Monday, May 21, 2007

Flashback: Harvard Beckons, then Shakes its Head, then Beckons Again.

[Fifty years of political life in a memoir for my kids and grandchildren].

Working full-time at Quaker and teaching part-time…mostly nights…at Wharton and Northwestern led me to perfect a course involving nine constituencies that make up public policy. After a few years, I wanted to try it at a university that seemed hopelessly out-of-range for a conservative—the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard. Shortly after JFK was killed, the public revulsion for the hideous murder was such that many people sent contributions to the Kennedy family. Well, the Kennedy family didn’t need free-will offerings nor did it encourage them--but the money amounted to tens of millions of dollars over the length of time between the Dallas slaying, the long majestic funeral, the pathetic salute to his father’s bier by little John-John, the eternal flame on and on. The Kennedy family decided to turn the funds over to Harvard, where JFK had gone to school, for the creation of a John F. Kennedy Institute of Politics which was an independent entity but pinioned to what would ultimately become the Kennedy School of Government.

Individual fellowships were created—not so much for political scholars as much as for participants. Obviously, given the nature of the Kennedy family and Harvard, the designees were almost always from the political Left. One exception to the rule was my friend John McClaughry, the ex-Percy campaign worker who designed the brilliant Community Self-Determination act…a program that was never implemented, sadly…but which became a kind of model for my own institution called “Medco,” the Minority Enterprise Development Corporation which I submitted to President Nixon and which, though superb in concept due to McClaughry’s origination and Bill Geimer’s legal craftsmanship, got me fired by Maurice Stans. Few other Republicans were named. Those who were happened to be the lefty kind, tokens. There were absolutely no business lobbyists named. Charlie Barr had pined away until his death for a Fellowship but was not rewarded (a pity).

Long about 1975, I decided to try for a Fellowship. I applied, was called to Cambridge for an interview and sat down with a lady who was relatively famous but who since has become much more so—Doris Kearns Goodwin. As a young student she was taken in, so to speak, by a President Lyndon Johnson who pored out his heart to her which she wrote up to national acclaim. She was named a White House Fellow and while she was being considered, it was discovered that she had been a picketing anti-Vietnam student at Harvard and had in fact written a magazine article entitled, “How to Dump Lyndon Johnson.” She expected to be zeroed out of the White House fellowship but Johnson agreed that she be named anyhow. He said, “oh let her come. If I can’t convince her she was wrong, then I’m not very effective.” Thus the old president with a weak heart and a young school-girl spent much time together. He never convinced her Vietnam was right but he converted her to become an LBJ groupie who celebrated his rampant liberalism.

She married Richard Goodwin, the shaggy former JFK staffer who joined Eugene McCarthy’s anti-LBJ campaign and later Robert Kennedys. Now as a Harvard Ph.D she was a top official engaged in the selection of future Kennedy Fellows. Obviously, her politics were predictable—but that didn’t bother me: her instinctive knee-jerkedness did. She came to conclusions viscerally and they were all boilerplate. She saw no reason why a conservative should ever become a Fellow since the fellowships were to remain like a fly in amber, hallowed as 1960 liberalism. I disputed that but I was on the applicant side. So after the first invitation, I was rejected.

The next year I applied again but this time decided to use some of the lobbying arts to reinforce my application. I started a campaign of encouraging Democratic liberals who were my friends to write. Those who wrote were Newton Minow, JFK’s chairman of the FCC who devised the phrase “vast wasteland” to describe his era of commercial television…Paul Simon who has been a Fellow and who was now a congressman from Illinois, hoping for greater things…Abner Mikva, my congressman, a deep-dyed liberal with an uncanny knack of frowning over an issue in supposed deliberation but who always…uncannily…would come after great reflection on the side of the Left…and Andrew Young. The Georgia congressman was expecting a high appointment from the Jimmy Carter administration which ultimately came—that of ambassador to the United Nations.

These letters made a difference. Once again I was invited to Cambridge and once again I was interviewed by Doris Kearns Goodwin. And once again she debated and found me wanting. However I had anticipated her decision and had on one of my Washington trips stopped in to the office of Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts. Quaker had several plants in Massachusetts and the Kennedys had ties to Chicago, with old Joe buying the Merchandise Mart where Quaker was officing, and Sargent Shriver a close classmate of Bob Stuart (although that was one tie I didn’t want to use). I figured it was enough that I had left Quaker for abortive federal service and it wouldn’t be politick to try to use any leverage to leave again—or I would possibly be allowed to leave imperpetuity.

At Teddy Kennedy’s office, I didn’t see him but a staffer who insisted that Ted Kennedy as the custodian of the Kennedy Fellowships earnestly desired Republican participation. I had a hard time keeping my face straight hearing him say that and I guess he noticed it. He did say something that was very helpful: that Senator Kennedy himself was in the habit of personally interviewing candidates who seemed to make it to the finals. I thought that if I could just survive Ms. Goodwin, I might have a shot at it.

So I encouraged Andrew Young…who by now was UN ambassador… to personally call Kennedy. Young solicited a promise that no matter what…whether I survived Ms. Goodwin or not…Kennedy himself would interview me. I stayed in touch with the Kennedy staffer and found when the Senator would be at his office at the Institute of Politics and deftly…if I say so myself…arranged my interview with Ms. Goodwin to coincide with his presence.

Ms. Goodwin was still unimpressed with me and I must say I didn’t blame her. When I think the die is cast I have a tendency to grow insouciant…as I was when I knew my firing at Commerce was inevitable. We dallied around in a terrible interview and then I said that I was assured, basis the request from Ambassador Young, that I could be interviewed by the Senator. She indicated that this was not the usual procedure because the Senator only interviewed candidates who were approved by her. I again leaned on the Andrew Young card and said, “Madam, would you like to have Ambassador Young call you to verify what I have told you is the truth? He would be glad to.” She backed up, said that would not be necessary and checked the Senator’s schedule. Then a few hours later, I visited with the Senator just before the dinner hour.

I had considered and then discarded a number of approaches to make to him—but concentrated instead on the mission of the Institute of Politics which was to allow candidates with fulsome political experience to be appointed. In describing my work beginning as journalist, political party staffer, campaign manager, assistant to two congressmen and assistant to a governor of Minnesota, I saw that I was making little headway. Then I concentrated on my work at Quaker Oats and the fact that the job had brought me into fairly close contact with the late Everett Dirksen. I saw Kennedy’s eyes perk up at that point. We swapped Dirksen stories and I told him Dirksen’s favorite phrase which he used to describe some incompetents such as the Republican state chairman. Dirksen said the chairman was as “dumb as dog” excrement—only he used the stolid Anglo-Saxon word for excrement.

Kennedy roared with laughter and exclaimed that his two brothers had used that expression and he laughed whenever he heard of it, wondering where they got it. Of course! They got it from Dirksen, a man of whom both were extremely fond…so fond, in fact, that during the Cuban Missile Crisis both men…John and Bobby…requested that Dirksen fly to the White House to consult with them—for the sole purpose of bolstering his lagging campaign for reelection in Illinois against Sydney Yates. Our conversation about the Pundit of Pekin lasted a long time after which Kennedy said, “you’re in!” I said that Ms. Goodwin had placed a veto. He shrugged it off and said he would talk to her. He must have because the very next morning I received a call in Chicago from her which didn’t go into details but filled me in on when I would start and what I wished my teaching program at Harvard should consist of.

I received another sabbatical of sorts from Quaker and flew to Cambridge for six months of what was a glorious experience. The teaching itself was fun but with the Fellowship you got a membership in the Harvard faculty club and the absolute right to call up any faculty member and sit down with him/her. The Harvard faculty was under orders to regard Kennedy Fellows as equals if not a bit superior. So when I called the office of the aged but brilliant John Kenneth Galbraith, then an emeritus professor of the economy, his secretary endeavored when we could have lunch together at the faculty club. The same with James Q. Wilson, the famous professor of government as well as a good number of other faculty people.

That convinced me that all the funny stock of stories I had about Everett Dirksen really paid off. As indeed it did.

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