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To Our Readers

By John Flanagan

Saturday, October 21, 2000

Knowing when
it’s time to go

THE ideal of the citizen-politician dates from 458 B.C., when the city of Rome was under siege. The senate sent a delegation to farmer Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus to beg him to put down his plow, assume the role and absolute powers of dictator and save the city.

To leave his farm at planting meant his family could starve the following winter, but Cincinnatus agreed to serve anyway. In a 16-day campaign, the farmer-turned-general relieved the almost-encircled Roman legions and drove the enemy away. Job done, he immediately gave up his dictatorial powers and returned to his three acres on the Tiber.

Once people taste political power, however, they rarely leave once the job is done. In fact, giving up power is so unusual we're still talking about Cincinnatus 2,458 years later and Hollywood has repeatedly retold his story in classics like "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

Harry S. Truman supposedly embodied these virtues. After prospering as a farmer in Independence, Mo., for 12 years, Truman served as a captain of field artillery in World War I. Afterwards, he opened a Kansas City clothing store but in 1922 he was elected judge.

The "Show Me" state sent Truman to the U.S. Senate in 1934. During World War II he led a committee investigating waste and corruption that saved as much as $15 billion and catapulted him into the vice presidency. When Franklin Roosevelt died, an unprepared Truman suddenly faced a history-making decision on using the atom bomb to end the war. "I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me," he said.

The farmer-turned-president led the country through the beginning of the Cold War, the creation of NATO and the Korean Conflict. Then, he decided not to run again, stepped down and went home. Today, he's a political icon.

The alternative model is the professional politician, re-elected again and again, holding lifetime office long past retirement age. When officeholders ignore the example of Cincinnatus, voters can send reminders from the ballot box.

John Flanagan is editor and publisher of the Star-Bulletin.
To reach him call 525-8612, fax to 523-8509, send
e-mail to or write to
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, Hawaii 96802.

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