We like all our local elected officials and find them to be upstanding and dedicated individuals, without exception. How did we get so fortunate?

Our city and county leaders are genuine and seem to keep the public’s interests, needs and wishes in mind above their own personal primacies. Our local state legislators are also very capable and honorable men, namely assembly members Jim Wood and Mark Levine and State Senator Mike McGuire. And, we would say the same about the two U.S. congressmen who represent and serve Sonoma County, Mark Thompson and Jared Huffman.

Rollie Atkinson Column Photo

Rollie Atkinson

Maybe this roster of upright, intelligent and diligent elected officials is repeated in the great majority of the country’s 435 Congressional districts and the 3,142 counties. But reading various news accounts of partisan shenanigans, self-dealing, sexual abuse accusations and red-handed fraud suggests otherwise. We could be wrong.

It does seem the higher the office, or the more distance between where voters live and where elected officials serve (Washington, D.C.), the greater the chance for corrupting circumstances to turn honorable men and women into fallen sinners. There is that old saying that “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

These questions come to mind after following some of the U.S. House of Representatives preliminary impeachment proceedings and, also, from a recent movie now showing in local theaters, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”

The subject of the former is President Donald Trump and the focus of latter is Fred Rogers, the children’s television icon who died in 2003. Could two men be any more different even though both had long TV careers?

What if Mr. Rogers had been elected U.S. president? Would all that executive power of the White House’s Oval Office tempt even a mild-mannered Presbyterian preacher? A close example might be derived from what happened when a Sunday school teacher and deacon of his Baptist church, Jimmy Carter, was elected as our 39th U.S. president. (Carter did confess to “lusting in his mind” in a Playboy magazine interview.)

Nobody’s perfect or totally pure of thought. Even George Washington told a lie once. But we can’t stop wondering how things might be different if we had a President Rogers, who once taught young children about civility, tolerance, sharing and self-worth. The word “decency” keeps coming to mind, and decency is what our America is most in need of right now.

In the movie, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” Mr. Rogers is played by actor Tom Hanks, another man that evokes “decency,” even though he once portrayed the loud, short-tempered and coarse-talking Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee. Some movie reviewers are accusing Hanks of just playing himself in the movie instead of the beloved Rogers, who created puppets, wrote little songs and was most fond of reminding everyone that we “were once a child, too.”

As we are about to enter a long and most likely vile and torturous 2020 election year, we can’t help but already be longing for voices like Mr. Rogers (or our local elected officials), who speak more slowly, less anxiously, sometimes reassuring and never attacking.

Democracy and the rule of the majority must be full of debates and pronounced differences — even arguments — but not very long ago, we didn’t allow any room for vulgar name calling, constant lying and outright defiance of the rule of law. None of that would be tolerated at our city hall or county supervisors chambers, would it? If so, for how long?

Electing a Mr. Rogers for president is a naive notion, best left in the confines of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make Believe, home of Daniel Tiger, King Friday and X the Owl. Even so, we can’t help but wonder what a President Rogers would say about gun control, immigration reform or our planet’s worsening climate emergency.

— Rollie Atkinson


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