Monday, July 13, 2009

You never know.

It is often assumed that the wealthy are snobbish and unpleasant. I try to avoid such stereotyping myself. Many on the Left oppose such stereotyping but relish it when applied to those they dislike. I tend not to post much about personalities but I wanted to make an exception in regards to Steve Forbes.

Forbes, who runs Forbes magazine, is not quite a billionaire but he's close enough to make anyone happy. I guess he's worth half a billion dollars himself. In anyone's world that's a lot of money. Yet he is one of the most unpretentious individuals I've had the pleasure to meet. Even though he's run for the presidential nomination and is wealthy beyond imagination he seems to travel with no security detail that I could see.

Normally security details are very obvious. I remember seeing a security detail outside a McDonald's once as I was entering for a bite to eat. I noticed them but didn't give it much thought until Nelson Mandela entered for a birthday party. He was less obtrusive than they were.

But in the several times that I have crossed paths with Mr. Forbes he seemed to be quite content with walking about entirely alone. There were no secretaries or personal assistants waiting on him. It was just him. It's not that he's unrecognizable to the public. And lots of people know who he is. So I found it fascinating to watch how he interacts with the public.

Over the half dozen or so occasions when we have crossed paths I've never seen him ignore someone who walked up to him. He shook hands with everyone. He listened respectfully to them and took the time to answer questions that they asked. His answers to questions seemed well thought out and well informed. He knew his stuff. While I'm not always in agreement with his politics the answers I've heard him give have impressed me.

He seemed happy to stop what he was doing to pose for pictures with someone. With camera phones around there was no shortage of people wanting their pictures taken with Forbes. He pose with the various individuals and smile for them.

He is accommodating and friendly. I know some wealthy people who view wealth as a "fuck people" license. Steve Forbes seems to be quite the opposite of that. He came across as a gentleman and as a gentle man.

In one of those odd coincidences in life I was sitting at a table with Steve Forbes. A man from Nepal came up to introduce himself to Forbes. As they were chatting I heard the man someone I consider a very good friend who works with a foundation in Africa. I was so surprised that I interrupted expressing surprise that this man knew my friend. Then I realized I had heard of this man and this man knew who I was from our mutual friend. As we were chatting several other people came up and introduced themselves to Forbes who politely spoke to all of them.

Our Nepalese visitor mentioned to me that our mutual friend was in New York on business so we used my cell phone to call him. He answered and was rather surprised to find that his friend from Nepal was chatting with an old friend from the US purely by coincidence. Then I asked Mr. Forbes if he would allow me to introduce him telephonically to the friend from Africa, who had been mentioned to him earlier. As I suspected he would, Forbes was quite happy to do so.

I handed him the cell phone and he spent several minutes chatting with someone he had only heard about and didn't know. He asked about the political situations and expressed genuine interest in what was going on. That evening he sat with us for about half an hour and was open to talking to anyone who approached him. He posed with their children and smiled into their cameras when asked to do. No one was ignored, no question was too arcane or too stupid for him. No one was considered beneath him or unworthy of polite answers and a warm handshake.

While I suspect that Forbes is closer to my political views than he lets on there is no doubt that we would have some serious disagreements on various matters. So I have no political motive to say nice things about him. But I was impressed by how decent a human being he was.

Too often people treat others badly. Certainly having half a billion dollars would give one the ability to get away with a lot of bad behavior. Yet Steve Forbes was always pleasant, always attentive, and always kind. I noticed that a bit last year, when we first met. But since then I've seen him three or four times and spent more time observing him. He impresses me. These days I don't expect to be impressed often. So when it happens I think it worth mentioning.

Whatever differences we have I can now see one reason why Steve Forbes is not an electable candidate. He's just too decent a man to hold public office.