Many nights I go home from the office or the Senate floor tired and discouraged. There’s lots of glory and prestige and limelight for a United States Senator that the public sees. But there’s just as much grief and harassment and discouragement that the public doesn’t see.
Of course, like everyone else, I went into public service and politics with my eyes wide open. I knew that any public official is fair game for slander and smear and carping criticism. I knew that ingratitude was to be expected. I knew that fair weather friends would turn on me when they felt I no longer served their purposes. I knew that I would be called all sorts of names from crook on down. I should have known that chances were good that I would even be accused of being a traitor to my country.
These things I knew. But I never knew how vicious they could get and how deeply they could cut. It is these things I think of when I’m tired and discouraged — and when I wonder if being a Senator is worth all that I put into it. These are the times when I consider quitting public life and retreating to the comforts and luxury of private life.
But these times have always been the very times when I became all the more convinced that all the sorrow, abuse, harassment and vilification was not too high a price or sacrifice to pay. For it is then that I ask myself, “What am I doing this for?”
I realize that I am doing it because I believe in certain things — things without which life wouldn’t mean much to me.
This I do believe — that life has a real purpose: that God has assigned to each human being a role in life, that each of us has a purposeful task, that our individual roles are all different but that each of us has the same obligation to do the best we can.
I believe that every human being I come in contact with has a right to courtesy and consideration from me. I believe that I should not ask or expect from anyone else that which I am not willing to grant or do myself. I believe that I should be able to take anything that I can dish out. I believe that every living person has the right to criticize constructively, the right honestly to hold unpopular beliefs, the right to protest orderly, the right of independent thought.
I believe that no one has a right to own our souls except God.
I believe that freedom of speech should not be so abused by some that it is not exercised by others because of fear and smear. But I do believe that we should not permit tolerance to degenerate into indifference. I believe that people should never get so indifferent, cynical and sophisticated that they don’t get shocked into action.
I believe that we should not forget how to disagree agreeably and how to criticize constructively. I believe with all my heart that we must not become a nation of mental mutes blindly following demagogues. I believe that in our constant search for security we can never gain any peace of mind until we secure our own soul.
And this I do believe above all, especially in my times of greater discouragement, that I must believe — that I must believe in my fellow men, that I must believe in myself, that I must believe in God — if life is to have any meaning.
Margaret Chase Smith, a Republican Senator from Maine, served from 1949 to 1973.
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