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PARDON THE TURKEY: Cultivating character through service

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Mark Basquill pardoned our national turkey on Thanksgiving morning and intends to keep the pardon in force the rest of the holiday season.

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“Can you believe what he tweeted?” a worried runner said while warming up for the Wrightsville Beach Turkey Trot. I headed to the run to jumpstart the holiday season spirit of giving and support Habitat for Humanity—a nonprofit that builds houses for those in need. Former President Carter and his wife Rosalynn have driven more than a few nails building homes with this group over the last three decades.

I continued stretching but prepared to move on to another spot, should my Thanksgiving morning mojo be gobbled up by yet another conversation about our nation’s most distracting attention-seeking turkey.

“Oh, give it a rest,” the worried runner’s more jovial friend said. “We’re here to support Habitat for Humanity, work off last night’s rum, and work up an appetite for dinner. Pardon that turkey. At least for today, huh?”

“But, he’s…” the worried runner continued.

“Irrelevant,” chuckled the jovial runner, as he sunk into a runner’s lunge. “There’s a Mars landing coming up in a few days. As long as the president doesn’t push the big red button, that Mars landing is more significant than he’ll ever be. We’ll all have a happier holiday season by exploring space, building houses, sharing meals with each other, than by getting all worked up about his next rage-tweet.”

The “Star-Spangled Banner” was sung. The starting horn sounded. I smiled and circled the Loop, and felt a little more grateful than when I got out of bed and saw the thermometer.

As soon as the members of the pack began sorting themselves into their pace, an older man trundled by me with a twinkle in his eye.  He had to be well in his 70s. He reminded me of our indomitable former Commander-in-Chief Jimmy Carter, still building houses and making strides toward peace in his mid-‘90s.

President Carter was laughed at in his time partly because of his lack of personality. Many people think he did a lousy job in the Oval Office. But his only real crime was he was boring. America will put up with a lot, but we cannot stomach boring.

President Carter created both the Department of Energy and Department of Education. He was candid and correct in his administration’s assessment that solutions to energy, education, and other major national problems faced at the time would require long-term thinking, and coordination between big business, government and citizenry. He brokered peace between Egypt and Israel and his foreign-policy focus on human rights is still ahead of its time.

Perhaps the two best things about Carter were his lack of charisma, and how he knew the difference between building a house and making a deal to have one built. He lacked most of the qualities of “celebrity.” He was not a member of the cult of personality. He was probably the only president of either party in the last 50 years that can say his personality didn’t get him elected.

As I came off the bridge for the last mile, I reflected on how important knowing the difference between building a house and making a deal to have one built is. It’s a distinction that seems to be lost on our current president and his faithful. It’s understandable, though. Jimmy Carter cultivated his character through service; he served in the Navy, fed his family and many others by producing peanuts, and served his communities in several different elected positions.

This is our current president’s very first service job. He crafted his celebrity by choosing not to serve in the military or in politics. He made his money by making deals designed to improve his lot and his legacy alone. He is what Adam Smith termed a “rent-seeker.” Basically, “rent-seekers” try to grab as much of the pie as possible but don’t actually bake any pie. They don’t create wealth as much as work to shift existing wealth to themselves, often with as little effort on their parts as possible.

I crossed the finish line and smiled. My jovial runner friend had a great idea. I pardoned our national turkey on Thanksgiving morning, and intend to keep the pardon in force the rest of the holiday season—maybe even until the new house of representatives is seated!

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