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Michealene Cristini Risley Headshot

Everything I've Learned in Life, I Learned from Bonanza.

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Ben Cartwright is a true American Hero; at least in terms of how I define what a hero is. Actually, I think he may be the last one of his kind, never mind that he is a fictional character who was played by the actor Lorne Greene.

For those of you who are too young to remember, Ben Cartwright was the main character on the television show Bonanza. The show was set in the Nevada territory in the 1860's and was filmed in color, an unusual viewing mode at that time. The decision to film in color was not a creative one by the network, NBC but a business decision by the show's sponsor, RCA, to help sell more color televisions.

Nevertheless, the show aired from September 12, 1959 to January 16, 1973, making it one of the longest running television shows in history. Bonanza also held the #1 Nielsen spot for three years in a row.

During its original broadcast, the production team filmed 430 episodes. Although the show airs re-runs around the world today, its popularity faded long ago.

I started watching the re-runs last summer while recovering from spinal surgery. There was something about the characters and the stories that calmed my fears about never being able to walk again. Perhaps the show was entertaining enough to take my mind off my fears. My husband and children originally made fun of me for watching the show, though I have seen them get drawn into the many episodes. I am never worried when my children watch the show because if there is violence, it is usually a bar brawl. If there is a gun fight, you don't see the blood and guts splayed out in slow motion with grizzly detail. In fact, I feel safer letting my kids watch Bonanza than most of the kid's channels on current television. I don't have to worry about naked women coming across the screen either. Women are treated with much more respect in the 1860's than they are today; they get to keep most of their clothes on too.

Ben Cartwright was the embodiment of good ol' American virtues as he pursued his dream. He was honest at his own expense, worked hard, and expected those around him to work just as hard. If you did those two things, you were rewarded. When people needed to solve disputes, they turned to Ben. He was the reluctant mediator. Honor, reliability, and respect were the traits that people associated with this man. Whether it was mediating a gold claim dispute or a town disagreement, everyone looked to Ben Cartwright. He was also generous; If Ben found out someone was poaching cattle from hunger, he slaughtered enough for the family to get through the winter. Back in the 1800's, you got hung for cattle rustling. People would walk away with full stomachs and offers to come back if they needed more food to get through a hard winter.

Ben raised three boys alone, remarkably well. The man had bad luck with wives to be sure; each of his kids was born of a different mother who died in some unfortunate accident or illness. Even without a wife, he clearly defined and embodied the values the boys were expected to learn. The writers never portrayed the Cartwright household as missing something. Ben was not endlessly searching for a woman to make his life complete or to help rear his boys. They were self-sufficient, complete as happy as a family. If the right woman came along, well, that was a different story.

Ben Cartwright was the kind of man that would stand up against the whole town's anger if he believed he was right. In one episode a man decides to come back to his home town of Virginia City after serving ten years in prison. Ben reminds everyone of the details of a desperate young boy of 17, in dire need of money for his dying mother, accidentally crippled the banker with a gunshot wound. Ben took on the town because he believed that once a man paid for his crime, he should be able to live a normal life again. When the townspeople refused to sell any goods or services to the prodigal son, Ben stepped in. He used his own power and influence to create change.

He wasn't into amassing fortunes at the risk of the town folk, in fact he was the first one to offer help, the first to lay money down on the bar and the first to roll up his sleeves and volunteer. He would also do anything to help his government because he believed in the way it worked. Times have changed. I have lost belief in our Government. It seems like one large group of people in a perpetual state of denial. Our officials avoid issues, deny the need or worse when there is a problem in the private sector, the taxpayers are expected to clean it up, every single time. The Government's ineffectiveness has created one large, loud sucking sound from all of our bank accounts. Can you hear it?

I wish Ben Cartwright was the President of the United States. He would not be afraid to tackle the growing pile of manure we seem to be spreading around the world. We are at war in a far away country, that we can't seem to muddle our way out of; we continue to spend billions of dollars overseas as the number of hungry in our own country grows daily. Our prison systems are overcrowded and about to burst; illegal immigration is burdening our medical and welfare systems. Fraud is huge. The whole country seems to be stranded in the middle of a river crossing as the crocodiles quietly swim towards us. What are we waiting for?

I am looking for a man or woman that can inspire us like Ben Cartwright. A person that tells the truth, speaks clearly on issues, and is not afraid to take a stand. And stay there even when no one else agrees with you. I am looking for the media to start doing their job. This would include outlining and exploring all aspects of an issue. Partisanship is not allowed. No wonder half our country isn't voting. The country is not mired in apathy; we're downright depressed as we watch our country fall apart. We need a leader for our country that can review all sides of an issue. Someone who can talk without rhetoric or party politics, who doesn't care what party politics is involved. Their main focus is what is right for our country. The candidate has to have integrity and be able to speak the truth. No matter how hard it may be for all of us to hear. Why do we candidates use negative campaigns against opponents? Because it works. Americans don't have the time to research whether candidates are telling lies. Many people believe that if someone says it, it must be true, not knowing that many negative campaigns are created from distortions and lies.

One of the compelling characteristics of Bonanza was the clarity of differences between the good guys and the bad guys. Hollywood made it simple too; the good guys usually wore white hats and the bad guys-well you know what they wore. There was always a clear line between right and wrong, truth and fiction, actions and consequences. Americans have let those lines get so blurred that candidates can switch their opinion without much notice.

As much as republicans would like to blame "truthiness"

on the famous line, "I did not have sex with that woman", our slip into unconsciousness happened way before then. Using that incident as an example though, think of what would have happened if President Clinton had said, "I take full responsibility for my actions, and I made a terrible mistake." The consequences for the president from that statement would have less impact than the clear message it gave the country. The message it reinforced was that splitting, carving and creating half-truths are an acceptable way to get out of trouble.

I can imagine Ben having a great big belly laugh over that. He would also laugh at the ineffectiveness of our countries leaders. He would laugh so hard beneath that tan leather vest he wore, that he would shake. He would wonder on a very basic level where our common sense has gone. You do what with polluters? You actually give them tax credits and force the taxpayers to clean up?

The main reason I keep watching bonanza is because it refills me with hope. It is that hope that begins to disappear when I watch television or read the paper. It is worse when I get on the internet.

It's 2008. I am aiming my hope like a bow and arrow, towards the election process. I'd consider it a complete bulls-eye if we elect someone whom has the courage to stop lobbyists, change the way elections are funded and get our country back on track. Is that too much to ask? (My husband says yes).

Think about it. There is nothing more arousing than a strong black cup of campfire coffee rinsed through a makeshift strainer, or a blackened night with a sky full of twinkling stars that fills your mind with thoughts. There is nothing more profound then standing on cold dirt, out in the middle of nowhere, listening to the hoot of a distant owl; with the moon flickering enough light for you to see the shadow of a scorpion as it flits into the rock crevice, to make you realize how incredible our country is.

We are a smart country...at least we have been in the past. If I can't keep up hope that we can solve these crippling issues and find the road again. (At this point, any road would do) I might as well put my boot in the stirrup, swing my leg over the horse and ride out to the Ponderosa Ranch.

If I don't see the candidates began to concentrate on reality, and stop bickering, then before I take that final ride into the sunset, I am going to fill out my absentee ballot for the Presidential election. I am going to write in the words: None of the above.