Saturday, November 19, 2005

After Mine: When the Readers Have Their Say

[The most cogent one]. Sen. Jay Rockefeller who told the leaders of Syria and Saudi Arabia that Bush planned to invade Iraq indirectly informed Saddam Hussein of this fact. The president of Syria is on close terms with Hussein.

My comment: Excellent point, which means that Rockefeller came close to committing treason. For that reason he should be stripped of his membership on the Intelligence Committee and compelled to state with great explicitness the extent of his divulgences to foreign leaders.


On Saturdays I’ll initiate the tradition here and now of reminiscing about the past. It’ll be known as the Saturday Night Special. Not long ago I wrote about the difference in stature of Senators a long time ago and now. My own experience was with Hubert Humphrey whom I covered as a wire-service reporter, whom I admired personally but shared very little of his populist philosophy. When I grew tired of reporting, I accepted a job with the Republican party of Minnesota and ended up, in 1961, as press secretary to a newly elected Republican governor. He was too decent a man for politics, a self-made multi-millionaire, rather like John Gardner, an independent-minded person who sought to bring decency to politics. He was woefully out of his league in a state that, except for him, was controlled by the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party headed by Humphrey.

Humphrey vowed that the GOP governor, Elmer L. Andersen, would be defeated and so he orchestrated a series of attacks on him, nit-picking everything he did. The governor, a gentle person who loved opera and the finer things, would have his feelings hurt by Humphrey and would ask me as we rode along across the state in his car: “Why does Hubert hate me so? I like him!” I could only say, Governor that is how politics is. He’d say, “Oh, dear, I suppose so but I do wish it were better.” So do we all.

Andersen, who was running for reelection, discovered that the Indians on the Red Lake reservation up north needed more state assistance. We announced that we would fly up there and bring some state officials along to see what could be done to help relieve them of their desperate poverty. (And I mean desperate poverty). The press routinely reported that we were going up there and it caused Humphrey some consternation because he feared Andersen would win supporters on Red Lake and with it, tip the county Republican. Indeed, there was a very good chance because Andersen was revered in the northern sector. So on the morning we were to take off in a state plane, the St. Paul Pioneer Press banner-lined an attack on Andersen from Humphrey, the Democratic boss of Minnesota. The headline: HUBERT SAYS GOV PLAYS POLITICS WITH INDIAN WELFARE.
Andersen read the story on the plane on the way up there, leaned over to me and said: “How nice it would be if an Indian leader would respond to this attack rather than the Republicans.” How nice, indeed. I reflected on that as we bumped along in a two-engine antique job (which always made me nervous).

When we landed at Red Lake, we found that the Indian delegation that was to meet us was woefully short of leadership. We inquired and found that the night before the Indians had held a meeting, liquor was served and since alcoholism was and is a problem with the Indian poor, most of the delegation went on a toot and would be expected to be gone for the length of the governor’s visit. The acting president of the Chippewa tribe, however, was there with the unforgettable name (I can still remember it after 43 years) of Mrs. Sophia Peewash. It was an unforgiveably cold morning when we landed and while the governor made his official rounds, she and I repaired to a coffee shop. It was then that I showed her the newspaper with the Humphrey story. She growled something in Chippewa that I took to be a distinct slur on Humphrey. So mustering my nerve, I asked her if she thought someone should respond to Humphrey from the tribe. She said, “Yeah, but ever’body is drun’.” I said I know they’re drunk but didn’t that mean that she was the acting head of the Chippewa’s? She said, “yeah, when they drunk I run t’ings.” Then how would you like to respond to Hubert Humphrey?

She thought about it and said, “Yeah, I woul’. I dun lik’ him, he’s a punk.” So in the corner of the coffee shop I took out my portable and wrote a statement for her. I said, Now, Mrs. Peewash, let me read it to you and see if you subscribe to it entirely or if you want me to change it. She listened and said, “Yeah, dat’s goo’.” Now, I said, I can arrange for this to be distributed to the press in your name and that of the Chippewa’s. But it must be your statement, do you understand? “Yeah, she said,” I understan’.” It must be your statement because if it is seen as my statement, a statement I wrote for you it will be embarrassing and I will be fired—fired, out on my ear with a wife and three children to support. Ok? She said, “No-kay, we don’ wan’ you fir’.” Nor do I. This is a statement that you can read to the radio stations if and when they call, is that all right? “Yeah but I got question.” What’s that? “What do dis word mean?” and she pointed to the word “unconscionable.” I said: Maybe I should take it out. “No-no,” she said, “I lik’ but what do it mean?” I told her. She repeated it smoothly: unconscionable. I helped her: unconscionable. She liked it hugely. I thought she liked it too much so I offered to write another one. Her black eyes grew round and big: “No, I lik’ that one, hear me?”

We spent a night in the coldest, most drafty state lodge I have ever seen. The next morning I was up at dawn because it was too cold to sleep. I put on my overcoat and sat in my room. I turned on WCCO, the big CBS affiliate in Minneapolis. “Leading this morning’s news,” announced the newscaster, “is a report of Indian fury against Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey! An active tribal leader is swinging out as the senior Senator for defaming the good intentions of the tribe. We switch to you our affiliate in Red Lake and Randy Carson. Randy?” “Thanks, Bob. The acting president of the Chippewa tribe has charged that Sen. Hubert Humphrey is by cynical political maneuver is threatening the well being of the entire tribe by having assailed Governor Andersen. Mrs. Sophia Peewash had this to say earlier this morning.” And on the tape Mrs. Peewash spelled it out slowly and pronounced the action of Humphrey as “unconscionable.” When I left the lodge the St. Paul Pioneer Press had arrived: INDIAN WOMAN SCORES HUMPHREY; ACCUSES HIM OF JEOPARDIZING TRIBE WELFARE.

“I knew there was a good reason why I hired you,” said the Governor as we flew back. “It’s taken a long time but now I think I know.” A few days later at the St. Paul Capitol a letter arrived for me bearing the insignia of the U.S. Senate under the personal frank of Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota. I opened it with trembling hands and the clipping fell out. Across the clipping in red ink was the sentence: “Roeser: If only white people could write like that!—Hubert H.”

Like Andersen, who died full of honors earlier this year at 95 (having been chief regent of the University of Minnesota, owning a string of newspapers and celebrated as the state’s greatest citizen, I wish politics were better. But in those days it was good enough. We fought hard and when we lost one, as Humphrey did that day, we had a good laugh about it. Later when I left partisan employ and worked for Quaker Oats, Humphrey and I had a good laugh about it, too.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Tom,
    Why do you cut me off so short 98% of the time? Ok OK I imagine many have the same gripe---BUT I SURE WANTED TO LET YOU KNOW THAT I'M ONE OF THEM. I did think thatI built up a good reputation as a caller with you-----guess I was wrong again.
    Merry Christmas, Carl from Bridgeport