Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A man of joy.

Peter Terpeluk was my friend. And he died last week.

Like gay lovers in an earlier era, Peter and I kept our relationship quiet. He was a big Republican muckety-muck, fundraiser and lobbyist extraordinaire, former Republican National Committee finance chairman. I was, he liked to tell me, his favorite Liberal.

Peter was among the most unfailingly joyful people I have ever known. An odd thing to say about a D.C. insider—it not being a place where joy would jump out of a word cloud. To watch Peter pacing in his office, however, bouncing from one call to the next to the next, was to watch a person completely and profoundly in his element. How he kept the pieces sorted out was a mystery to me. But he would laugh as he reflected on the world of his choosing. The world of his making.

Peter was appointed Ambassador to Luxembourg by W. It was the culmination of his life. From borough manager in Pennsylvania, he worked his way through the Republican ranks, until the final honorific was his for life.

Ambassador Terpeluk. It was, he assured me, a great gig. “You gotta do it,” he insisted, seemingly oblivious to the realities of the world that precluded the rest of us from applying to be, for example, Ambassador to Iceland.

Peter was a giver. He was a bundler. He knew who to call and when to call them. He introduced people. He had a sense about people. As Wayne Berman—a peer and collaborator at the peak of the Republican money world—assured me years ago, Peter was the best. Along with Bill Timmons, the best lobbyist in DC.

Peter believed in the Republican Party. Though not on any particular issue I can think of. He was a party man, not an issue man. Like most Democrats. This nation is split in half by party people, more so than issues. Don’t ask me why, I don’t get it. But Peter was unfailingly friendly. While I heard him disparage Democrats to no end—Clinton was white trash. Obama was a joke—on a personal level, I never heard him utter a mean word. It was never personal, it was strictly business. Or rather, it was strictly politics.

But there was something that mystified me about Peter jumping on early with Rick Perry. George H.W. Bush and W. were both unfailingly amiable people. And Ronald Reagan as well. They each in their own way radiated an optimism and embrace of the nation beyond its political borders. These were the people who brought Peter to politics and to the seat of power. And like Peter, their politics was played hard, but not with a mean or harsh tone.

Not so with Rick Perry. If he has a weak spot, it is not intelligence—the great Democrat blind spot—but his apparent meanness. Not meanness of policy, but of attitude. Of affect.

Among Peter’s last words to me of Perry—It could be a movement. Won't know for a long while—indicated that he saw Perry to be of Reaganesque potential, but that he was not sold yet. I suspect that it was the lack of joy, the meanness of spirit in Perry’s public demeanor that had give him pause. Perry can connect with the anger of the Tea Party and may yet, as Peter predicted, run the table in the primary season, but to win the Presidency, Perry will have to show something more, something better. America does not vote mean. Or if it does, that is when it will be time to fear for our nation.

Optimism is the touchstone of leadership. It brings out a sense of hope, and from hope comes joy. Even in the face of adversity.

And joy—deep down beneath that Republican exterior, with the tie pins and those starched, French-cuff shirts—was the defining wellspring of Peter Terpeluk’s character. I will miss him.

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