Thursday, September 1, 2011
Thoughts Brought On By A Dental Extraction
A trip to the dentist today reminded me of how different things are in our day. As a child I recall my grandmother snapping a dill pickle off with her bare gums, or an old gentleman down the block who had two teeth left to his name, both incisors, one above and one below, but unfortunately not aligned with each other. It was common to see men and women, in their forties and older, with missing or broken teeth. Those beyond sixty often had the telltale sunken mouth and protruding jaw, sometimes nearly touching their nose, of the typical hag in a fairytale.
In the early days of our nation’s history most of our forefathers (and mothers) ended their years without a full set of teeth, often with none at all. George Washington, for all his popularity and influence wore his set of false teeth only on ceremonial occasions and then with much discomfort. John Adams was becoming toothless before he entered the Presidency. It is inconceivable today that a politician who did not possess a perfect smile could hope to attract the support needed to win the Presidency. The intellectual and moral powers our founders exhibited would be insufficient, today, to overcome the disability of less than perfect good looks.
I would not seek to hide the humanity of those early leaders; they exhibited some of the same human frailties that modern candidates do. They were proud, ambitious, opportunistic, petty, even personally immoral in their behaviors. They differed, however, in that they lacked the public exposure that allowed them to overpower the electorate with their good looks and charisma. The limitations of that time – slow travel, limited media, dispersed population – spared them of the need to be perfectly coiffed and made up at all times. They communicated through published speeches and rare personal appearances. Thus the electorate was more likely to focus on what they professed to believe was good for the country rather than their personal appearance and their “style” of campaigning.
Perhaps we should think of those who are asking us to support their candidacy for various offices in the coming months as though they had no teeth. Imagine them speaking in mushy tones, or smiling toothlessly at us each night on television. If we can look past their personal appearance, and hear something other than their carefully rehearsed and tailored sound bites, we might just be able to concentrate on the kind of men and women they are at heart; to think about the kinds of policies they advocate, and what kind of country they would help us build during their years in office.
I know it is unthinkable that the President might look like an Abraham Lincoln and the First Lady like a portly Abigail Adams. But what would we rather have in the White House, a full set of teeth, or a man or woman capable of thinking polysyllabic thoughts?