Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The man without a place

The sad saga of Steve Nunn's last days has been has been worked over pretty well during the last week, but I think, for many of us, the full tragedy of this has yet to fully sink in.

Nunn was the son of a former governor, Louie Nunn, with political aspirations himself. In fact, the last time I talked with him was when he pulled me into his Capitol office a couple of years ago to ask me for my endorsement for his gubernatorial campaign--a campaign that never fully got off the ground. As a rule I don't do political endorsements, and I would have had trouble giving mine to him.

The relationship he had with Amanda Ross, the woman he apparently murdered last week, wasn't the only troubled relationship he had. He tried to conduct his political career in a party that had moved away from him. The Republican Party moved to the social right in the early 80's, but Nunn never followed most of the rest of the party into social conservatism, preferring instead to inhabit a no man's zone of moderation on the things too many of his fellow Republicans thought important.

In fact, he didn't seem to have any political center at all. Successful politicians seem to come in two kinds: those who have mastered the Machiavellian mechanism of getting elected, and those who have a clear philosophical purpose. Nunn never seemed to distinguish himself as a competent player in the political process, nor did he have any clear political philosophy. And political life can be cruel to those who fall somewhere in between.

Despite his natural personableness, Nunn was never chummy, and cast a sort of aristocratic air that should have befit the son of a former governor, but never really did. My chief memory of Nunn was seeing him walking into the Capitol Annex cafeteria with his former wife, an attractive woman, on his arm, waving to everyone he recognized, as if he wanted you to notice him. More importantly, it seemed like he wanted you to notice his wife. You got the strange sense that he married up--an impression you got more than anything else from Nunn himself, who seemed to know it.

I don't know what happened to his marriage, other than that it obviously broke up. In fact, I didn't even know anything had happened until the news came out about the protective order, and the resulting loss of his position as deputy secretary of the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

Nunn seemed to have no place at all--politically or personally: the tie with his father seemed to have cast him adrift. When police found him, he was in the cemetery where his mother and father were buried, his wrists slashed from a failed attempt at suicide. He told police he had been visiting their grave.

That he would have tried to kill himself there should probably tell us something, but it's still hard to figure out exactly what. Maybe those who knew him well can make some sense of it.

Of course, Nunn's life is not over. It may, in fact, turn out to be unmercifully long, and one hopes before the end of it there will be some kind of redemption. Living in the shadow of a famous father can, apparently, be a very dark place, darker still when you have cast shadows of your own. But others have found light in places much darker.

Let's hope Steve Nunn finds it too.

No comments: