Small towns, strong val­ues

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE - SALENA ZITO Salena Zito is a CNN po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst, and a staff re­porter and colum­nist for the Wash­ing­ton Ex­am­iner.

COLUMBIA CITY, Ind.—The his­toric marker in front of the Whit­ley County court­house re­mem­bers the life of a man who would have stood out in to­day’s era of provoca­tive pol­i­tics and cul­ture of en­ti­tle­ment as an abom­i­na­tion of sorts, be­cause he held true to his val­ues ahead of power.

The man once held the of­fice of the vice pres­i­dency of the United States and re­fused to in­sert him­self to power when he had ev­ery right to do so. This was be­cause he feared the prece­dence do­ing so might set in the fu­ture.

The deep-blue and gold marker reads in part, “Thomas Ri­ley Mar­shall is likely best re­mem­bered as the man who re­fused to as­sume the U.S. Pres­i­dency dur­ing Woodrow Wil­son’s se­ri­ous in­ca­pac­ity.”

It’s funny how we for­get the im­pact and in­flu­ence small-town res­i­dents have had on gov­ern­ing our coun­try. Ninety-six years ago Mar­shall was vice pres­i­dent to a man who didn’t much care for him. That never re­ally both­ered Mar­shall, who saw his role as gov­ern­ing and work­ing with the U.S. Se­nate.

Mar­shall was well known and well liked for his wit, easy-go­ing na­ture and sense of hu­mor. His hu­mor was a small-town trait that eased many tensions dur­ing stri­dent Se­nate de­lib­er­a­tions, but Wil­son so dis­liked it that he had the vice pres­i­dent’s of­fice re­moved from the White House.

De­spite the rift and an­i­mos­ity that Wil­son in­curred with Mar­shall, he is re­mem­bered among his­to­ri­ans as the man who re­fused to take the power of the pres­i­dency be­cause of the fu­ture im­pact it might have on the coun­try and it would have on the ex­ec­u­tive branch.

In the fall of 1919, Wil­son col­lapsed in Colorado and never fully re­cov­ered. Both his wife and his ad­vis­ers at­tempted to keep Mar­shall un­in­formed of the grave­ness of the Wil­son’s con­di­tion—to keep Mar­shall from at­tempt­ing to as­sume the pres­i­dency.

But Wash­ing­ton, D.C., be­ing Wash­ing­ton, D.C., the word quickly leaked to Mar­shall as well as the rest of Congress and the Cabi­net. Ev­ery­one urged him to be­come at least act­ing pres­i­dent un­til it was un­der­stood how in­ca­pac­i­tated Wil­son was. Mar­shall re­fused. It took 50 years for the coun­try to rec­og­nize just how weak­ened the pres­i­dency had be­come be­cause of Wil­son’s in­ca­pac­ity. Fi­nally, in 1967 the na­tion rat­i­fied the 25th Amend­ment to al­low the forcible re­place­ment of an un­able or un­will­ing in­cum­bent.

Un­less you are a stu­dent of In­di­ana his­tory or a pres­i­den­tial his­to­rian, the Mar­shalls have never come onto your radar. We rarely scru­ti­nize the peo­ple who did the right thing and fo­cus too much on who did the con­tro­ver­sial thing.

Amer­ica is go­ing through a cul­tural civil war be­tween the ur­ban­ites and small-town res­i­dents that’s very sim­i­lar to the one when Wil­son and Mar­shall left of­fice af­ter the 1920 elec­tion.

Back then marked the first time more Amer­i­cans lived in ur­ban Amer­ica than ru­ral Amer­ica, and ur­ban in­flu­ences on ru­ral Amer­ica made ru­ral Amer­i­cans un­com­fort­able.

To­day it is the re­verse: Ru­ral Amer­ica’s in­flu­ence and rise back to the cen­ter of na­tional at­ten­tion be­cause of the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump makes ur­ban Amer­ica un­com­fort­able.

But be­cause ur­ban Amer­ica has more power in cul­ture, ru­ral Amer­ica be­comes the butt of jokes in en­ter­tain­ment and scorn in na­tional pol­i­tics.

We need to do a bet­ter job in this coun­try of tol­er­at­ing dif­fer­ent­ness, and that in­cludes ru­ral and small-town Amer­ica. Great men and women have come from towns like Columbia City, and we need to ac­cept them just as ro­bustly as we would if they had come from New York City.


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