By Michael Broihier
With Gatewood Galbraith’s passing last week we have lost not only a colorful and intelligent political voice but one of only a few men of conscience willing to stand for political office. Almost everyone knew Galbraith better than I, but few have written about what his passing means to the body politic, happier to recount funny stories about Kentucky’s “perennial candidate” or highlight his advocacy of the legalization of both hemp and marijuana and thereby, either consciously or subconsciously, diminishing his importance.
Willie Nelson thrown in for good measure.
The most important role Galbraith played was that of the lone voice in the wilderness or, better yet, the slave whose role in Roman Triumphs was to whisper in the conqueror’s ear that he was mortal and that all glory was fleeting. Though he rarely whispered, Galbraith’s message was the same: that we are fools if we think that the freedom and bounty we enjoy as Americans are permanent. And though he was an advocate for the legalization of pot, it served more as a foil for his arguments about infringements on our civil liberties when he would rhetorically ask, “Did our forefathers’ generation hit the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima so that we would have to pee in a cup to hold a job in America?”
A laugh line? No. Galbraith said in his autobiography, The Last Free Man in America Meets the Synthetic Subversion, that that question was how he would describe his political philosophy if he had only 30 seconds to do so, because, in his mind, mandatory drug testing was an assault on our right to privacy and our readiness to surrender a fundamental constitutionally guaranteed right spoke volumes of how far our democracy had devolved.
And in that argument, Galbraith showed both why we wouldn’t elect him but why we loved him. Last month, Salon’s Glenn Greenwald wrote a piece on how dangerously homogenized politics have become, focusing on Rep. Ron Paul’s libertarian policies and lamenting that both right- and left-thinking voters have abandoned issues that should resonate with their philosophies in favor of middle-of-the-road politics as usual and uncharacteristic and un-American bellicosity. Greenwald could have been writing of Galbraith’s continuous campaign against the political status quo when he wrote, “The worst attributes of our political culture — obsession with trivialities, the dominance of horserace ‘reporting, and mindless partisan loyalties — become more pronounced than ever. Meanwhile, the actually consequential acts of the U.S. Government and the permanent power factions that control it — covert endless wars, consolidation of unchecked power, the rapid growth of the Surveillance State and the secrecy regime, massive inequalities in the legal system, continuous transfers of wealth from the disappearing middle class to large corporate conglomerates — drone on with even less attention paid than usual.”
Like Paul, Galbraith was the niggling voice in the back of our minds cultivating seeds of doubt that maybe, just maybe things weren’t as they should be, and the best thing about Galbraith was that he did it with humor, integrity and absolute faith that someday we would realize that our acquiescence to bad leadership was the largest part of the problem.
Galbraith died peacefully in his home last week in Lexington from complications associated with his lifelong asthma affliction. Father, grandfather and conscience of the Commonwealth, the last free man in America died at 64. Gatewood Galbraith, RIP.