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The fifty-year-old congressman with sandy blond hair and blue eyes stared out the window of his limo and saw —perhaps for the first time in his twenty years in the nation's capital—how the accent lights fell just short of lighting all the way to the top of the 555-foot Washington Monument, the tallest structure in D.C. The obelisk was visible for miles at night—on this crystal-clear night in particular—but other than the aircraft warning lights, the very tip of the monument remained in shadow.
We couldn't even get that right, Mark thought, almost scolding himself. It was the irrational judgment of the disappointed and disillusioned. Words of the wounded ought never to be taken as gospel.
"You sure about this, sir? Your decision, I mean." The driver had obviously been itching to ask the congressman the question on everyone's mind since Mark had made his official announcement.
"As sure as anyone can be about anything these days," Mark said, then turned back to the window and continued staring at the monument as it shrank in the distance.
The driver glanced at Mark in the rearview mirror again, his eyebrows pushed together in a frown. He was clearly unsatisfied with the answer, but he said nothing. He turned his attention back to the road, leaving Mark alone with his thoughts as the luxury car maneuvered through the streets of Washington. The traffic was surprisingly light—unusual for the nation's capital this time of year. Spring, with its cherry-blossom pinks, magnolia whites, and trees of every shade of green imaginable, enticed people from all over the country to visit the capital of the United States in all its glory. But where were they on this day? Perhaps at home sitting in front of their televisions, catching up on the latest news in the world of politics. Or, more likely, after almost a year of being subjected to endless debates and negative campaign ads, staying as far away from the political mecca as possible.
It wasn't until the limo passed the Lincoln Memorial that Mark spoke again.
"What is it about this town?"
"What's that, sir?" The driver glanced in the rearview mirror again.
"You lived here long?"
"All my life."
"And it hasn't eaten you up yet?"
The driver eyed Mark in the rearview mirror, seemingly uncertain whether Mark expected an answer to the question or whether he was just venting. Perhaps thinking of his tip, the driver opted for diplomacy. "No ... but then I'm not in the trenches every day like you are, sir."
The Lincoln Memorial, another impressive D.C. monument, lit up the sky. Its thirty-six massive columns, symbolizing the thirty-six states in the Union at the time of Abraham Lincoln's death, stood in bold testament to the spirit of the man immortalized inside.
Honest Abe, sixteenth president of the United States, had been a hero of Mark's for as long as he could remember. He'd learned about him in grade school and had been fascinated with Lincoln's complicated life, both public and private, ever since. What was it about the lanky, witty, compassionate, and honest-to-a-fault lawyer that had caused him to rise from virtually nothing to become one of America's greatest presidents? Where did that kind of internal strength come from, that ability to stand resolute in the face of scorn and ridicule and do the right thing? Whatever the source of that strength, it had struck a chord within a younger Mark, and his admiration of Lincoln held the seed that eventually drove the adult Mark into politics.
Tonight, though, Mark wondered if that seed had fallen on good soil. Perhaps he had been chasing a dream that was never intended for him. Maybe he should have been a plumber instead. Or a dentist. Or pursued any other occupation, for that matter. The presidency was too lofty a goal; politics too costly.
No one can say I didn't do my best for America, he thought.
Twenty years in Congress was a remarkable feat by anyone's standards. During those two decades of service, Mark had managed to champion plenty of good legislation for the country. Even when he threw his hat in the ring and signed up to run for president, he had believed he was doing the right thing.
Why shouldn't I give the presidency a try? he'd thought. I have solid ideas on how to fix the country's problems and get her back on the right path.
Lately those ideas had gotten held up in Congress, but as president, Mark could more easily move them along and bring them to fruition.
At least, that had been his plan.
It was the perfect time too. President Holt, the incumbent, had both surprised and—in some circles—pleased the nation by choosing not to run again. There were both positives and negatives to President Holt not seeking a second term. The positive? He was leaving the field wide open for both parties. The negative? He was leaving the field wide open for both parties.
It seemed that everyone was tossing their hats into the ring now. Of course, some of them weren't serious candidates—the alligator wrestler from Orlando, the reality-show star, the ice trucker from Anchorage. But among the more viable candidates were some very impressive men and women.
With the abundance of choices and the indecisiveness of the voters this go-round, a newcomer from either party could easily swoop in and take over the reins and responsibility of leading America. Mark was by no means a newcomer to Washington politics, but he'd never run for president before either. If he ever had a chance of winning a presidential election, though, this would have been the perfect election cycle.
But it was all history now. Because he hadn't pulled in the numbers necessary to stay in the race, Congressman Stedman had joined the long list of Washington's also-rans. That and a fistful of quarters wouldn't even get someone a parking space in this town. And with the economy tanking the way it was, who had a fistful of quarters anyway?
Monday-morning quarterbacking would say it was the polls that had killed Mark's presidential chances. The polls and party officials. The polls, party officials, and a severe lack of campaign funds. The polls, party officials, a severe lack of campaign funds, and his no-show at the last debate.
But that last one hadn't been Mark's fault. He hadn't even been invited.
"Not fair," he muttered to himself.
It wasn't fair, of course. A lot of things in Washington weren't. Mark—and every other candidate who had ever been passed over by party officials, the news media, or anyone else with the power to disrupt one's political hopes—had to accept that simple fact. If a candidate didn't pull in the polling numbers, he or she didn't get a microphone in the debates. Simple as that.
Shoot, even when you do get a microphone, someone still tries to shut you out, Mark thought. He recalled the 1980 presidential debate when the moderator told the Great Communicator —then-candidate Ronald Reagan — that he would cut off his microphone, and Reagan had snapped back, "I'm paying for this microphone!" Maybe I should snap back.
"Politics aren't for the thin-skinned," Mark said out loud, realizing he could use a few more layers of skin himself.
The driver nodded. "Definitely not for me," he agreed.
The debate snub had bothered Mark more than he had let on. And it had most certainly cost him any chance of increasing his poll numbers. If he wasn't taken seriously by the debate committee and his own party, it was a campaign death sentence.
He sighed and sat back. "Not for me anymore either, I suppose," he said. "Maybe it was just as well."
The congressman couldn't put his finger on it, but something had changed in Washington in recent years, and it was a change that left him with an unsettled feeling in the pit of his stomach. Both sides of the aisle had seen politicians who'd been sent to Washington to make a difference gradually lose their passion—the very passion that had gotten them elected in the first place.
It seemed that something was changing within the country too. Apathy had settled in. Many folks had lost the strength and the desire to stand up for anything. If an issue didn't affect their own lives or the lives of their immediate families, they ignored it. Malaise, or collective depression, had taken hold and spread faster than any swine or bird flu.
"Not sure how much people care anymore," Mark said.
"We're all just trying to survive," the driver said.
Mark had hoped to have a shot at returning his country to her greater self. He firmly believed that America was still an exceptional and noble nation, a grand experiment that still proved grand more than two hundred years later. Had she made mistakes? Yes. But what country hadn't? More than anything, Mark wanted her to survive.
At her core, America's heart was good, and she remained a symbol of freedom for the world to see and draw hope from. Mark had simply wanted to do what he could to jump-start patriotism again and help bring America back.
"I had a good plan," Mark said. "A plan to get Americans back to work and America back on course."
And he did. Only now he'd have to do it from his home in Wisconsin. He'd have to be one of those retired politicians who help from the sidelines, trying their best to keep their names in the news and their relevance intact.
Washington isn't my problem to fix anymore. I've put in enough years serving this country. It's time to let someone else take up the charge.
All Mark wanted to do now was get a good night's sleep. He had earned it.
The driver pulled up to the Willard Hotel—an upscale, historic hotel in the heart of D.C. Mark couldn't help but notice the media poised on the curb, awaiting someone's imminent arrival.
"Who's the story tonight?" he asked, curious.
"I believe you are, sir," the driver said.
The doorman opened the limo door, and Mark stepped out and began making his way through the crush of reporters with their microphones and camera flashes, assaulting his privacy.
"Congressman Stedman, when did you know you were going to drop out of the race?"
"Who will you be throwing your support to, sir?"
"Does your decision have anything to do with the fact that you were shut out of the recent debate?"
"Do you have anything to say to your supporters?"
The questions overlapped each other as Mark tried his best to get through the crowd, smiling however insincerely. He had never felt comfortable with this sort of thing, and on this night, he practically loathed it.
He hadn't foreseen any of this. He had truly believed he had a shot at winning the White House. Folding this early in the game was both a surprise and a disappointment to him.
When he'd been jostled enough, he gave in and took one of the reporters' outstretched microphones.
"As you know, earlier this evening I withdrew my candidacy for the office of president of the United States. I will simply repeat what I said at my press conference today: after much thought and prayer, and after consulting with my family, whom I love every bit as much as I love my country, I determined that withdrawing from this campaign was the right thing for me to do.
"That's all I have to say at this time."
With that, he nodded to the crowd, then turned and walked into the Willard. Reporters, hungry for that one last tidbit of information or clever sound bite, attempted to tail him through the entrance into the lobby of the grand old hotel, but they were effectively deterred by attentive doormen.
The Willard was a landmark. Known as the "residence of presidents," it had welcomed every commander in chief since Franklin Pierce. Abraham Lincoln had lived here before his inauguration. Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Harry Houdini, P. T. Barnum, and Emily Dickinson had all stayed at the Willard. It was here that Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his famous "I Have a Dream" speech back in 1963, and Julia Ward Howe penned "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" while staying as a guest at the hotel in 1861. The hotel had history.
But on this particular night, Mark wasn't thinking about dreams or patriotic hymns. He was too busy processing the what-might-have-beens of his own life as he checked in and received his room key. All he wanted was to be done with this day.
Exhausted, he stepped into the elevator and waited as the doors closed, securing his peace if only for a brief moment. He was alone now, with only his reflection in the mirrored walls that surrounded him. He pitied that man in the mirror, the one who had given his best years to a country that didn't seem to know what it wanted now.
Mark reached a new low. He had never blamed the voters before.
But ultimately, that's where the blame belongs, he thought.
If the numbers had been there, Mark wouldn't have been at this junction in his life. He would have been speaking at yet another rally or out delivering wisdom to all who would listen.
But he wasn't at a rally or a debate or even a television interview.
He was in an elevator, talking to an audience of one.
And even that audience was growing disinterested.
There were no words to encourage the tired, disheartened man who stared back at Mark from the mirror, and it saddened him to think that man in the mirror had nothing more to give.
The elevator arrived at Mark's floor, and he stepped out and made his way down the long hallway to his room. A luxurious suite appeared before him when he inserted his key into the door and opened it. Politics did have its perks. Mark was able to find a bit of solace in the fact that his bed had been turned down, mints had been placed on his pillow, and soothing music was already playing.
He sighed in surrender to his new political reality, grabbed the room-service menu, and began thumbing through it. It had been a long day. Mark wasn't sure he was hungry, but he knew he needed nourishment. He hadn't had a thing to eat since breakfast, and while he knew he could stand to lose a few pounds, he was sticking to an unwritten rule—never diet when you're down. Depression meant "buffet" in six languages. Why fight it?
Mark picked up the room phone and ordered a steak cooked medium rare, a loaded baked potato, and a salad with a double helping of bleu-cheese dressing.
Maybe this is what Lincoln ordered when he stayed here, Mark mused.
After his food arrived, and mostly out of habit, Mark turned on the television to watch a bit of the national news before calling it a night. He knew what he was in for, yet he was drawn to it. It was human nature—the same irresistible pull that compelled a driver to slow down and gawk at a three-car pileup. Or roadkill. Humanity was drawn to misery.
"Now that's a mystery that won't ever be solved." Mark chuckled wearily to himself.
Even if he was the roadkill for the night, he chose to watch the news programs anyway. His reasoning was simple: if he was being maligned in the news, it would be best to know about it as soon as possible so he could respond in a timely manner. So he could get his side of the story out quickly. That was the best, and sometimes the only, way to save a reputation.
But on this night, a part of Mark had lost interest even in that. The past twenty years— not to mention the presidential campaign—had taken their toll. Things had gotten rather nasty, and even though mudslinging dirtied both the thrower and the receiver of the sludge, Mark was worn out from all the ducking. It didn't even matter who was right anymore. People were going to believe what they wanted to believe; no amount of defense was going to change that. Lies were far more entertaining than the truth, and—as far as Mark could tell—most folks just wanted to be entertained these days.
As expected, he was the lead story on all the evening news shows. He settled on the third network broadcast he came to and turned up the volume.
"Congressman Mark Stedman dropped out of the presidential race today, narrowing the field yet again. Most political pundits say he was never a serious contender, garnering less than 10 percent in recent polls. His absence in the race will hardly be noticed."
The words stung.
"How could anyone even have known I was running when I was shut out of the process?" he barked at the reporter on the television screen before hurling a dinner roll her direction.
The bread bounced off the screen and onto the floor. He'd wanted that roll too; that's how frustrating the system had been for him lately. Mark had never felt like an outsider in Washington prior to this election year, prior to declaring his candidacy for president. He had always been a team player, never stepping too far out of line to be a bother ... or make a difference. But ever since he decided to run for the highest office in the land, everyone he met seemed to want a piece of his hide. Even some of his longtime friends had turned on him. Not unusual for Washington. This city had a bad habit of eating its own.
Excerpted from Josiah for President by Martha Bolton Copyright © 2012 by Martha Bolton. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted February 8, 2014
Our Country Needs A Josiah!
I loved this book! Author Martha Bolton kept me page turning as fast as my eyes could read. She hit the nail on the head for a delightful entertaining wishful thinking read!
Was it a coincidence that Mark Stedman had veered off course due to his GPS system and an accident landing him smack dab into Amish territory where he had his first encounter with Josiah Stoltzfus? I think not! God does work in mysterious ways.
The way the characters of Josiah and Mark handled the stress of campaigning and mudslinging from their opponents’ was refreshing to say the least.
I started wondering what would happen if we had a Josiah/Mark team running for President/Vice President in our Country. What a fascinating run that would be!
Thank you author Martha Bolton for a wonderful thought provoking read!
I can't wait to see the Musical Josiah for President this summer at the Blue Gate Theater in Shipshewana, Indiana. I know it is going to be GREAT!
Posted February 20, 2013
This book takes the unbelieveable premise--an Amish president--and makes it believable. Well-paced and good characteriazation.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 7, 2013
Posted November 4, 2012
Wow, to have an Amish gentleman run for President in our country would be quite a departure from the norm in America. Putting Amish principles in play, not trying to out do other opponents but just running a simple "down to earth" campaign is refreshing. Josiah (who seems much like Lincoln) would make a great President, but will he run? Will he win? Would it change the political field for years to come? Read it and find out.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.