Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Flashback: Working for Walter Judd on the Hill. And a Fortunate Case of Severe Stomach Flu in Georgetown While Jackie Kennedy Strolled By with John-John in the Buggy

[More reminiscences covering fifty years for my kids and grandchildren].

The British historian Thomas Babington Macaulay [1800-1859] was a man after my own heart—one who was raised to a peerage (as Baron Macaulay of Rothley)—but born a commoner, politically a Whig, a leader in the House of Commons, an orator and secretary of war until his prime minister’s government fell. In addition, he was a brilliant historian, a believer in democracy, election by ballot and political reform, a man who strongly supported laissez-faire economics. (His poetry has fallen into disfavor despite the fact that he lies in the Poets Corner of Westminster Abbey but his histories are brilliant).

He tells the story, certainly invented, of a member of Commons who went to the theatre with an aide whom he treated as a serf. And, a typical MC, he was elated that the audience recognized him with moderate applause as he was being shown his seat in the balcony. Whereupon he leaned over the balcony to acknowledge the cheers which he fancied he heard (which were not that resounding)…and leaning over too far, fell over the brass rail and was heading to certain death to the floor below, when his aide grabbed him by the ankles and hoisted him back, saving his life. Because the audience, recognizing the aide, gave him a lusty cheer for saving his life, the MP shook free of the clutch of the solicitous aide, hating him for stealing the limelight, envious of the attention he stole, denounced him and stalked out of the theatre--“gratitude at that time being unknown to parliamentarians in English public life.”

After Quie was reelected that November, before Barky and I started our trip back to D. C., Viehman, Barky and I got together for dinner. “You know,” said Viehman, “the son-of-a-gun [the language was more colorful than that] never thanked me even once: not for the 411 vote victory nor the 16,000 vote one despite the fact that I was unpaid, a volunteer who took time off from my regular job and raised a lot of money for his campaign.” Barky, who was not thanked either (and who brought thirty years of expertise to the campaign plus first-hand knowledge of the district) was not surprised. In fact, he was dumbfounded that Viehman should be so concerned about not being thanked. Not being thanked is par for the course.

“No Congressman likes to be reminded that without others, he could not have been elected,” he said. “Andresen didn’t either. I know Quie doesn’t. The usual election night speech they all make to their supporters is, `Without all of you, I couldn’t have done it.’ Andresen used to say that with tears in his eyes but didn’t believe it. Quie can’t bring himself to even say it. He believes that without all of them he still could have done it. Even Andresen didn’t believe that but he would grudgingly say thanks. Quie is a different type. You know that humble pie stuff? It’s a put-on. The key was on election night when he made the speech about what he will do in the next two years. No thank you, no nothing. But that’s the way Congressmen are, gentlemen. You’ve got to understand that what we think is insufferable ego is requisite for this job.”

But Viehman, an egotist himself, couldn’t understand it. “Having been in the media and in show business, ego fulfillment is mother’s milk to me. But I never saw anyone—believe it—who couldn’t say thanks.”

I could only tell him, “he’s done me worse. The day after election, he said I should not expect to ever get a raise for as long as I would be working for him because he intended to expend his salary money on hiring more people rather than giving raises.”

“That’s the way they all are, I tell you,” said Barky.

Viehman made a scatological suggestion that our young Congressman perform an impossible biological act on himself.

“That’s why you should hit out right now,” he said. “I’m slated to be elected state chairman soon. I’ll be full time with salary. Why don’t you come on as my deputy? Let the man who has done it all by himself really do it all by himself for the future.” Having turned Viehman down once, I did it again. I hated to do it because I loved Viehman this side idolatry as Ben Jonson said of Shakespeare. Especially since none of us knew he’d be dead a few years later. He was one man I really did not feel badly about losing in comparison to him. He became state chairman and built the Republican party in two short years to the point where it captured the governorship. I will tell you how he did it in a minute.

I would have loved to have been at his side if I could solve the problem of theological bi-location…being in Washington and Minnesota at the same time. Some modern saints have done it: particularly Padre Pio. But as a non-saint I can’t do it. Anyhow, I think I made the right decision. Strictly speaking, I never regretted staying in Washington. I had an offer to work for Walter Judd, the most effective Republican on Foreign Affairs, arranging to work part-time for him and part-time for Quie, adding to my total salary (at that time by House rules this could be done). My goal was to help Judd gain the attention that could propel him as a vice presidential candidate with Nixon in 1960.

“I understand,” said Viehman, after I told him my plan, “but you know what happened nationally last November, don’t you?” He spoke ominously. New York had elected Nelson Rockefeller as governor to carry the liberal Republican mantra. Viehman was sure the Dewey people would support Rockefeller for president over Nixon. I disagreed, believing that just two years as governor would not be sufficient for Rockefeller to build a record for the presidency. But Viehman had a fatalistic view of liberal Republicans and eastern seaboard money. As it turned out, Rockefeller played a major role for liberaldom in the 1960 campaign but not as a candidate. I worried more than the man we called “Rocky” would be a running-mate with Nixon. But Mrs. Heffelfinger, my guru and sponsor, said “not on your life, sweetheart. The vice presidential nomination is all greased. I know these easterners, am one of them myself, and they’re going to be for Cabot Lodge. Nixon has already promised them. Oh, he’ll pretend like he’s got to soul-search but it’s a done deal.”

I thought the old lady was just following her heart. But she was right. But without telling her what I was really about…to try to plot and build up a reputation for Judd in the next year to take a long-shot…to wangle for Judd the vice presidential nomination instead of her dear heart Cabot Lodge. You talk about ego. How I thought a kid like me could outpoint the mega-millionaire eastern seaboard Republicans, I don’t know. But I started to handle press relations for Judd, a former medical missionary to China and a legendary Congressman. My hope was that he could be the balance-wheel on the conservative side for the ticket now that Nixon was “branching out” so to speak, sounding less like the old flamethrower and more like an accommodationist in foreign policy anent the USSR, making speeches that portrayed himself as the “New Nixon”—one of many incarnations that occurred during his long march to the White House.

My view in working for Judd was that he would be a long-shot for vice president but, failing that, an excellent nominee for the U. S. Senate to run against Humphrey in 1960. Mrs. Heffelfinger was enthusiastic about him running for the Senate even if she was a negotiation-prone dove. “I could raise a lot of money for Walter,” she enthused. After election and back in Washington in late November, I got sick, stayed close to bed. Perhaps, I decided, I was going to die. I felt terribly sorry for myself. .

As I lay abed, it seemed to me that now one Congressional year was melting into another. Not only were Quie and I engaged in a cold war, but my personal life wasn’t too hot. I was going with a young female staffer, knockout looking but who was a comely eighteen. And when I say she was eighteen, I mean it: a teener. Her idea of a fun date was roller-skating; riding the high rides at Excelsior Park, the watered-down version of Riverview. There was no…and I mean no…stimulating discussion. Books were boring. Plays were boring. Ideas were boring. And so, probably in self-defense, right after Thanksgiving 1958 when I decided I was not going to die but had stomach flu, I decided to do something about it.

I remember when I made that decision. I was in my apartment one November Sunday, feeling sorry for myself, in a Georgetown apartment, 3256 N Street, N. W., just down the street a bit from Sen. John F. Kennedy. Everybody else seemed to have settled down. Just then down N street walked Kennedy’s wife, Jacqueline Bouvoir, with baby John-John in a buggy, I thought, at my age—30—I should decide whom I will marry. One thing for sure: it would not be the eighteen year old. And so I thought of the beautiful young woman whom I dated before I left for Minnesota. Gorgeous, with an Irish face but who was quick to point out that she was English. I broke up with her seven years earlier because I didn’t want to get married before I had a swing at journalism. We had also had a bit of a tiff over politics in 1952 when we split: she an Adlai Stevenson Democrat and I a Taft Republican.

Later I tried to tell Lillian Prescott that I didn’t care if she was a Stevenson Democrat or not—but she didn’t believe me. She still doesn’t. But it was the fact that I knew if I didn’t go to Minnesota to get involved in journalism at the age of 25, I never would. When I first met her, I was a blueprint machine operator at a small manufacturing plant while going to grad school at night. Then I became a copy-writer for a small advertising agency. Then an assistant advertising manager for A. J. Nystrom which made maps and globes. Boring. B-o-r-i-n-g. Not being a veteran, I couldn’t qualify for the City News Bureau which was giving returning servicemen preference. So a close friend of mine suggested: why don’t you go back to Minnesota where you went to college and take a beginning job on a small daily? It will pay little but you’re single and you can do it. Not if you get married, of course. Okay, I said. I’ll do it. Thus to the St. Cloud Times.

But now at age 30, I needed love, yes, affection, yes but far more intellectual companionship than an eighteen year old bubble-gum snapping beauty who thumbed movie magazines, gabbed on the phone incessantly about what hair style she would choose next, and who had just finished high school could offer. So, ill with stomach flu, I decided to call Chicago and see if the one woman I felt I could marry was eligible. I figured that it would be just my luck if she were married. I called her on the phone; she answered and said she wasn’t married. I asked her…no, not to marry me yet…but if she would go out with me on a date to renew old times when I would return home to Chicago at Christmas. She said she would. That night, relaxed, I had the first good night’s sleep since the stomach flu started. The next day I went to work enthusiastically…thinking that no matter what Quie did, it was more important to plan ahead and see if I could somehow convince Lillian Prescott with whom I broke up seven years earlier, to reconsider. It would just be my dumb luck if she wouldn’t, I thought. But I figured I might be able to make the sale. I had to make one phone call to get my confidence up.

On long distance, Mrs. Heffelfinger was ecstatic. “Yes, of course you can! Tell her some funny stories. You’re not much on looks, you know, a terrible dancer with not many social graces, at bottom a terrible prig with a Victorian prudishness, and more of a conservative than God ought to stomach, but you can tell good stories.”

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