My Dad, Tim O’Leary, was a political observer and his letters to the Homer News were prolific — and those were only the ones that made it to print. If you’re newish to town and don’t know who Tim O’Leary was, you’re forgiven. Those who followed Tim can surmise how he would feel about the state things, and yet what lacks is specificity — the whole problem with being dead in the first place. I thought about writing a letter trying on his voice, but found myself entering into one of our old arguments on the nature of absolute evil, and realizing that he had won the argument.
I told him frequently that I believed most people were doing the best they could in any given moment — no one should be held accountable for what they don’t know. In hindsight, I accept the cliché that ignorance is the root of all evil, especially when abetted by power. But at the time, I was working in the social services, surrounded by people making difficult decisions in impossible situations. They were doing the best they could.
Obama was our president, doing the best he could. Over his omelette at Maura’s Café my Dad would bear down on me: “Evil is real, Mercedes.” And then he would rant eloquently about Obama not holding the previous administration accountable for their grave misdeeds, and about how the Republicans were turning us into a banana republic. My Dad would not be gleeful about how right he turned out to be — he may have even been as surprised as the rest of us by how much our democracy was held up by “norms,” as much as the undergirding of policies and law, which have been easily dismantled, and our Constitution, which has been smoothly disregarded. It is all so evil.
I wish I could raise the dead, or even successfully take on his voice. But since I can’t, I give you some of his words from a letter in 2015:
“Isn’t hijacking Congress’ power to conduct investigations into matters of profound national interest, in order to engineer desired political outcomes, a criminal act?”
If he only knew the current state of decay. Further down in the letter he shares what would have been gained by holding Bush and Cheney accountable for their war crimes:
“The institutions of our governance would not be crumbling before our eyes. Our nation would have, once again, recaptured the moral imagination of the world. That’s what the struggle between the West and Middle East is over.”
I would add the struggle over moral imagination is, then and now, in our own country, between those on the right and those on the left. Between the empowered and disempowered. Between those who control the narrative, and those who don’t. But he knew all of that, too. It’s a lot to put in one letter to the editor. That’s why he was prolific.
Tim O’Leary also excelled at resurrecting our forefathers in his letters — which is exactly what we need to do, and do the work they envisioned, better and more righteously than they could have imagined, or were capable of doing. That beautiful, crusty document written by and for white men, will most likely be rescued by the very people it excluded in the first place. That’s how we’ll recapture our moral imagination and moral high ground — if we can hang on that long.
The world felt safer with my Dad in it, with his vigilance and patriotic heart. It’s maddening to watch our country come undone; our voices are getting hoarse. It is going to be a long election, the outcome of which may not even be immediately clear. Tim O’Leary’s letters still resonate because of his insistence that we keep the faith in our democracy, and that we persevere against all odds.
Mercedes O’Leary Harness is a writer and mother of two young children. She was born and raised in Homer.