CAMPAIGN 2008 – Electing our king

During the debate over ratification of the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton and his Federalists argued for “energy in the executive”—a strong president who would set the national agenda and be the center of legislative and policy initiative in the national government. Fears of just such executive power were one arrow in the quiver of the Anti-Federalists. For the first century and a half of our national life, the balance of power and influence shifted between president and Congress; the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War brought us to what now seems the final resolution of the argument. Hamilton won.

The United States has been remarkably fortunate in its presidents: of the 43 to date, only a handful were, by everyone’s account, duds. Some thought to be failures when they left office—John Adams, Ulysses S. Grant, Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower—have been vindicated by history and historians. Others, venerated at the time, are no longer so well regarded: Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson are two examples. Ronald Reagan, dismissed by Beltway insiders as an “amiable dunce,” turns out to have been one of the few presidents with some claim to having been a political philosopher.

Among those presidents typically cited as our finest, Washington alone remains above reproach. For all that he created the United States as the subject of “is” rather than “are,” there remain large gaps in our knowledge of Abraham Lincoln, his personality and his ideas; fierce (if blessedly nonviolent) arguments continue over his manner of waging the Civil War. The debate over whether Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal policies exacerbated or resolved the Great Depression is unlikely to be resolved any time soon.

Contemporary presidents must pass a threshold test that their predecessors couldn’t have imagined, in the days before television began to dominate our public life: Do I want this person in my living room for the next four years? Beyond that basic test, however, are important questions of character, personality, leadership, competence, and vision. The American president is an elected king, with far more power than the constitutional monarch the Founders overthrew. Knowing who this person is, and what makes him or her tick, is essential in making an informed judgment. To elect a president is to make a moral, as well as a political, judgment. Thus Catholic voters will want to ponder these and other questions with respect to the two major candidates:

1. Books on the Founders are now found regularly on the best-seller lists. These books, and a brilliant TV series like “John Adams,” remind us that, while we read history backwards, statesmanship requires an ability to look forward, in typically confused and confusing circumstances. Presidential statesmanship also requires the courage to act with conviction despite uncertain outcomes. Which presidents do you admire for their ability to see clearly through the fog of immediacy, and for their willingness to choose wisely on the basis of what they saw? Which presidents strike you as essentially time-servers, men who were more careerists than leaders?

2. For what are you willing to risk your popularity, and perhaps your re-election?

3. How do you conceive the presidential bully pulpit? In an age of cable television and talk radio caterwauling, can a president help recreate a civil, rational discourse in American public life?

4. Are you prepared to dismiss a subordinate who may be your friend, but who is manifestly not up to the demands of the office to which you appointed him or her?

5. Do you enjoy argument? Do you invite challenge? Can you live with able subordinates who are prepared to tell you, “Mr. President, you are wrong”?

6. There are things a president cannot tell the American people. But are there circumstances in which you would deem it your responsibility to mislead the American people? To deny what you know to be true? To affirm what you know to be false?

7. What are the last five books you have read?

8. Presidents must govern amidst innumerable aggravations. How do you handle your temper? Can you laugh at yourself? Can you take a joke?

COMING UP: Team Samaritan cyclist goes ‘Everesting’ for the homeless and hungry

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When it comes to the daily sufferings of those who are homeless, there’s nothing like a 29,029-foot bike ride to keep things in perspective.

That’s exactly what Corbin Clement will be doing this Saturday, June 19, with a couple of his riding buddies as they attempt an “Everesting” ride to raise money for the Samaritan House homeless shelter in Denver. Starting at Witter Gulch Road in Evergreen, the three riders will climb Squaw Pass Road to a point in Clear Creek County and ride back down the hill for over eight laps, which amounts to roughly 190 miles in distance and the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing – hence the name “Everesting.” Their goal is to complete the feat in 20 hours or less.

Oh, and they can’t sleep. It is, indeed, just as crazy as it sounds. Those who aren’t avid cyclists might be wondering, “How in the world do you train for something like this?” 
 
“For training, it’s been just more or less ride as much as possible,” Clement told the Denver Catholic. “The training is structured around endurance, and that’s of course what Everesting is. It’s just a lot of peddling. So, a lot of my training so far has just been trying to ride as much as possible and ride longer high elevation rides.” 

In March, an Irish cyclist set the world record for Everesting when he completed the feat in six hours and 40 minutes. Clement isn’t trying to set a record, but regardless, it’s quite a feat to undertake, even for a seasoned athlete like him, whose pedigree includes snowboarding and rock climbing. 

“Our ride will be the same thing, but it’ll be pretty different,” Clement said. “We don’t have any sort of special bikes or super focused diet or a really regimented plan or a crew that’s very well-instructed on how we’re going to tackle this. I’ve read a couple of things to just kind of make it into a party — have friends come out to support you, get people to join you on certain laps…that’s kind of the approach we’re taking.” 

Clement has already raised $5,200 for Samaritan House, with a current goal of $8,000. This is Clement’s first year riding for Team Samaritan, but his dad, Kevin, has ridden for the team for several years. When his dad offered to give him an extra kit and uniform, Clement accepted, but didn’t want to take it without doing something help the cause. He could’ve simply opted for a nice ride in the countryside, but he chose to do something a bit more challenging.  

Corbin Clement used to experience the challenges that homeless people face on a daily basis when commuting through downtown Denver to work on his bike. This Saturday, he will raise money for Samaritan House homeless shelter by “Everesting,” a 190-mile bike ride that is the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing. (Photo provided)

“For some reason, the Everesting idea popped into my head,” he explained. “I think it’s one of those things that has a little bit of shock value for people who hear about it. It’s certainly something that’s gained more popularity and visibility in the last couple of years with endurance athletes. I wanted to choose something that would actually be a challenge for myself and something that I’d have to work towards.” 

Clement currently resides in Utah, but he used to live in Denver and commute by bike to work every day. During those rides to his office, which was located near Samaritan House, he would pass many homeless people and have conversations with them. This experience was also a motivating factor for his Everesting attempt for Team Samaritan. 

“It’s very different when you’re on a bike versus in a car because you’re right there,” Clement said. “If you stop at a stoplight and a homeless person is on the corner, whether or not they’re panhandling or something like that, you hear the conversations, or you’ll have a conversation with them. There are things you smell or you hear or you see that you just never would if you were in a car. So, it kind of made sense, too, with the biking aspect. It’s part of my community that I’ve lived and worked in for a very long time.” 

Clement’s Everesting attempt is one event in a series of endurance event’s he’s doing over the summer that culminates with the Leadville 100, a single-day mountain bike race across the Colorado Rockies. In that race, he will be riding to support young adults diagnosed with cancer by raising funds for First Descents.  

Both causes are near to Clement’s heart, and he said that while his Everesting attempt will be a form of “suffering,” it pales in comparison to what the homeless face day in and day out. This is ultimately why he’s riding and raising funds for Team Samaritan. 

“Any time we see a homeless person or people who have to live on the streets,” Clement said, “That is true suffering — true endurance — with no end in sight.” 

To learn more about Corbin’s fundraising efforts or to donate, click here.