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Walking the Middle Line
I remember the first day well. I was walking down a path with a spring in my step. I was young and arrogant, with the whole world before me. I felt that I knew everything. This walk was the start of my new life. I could make my own choices, do the things I wanted to do, and live my life to the fullest. As I walked, I decided to stop at the library where I had spent nearly half my life.
The aged, dusty caretaker had smiled as I walked in. He was bald with glasses, shorter then me, and he had always had a tiny shade of 5 o’clock shadow. He had trained me for this life, giving up much of his own time to make sure I got the grades I needed. He had seemed to have a broader view of the world, and tried to make me understand what the truth was. I was so young and naïve, and paid no attention at the time. We spoke of the weather and the news for a while before I decided to head on my way. As I left though, he gave me one last lesson. “My son,” he said. “Beware of those who have held power for too long a time. They like the feeling, and they will do what they need to get it.” I thanked him without listening, and nearly sprinted out the door.
As I continued along the path, I saw something that I had never seen in the flesh. It was an elephant, grazing in the field before me. As I continued, I saw a man watching the elephant, and decided to ask him what it was doing there. As I approached him, he turned to me, and looked me up and down. He was in his early forties, with well-combed dark hair. He wore a well-pressed suit with a blue tie. And his smile was perfectly white, and had a very reassuring. “Young man,” he said. “You have an ambitious look about you. I would like to recruit you to my cause.” I was intrigued, but I was more interested in the elephant. I asked him what the elephant was doing there. His grin got even bigger and he said, “The elephant, is the symbol of my cause. It means that everyone will live large and well.”
This statement grabbed my attention. I had always wanted to live in a nice home with a pool and a butler. I quickly asked him how I could join his cause, and he beamed with glee. “Young man,” said the man. “You are a true believer, and I can see you have the drive to become a great leader. My cause is focused on making everything and everyone equal, so that no one ever gets to be better.” I was ready to jump right in, but then I remembered my lessons on government, and quickly became wary. “What about individual rights?” I asked. “And what about the people who can’t afford it?” He seemed pleased with my questions and said, “The government will provide the people with everything they need. The people who can’t afford it will be supported by the people who can. And everyone will live equal.”
I was excited to hear this, but still wary. I then asked him, “So the government will live the same as everyone then?” His smile faded slightly at this. “Ah, no,” he said. “The work the government is doing will mean they need more money and living space.” He then brightened and said, “But we get to vote for our pay raise every fiscal year.” I was starting to dislike this idea very much. The government had always been isolated from the people; they only made public speeches if they were in search of votes or support. All the speeches were made from the heavily secured capitol, and every major decision was made there as well. We were taught that the government was good and right, and that they were there for the people’s good.
I asked him, “How long have you been in office?” He thought about it for a second before saying, “Oh close to 18 years. It was a long road to get here but trust me young man it’s worth it. Especially once the people realize that they’re never going to get a better option then what they have. My cause has leaders that have been in power for 40 years!” I realized that I wanted nothing to do with this man and the things he was doing, so I thanked him and quickly moved on.
As I walked I got another surprise. A mule was working in the field only 300 yards down the road, with another man watching it. He looked very similar to the man who had been watching the elephant, except this one wore a red tie. He turned to me, and looked me up and down before saying, “Young man, you have a look of power about you. Tell me, are you interested in hearing about my cause?” I decided to ask about the mule first. The man said, “The mule represents my cause. It shows that hard individual work will lead to their own success.” Remembering my last encounter I then asked, “And what will the government do?” He smiled and said, “We will sit back and delegate. We will need to take some of the money so that we can keep ourselves ready for any problems that arise.”
I decided to ask him how long he had held power for. He, like the last man, thought for a second before responding. “I have been in office for 15 years,” he said. It seemed strange to me that both men had been able to hold office for longer than a decade, and I asked him where he got the money for his campaign. His smile faltered, and he said, “That takes a little bit of practice. You must be good at telling the people what they want to hear. If they like what you say, they’ll believe you and you will get elected. You must also be able to tell lies about your opponent, slandering their public image in anyway you can.” He thought for a minute again and then said, “the lobbyists contributions help quite a bit. Both parties received over ten million dollars in contributions from the oil and gas companies. And over 1.5 million dollars from car dealerships.”
I had heard enough. I continued to walk, but after a few hundred yards, I realized I had reached the end of the long path, and it now branched off into two different paths. They were both curved and bent until they disappeared off into the distance. I reflected about the path I had just walked down. I decided that this had to change. The whole system had been corrupted, and I wanted to change it.
I entered the political arena a year later. I had joined one of the parties, but I ran based on my beliefs. I told the people I wanted to fix the system, and they seemed to understand. I won my election to the senate in a landside. My first day on the job, I spoke with fire and honesty, attempting to convince my peers to change. They immediately started to argue about what to do. They couldn’t seem to agree with the other side, no matter what the other side said. I sat there aghast at these people who called themselves leaders, and I realized that the system was so broken that it was beyond repair. I sat down in my tall seat, letting defeat rush over me. I gave up my attempt to change the system that day, and became just like the rest of them. I drifted farther and farther away from my beliefs, and began to attack the other side. As I continued to serve years on the senate, I raked in cash, mostly from the lobbyist. After 12 years, I announced that I was running for President. I won that election as well, but with much different tactics then I used in my first election.
I won the election with ease. I was flushed with my victory, but there was still work to do. I went back to my office and sat behind the desk. I looked at the room around me, the room where I had spent 12 years of my life. I reflected about those 12 successful years for several minutes, savoring my victory. And then my mind wondered farther back, to a time when I was just learning about m government. I remembered the lessons I had learned from the old librarian and his brave ideas. And I then I had a single idea about my entire political career. Was it worth it?