One of us

By Peter J. Fusco
web posted November 6, 2000

1961 Plymouth ValiantWhen I was sixteen years old, my father bought me a two-door, 1961 Plymouth Valiant. It had a slant-six with three speed on the floor. It was red. It was cool. I was crazy.

There was (and still is) a brewery in my hometown of Utica, New York. The brewers and plant workers were our kind of people. My friends and I used to drive there, knock on the back door and get a case of quarts for free.

In the Fall of 1965 I remember drinking the quarts, tossing the bottles out the windows and then careening through neighborhoods hitting the piles of leaves people had just raked from their lawns into the streets. The leaves scattered of course, many times blowing back onto the lawns from which they had just been raked. I remember a few people, rakes in hand, standing there, watching as the car blew through the leaves. They couldn't believe their eyes. They cursed us. We laughed. In fact, I died laughing until I got home and found six police cruisers in my driveway. An irate leaf-raker (unjustifiably, I concluded then) had ratted me out.

The details of what followed are commonplace in such circumstances except that the police were far more reasonable than my father. His rage knew no bounds, especially since he was a well-known business leader in the community and had 5 other children to worry about. Reputation meant a great deal to him. To me…well, I was having a pretty good time. Needless to say, my father took the car and parked it right in the middle of our lawn so I would have to see it every day as I left for school. Worse than that, my friends got to see it too. I didn't touch the car for one year and that was the easiest part of the punishment.

I would love to say, "I learned from that mistake and changed my direction in life as a result," but it would be patently untrue. In point of fact I did so many other things of which I am not at all proud that they would be impossible to recount here. Few, if any, have I revealed to my children. Why? Because, like George W. Bush, I do not want my children to see excitement in the craziness or to in any way romanticize the old man's exploits. In short, I do not want them carrying the baggage that one must carry into the future when one makes mistakes in his past. At minimum, I would like to help them along the way of life with as little baggage as possible.

We mellow with age. Thank God for that in my case. I am certainly not the person I was, nor would I want to go back and relive the shameful moments. Indeed, those moments have dogged me, not publicly perhaps, but in my soul. I feel stuck sometimes, unable to move forward for fear that my past will haunt me. Oh, don't get me wrong, it's not like I murdered anyone or did something so perverted or heinous that the law is still looking for me. No, it's just that I've got that baggage and it prevented me from doing a lot of the things I would have liked to do.

Against this background I am more in favor of George Bush than at anytime before the revelation of his DUI. I realize through him that the past is part of an education process, but that education implies learning. If we do not learn from the lessons of life, then we will most certainly continue to make the same mistakes. Yet, when we learn, we must grow and though age helps the growth process along, there is that point in every person's life when he or she must take stock and either make a change or stay the course. The trick is to recognize that the time of change is upon us. It is an epiphany whose arrival some welcome, some merely accept and others ignore.

Bush heard his epiphany tapping, opened the door, welcomed it and made his changes. That implies strength of character for it is not easy to break old habits. Contrast his introspection and the resulting change with the lives of Bill Clinton or even Al Gore.

Clinton never had an epiphany, thus never made a change. His pattern of lying, womanizing, and apparently raping (or at least taking advantage of women without their complete acquiescence) is continuous. That is a signal demonstration of the lack of character in one man. Gore, while certainly not of Clinton's ilk, nevertheless displays a similar tendency to eschew introspection and change. Without public hammer blows, he could not seem to stop himself from lying before and during the 2000 campaign. Without the pressure of a campaign where each day the candidate must justify the previous day's statements, not to mention his activities a quarter of a century in the past, someone like Al Gore cannot be counted on to govern with character. He has not learned that the truth, while uncomfortable, is always the truth and always there for people to see. His pattern of lying to embellish or hide the truth is not only established, it is ingrained. Al Gore ignored his epiphany.

George Bush is not perfect, but he tries. He is not as articulate as some, but he makes sense through plain speech. He has had his trials and his triumphs. It appears he has learned from them all. In short, George Bush is like us, but in a way that says we can put away the past if we have learned from it. We can and do change for the better if we want to.

There is hope for guys like me who think their past holds them in bondage. I gain that hope from someone like G.W. Bush. To me, that is leadership at its very best, since inspiration, based on experience and presented as an example gives me the inner strength to say, "I can." What better way for our nation to enter the next century than by telling ourselves, "We can." I do not believe I am alone in this thought. On Tuesday I believe my hope will be vindicated.

Peter Fusco has written for The Utica Daily Press, Recycling Today and Summit Magazine and is putting the finishing touches on a book called "The Conservative Gentleman, A Primer For Men in the 21st Century."

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