cavernous as the zealots on either side wanted everyone to believe.
He’d observed, many people confused the idea of the ‘majority rules’ as what led to the proclamation of the ‘inalienable rights of the individual.’ They believed that the majority decided what rights were necessary and thus by voting they were approved by majority rule. But, what they overlooked was the exclusivity and meaning of ‘inalienable rights.’ Being a citizen of the United States of America guaranteed ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,’ and our freedom as a nation. They were called ‘inalienable rights’ because they come from God, therefore, only He can take them away.
Zack needed to find something— that one precious perception, or an incident which would make this clear.
So, that’s why Zachary Mathias could be found, most days, rummaging in his closet full of unfinished manuscripts. This would be a tedious and monumental bore for most.
But, for Zachary Mathias, it was a discovery of treasure. Every unfinished article, every book he had started and left dangling like a lost modifier, every yellowed half-written page and sentence, all of it was a treasure trove of his life, a memoir of roads taken and left untraveled for lack of a clarifying purpose. Some things were a bit painful for the lessons he had learned, or for the time in his life, and Maryanna’s, when they had struggled. There was also promise.
The promise was a verification of what he’d always believed about himself. The closet contained all his writings that, at the time, represented a failure of some kind, whether it was a lack of forethought, preparation, or research not heeded. Maybe of his own bullheadedness. Not to mention those things for which he’d not fully committed himself. Yet, even more, it contained a mountain of evidence that validated his successes and his willingness to fail as often as it took to finally get it right. Right here in this closet, where he stored the starts and stops of his writing was a part of him that he could not have without building both experiences; without knowing the bitterness of failure, success would have no flavor and no lasting value.
Eventually, Zachary’s search narrowed to things that centered around what all of these items made him think about: The center-piece in the argument which faced every man woman and child when this had started. The center piece was always, for the conservative, the individual. It was the reason for the Constitution: The individual. The lack of consideration for the individual, when the protection of the State and the ‘collective body’ were placed ahead of the rights of the individual, created collapse. It was why socialism and any other form of government claiming to represent the public would and had failed. The relegation of the individual to anything less than the top of the ladder caused every failure.
Today Zack sat on a stool in the twelve-by-twelve closet wearing a pair of gray sweats with a dark green jersey, a large number three in gold on the front, with the Notre Dame logo sewed on the left breast, and the name Montana on the back with another number three under it. He scrunched his mouth in frustration while he raked both hands through his shaggy white hair.
His former lead secret service agent and close friend, who now served as his chief man-servant, or butler, or gentleman’s gentleman— they had wrestled with a title for about five years now, without success— stood in the open closet doorway.
"Mr President, sir, don’t you think you should at least go outside and walk, do some stretches, something to get some exercise? You’ve been stuck in this closet for several hours every day for over a week now."
"I thought we agreed to use first names in private, Paco."
Paco nodded, half smiled, and said, "You’re right, Zack, we did. But, I wanted to make the request as an employee first, before I used the power of my friendship with Maryanna to close the ‘order,’ if necessary. You get my drift?"
"Okay, okay. Since you put it that way, I’m on my way outside now. Come with me, you could use a little walk time yourself, my nagging friend."
"That was the plan all along, mi amigo."
Zack’s estate sat back off of one of the roads meandering from highway 123, not far from Woodbridge, Virginia, which was the back way into DC for many thousands of Federal workers as well as the numerous corporate headquarters for lobbying companies, other corporations deeming it necessary to have a presence in the nation’s capitol, and the myriad service workers in the city lucky enough to be able to live outside the teeming metropolis.
The estate was modest in the sense that it did not feature a sprawling mansion with a gymnasium, indoor pool, skeet range, or other gaudy showpieces of the modern wealthy. The two story home was simple, with five bedrooms, five baths, servants quarters downstairs, an oak den (with the closet he had been in) a beautiful kitchen designed by his wife Maryanna, formal dining and living room. The family room’s deck looked out over a nicely landscaped ten-acre rear portion surrounded by a phalanx of tall pines, oaks, hickories, and interspersed with cherry trees and other smaller varieties of local arboretum. The front eight acres featured a winding, tree-lined, paver-rock and concrete road up to the circular entry drive with a four car garage on the left side. It was, of course, heavily secured owing to Zack’s status as a former President.
They walked the back ten acres.
Zack spoke first, as they strolled on a winding path through flower beds and a loudly gurgling brook. "Thanks for the break. I know what I want is there, I just haven’t yet got my head around what exactly it might be."
"Must be fairly important to shut yourself up in that closet for several days."
"It is, Paco, for me anyway. We’re going to be opening the Presidential Library, and I think it’s important to have what will serve as a hallmark of my presidency. Sounds self-serving, I suppose, but there should be a reason a man gives eight years of his life in a job which sometimes seems thankless."
Paco rolled his observant black eyes upward, and with the same half-smile, questioned, "How about the fact you were the only man who could have taken what you took and still got the job done?"
"You’re my friend and you’ve got the scars to prove it," Zack chuckled, "but, there’s a number of pretty brainy people who don’t see it that way, even now. I need to have something to be a reminder that will hopefully make people think twice about ever going down that road again. Otherwise it will never be finished, Paco."
The former agent nodded solemnly. His smile was gone. "You’re right about that. There were times I thought you had only two friends, Maryanna, and me, amigo."
"Oh, there were always others, and they fought very hard behind the scenes, it was them, and you and Maryanna, that pushed me to get it done as far as we did. Now, I don’t like some of the rumblings I hear."
They walked silently. As they rounded a bend, a gnarled oak stood split in two, the victim of a direct strike of a powerful lightning jolt. Half the oak was decaying, barren and dry. The other half struggled to sprout leaves of fresh green, making the effort to survive. A reminder to Zack of the struggle of the entire country, and the world it led for so many years.
Zack settled behind his desk to organize his thoughts, attempting hopefully to gain a fresh perspective, walking with Paco having subdued his earlier frustration. He smiled, warmly thinking of how, after a second attempt on his life by a radical crazy claiming to be the anti-Christ settling social inequities, Paco San Felipe and Maryanna had conspired, along with his Chief of Staff, Tom Wilson, to force him to take ten days off from his campaign for reelection.
They had known going in that, at a minimum, the first term would be one of struggle. The Liberal elements of the Democratic Party had worked long and effectively to install the thinking in the general population that the wealthy— mostly Republicans, they suggested— hogged so much money that it was a drain on available funds for the growth of the country. This, of course, was a myth, most of that money (Democrats and Republicans) was invested wealth and circulating freely and creating other business and therefore, more wealth. Yet, the myth persisted, and the Dems insisted the situation created the need for more and more funds to keep the lower-income families afloat. It was the unmoveable, Republican hard-right that they targeted as the uncaring, self-serving politicians blocking the needs of the public.
The fight, from the start of Zack’s campaign, was to convince the voting public that, because the Democrats then in office, and from several years past, had saddled the taxpayer with burdens of paying for growing numbers of working people who no longer paid taxes by virtue of meeting standards that required a shrinking number of the so-called middle-class to pay higher taxes. The number of people no longer paying any income taxes had reached the staggering level of nearly fifty-percent of the voting population. All this in a country pictured as being the wealthiest in resources and business know-how in the entire world. And, as well, where the wealthiest ten-percent already paid over sixty five percent of the entire income taxes collected.
The effect these startling numbers had was to give to the Democrats an almost insurmountable advantage in any election. Simply put: The lower income base needed to retain those politicians dedicated to keeping them from having to pay any share of taxes. Then the battle was to pit the middle-income taxpayers against the wealthy upper-income and keep the attention on the fight between those classes. It didn’t take much for the Democrats to swing enough middle-class voters, fearing more tax breaks for the wealthy by the evil Republican politicians, and then higher taxes on the middle to control an election...
...Zack opened his eyes. He’d dozed off, though his thoughts had remained on that first campaign. It had been a brutal divisive battle. Hard to remember without bitterness. Even the second campaign wasn’t much better. There still remained an enormous amount to get done even now. But, which ideas were worth exploring?
Yet, each new memory brought with it a small hint at clarity, as though he need only hit the right key on the piano, or tap the correct trumpet valve-cap on the horn and the exact right note would issue forth a melody that could be hummed by even those with the most tone deaf of ears.
He stood, stretched and walked from behind the smoothly polished cherry-wood desk to gaze at the ten acres where he and Paco had walked earlier. Maryanna and the landscape architect, had visualized the view from this very window and the ones in the large family room also. It was amazing how his wife had communicated to the man exactly what she wanted Zack to see from this window.
And then, the hair on his arms and the back of his neck tingled and his eyes misted, he knew what Marryanna wanted him to see at this very moment!
They had taken the same walk he took earlier with Paco, about two years before her passing. They discussed Paco San Felipe, their friend and former Secret Service Lead Agent. They agreed, as a man of an immigrant family, and because of the values he held with regard to God, family and country, he embodied the spirit of what the founding fathers took precious care to build into the Declaration of Independence, and further to insure with the Constitution of the United States of America. He was, for Zack and Maryanna’s family, a beacon of strength.
Zack had started a speech he wanted to give at his Presidential Library opening, but then, the first wave of Maryanna’s battle with cancer hit and the speech was laid aside, forgotten in the closet. But Zack now knew, Maryanna would not let that happen.
Five years later...
Ariella Maryanna Mathias, fifty years old, had been a Doctor of Constitutional Law for twenty years. Her father, the late President Zachary Mathias, died six months ago, he’d been her inspiration for studying Constitutional Law. She was selected to give the keynote speech for the five-year anniversary of her father’s Presidential Library:
"Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for joining my two brothers and me to celebrate the fifth year of my dad’s Presidential Library. You who knew my dad will recognize this speech. The last public speech he made, and he made it here when this building was originally dedicated. This is what he said:
""We are gathered tonight for what is normally the celebration of a President’s life for a brief period of his career, a dedication of his contributions as a leader of his country. My wish tonight is to make, not a dedication, but a plea for every elected official of both Houses of Congress and the Executive Branch of this great country to decide independently of their political parties to take the next year, starting tomorrow, and working together as men of enormous abilities and strengths to begin the hardest task they will ever face.
""But, first I want to talk about someone, without whose strength and dedication as a citizen of The United States of America, this ceremony could not be taking place. His name is Paco San Felipe. Paco, has been my right hand man for about five years now. You see, when he was the Lead Agent of my Secret Service team before that, we became close as friends because, first, I admired him as a decent human being who had family values I have always aspired to attain. His relationship with his parents was legend among his fellow agents, his mom even cooked some great Mexican meals for him to share with his fellow agents. That was another reason I befriended him, I love Mexican food. Watching him work with his team and talking about his mom and dad was a pleasure I will always retain as long as I am able.
""But, our friendship truly bonded the times that Paco took bullets intended for me, as the President of the United States. Paco embodies the values the Founding fathers of our country were eager to protect and hopefully entice others to come here as immigrants and become citizens to help us grow in the positive ways we have. He and his family are the people everyone talks about when they are trying to describe what this great country is all about. Why do I tell you about Paco? Let me try to explain.
""When I asked him, in the hospital the second time, how he was able to take that bullet, knowing exactly the kind of pain he might face, or even worse, knowing his life may have ended? His answer was direct.
""’Mr. President, my understanding of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of our country is that my inalienable rights include, ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ It is also my understanding that God gave me those rights, along with every other human being on this planet, and this country is one of the few countries in the world that recognizes that fact about each individual citizen. My obligation to God, and my family, is therefore to protect to the best of my ability, that great gift.’
""Now, getting back to my plea: What I ask the legislators and the Executive Branch is, in actual interpretation simple, but the job is arduous. Though, when you are through, you will have saved not only our country, but, I believe, a world headed for chaos. Your decision will tell the entire world the United States will no longer sit and watch the productive energy of the greatest country in the world give way to the closed-door decisions that grant untold wealth to the power brokers representing the control of every facet of every hard-working person’s life.
""What I ask you, is to make the hard decisions this coming year to turn this country back into the Democratic Republic it was designed to be. Give back to the individual the rights of their ‘Maker’ to live in the way He and the Founding Fathers intended. I plea you will follow the example of Paco San Filipe, a true American patriot, and meet your responsibilities as sworn representatives of the United States of America to bring this country back to being the leader it must be. Give all of us the respect as individuals willing to make reasonable sacrifices to once again earn the blessing of our God. There is a separation of Church and State, but not of God and man.""
Ariella paused and finished. "Thank you for answering my father’s plea."