In 1992, I watched the three way Vice-Presidential debate, pitting Al Gore, Dan Quayle and last-minute Perot pick Admiral James B. Stockdale. I saw 90 minutes during which Admiral Stockdale opened with two philosophical questions (“Who am I? Why am I here?”) that made him look befuddled, not thoughtful, and then I watched him vanish in the melee that was the Gore-Quayle verbal fist-fight.
As a die-hard Clintonite, I resented his being there (although I’ve since realized that it was Perot’s and Stockdale’s presence on the ticket that enabled Clinton to win), and I was not inclined to take the man seriously. I’m sorry now that I didn’t. His son has written a lovely homage to him, one that explains the way in which he was brutally dragged into an alien political landscape and exposed to a great deal of public humiliation. Mr. Stockdale also tells us precisely what kind of a man his father was, and how even this gauntlet didn’t touch his true core:
As everyone saw that evening, he was not a politician. He was a fighter-pilot ace, a Medal of Honor recipient, and a wonderful dad and human being. During his eight years as a POW, he slit his scalp and beat his face with a stool to prevent his captors from parading him in the streets for propaganda purposes. He gave starving men his food rations when he himself was starving. And at home, after his release in 1973, he was a respected leader, scholar and writer. He considered himself a philosopher.
He studied the Greeks — specifically Epictetus, an ancient slave and stoic who espoused the idea that individuals have free will and absolute autonomy over all matters within their control. He believed we must not wallow in self-pity when the chips are down, but rather recognize that we have the power to choose how to respond to everything.
My father adopted this philosophy while a graduate student at Stanford University in the early 1960s. So he never took pity on himself — ever. Not as a POW when he was tortured, forced to wear leg irons and to live in solitary confinement. And not after the debate. He knew he had put himself into that arena.
Mr. Stockdale wraps up his article with a great deal of sympathy of what has been and will be happening to Sarah Palin.