As they get older and feel the press of time, some men need to condense into a short span all that they feel they've missed before it's too late; they worry about their legacy and what the eulogist might say of them. Others are more relaxed about the whole thing; they fear neither time nor public opinion. They realize they can't change the world and look around with wonderment at those who do.
Take Mike Miller — please.
He's the president of the Maryland Senate who, with a great mane of white hair, looks in profile like a founding father, or perhaps an early 19th Century politician in the spirit of Clay and Calhoun, names he uttered in the State House last week after the 2012 General Assembly ended badly, without a budget compromise.
Mr. Miller turns 70 this year, and he has been in the Maryland legislature since 1971 — so long they've already named a building after him in Annapolis.
Some, including this columnist, believe Mr. Miller has been in the job too long, that he has become a Democrat who shows less devotion to progressivism than to the sort of tired, two-bit realism we get from pols who've lost their idealism and enthusiasm. (And how's that for an overdose ism's?)
"Am I on the wrong side of history? No doubt about it," Miller admitted in February as he went against a majority of senators and affirmed the vote he cast a mere 40 years ago to define marriage as between a man and a woman. Mr. Miller supports the death penalty and last year called for the resumption of executions by lethal injection; he has pledged to personally "insert the needle." The one thing that appears to stir Mr. Miller's passions is the prospect of even more legalized gambling than we have now, putting him among cynical pols who are bullish on this form of regressive taxation.
Mr. Miller is a classic career politician who, having never gained traction for higher office, has been content to be the gate-keeper in Annapolis, squelching this or that, keeping the Senate — and the General Assembly overall — running on time.
But this year, of course, he failed. The legislature blew its 90-day deadline and its constitutional responsibility to approve a balanced budget. For the first time in 20 years, the General Assembly failed to pass a spending plan that its leaders had agreed upon. This was self-inflicted gridlock more common to bodies infested with super-partisanship, not those with Democratic majorities and Democratic leadership.
What was left in place was the so-called "doomsday budget," with $500 million in further cuts to public education, among other government services, with no additional revenue. And even that, it turns out, falls about $70 million short of being in balance.
Apparently, Mr. Miller's idea that gambling should expand from slots to Las Vegas-style table games — and to National Harbor inPrince George's County, one of the counties he represents in Annapolis — got into the mix and messed things up as the clock ticked toward midnight.
Now either the doomsday budget stays in place or the General Assembly reconvenes for a special session — estimated cost to Marylanders at least $20,000 a day, not including gratuities.
What did Mike Miller have to say about all this?
"We had an agreement and the clock ran out. ... This is a minor bump in the road."
You see what I mean? After 40 years of sausage-making in Annapolis, Mr. Miller just doesn't get excited about much.
And what's $20,000 a day in other people's money when it can get you away from the home office for a few more days?
The only urgency Mr. Miller apparently feels is the urgency to get another referendum question about gambling out to Maryland voters this November. If it doesn't happen this fall, then the casino developers would have to wait until the next statewide election, in 2014, before moving to table games and developing the casino at National Harbor.
That's what Mr. Miller is concerned about.
I suppose it's nice that, given how long he's been Senate president and how jaded he's grown in the jowls, Mike Miller feels a sense of urgency about something.
Maybe he's finally thinking about retiring and wants to see a casino at National Harbor because it'll be just a short bus trip from his home. If that's the deal, I'm voting for it.
Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of Midday on WYPR-FM. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.