Regular readers of this blog are undoubtedly aware of and possibly either intrigued by or appalled at my tendency to dredge inspiration from the unlikeliest of sources. Well prepare yourselves to either be aghast or amazed at what ensues.

There is a 4 part series currently showing on the History Channel called The Men Who Built America. It features portrayals of the robber barons of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These men parlayed railroads and oil and steel and other industries into heretofore unknown wealth.

Along the way to rolling in the dough they managed to lie, cheat steal, exploit, destroy, and even kill in order to promote their own special selfish interests.

The names are familiar even to those who have not studied history zealously: Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller and others made their mark and then some.

One would have to pore over their individual biographies to understand why, then, that these men left enormous legacies that embrace education and culture and general good works.

Whether doing so is their penance is for others to decide.

Now we are two weeks from an election in which one Willard Mitt Romney seeks to become President of the United States, arguably the most pwerful person in the world.

Mitt, too, has amassed a fortune, approximately $250 million by most public accounts and estimates. I have not researched the precise number but in today’s dollars the Rockefeller and other fortunes would surely dwarf Romney’s.

Aside from the sheer volume of wealth attained, Romney is distinct from his virtual ancestors in two ways.

First he did not take raw materials and produce a product the general populace could benefit from. He solicited funds from other rich guys to invest in companies that already existed and used those funds to wring every bit of profit out of them whether those individual companies profited or even remained in business for that matter.

Second, he, to this date, has no legacy. Is he cheap with his money? Well, his tax returns show large donations for charitable purposes, mainly to the Mormon Church. While these donations are commendable, he cedes control over the utilization of this money to his church. Writing a check is his sole action which demonstrates lack of imagination, lack of creativity, lack of ingenuity, lack of thought and foresight, and lack of personal involvement or commitment.

I have heard anecdotal tales of Romney providing college funding for children in a family in terrible circulstances and I don’t doubt that he may have similar stories.

But one quarter of a billion dollars could go a long way to change many more lives in a positive way than by simply paying 8 years of tuition for two young people.

I originally was going to title this piece The (Non)Legacy of Mitt Romney.

Enter my other TV viewing which, when juxtaposed against The Men Who Built America, seems woefully inapt as a companion source.

Into The Abyss ( A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life) is a documentary now on Investigation Discovery but which was given a theatrical release last year. (It is available on NetFlix)

In 2001 two 19 year olds in Conroe, Texas, Michael Perry and Jason Burkett, killed three people apparently in quest of a vehicle or two, though they did have a pickup truck which they used in their crimes.

The first to die was Sandra Stotler, a fifty year old nurse. She was shot with a shotgun and her body dumped in some woods. The miscreants then returned to the Stotler home where they used a ruse to lure Sandra’s son Adam and his buddy Jeremy Richardson…both teenagers…to a remote area where both were slain by the same shotgun.

It is believed that Michael Perry shot Sandra and he was convicted of her killing and sentenced to death. Burkett was tried separately for the other two deaths, was convicted and is serving a life sentence. Each accused the other of being the sole shooter. Perry was executed by lethal injection in 2010.

You can read a complete account of the crimes here:

There are still disputed issues of guilt and the documentary is primarily aimed at provoking discussion of the death penalty. Those issues are irrelevant to this post, though I have consistently made it clear I vehemently oppose capital punishment.

Among other people interviewed were family members of the killers and victims. But one interview stands out for me as most pertinent here. Fred Allen served for several years as the Captain of the Death House guards who prepared the condemned for execution. He particpated in over 120 of these murders by his estimation.

Allen was not involved with Perry but he explained his evolution from executioner to death penalty opponent. It occurred after he readied Karla Faye Tucker for her execution. ( As a woman, Tucker drew inordinate attention by death opponents.) After Allen completed most of the preparation which entailed the last meal, some bureaucratic formalities and simply spending time with and treating the doomed as a human being, Tucker thanked him for what he had done. Never mind that he was about to escort her into the death chamber where she would be strapped to a gurney and have deadly drugs injected.

A couple days afterward Allen reported that he began having the shakes and then being able to see clearly the eyes of the inhabitants of Death Row. He was so affected by the experience with Tucker and the cumulative experience with the 120 bodies that he quit his position at the sacrifice of his pension.

In the interview he then told of a conversation with a young man as they discussed his ambivalence about what his life meant, due to the executions.

The young  man said “Live your dash”. When asked what that meant the fellow talked of tombstones and the fact the name of the decedent was given and then the dates of birth and death, separated by a dash. “Living your dash” meant that you were to be judged by the entirety of your life, not just certain points along that dash.

It may well be that the expression is quite common among young folks today, but I had never heard of it.

The robber barons understood this expression, even if unconsciously so. Despite their avarice and other sins, they managed to perform works that, if not erasing the evil, at least cloud  the judgment of them, weighing good against bad.

As Romney pursues his almost obsessive quest for the Presidency, after spending the greater part of his life chasing and obtaining the wealth and fame he has openly admitted is what made him happy, it is questionable whether he will leave any enduring legacy that in the least resembles the Carnegie Libraries or Vanderbilt University or Rockefeller Center.

But he has time and so do we all.

Mitt, Romney, live your dash. I’m living mine.

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