Remembering George Schultz

I guess I became a news aficionado and hooked on politics when I began watching Sunday news programs with my father and brothers on Sunday mornings.  And what really did the trick was the first time I heard someone curse on live television while watching “Meet the Press.”  

It was long before the five second delay that they now employ; and this broadcast was probably one of the reasons they implemented the practice. I still remember the interviewee, Michael Quill, President of the TWU, the Transportation Workers Union.  The city of New York was embroiled in a heated negotiation with the union that caused a transit strike.  In a city like New York, the transportation system is the lifeblood of the five boroughs.  With no trains or buses running the city can become practically paralyzed.  The taxi’s were relishing the opportunity to step in and fill the void.  

As its spokesperson, Quill was being interviewed by the team of reporters from the Meet the Press broadcast. At some point in the interview that I cannot recall, being about 6 or 7 years old at the time, the conversation veered to the subject of draft dodging and tearing up “draft cards.”  For some reason it was inferred by a reporter in a question that Quill supported such a practice.  Quill in a rage blurted out at the reporters, “If you think I’d tear up my draft card, you’re a ‘G## D##n’ liar.”  What did he just say??? There was a hush in the room.  And then my father, brothers and I all looked at each other and cracked up.  Well that had me hooked on politics forever.  Hearing that kind of free speech made politics very appealing to an adolescent growing up in a strict Christian home.

It also caused me to have very broad views about politics and free speech.  I have always believed that one of our greatest liberties in America is free speech and freedom of thought; even when that speech and thought is extreme and contrary to what I may believe and think.  It has caused me to have an opened ear to those with different points of view and an opened mind to different ways of seeing things.  In other words we can always disagree without being disagreeable.

This way of thinking was enhanced by growing up in New York, where the Nation of Islam was a stronghold led by Malcolm X, as well as religious/political figures like Adam Clayton Powell Jr., and Reverend Al Sharpton.  Growing up in this eclectic milieu of socio-political views and ideologies led to my thirst for knowledge and fueled my desire to understand more about what others thought and how those on the margins of society viewed the contemporary issues of the day.  Hence, I have never allowed myself to be labeled politically. Good ideas, good policy and goodness in general can be disseminated from anyone or within any context or community.  

And this brings me to George Schultz.  I learned on Monday that he died on Sunday, February 7, 2021 at the age of 100. Schultz was best known as the Secretary of State for President Ronald Reagan.  Schultz represents a time when the nation looked up to and respected its diplomats and those who represented America overseas, regardless of political affiliation, republican or democrat.  He was a man of tremendous dignity and integrity.  Among his greatest achievements was being instrumental in bringing down the iron curtail in Europe. 

I did not realize how much integrity he had until during the height of his diplomatic prestige he resigned his position.  After his resignation he was called to testify before the congressional committee investigating the Iran-Contra affair.  When asked why he resigned he said something that I had never heard before as the reason for someone’s resignation.  He said, and I am paraphrasing, “I began to want the position more than anything else, and that’s when I realized I could no longer be effective and I had to give it up.”  I’m not sure if you can understand what he is saying; but if you read it again perhaps what he is saying will begin to sink in. 

What depth of thought and personal integrity.  It is rare when a person can have such discipline, restraint and self-awareness; especially when it comes to issues of personal ambition, self-promotion, prestige and power; and to know when a position can become too corrupting and self-destructive.  His words and actions have remained etched in my memory and have stayed with me decades later.  They have served as an important lesson to me about leadership and service.

And so when he died on, February 7, 2021, it caught my attention and brought words back to my memory; especially at a time when political expediency and self interest has become more infective than the coronavirus.  The integrity, honor and moral fortitude that George Schultz exhibited as a public servant transcend political affiliation or ideological differences.  So today I pause to honor the life and legacy of George Schulz, a person that I never met.  Did I agree with everything he stood for or all of his political policies, ideologies or beliefs, no.  But the principles that shaped him and made him the person that was has resonated with me; and his kind of integrity and virtue in public service will be missed. 

It was Aeschylus who said, “God’s most lordly gift to man is decency of mind.” I thank God that George Schultz allowed the decency of God’s gift to shine through to me.

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