The death of John Glenn this week is not so much a shock as a resonating reminder of what America used to be – and can be again. Glenn was not just an astronaut who went into orbit at a time when nobody was entirely certain whether the rockets would leave the launching pad without exploding or the capsules would return to earth without burning up from friction-induced heat. He was not just a war hero who served in two wars as a pilot with the United States Marine Corps. Nor was Glenn not just a popular and long-serving senator from Ohio who defined what a reasonable Democrat was – a politician who could work with anyone who had a good idea and who represented everyone in his state, no matter what political affiliation.
All of these roles constitute the legacy of John Glenn and any of these accomplishments would have made an extraordinary career for any man. But Glenn did them all.
But you know what impressed me the most about him? His humanity. Think back for a minute to that great film from 1984, The Right Stuff, based on the Tom Wolfe book of the same name. There’s a scene in that movie that expresses the veritable greatness of the man. Vice-President Lyndon Johnson is badgering Glenn’s wife, Annie, because he wants her to play the role of a good astronaut’s wife and talk to the ravenous media, hungry for any story that intersects with the life, interests or families of NASA’s superstars. But Annie has struggled her whole life with a speech impediment and she is deathly afraid of public speaking. She seeks her husband’s assistance as the twin forces of an imposing government and a demanding media bear down on her.
Had Glenn been the usual career officer who knew it is always prudent to please your superiors even at the expense of your family, he might have insisted or begged that his wife perform on cue – no matter how painful. But he sided with her and he told her to do what was best for her, and to hades with any opprobrium that might flow from official circles.
Here was a genuine man who loved his wife more than political reinforcement.
When that film was released, the country was in the midst of the primary season. President Ronald Reagan was assured of the Republican nomination but the Democrats were still deciding if former vice-president Walter Mondale would represent them. Glenn was also a contender in the race to become the party candidate. I didn’t want to see Glenn in that competition: not just because l loved Reagan but because I didn’t want to see Glenn lose. He had always been a winner.
And despite not becoming president, he remained a winner: he was a great American because he was the same man in private as he was in public.
Glenn’s death should also remind us of how the Democratic Party has shifted from being a party that would appeal to a heroic, history-making astronaut and represented ordinary people to one defined by a septuagenarian champagne socialist like Nancy Pelosi and mirrors the crank obsessions of radical environmentalists, sexual faddists and sanctuary city advocates. For Glenn and his generation, you loved your country, you respected your parents and you believed in God. You applied yourself at school and you left home to succeed in life. You got married and you raised a family. If your country called, you answered. If you were asked a question, you told the truth.
There has been so much shock and awe coming from Democrats this week because Trump has appointed Scott Pruitt – a decent man and effective attorney general who – God forbid – isn’t sure about the science of climate change. Are the Democrats that sure? Is Pelosi that certain – even if she has the right talking points in front of her? Despite enduring an electoral defeat that has confirmed their base to be exactly the latte-sipping snobs of Republican caricature, the Democrats remain intent upon becoming irrelevant, except to the idle rich who have the time and money to dream about arresting climate change and not the criminal illegal immigrant who roams unfettered and unbothered through his sanctuary city.
It has become a tedious cliché to describe John Glenn’s America as a “simpler time.” Perhaps we should begin to consider it as a more focused and less entitled time when service to your country and neighbor was reward in itself.
Godspeed, John Glenn.
Follow David on Twitter @DavidKrayden