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Rogan's Recollections

(And Occasional Historical Observations)

Remembering Pulitzer Prize-Winning Historian David McCullough (1933-2022)

David McCullough with his 1946 typewriter in 2015. Credit: The Boston Globe. 

 

David McCullough, perhaps the most preeminent American historian of my generation, died yesterday at age 89. The author of ten books and the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, books covered the broad swath of the fabric of our country—and he wrote every one of them not on a word processor or computer, but on a 1946 Royal KMM manual typewriter. When asked why he worked on so antiquated a machine, he conceded that using a computer would allow him to write faster, but he found in writing slower he had more time to think about what he composed.

 

Almost 25 years ago, I attended a congressional bipartisan retreat (these days, the concept of a congressional "bipartisan" sounds anachronistic). The guest speaker was McCullough, who had received recently the Pulitzer Prize for his biography on President Harry S Truman. When I asked McCullough to autograph my copy of his book, I mentioned with a grin that I was pleased to meet "a fellow Truman scholar." He asked if I had written a Truman book, too. I laughed and told him no, and then I explained that I had written an article in the early 1990s for American Heritage magazine (later republished in 1994 in Reader's Digest on the 50th anniversary of Truman's accession to the presidency) on how old Harry had helped me with my homework project when I was in junior high school, and in so doing he settled forever (in a letter that he had written to me) the historical dispute as to whether his middle initial did or did not get a period.

 

McCullough's eyes brightened. "The 'homework' story in American Heritage!" he said. "Truman wrote to you and explained about the S in his middle name! I not only read your article, but it helped me win a bet on that issue!" It seems that when Harry Truman took the time to help a young admirer with his research assignment long ago, both David McCullough and I came out as winners.

 

I reconnected with McCullough a few years ago, and he surprised me with a box filled with inscribed copies of his most famed works. They sit tonight in an honored place in the library of a grateful fan who has spent countless hours enjoying his enduring books.

 

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Remembering Oliver Hardy (1892-1957)

Oliver Hardy, half of Hollywood's iconic comedy team Laurel and Hardy, died 65 years ago today at the age of 65 from complications following a stroke.

 

Although "Babe" Hardy died two weeks before I was born, I have been a fan of Stan's and Ollie's since my early boyhood. Ollie's partner, Stan Laurel, who survived him by seven years, answered every fan letter personally and kept his name and telephone number listed in the Santa Monica phone directory so that fans could call or write to him. In 1964 he answered a fan letter from a little boy by sending him this signed photo of Laurel and Hardy.

 

Below are a few brief reflections on Laurel and Hardy taken from my 2013 book, "And Then I Met." Next month, on the 30th anniversary of the day I spent with movie producer Hal Roach (then almost 101 years old), I'll post more memories from the studio chief who first joined together two of his contract comedians, and then introduced the world to Laurel and Hardy.

 

• • •

 

While a prosecutor and judge in Los Angeles during the 1980s-1990s, I befriended a local Glendale businessman. For almost 30 years, Rand Brooks owned and ran Professional Ambulance Service. For several years, I never knew that Rand's ambulance company was a later-in-life career. Only over lunch some years into our friendship did he mention casually that in the 1930s, he worked as a trick-riding cowboy in a Wild West show. Later he tried his hand at acting in movies and early television. But he had one role that guaranteed his place in motion picture history:  he played Charles Hamilton, Scarlett O'Hara's first husband in the 1939 film classic, "Gone with the Wind."

 

That discovery paled next to another that he shared with me: he had been married for many years to Stan Laurel's daughter. I delighted in listening to him reminisce about my favorite comedy duo:

 

"Babe [Oliver Hardy's nickname] gave Stan all the credit for their success. Babe always said, "Stan was a genius, and all I did was do what he told me to do.

 

"Although Stan could be funny in private, he was basically a very serious man. He was sweet but serious. We had a wonderful relationship.

 

"Stan was married many times. One of his wives, Lois, was a bitch. She was cheap as well as mean. I was married to their daughter Lois for 28 years. The first 20 years were good ones. My ex-wife, Lois, was a good lady, but her mother did everything possible to destroy our marriage.

 

"The guy that owns the merchandising rights to Laurel and Hardy, Larry Harmon, is a crook. He stole the rights from Stan. I was going to handle all that for Stan and Stan would have made money. Instead, Harmon did it and cheated him. Stan's attorney, Ben Shipman, was also a crook. He kept Stan broke while he lived high off the hog from Stan's money. Stan kept Shipman around because Shipman was always able to get Stan out of trouble."

 

Rand offered a brief insight into another Hollywood legend, his onetime costar, Marilyn Monroe: "I got a call from a guy in New York recently who wanted me to talk about Marilyn for a scandal magazine. I told him to go to hell. I made a low-budget movie with Marilyn many years ago [Ladies of the Chorus, 1948] when she was first getting started. There was no scandal there. Our relationship was friendly and pleasant. There was nothing sensational. Marilyn was just a sweet, naïve, and insecure girl."

 

I'm sorry that Rand never wrote his book. He had more than enough wonderful stories of the Golden Age of Hollywood to fill a volume. He was a great guy and a great friend.

 

• • •

 

Rand Brooks sold his ambulance company and retired to his ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley to breed horses. He died of cancer at age 84 on September 1, 2003.

 

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Remembering Senator George McGovern on His 100th Birthday

"To Jim Rogan, who stood with me in 1972—and still does. With the very best wishes of his friend, George McGovern." George McGovern and me, 1995. (Author's collection)
 

 

Senator George McGovern, the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee, was born 100 years ago today. Although we ended up on different sides of the political equation, it was my great honor and privilege to know this distinguished public servant and consummate gentleman. 

 

Below are some reflections on Senator McGovern taken from my 2013 book, "And Then I Met." I hope that you enjoy them. 

 

* * *

 

On January 18, 1971, Senator George McGovern (D-SD) announced his candidacy for the 1972 Democrat presidential nomination. These days, White House contenders start running many years before the contest, but back then a candidate announcing almost two years before Election Day was unprecedented. The unknown McGovern needed the time. With heavyweight opponents lining up to run, the press mocked his quixotic effort. At the starting gate he registered only 2 percent in the Gallup poll, earning him the nickname, "George Who?"

 

Born in 1922, McGovern flew 35 combat missions as a bomber pilot during World War II. Returning home, he earned a Ph.D. and taught history and political science. Elected in 1956 to the U.S. House of Representatives from South Dakota, he gave up his seat to run unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1960. He served for two years as director of Food for Peace, and then he won a close Senate race in 1962. In 1972, he captured the Democrat presidential nomination, only to go on and lose the White House to Richard Nixon in one of America's most lopsided landslides.

 

McGovern brought his fledgling campaign to San Francisco in August 1971 for a $3 per person fundraising reception at the Rodeway Inn. His presidential viability appeared so remote that none of my political collector buddies wanted to attend it with me, so I conscripted my little brother Pat to come along. Even at that absurdly low price we couldn't afford tickets, so we snuck into the event.

 

We stood outside the hotel's front door hoping to see McGovern when he arrived. While waiting we met his lone aide staffing the event, who spoke freely about the problems of running a campaign that most considered a joke and with no money in the bank. He said McGovern usually stayed in private homes during these trips because his campaign couldn't afford hotel rooms.

 

As we spoke, a banged-up 1960s station wagon pulled forward at the entrance. The aide whispered to us, "If I tell you something, can you keep a secret? There he is now."

 

McGovern climbed out of the car, combed his thinning hair, put on his suit jacket, and then he greeted Pat and me. There was no danger of breaching the aide's secret because as McGovern walked through the lobby nodding and smiling at people, nobody recognized him. It fell upon Pat to hold the elevator for the understaffed candidate, who rode it upstairs to freshen up in a room that a sympathetic supporter rented for him.

 

The aide we befriended kept riding up and down the elevator to check on the reception turnout and then reporting upstairs to McGovern. On one of these revolving trips he offered to get an autograph for me. He returned a few minutes later with a signed card. I asked what McGovern was doing when he signed it. "Truthfully," he replied with a smile, "he was standing naked in the bathroom shaving."

 

About 50 people attended McGovern's reception in the La Paz Room. When he arrived, the woman at the door collecting the entrance fee grew distracted, which enabled Pat and me to slip inside.

 

McGovern gave an impromptu talk that focused on his commitment to ending the Vietnam War, which was the cause motivating his entry into the race. His style was low key and casual, and he took questions from the audience for half an hour.

 

The affair ended with him leaving as he had arrived—walking through the lobby in anonymity to his waiting station wagon. But when he returned to campaign in San Francisco eight months later, the dynamic had changed dramatically.

 

• • •

 

Question:        When is the winner the loser and the loser the winner?

 

Answer:           When the winners and losers are presidential candidates.

 

The above riddle is a phenomenon of politics, where expectations often count more than votes. The 1972 Democrat presidential primaries are an example of this conundrum. As the gun sounded for the nomination race, Senator Edmund Muskie (D-ME) remained the heavily favored frontrunner for the three years leading up to 1972.

 

Universal expectations had Muskie winning New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary. George McGovern, still largely unknown after over a year of campaigning, straggled far behind in the polls. On primary night, Muskie did very well. He won almost 50 percent of the vote in a field of five contenders. McGovern lost, but his grass-roots campaign did better than expected with a second-place finish at 37 percent. Immediately the pundits and network anchors proclaimed the meaning of the New Hampshire results in their peculiar version of political algebra:

 

Muskie won

+

McGovern lost, but he did much better than the pundits expected

=

Muskie lost; McGovern won

 

The following morning, McGovern's name, and not Muskie's, splashed across the headlines. In the upcoming Wisconsin primary, McGovern parlayed his New Hampshire momentum into a stunning first-place victory. This catapulted the near-anonymous candidate only days earlier into the frontrunner position.

 

The day after his Wisconsin win, McGovern brought his now-energized campaign back to San Francisco. For weeks his local headquarters couldn't give away tickets to his scheduled $25 per person fundraising dinner at the Hilton Hotel. Within minutes of Wisconsin's vote tabulation, the event sold out.

 

Today, we live in an era where tickets to political events cost thousands of dollars. It's hard to conceive that in 1972 the price tag for admission to a sit-down dinner for the leading presidential candidate at a major venue cost $25. Yet, for my brother Pat and me, the price might as well have been $25,000. We had no money for a ticket, but that didn't dissuade us from trying to get inside.

 

We took the Greyhound bus from the East Bay (where we now lived) to San Francisco and arrived at the Hilton three hours before the dinner began. We sat in the lobby hoping to see McGovern when he arrived. Not long after we parked ourselves, I saw a chunky man with a buzz haircut and wearing a Hilton blazer staring at us from across the room. He approached, identified himself as hotel security, and he asked what we were doing there. I explained that we had taken the bus from Pinole to see McGovern. Once he learned that we had no dinner ticket, his already unpleasant attitude grew nasty. "Let me give you boys some advice," he said sarcastically. "Get back on your bus to Pinole and get the hell out of here. You aren't meeting anybody in this hotel tonight." Before we knew it, we found ourselves outside on the sidewalk.

 

Pat and I didn't surrender easily. We snuck back inside at another entrance, but the same guard nabbed us. Tossing us out once again, he warned that any further entry would result in our arrest.

 

I had an idea. Finding a pay telephone, I called the hotel switchboard, dropped my voice to the deepest baritone a 14 year-old could muster, and I told the operator that I was Senator McGovern's speech writer. I commanded her to put me through to his suite. To my surprise, she routed the call.

 

Dick Dougherty, McGovern's national campaign press secretary, answered. I explained our situation and he proved sympathetic. He arranged for us to get freelance photographer passes and complimentary dinner tickets at the press table. Dougherty told us to have the hotel security guard call him directly if he gave us any more problems.

 

We returned to the hotel and waited. It didn't take long for Inspector Javert to find us. He grabbed our arms and started yanking us across the lobby while saying that the police were on the way to arrest us for trespassing. When I told him to call Dougherty to confirm that we had tickets, he refused. Amid the yelling and the tugging, the hotel manager rushed over to investigate the disturbance. After hearing our explanation, the manager picked up a courtesy phone in the foyer and called McGovern's suite. A few moments later, the manager summoned the guard to join him over in the corner. I couldn't hear their discussion, but I saw the guard's face redden as the manager spoke with him harshly while poking an index finger into his chest. The guard stalked away.

 

The manager returned to where we waited. "Personal guests of Senator McGovern are always welcome in this hotel," he said.

 

With the event still two hours away, and while we continued our lobby stakeout, I saw McGovern alone and unrecognized strolling from the elevator bank. Pat and I introduced ourselves, and the candidate (in no apparent hurry) settled into a high-backed lobby chair and invited us to visit with him for a few minutes. "I was just going to take a walk around the block," he said with a chuckle, "so I've got some time to kill." When we told him the story of the guard and Dick Dougherty, he laughed. "So—you're the boys, eh? Dick told me about your enterprising effort to join us tonight. We're glad to have you."

 

I asked how he felt about his sudden vault to the front of the presidential pack. He said he felt reluctant to claim frontrunner status just yet, but yesterday's Wisconsin result gratified him, and he hoped to continue his momentum.

 

Before resuming his walk, he obliged an autograph request. On an index card he wrote out in longhand and signed his campaign slogan for me: "For Jim, I make one pledge above all others—to seek and speak the truth. With kindest regards, George McGovern."

 

After thanking him and wishing him luck, we watched as McGovern rode the escalator down to O'Farrell Street for his constitutional.

 

Later that evening, and shortly before the dinner began, two couples chatting nearby came over to talk to Pat and me. One man in the group said they saw us in the lobby with McGovern earlier and he asked if we had gotten his autograph. I showed him the quotation, and they passed it around and congratulated me on the acquisition. It wasn't until they introduced themselves that we realized with whom we were speaking—movie stars Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty and Julie Christie, along with pop singer Michelle Phillips from the 1960s rock group The Mamas and the Papas.

 

Following dinner, Congressman Don Edwards (D-CA) introduced McGovern to the packed and enthusiastic ballroom. I moved from the press table to the stage to snap a few photographs as the candidate urged his supporters to help him win the California primary and clinch the nomination.

 

At the end of the dinner, and as the crowd departed, I saw California State Assemblyman (later Congressman) John Burton standing nearby. He wore on his lapel a type of McGovern campaign button incorporating the American flag and a peace symbol that I had never seen before (or since). After introducing myself, I told him I collected political memorabilia and asked him to give me the badge. Burton didn't want to part with it, but my zeal wore him down and he relented.

 

Twenty-four years after he gave me the badge, John Burton and I served together in the State Assembly as colleagues. One day I wore his old McGovern button in my lapel and struck up a conversation with him in the chamber while waiting to see if he recognized my vintage treasure. Sure enough, after a few moments he asked about it. I recounted the story for him. "Those were the good old days," he sighed.

 

I sought to draw him out: "You mean the good old days when liberalism was on the rise? You mean the days when liberals believed they could solve the ills of the world, and when idealistic antiwar activists marched for world peace?"

 

He looked at me dismissively. "No," he said. "I don't mean any of that shit. I mean the good old days—when we could take money out of the Assembly Rules Committee budget and use it to pay for our fuckin' campaign buttons!"

 

• • •

 

In writing this memoir over 40 years after Dick Dougherty helped create a fond memory for two grateful boys crashing the San Francisco Hilton, I thought he might enjoy this story. I wanted to send him a copy of it to renew my thanks for his help. I looked for his address on the Internet and found this entry, dated January 2, 1987: "Richard Dougherty, former New York bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times and press secretary for Senator George McGovern, died of lung cancer Tuesday. He was 65."

 

Thanks again, Dick. I never forgot your kindness.

 

• • •

 

A few years after McGovern's presidential campaign ended, I attended his speech on Cuban-American relations before the San Francisco Commonwealth Club. To a sold-out audience, he  called for lifting the longstanding embargo against Cuba, describing it as a "foolish sanction that has weakened [Cuban president Fidel] Castro, but forced a stronger Cuban reliance on the Soviet Union." He also described his recent visit to Cuba by saying that he and Castro made an impromptu visit to the local marketplace: "The warmth of the reception given Castro was enough to bring envy to the heart of every American politician," he said.

 

Following his prepared remarks, he took a few questions from the floor. When asked if he might seek the presidency again in 1976, he smiled and said, "I knew that question was coming. The chances are 100-to-1 against my running. In all candor, I have no plans to run. I have sought the advice of a few close friends as to what role I should play in the 1976 elections, whether I should speak on behalf of other candidates or whatever, but I will not be a candidate again."

 

Another questioner noted that Alabama Governor George Wallace, a former segregationist, led most polls for the 1976 Democrat presidential nomination. When asked if he would support Wallace if he won the nomination, his response was emphatic and brief: "No."

 

At the end of the lunch, he spoke with me about his 1976 decision. I asked under what circumstances he might reconsider. "Oh, I don't know," he said with a shrug. "I'll just have to wait and see what these other guys do."

 

Three years earlier, as the presidential nominee, reporters and security guards had crowded every inch of his path. Now, just as it was back in the early days of his race, when today's event ended, McGovern left the ballroom and walked through the lobby—alone and anonymous.

 

• • •

 

Before I began college classes in 1975, I made my first visit to Washington, and McGovern invited me to visit him when I arrived. A delay in floor votes pushed back our scheduled meeting by two hours, so I waited for him in his Senate office. Finally, his secretary told me he had returned. She took me into the public hallway, unlocked an unmarked door, and escorted me into his private quarters.

 

McGovern sat behind his desk at the far end of the room. Dressed in a cream-colored suit, he rose from his chair and welcomed me while offering repeated apologies for keeping me waiting so long. "When you do the people's business," he said with a smile, "sometimes the people aren't in a big hurry to get their matters brought to a vote!"

 

He wanted to know about my trip and my impressions of the Capitol, and he put me at ease with his friendly and unhurried manner. We talked about the upcoming 1976 presidential race as well as his decision not to run again. He said the main reason he had opted out of the race was because his 1972 run had caused deep divisions in the Party and he felt it needed a unifier in 1976. "I'm not sure that my being a candidate and being nominated would do that because several factions of the Party were alienated by my candidacy in 1972," he said. "I do not expect to run for president again."

 

I mentioned that I had seen a recent Gallup poll (taken after Nixon resigned the presidency). It showed that in a rematch, McGovern would have prevailed over Nixon handily. A wan smile crossed his face. He stepped back and leaned against his desk. "Yes, I saw the poll when it came out," he said. "I was very gratified by it. Do you know why? Because it vindicated me." Then he dropped his voice to a whisper and looked out the window as he said it again:

 

"It vindicated me."

 

I brought along the photograph I had taken of him at the Commonwealth Club a few months earlier and asked him to autograph it. He took the photo from me, sat behind his desk, slid on his reading glasses, and studied it carefully. "You took this?" he asked with a touch of surprise at my youthful effort. "You know, it's a very, very good picture."

 

As he began to inscribe it, I raised my camera to take a couple of candid photos while he signed. When he noticed my camera, he quickly slid off his reading glasses and placed them on his desk. Apparently, even with a humble man like McGovern, vanity prevailed over good penmanship.

 

• • •

 

I stayed in touch with McGovern over the years. In 1994, after I won a seat in the California legislature, he remembered his old campaign volunteer of long ago and called to congratulate me on my victory.

 

Later that year we reunited at a couple of conferences hosted by ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), a national forum for conservative state legislators. The liberal McGovern proved an unlikely but very popular speaker before this group.

 

In August 1994, at one of these conferences, McGovern joined Newt Gingrich (still a relatively unknown Georgia congressman but destined for political superstardom two months later when he led Republicans to seize control of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years). More than 1,000 conferees crowded into the breakfast, with many there out of sheer curiosity as to why ALEC had paired this leading American liberal with a black-belt conservative champion.

 

A Democrat legislator (one of the few at the conference) introduced McGovern, who joked about the dearth of liberals in attendance: "I am pleased to be introduced by one of the select few at this conference who voted right in 1972!" He then related a story about his presidential run:

 

"One of the joys of running for president is that it gives one the opportunity to visit every state in the Union. In 1972 I carried only one state, but I fell in love with all of them. Pardon me if I say I carry a special place in my heart for Massachusetts [the only state McGovern carried], but I love them all. I remember a time during the 1972 Florida primary when I was to fly in for a large airport rally. When we landed, only a few mechanics were on the tarmac. We later learned that our problem was that we landed in the wrong town. As one of my rivals later noted, "If McGovern can't find the right town, how can he run the country?" America will never know! My parents were old-fashioned conservatives who believed that the least government is the best government. I have often wondered if they had lived to 1972 whether they would have voted for me. I am sure they might have been sympathetic, but it would have been a hard sell!"

 

Alluding to his famous bent for liberalism, he recalled, "When last I spoke at one of your conferences, I had my arm in a sling. I had fallen down on a slippery Washington street outside the Avalon Theater on a rainy day and broke my shoulder. A Republican neighbor asked me what shoulder I broke. I told him it was my left shoulder. He said, 'McGovern, you're so liberal you can't even fall to the right!'"

 

After the laughter subsided, he shared that after leaving the Senate in 1981 he had taken his life's savings and bought a small hotel in Connecticut. The hotel failed despite his hiring an adept manager:

 

"The experience taught me that a small businessman faces a plethora of federal, state and local regulations. My manager burned the midnight oil not trying to make the hotel profitable but to keep up with the compliance requirements of regulations. I was also sued over an injury at the hotel. A drunk left the hotel bar and got into a fight in the parking lot. He was hurt and he sued me, saying the hotel should have provided him more security. We did have a security guard and lights outside, but a small business cannot afford to station the Marine Corps in its parking lot. We won the lawsuit, but not without a large expenditure of money. I was later sued when a lady tripped and broke her hip. These fraudulent and frivolous lawsuits are hurting small businesses."

 

McGovern called for comprehensive tort reform and suggested three ways it might occur: "The first way would be for self-correction by the American Bar Association, but I do not expect that to happen [laughter]. The second alternative would be for Congress to enact it, but I am not optimistic that will happen. The third route is tort reform in the states, and this is where it has to happen. These excessive lawsuits take the civility out of society. When I fell and broke my shoulder, it was an accident. It never occurred to me to sue someone over it."

 

The conferees greeted McGovern's remarks with a standing ovation. When Gingrich spoke, he shook his head in disbelief and said, "I never thought I would hear myself say this, but I agree with everything George McGovern just said!"

 

Following his speech, McGovern and I visited outside of the hotel bar. He wanted to hear my impressions of life in the legislature and how it compared to my years as a trial court judge. He said he took pride in my having started in politics as a boy volunteering on his campaign a quarter century earlier. However, when he told my colleague, Assemblyman Curt Pringle (then assistant Republican Assembly leader and later speaker) that I was one of his favorite Republicans, it caused Curt to question my conservative bona fides—then and now.

 

A few months later, McGovern and Gingrich brought their act on the road to the ALEC winter conference in Washington. This time Gingrich received a reception reserved normally for rock stars. After having delivered a crushing defeat to House Democrats a few weeks earlier, Gingrich prepared to become the first GOP speaker since 1954.

 

McGovern reiterated to the audience his thoughts on tort reform, and he cited his failed hotel venture in Connecticut as the policy wake-up call he received. Then, shifting his tone, he took Gingrich to task over comments the speaker-designate had made recently: "Newt and I have become good friends," he said, "but I was bothered when he recently called President and Mrs. Clinton a couple of 'counter-culture McGovernites.' Over the years, I have heard people accused of being radical liberals called 'McGovernites' or 'McGoverniks.' I started as a noun, and now I am an adjective! I must confess I never really understood it. I served in World War II and flew 35 bombing missions. I have gone to war, I was the son of a Methodist minister, and I have been married to the same woman for 50 years. I do not feel I am part of any counterculture."

 

Lightening the mood, he joked about the results of the Republican sweep of Congress a few weeks earlier. "Judging from your broad smiles," he told the conservative audience, "I can tell most of you enjoyed the results of November 8!" Referring to his own presidential loss in 1972, he related this story:

 

"In 1972 I lost 49 of 50 states. The first Senate colleague I had run into after my defeat was Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican presidential nominee, who had also lost in a landslide. Barry later sent over a cartoon to me with the caption, 'If you must lose, lose big!' I thought it was a joke, but Barry later told me that he was serious. Barry explained what he meant by the cartoon: 'In 1960 Dick Nixon lost the presidency to John F. Kennedy by less than 100,000 votes,' he said. 'Nixon spent the next eight years torturing himself and saying things like, 'If only I had gone to Chicago that last weekend instead of Alaska, I might have won.' George, in our case, it wouldn't have mattered how many times we went to Chicago!"

 

At the end of his speech, he remained at the head table signing autographs and posing for pictures. Before leaving, he came to my table and said he had heard that I might be running for Congress in the next cycle. "You know, Jim, if you run, as a Democrat I won't be able to endorse you," he said apologetically. "But the fact I can't endorse you doesn't mean I can't take great pride in you if you win."

 

That meant much more than an endorsement.

 

• • •

 

When I went to Congress in 1997, McGovern and I visited occasionally. I last saw him, of all places, when he spoke at the presidential library of the man who defeated him in 1972. At age 88 he gave a talk and did a book signing at the Richard Nixon Library in 2009. As an elegant touch, all the Nixon Library employees and docents wore vintage McGovern campaign buttons to welcome the Democrat Party's elder statesman.

 

• • •

 

George McGovern died of natural causes in a South Dakota hospice facility at age 90 on October 21, 2012. I consider it an honor to have known this decent man and devoted public servant.




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Thirty Years Ago Today: Meeting Former President Richard Nixon (And a Lot of Cool Hall of Fame Major League Baseball Stars)

Former President Richard Nixon and me at the Nixon Library, Yorba Linda, California,

July 15, 1992

 

 

(This story is adapted from my 2013 book, "And Then I Met....")

 

As a 14-year old boy attending the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami, I waited in line to shake hands with President Richard Nixon on the last night of the convention, but my turn never came. In 1988, I came within a heartbeat of meeting him when he spoke at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, but again I suffered a near miss. Twenty years after Miami, my chance came finally. However, when I did meet Nixon, it wasn't over politics—it was over baseball. That was 30 years ago today, and it remains a fond memory.

 

In 1972, Nixon and his son-in-law David Eisenhower (grandson of President Eisenhower) collaborated in selecting their Major League Baseball all-time "dream teams." Twenty years later, they updated their selections and unveiled them at a fundraising event for Nixon's presidential library in Yorba Linda, California. Tickets for the luncheon cost $200 each; $500 donors received a special "Dugout Club" pass for a private reception with Nixon and his retired baseball player guests. After waiting decades to meet Nixon, I refused to let the opportunity pass. Despite the steep price, for the first (and last) time in my life I bought a $500 ticket to something.

 

• • •

 

On a table inside the Nixon Library I found the former president's private schedule left behind by an errant staffer. In flipping through it, I saw that he planned to depart Santa Barbara by helicopter at 9:30 a.m. and fly to Yorba Linda Middle School, where a car would pick him up and drive him to the "Eureka Entrance" of the Nixon Library. Once there, staff would escort him to the Marriott Room for makeup and rest before doing an interview. Whoever prepared the memo anticipated his comfort: handlers were directed to have Diet Pepsi, ice, yellow legal pads, and pens available for him in the room while he awaited the program's start time.

 

After checking in, I went to the lower-level Olin Room for the Dugout Club reception. As I entered, I heard a familiar voice to my left. I turned and saw Nixon entering the nearby Marriott Room with library director John Taylor and several private security guards. Amazingly, none of the arriving guests recognized Nixon as he lingered in the doorway receiving a last-minute event briefing from Taylor.

 

A few minutes later, Nixon entered the Olin Room with David Eisenhower for the private reception. He addressed the guests briefly, saying that he preferred to reserve his remarks for the luncheon program. He thanked everyone for coming, and then he took his place in the receiving line.

 

I was one of the first people to meet him. When my turn came—finally!—Taylor introduced me to him as "Judge Rogan."

 

"Nice to meet you, Judge," he said as he gripped my hand. Then, looking at me closely, he said, "Are you really a judge? You look too young!"

 

"Bless you for that, Mr. President," I said, and then the photographer memorialized my $500 moment.

 

While welcoming guests, Nixon often wiped beads of perspiration from his brow and upper lip. Despite the uncomfortably warm temperature in the room, he smiled and greeted everyone, and he made a point to speak with each child moving through the line with their parents. Despite the "no autograph" rule printed on the reception and luncheon invitations, he signed every card, baseball, scrap of paper, and photograph thrust before him while ignoring library staff attempts to fend off the requests. I overheard one boy complain to his father that Nixon signed his baseball "RN" instead of penning a full signature. "That's the way he signs his name," the father growled, "so shut your ungrateful mouth and be glad you got it."

 

Following the private reception, ticketed luncheon guests assembled under an outdoor tent erected near the parking lot. American flags lined the stage decorated in red, white, and blue. A banner revealed the updated selections for the "Nixon–Eisenhower All Time Baseball Greats." A box of Cracker Jack served as each table's centerpiece, and the Los Angeles Dodgers organist played baseball-themed musical selections. Behind a rope line waited dozens of young boys in Little League uniforms, along with hundreds of additional spectators and fans hoping to see Nixon and the baseball stars when they entered.

 

Library director John Taylor introduced each current and former baseball player individually: Johnny Bench, Bob Feller, Brooks Robinson, Harmon Killebrew, Johnny Mize, George Kell, Rollie Fingers, Maury Wills, Buck Rodgers, and Tony LaRussa; also introduced was Babe Ruth's daughter, Julia Ruth Stevens.  Nixon stood at the tent entrance awaiting his cue. When it came, a standing ovation greeted his entry while the USC marching band played a medley of patriotic tunes. He smiled and shook hands as he walked to his table. Once he took his seat, Roger Owens, the vendor famous for throwing bags of roasted peanuts with deadly accuracy (and with rocket-like speed) to customers at the Los Angeles Dodgers Stadium, threw a bag to Nixon from 100 feet away. Nixon caught it on the first attempt.

 

During lunch, a small ring of private security guards kept a watchful eye on Nixon as he chatted with his tablemates. During a break, John Taylor waved me over to Nixon's table. During our brief chat, I showed the former president a rare item from my political memorabilia collection: a campaign brochure from his 1950 U.S. Senate race against Helen Gahagan Douglas. It bore the caption, "Let's Elect Congressman Richard Nixon United States Senator—The Man who Broke the Hiss-Chambers Espionage Case."

 

"Where on earth did you get this?" he asked as he studied the vintage flyer. He pointed to the young picture of himself on the cover and looked at it for several seconds. When I asked jokingly if he had used his high school yearbook picture for it, he laughed. "It sure looks like it!" he said. "This pamphlet takes me back a long, long time." He picked up a pen and wrote his signature across the front of the brochure.

 

A sudden line of people wanting autographs formed behind me, and I don't think he enjoyed another bite of his food. He signed for fans throughout the rest of the luncheon. With him setting the example, the baseball players got into the signing act, too. Only Johnny Bench did so grudgingly, griping to fans about them breaking the no-autograph rule.

 

After lunch, David Eisenhower began the program by announcing the Nixon–Eisenhower picks for the greatest ballplayers, and he explained their reasons for each selection. Eisenhower then invited each visiting player to join him onstage for commentary.

 

Johnny Bench remembered playing one game in 1968 and seeing Eisenhower and his fiancée (later wife) Julie Nixon in the stands. "I only had eyes for Julie that day," Bench quipped.

 

Other players shared brief insights: Bob Feller described his lost playing time because of his military service in World War II ("At least we won that one!"). Rollie Fingers compared modern pitchers to those in his heyday, Tony LaRussa shared his philosophy of what it takes to keep a great team together, and George Kell talked about his years as a third baseman for the New York Yankees. Harmon Killebrew reminisced about meeting President Dwight D. Eisenhower at a baseball game in 1959. Turning to David Eisenhower, he said, "Your grandfather asked me to sign a ball for you that day. I asked him to sign one for me. We traded autographed balls, and I still have his."

 

"And I still have yours!" Eisenhower replied.

 

Maury Wills told of driving to Tijuana with friends in the mid-1970s. After a few drinks, he and his friends decided to stop by Nixon's San Clemente home and ring the bell. "Let's see if Dick is home," he said in jest. He had no expectation of seeing Nixon, but when the gates opened and a staffer ushered his group into the former president's study, they all registered shock. "Mr. President," Wills noted, "you were bigger than life then, and you still are."

 

Eisenhower asked Wills what it takes to win a baseball game. Before Wills could answer, Nixon walked to the stage and answered for him: "Steal!" he thundered.

 

When Nixon rose to speak, the 79 year-old former president received another standing ovation. Two aides removed the lectern that the previous speakers had used and replaced it with a stand-alone microphone. In his later years, Nixon eschewed notes and made a practice of speaking extemporaneously.

 

In his opening remarks, he mentioned the presence of Anaheim Angels manager Buck Rodgers and his recent injury while riding in the team's bus. "Now you know why I am opposed to busing," he quipped. "And I want you to know I always root for the home team. I want the Angels to win the World Series while [owner and former cowboy star] Gene Autry is still around."

 

For almost 30 minutes, he reminisced about his love for baseball and sports. He said he attended his first baseball game in 1925 and became addicted ever since. His love of baseball even affected his thinking on signing autographs. "I signed lots of autographs today," he noted. "I try never to refuse a request, and I will tell you why. Back in 1942, I was eating dinner with my wife, Pat, in a restaurant in New York. Seated across the room from us was the legendary baseball star Babe Ruth. Pat went over to Ruth and asked him for his autograph for my little brother Eddie. As busy and as famous as the Babe was, he took the time to sign that autograph. When I came to a position in my life where people wanted my autograph, I have always tried to remember that if Babe Ruth had time to sign an autograph, then so do I."

 

Nixon said the first home run he ever saw hit in a baseball game was in the 1940s when Joe DiMaggio smashed one out near the stands where he sat. "But the greatest player I ever saw," he added, "was Jackie Robinson. In fact, Jackie was the greatest all-around athlete ever. He could have played professional football, basketball, or been an Olympic athlete. One of my fond memories was in attending a UCLA–Oregon game with Jackie."

 

Nixon recalled attending another game with legendary New York Yankees manager Casey Stengel. "Had Casey lived," Nixon joked, "I might have made him Secretary of State. The first rule of politics is to confound the opposition. When Casey spoke, nobody could understand him! Only he could understand himself."

 

He noted that this year (1992) all the major presidential candidates (Republican George Bush, Democrat Bill Clinton, and Independent Ross Perot) were left-handed. "So it is settled," he concluded, "that our next president will be a southpaw. Any baseball man will tell you that left-handers tend to be a little wild. Our next president will be a left-hander, but we hope he isn't wild and that he will emulate one of baseball's best left handers and hit home runs for America the way Babe Ruth hit them for the New York Yankees!"

 

He returned to his seat amid another ovation. Jo Lasorda, wife of Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, presented him with one of her husband's jerseys. As the luncheon adjourned, he joined the players onstage for a group photograph. Guests surrounded Nixon, and he remained for another 20 minutes shaking hands and signing autographs.

 

With the event over, I went inside the library to tour a special exhibit of baseball-related presidential memorabilia. About an hour later, as I was viewing George H.W. Bush's first baseman's mitt from his days as captain of the Yale baseball team, someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, "I still say you look too young to be a judge!" I turned. There stood a smiling Nixon as he gripped my hand and thanked me for coming.

 

"Mr. President," I teased, "it's that sort of narrow thinking that kept you from becoming governor of California!"

 

He roared at my joke. "You might be right!" he replied.

 

Before leaving, he signed for me an engraved White House vignette with his famous "RN" initials. Unlike the little boy earlier in the day, I was not disappointed to receive the abbreviated version of his autograph—the in-person signature I waited 20 years to collect.

 

• • •

 

Eighteen months later, on January 20, 1994, I attended a private reunion with Nixon and all of his living cabinet members on the 25th anniversary of his presidential inauguration. At the end of Nixon's remarks that day, his administration alumni joined him onstage for a group photograph. When the program adjourned, Nixon stood at the side of the stage greeting guests and signing autographs. I was in his receiving line and (yet again) just about to meet him when my friend Bob Finch, Nixon's former Secretary of Health education, and Welfare (and the man who gave me the ticket to the event) called me aside to introduce me to some of his former White House colleagues. While I spoke with Bob and his friends, Nixon's security detail led him away. Once again, I had missed meeting Nixon, which was becoming a monotonous habit.

 

My disappointment evaporated when Bob gave me some great news. He said that he had talked to Nixon about me earlier that morning and of my oft-frustrated desire to meet him to discuss his career in politics and seek his advice for a contemplated future in elective office. Bob said that Nixon planned to return to the library for an intimate dinner with a few friends on June 16, and that the former president had invited me personally to join him. "Nixon told me to tell you that at your dinner, you can ask him questions until you get bored!" Bob said.

Finally, my chance to not just meet Richard Nixon, but to spend time talking with him, would come, and the opportunity couldn't be timelier. A little more than a month after this Nixon Library reunion, I stepped down from the bench and announced my candidacy for the California legislature in a special election to fill a vacant seat. I couldn't wait for the day to come.

 

• • •

 

When Richard Nixon left the stage at his presidential library on that 25th anniversary of his inaugural, he walked to the nearby courtyard to visit his wife's grave before departing. Three months later, he rested beside her. He died at age 81 on April 22, 1994 of complications following a stroke. The speech Nixon delivered at that anniversary celebration was his final public address. Sadly, our June 1994 dinner never occurred.

 

Once again, I had missed him.

 

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Remembering Hells Angel Founder Sonny Barger (1938-2022)

Sonny Barger, the founder of the Hells Angels motorcycle group, died today of cancer at age 83.


In my book "Rough Edges: My Unlikely Road from Welfare to Washington," there are a couple of chapters of my bartending years in various Hollywood dive bars and strip clubs--places I worked to pay my way through law school at UCLA. In that book I told this story of my unlikely encounter with Sonny over 40 years ago--and why I hope a very bad dude now rests in peace.
Here is an excerpt from that book:


* * * * *


... I got the new bartending job at The Tarzana Inn, located near the intersection of Reseda and Ventura Boulevards in the San Fernando Valley. On my first night, I learned why the owner needed a bartender so badly—they always quit when they encountered the regulars. The owner had neglected to mention before I started that the Tarzana Inn was a hangout for the local chapter of the Hell's Angels and a couple other outlaw motorcycle gang. When their screaming bike engines roared into the parking lot, the neighborhood customers fled.

 

On my first night, about an hour into the shift, a dozen or more raucous bikers arrived. I called the owner at home and told him I might need help. "Throw them all out," he barked, "and then call me back when you've done it." As the now-off duty day shift bartender quickly gulped his drink and got up to leave, he asked me what the owner had said. When I repeated my orders, he advised me to ignore it. "Do you know why he told you to do it, and why he won't come down and help? It's because once he ordered the Hells Angels to get out. After they beat the shit out of him, they threw him on the ground and started bouncing the balls from the pool table off his head. He won't ever come down when the biker gangs are here."

 

I served the bikers their drink orders.

 

Since the Tarzana Inn operated as a one-man bar, I ended up as the only employee there each night. This made the shift more menacing if trouble started because I had no backup. With the biker gangs, I concentrated on getting through the night in one piece. I walked a fine line treating them respectfully yet still doing my job. It got hairy every time I tried to explain why I couldn't serve alcohol to some runaway teenage girl with a fake ID hanging out with them. Serving a minor would cost me my job (and possibly get me prosecuted for a crime). Refusing service risked a lethal response. I tried to avoid the latter, but a joke and a smile rarely assuaged some pride-stoked biker. Threatened many times, I started carrying a second gun in an ankle holster along with the one holstered under my left armpit. My pockets rattled with speed-loaders for both—just in case. If ever I shot one of them, I knew I'd have to shoot them all or they'd kill me.

 

I found it nearly impossible to study my law books while serving swarms of bikers. Still, I tried gamely to read my casebooks under the red sink lamps whenever there was a lull in the orders. One night I was pouring drinks while trying to absorb my Civil Procedure text. A big ugly biker asked me what I was reading. I told him it was a law book. "What the fuck are you reading a fuckin' law book for, you fuckhead?" he asked. (I found that many bikers had a universal vocabulary.)

 

"I'm in law school," I replied.

 

The biker next to him asked what I had just said. My inquisitive customer shared what he learned about me, and that guy passed along the information to the next, who passed it to the next, and so on down the line. When I went into the men's room a while later, three bikers followed me. One threw me against a wall while another pulled a knife. "So, we hear you're a fuckin' narc," my assailant said.

 

"What are you talking about?" I gasped. Somehow, through the Tarzana Inn version of the "telephone" parlor game, the bikers mutated the occupation of "law student" into "undercover narcotics cop" as they relayed my avocation down the bar. My assailant put away his knife only after I took out my student ID card to prove my claim.

 

"Hey," one of them suggested optimistically, "maybe when you finish law school you can defend bikers in court." I told him nothing would please me more than to see him and his friends in court someday.

 

"Yeah, that'd be pretty fuckin' cool," he said with a nod.

 

As scary as these marauders acted, they paled in comparison to some of their feminine sidekicks. Most of the biker chicks I saw were drop-dead gorgeous, but some looked like they belonged in the circus. One night, two in the latter category entered dressed in black leathers and chains. One woman (closing in on three hundred pounds) sat at the bar and shouted to me, "Hey, bartender, get your ass over here." She demanded to know my name, and then she told me hers. "I'm Faith," she said as she raised her upper lip toward her nose with her fingers to reveal a smattering of rotting teeth and a gum line bearing a homemade tattoo of her first name. "Listen," she said in a husky voice, "I know you bartenders get off work at 2:00, so that's when I'll be back to pick you up. You're coming home with me tonight."

 

Faith made it clear this wasn't a solicitation for sex. She sought a command performance. When I treated it like a joke, she grew angry and smashed a beer bottle on the floor. That got my attention. This two-ton bitch looked like she could mop the floor with me if riled. "Don't get me wrong, Faith. You're, uh, very attractive, and your offer is tempting, but I can't—you see, I'm, uh—I'm married." That one sentence contained no less than three separate lies.

 

"So what?" she blustered. "Hey, I got an old lady, too." With that Faith pointed to her fat lesbian girlfriend seated at a corner table, smiling at me through another mouthful of patina-green teeth. "You're coming home with me or I'm gonna have your skinny ass killed. Take your pick. I'll be waiting for you later tonight outside in the parking lot." With that pledge, Faith and her companions left.

 

Given a choice, I preferred the throes of death to the arms of Faith. Hoping to avoid both and not knowing what else to do, as my shift neared its end, I called the police. To describe the desk sergeant as unsympathetic is an understatement. When I finished explaining my predicament, he laughed. "Let me get this straight," he said. "You're reporting that you want LAPD to protect you from some fat biker chick with her name tattooed on her gums that wants to take you home and screw you?" He put me on the speakerphone and asked me to repeat the story. I heard his fellow officers guffawing on the other end as I repeated the details. I told him to forget it and hung up.

 

I closed the bar at 2:00 a.m. and locked the doors from the inside. I wasn't risking Faith and her friends waiting outside for her proposed lovefest. I spent the night curled up in a booth. When the morning bartender opened the tavern, I made him scout the parking lot to make sure it was Faithless. As I drove away at sunrise, I was grateful that Faith had given up hope on getting some charity.

 

Another night I heard a loud commotion coming from the men's room. "He's in there raping that bitch," one biker from a Valley club told his friend as he motioned with his head toward the noise. I rushed from behind the bar to investigate. Pushing open the bathroom door, I walked in and saw a pretty, petite blonde flat on her back on the filthy floor. Her jeans and panties were down below her knees. She cried and struggled underneath a large bearded hulk who had her pinned down by the wrists. He never looked up until I shoved the barrel of a cocked .38 into his forehead.

 

"Get off her. Now."

 

Unbelievably, the woman started screaming—at me: "Don't shoot him, you asshole! It's my father! Get the hell out of here! Leave us alone! What's your fuckin' problem? Get out!" With my gun still drawn, I tried making sense of the macabre scene. The biker got off her slowly and raised his hands while pleading for me to stay calm. The woman jumped from the floor, pulled up her pants, and screamed for me to get out. Shaking my head in disbelief, I backed out of the restroom. A few minutes later they emerged, still calling me names for pulling a gun and breaking up their toilet tryst. They collected their friends and left.

 

A week or so later I had a rare night with no customers in the bar. Toward midnight, a man and woman entered, ordered beers, and went to shoot a few games of pool. They looked like older bikers; they were quiet and kept to themselves. When the woman grew bored, the guy asked me to shoot a couple of games with him. While we played, we talked about my law school efforts and the continuing trouble I had from various biker gangs. "They won't bother you anymore," he said. "I'll take care of it." With an air of cynicism, I asked what he could do about it. He chugged on his beer bottle and then replied, "My name's Sonny Barger. I'm the founder of the Oakland chapter of the Hell's Angels."

 

For the rest of the time that I worked at the Tarzana Inn, no biker ever threatened me again.

 

... My last night at the Tarzana Inn was like so many others. A cluster of Hell's Angels arrived and started their usual ruckus. I poured drinks and in between tried to study my books, but it was so noisy that I didn't hear the first few rings of the telephone. The owner's voice sounded angry and drunk when I answered. "Goddamn you," he slurred. "I just drove by and saw all those motorcycles outside. Get those Hell's Angels out of my lounge. You throw them out or you're fired." I told him I wasn't going to 86 a dozen bikers all by myself. If he wanted them bounced out then he needed to come down and help me do it. "You're fired!" he screamed as he hung up in my ear.

 

Picking up my walking stick, I rapped on the bar for silence. With everyone's attention I announced, "Gentlemen, we're running the bar on the honor system tonight. The owner just fired me so I'm leaving. Be sure you leave the correct amount of money in the cash register for any drinks you pour for yourself after I'm gone."

 

I could hear the bikers still laughing as I drove away.

 

* * * * *

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Thirty Years Ago Today: Meeting "Mr. Television," the Legendary Milton Berle

With "Mr. Television," the Castaways Restaurant, Burbank, California,

June 25, 1992

 

 

(This story is adapted from my 2013 book, "And Then I Met....")

 

In 1948, only one in 150 Americans owned a television set. Then a brash comedian named Milton Berle became host of a new program called The Texaco Star Theater. Within a year, TV sales soared, largely because of viewer addiction to his outlandish antics. He so dominated the airwaves (the Nielsen ratings showed that 80 percent of every U.S. household with a set tuned in to him) that movie theaters and restaurants closed their doors on Tuesday nights, because they couldn't compete with the man dubbed "Mr. Television" and "Uncle Miltie." Years later, he related in his autobiography that one study showed Detroit's water reservoir level sank on Tuesday nights between 9:00 and 9:05: "It turned out that everyone waited until the end of the Texaco Star Theater before going to the bathroom," he wrote.

 

Berle's star power appeared so enduring that in 1951 Texaco signed him to an unprecedented 30-year television contract. However, with the new medium's exploding popularity, the comedy competition grew more potent. His popularity dropped as new programs challenged his supremacy, and in 1953 Texaco canceled his show. During the ensuing years, he remained a fixture in television, and he continued performing in feature films, on Broadway, and in nightclubs.

 

When I met him, he was decades removed from his early television success, but he remained very much a star and showed no signs of slowing down. Indeed, the Guinness Book of World Records claimed he performed the greatest number of charity benefit performances of anyone in show business history. It was at one such benefit that we met. In 1992, I attended a youth program fundraising luncheon at Burbank's Castaway restaurant where he entertained.

 

The audience rose and cheered for the 84 year-old comic legend when he appeared at the dais. Chomping on his cigar, he quipped, "Who am I, Ross Perot?" (At the time, Perot was a third-party presidential candidate.) He then launched into a rapid-fire Borscht Belt routine filled with ethnic humor for which modern standards of political correctness required frowns of disapproval in 1992 (and a far worse response these days). For him, political correctness gave way. "Hey," he asked the crowd as he pointed to the Hispanic waiter serving coffee at a front table, "How did that Mexican kid know I'm a Hebrew? Each time he waited on me, he kept asking [imitating a Spanish accent], Jew want more chicken? Jew want more water?" He then pushed his fist to his stomach feigning indigestion: "I've got so much gas that I'm being chased by the Arabs."

 

Other Berle gems:

 

•           "I'm so unlucky. I loaned my friend $30,000 to have plastic surgery. Now I can't find the son of a bitch!"

 

•           "Anytime someone goes into a deli and orders pastrami on white bread, somewhere a Jew dies."

 

•           "At my age, I feel like Zsa Zsa Gabor's sixth husband. I know what I'm supposed to do, but I don't know how to make it interesting."

 

•           "I recently married a woman who's 30 years younger than I. Three months ago we made love for one hour and three minutes. Of course, that was the night they turned the clocks back."

 

•           "We owe a lot to Thomas Edison. If it wasn't for him, we'd be watching TV by candlelight."

 

•           "Experience is what you get after you've forgotten her name."

 

And on it went: a repertoire of one-liners from an old vaudevillian who did the show without a note before him. After rocking the room with unrestrained laughter for 30 minutes, he finished to another standing ovation.

 

As people filed out of the banquet hall, the event producer, my friend Norman Mamey, invited me to meet Berle, who now wolfed down his untouched lunch before the waiters cleared the table. I felt awkward visiting with him while he tried to eat, but he insisted that I join him. He talked while chewing food, and pieces of broccoli kept falling from his mouth and onto his coat during our conversation. What the heck—at his age he deserved a little table etiquette slack. That minor distraction aside, he was delightful.

 

I gave Berle an old movie still from a film he made more than 50 years earlier. He thanked me as he studied the picture: "Now just one question," he asked: "Who the hell are these other people in it with me?"

 

When Mamey told Berle that I was a great public speaker, his eyes lit up. "If you speak in public a lot," he insisted, "then you need to buy my book Milton Berle's Private Joke File. There are over 10,000 jokes in it and it will be a valuable reference for you. It's only $20. Let's go—I'll give you a ride to the book store right now so you can buy it!"

 

Remembering that Berle had a reputation throughout his career for comedians suing him for stealing their material, I chided, "I'll buy your book if you will indemnify me if I get sued using your jokes."

 

"Buy my book and I'll give you a waiver!" he promised.

 

A photographer snapped a picture of us. Moments later, as we shook hands and said goodbye, he took a step back. His foot slipped from the stage, he reeled and began falling backward from the riser. I grabbed his arm and caught him just in time.  He was unharmed, but the experience left him shaken. I helped him to his chair until he felt steady. After regaining his composure, he said somberly, "Thanks for saving me. That's how Bing Crosby died. Crosby fell backward off a stage and it led to his heart attack a few months later."

 

That instance was the only time during this Burbank appearance that Berle—and everyone else—didn't have a smile on his face.

 

• • •

 

Milton Berle died of cancer at age 93 on March 27, 2002.

 

Producer and Grammy Award winner Norman Mamey died at age 66 after a long illness on January 22, 2015.

 

* * * * *

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Fifty Years Ago Today: I Meet for the First Time Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, and Barry Goldwater

Here I am shaking hands with "Mr. Conservative," Senator Barry Goldwater, 50 years ago tonight, May 13, 1972

 

I was a freshman high school student in the San Francisco Bay Area when the California Republican Party held its annual state convention at the downtown St. Francis Hotel. A week earlier, and with youthful chutzpah, I played a longshot and called their office. When the press secretary came on the line, I told him that I wanted to cover the event for my school's FM radio station. (Although I had no connection to the station, I took the liberty of appointing myself a reporter to get both a press pass and the story.) To my surprise, he agreed. "No problem," he told me. "You can pick up your credentials at the hotel that morning. I'll put you on the media list." Sometimes, brashness pays off.

 

On Saturday, May 13, 1972, I arrived at the hotel in the early morning. Several hundred protesters had already assembled across the street in Union Square chanting profanities and slogans against the Republicans in general and the Vietnam War in particular. Their presence brought a ring of police encircling the hotel.  After picking up my press pass and meal tickets at the credentials desk (the Republicans paid for lunch and dinner! To a school kid, this largesse, standing alone, warranted serious consideration of my future partisan loyalty….), I walked over to Union Square to investigate the protest. I found myself in the middle of the throng just as the protest turned ugly. Radicals attacked police with rocks and bottles. Officers in full riot gear waded into the mob to restore order. I turned on my amateur home movie camera to shoot footage of the fracas, but before I could begin filming a rock thrown from the crowd bounced off my lens and knocked the camera out of my hands. My boldness at age 14 matched my stupidity—I picked up my camera to try shooting again. A policeman who noticed both my press pass and my age grabbed my arm and hustled me back to the safety of the hotel.

 

I made my way into the Grand Ballroom and took a seat at the press table in time to see Governor Reagan arrive for his opening remarks. The delegates jumped to their feet and cheered when he appeared. I positioned myself alongside the stage. From this angle, I witnessed Reagan's "trick" that his longtime press secretary Lyn Nofziger explained to me two decades later when we had become friends: "Reagan wore contact lenses. Just before he entered a ballroom for a speech, he'd pop out one of his contacts and leave in the other. He usually spoke from 4x6 index cards that he carried in his outer suit jacket pocket. When the emcee introduced him, he walked boldly to the stage and waved with both hands. He wanted everyone to see that he carried no speech. When he got behind the lectern where no one could see, he slid one hand into his outer coat pocket and retrieved the cards. Here was the trick: when he gave his speech, he looked at his notes with the one eye wearing the lens, and he looked at the audience with the other eye. It gave the illusion that he spoke extemporaneously and maintained complete eye contact with everyone. I've never known any other person who could do that."

 

After urging his fellow California Republicans to work hard for President Richard Nixon's reelection that year, he accused Democratic presidential candidate (and eventual Party nominee) George McGovern of being "quite explicit in his plans for regimenting all of us into the ranks of a social order where individuality will have no place…. The domination of our lives is presented to us as liberalism." He pulled out a document and said that the modern Democrat platform reads almost identically to what he held in his hands. He rattled off several key planks, such as nationalizing businesses and focusing less on the individual and more on the collective good. "What I have just read to you," he declared, "was the platform of Germany's Nazi Party." Then, referring to the rioters across the street, he added that their activities were "nothing more than a revival of Hitler's Storm Troopers."

 

When Reagan concluded his speech, a thicket of security agents moved in to whisk him out of the hotel. I had hoped to meet him, but given this heavy guard and the crush of fans around him, the odds appeared insurmountable. Resigned to missing my chance, I moved to the far side of the ballroom to avoid the people surging toward him.

 

As Reagan's detail made for the exit, the governor turned and reversed course suddenly. I looked up and saw him coming toward me. I don't recall if I stepped forward or someone shoved me, but I found myself bounced inside his security wedge and standing next to him. There stood Ronald Reagan, big as life, smiling and extending his hand toward me. I shook it and asked for an autograph.

 

"Sure," he said. "Walk with me while I sign it." As we moved through the hotel lobby, a phalanx of press photographers kept their cameras trained on us. Although I never saw a picture of us taken together from that day, in a newspaper morgue file somewhere is a picture depicting my first meeting with the man who went on to change the destiny of the world, and who also had a profound impact on my own calling as I described in my book, "And Then I Met…."

 

I walked with Reagan to his waiting motorcade where he handed back the autograph, shook my hand again, wished me luck in school, and then he climbed into his limousine. Throughout the rest of the day, convention delegates kept asking in awe, "Aren't you the boy that I saw walking with the governor this morning?"

 

• • •

 

The next scheduled event was the luncheon speech of Senator Bob Dole (R-KS), who at the time also served as chairman of the Republican National Committee. With an hour to kill before Dole's appearance, I returned to Union Square and watched the mob's antics. When another scuffle broke out with police and more rocks began flying, I didn't need another police officer to push me back inside the hotel. I retreated on my own.

 

Workers had decorated the Grand Ballroom for the luncheon with flags, bunting, and elephant centerpieces on each table.  Dole arrived as lunch ended. He acknowledged the standing ovation as he moved to the dais, and then began brief remarks that mirrored Reagan's earlier comments by attacking the Democrats and extolling the Nixon Administration, His greatest applause came when he blasted the New York Times for their daily "attempted media sabotage" of Nixon's Vietnam policies.

 

 I met Dole at the end of the luncheon. He asked me how I liked his speech.  Impressed with his fiery presentation, I said, "Senator, if you keep making speeches like that you'll be president someday."

 

"No danger of that!" he said.

 

A few minutes later, I wandered into the hotel lobby where vendors set up tables filled with Nixon campaign items for sale.  As a collector of political campaign memorabilia, I was inspecting swag when Dole joined me. I told him about my collection and that I planned to add to it with some of these things. He picked up a cigarette lighter emblazoned with a GOP elephant on the side, examined it, and then put it back. "I was going to buy this for you," he quipped, "but I don't want you to take up smoking!"

 

After saying goodbye, I watched as Dole exited the hotel unescorted. He walked by the demonstrators across the street.

 

Not one of them recognized him.

 

• • •

 

U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) didn't invent the modern conservative political movement, but his presidential campaign brought it out of the shadows and started its march to the mainstream. As the 1964 Republican presidential nominee, he railed against socialism, communism, New Deal liberalism, and the welfare state while arguing for a return to constitutional principles of individual liberty and self-government. Although he led the GOP that year to a landslide defeat against President Lyndon B. Johnson, his army of young conservative warriors in that race learned how to organize, fight, and win. The DNA of Barry Goldwater's 1964 loss ran through the 1980 victory of his ideological heir, Ronald Reagan. Eight years before Reagan's triumphant march to the White House, at this 1972 GOP cavalcade, he remained the warm-up act; Goldwater came as the headliner.

 

I received an unexpected treat that evening when I returned to the ballroom for the Goldwater dinner and recognized the evening's emcee, Edgar Bergen, seated alone at the head table. Born in 1903, the ventriloquist toured the vaudeville circuits with his dummy, Charlie McCarthy. Moving to radio in the 1930s, he and Charlie starred in one of the top-rated comedy shows for 20 years. His stage, radio, television, and motion picture career stretched over 60 years, and he co-starred alongside Hollywood luminaries ranging from W.C. Fields to Marilyn Monroe.

 

When I introduced myself to Bergen, he said that he was surprised to have a fan recognize him who was born long after his heyday. I told him that I was a longtime aficionado of the Golden Age of Radio, and I asked if he had a favorite memory from those days.

 

"Well," he said, "I once caused a national panic by taking a commercial break during a 1938 broadcast." He explained that his top-rated NBC show competed for the 8:00 p.m. time slot with CBS's "Mercury Theatre on the Air" starring Orson Welles. During Bergen's broadcast, he broke for a commercial midway through the program. Many in his radio audience turned the dial during the lull. Those listeners that tuned to CBS heard Welles's adaptation of "The War of the Worlds" already in progress. Because Welles presented the drama in a modern "breaking news" format, thousands believed the fictional bulletins reporting that an invading army of Martians had landed in New Jersey. As one writer noted, latecomers to the Welles broadcast "greatly misinterpreted what they heard. The next day, newspapers nationwide reported that thousands of people across the country had taken the fake news to be true and fled their homes in terror—grabbing firearms, putting on gas masks, and clogging the highways in a mad rush to escape imaginary Martians."[1] "War of the Worlds" remains one of the most famous radio broadcasts in history, and by cutting to a scheduled commercial break, Bergen added to his already substantial contribution to radio history.

 

Just as I returned to the press table, people in the rear of the ballroom started shouting and cheering. Barry Goldwater had arrived, and the audience reception equaled that given to a conquering military hero. He walked to the head table, greeted Bergen, waved to the crowd, and then motioned for everyone to take their seats.

 

While the waiters served dinner, Bergen caught my eye and beckoned me to the head table. He introduced me to Goldwater, who said how pleased he was to see a young person attending the GOP conference. I told him that when I was a small boy, his presidential campaign was the first political race of which I became aware. "Well," he laughed, "I'm sorry that's the race that introduced you to politics!"

 

Taking a sip from his water glass, he continued, "I didn't plan it to go the way it went. In 1964, I had planned to run against Jack Kennedy. Kennedy and I understood each other. We even talked about traveling the country together on the same plane and debating at various cities. We would have run a hell of a campaign."

 

He said that he had known Lyndon Johnson since their days together in the Senate, but his fondness for President Kennedy did not extend to JFK's successor. He called Johnson a contemptable politician who would do whatever it took to win: "He had no principles. He wrapped himself in Kennedy's martyrdom and the voters bought it. I don't think Abe Lincoln could have won in 1964 if he had run against Johnson—especially running less than a year after the assassination. Once Kennedy died, I knew I had no chance of winning."

 

I asked if he might ever try again for the White House. "No," he said, "I'm too old now."

 

After savoring these few uninterrupted minutes with Goldwater, I noticed that other people now lined up behind me to meet him. Before saying goodbye, I asked a final question: What was it was like to be the presidential nominee of his Party?

 

He grinned. "Son," he replied, "the main lesson I learned from the experience is this—you've never been beaten in your life until you've been beaten for the presidency of the United States."

 

• • •

 

Ronald Reagan served as the 40th president of the United States from 1981 to 1989. After leaving office, he wrote his memoirs, oversaw the construction of his presidential library, and maintained an active speaking and travel schedule until doctors diagnosed him with Alzheimer's disease in 1994. Over the next decade, he faded gracefully from the public scene. When he died at age 93 on June 5, 2004, the world mourned the passing of one of that generation's most consequential leaders.

 

After his 1964 presidential campaign defeat, Barry Goldwater returned to the Senate in 1968, where he continued serving until his retirement in 1987. He remained involved politically until sidelined by a massive stroke in 1996, which was followed by an Alzheimer's diagnosis. He died at age 89 on May 29, 1998.

 

When I met Bob Dole in 1972, I told him about my campaign button collection. A quarter-century later, our images appeared on a "Dole for President-Rogan for Congress" campaign button. He campaigned for me in each of my three congressional races, and he became a treasured friend. My prediction that one day he would be president fell short, but he did become his Party's standard bearer in the 1996 presidential campaign. In his post-political years, he enjoyed a varied career, which included lobbyist, author, and television commercial pitchman. The man who didn't want me to start smoking as a kid died of lung cancer at age 98 on December 5, 2021.

 

On September 21, 1978, comedian and ventriloquist Edgar Bergen announced his retirement after 60 years in show business. Nine days later, he played his farewell engagement at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas and received six standing ovations during his performance. Before taking his final bow, he closed his career by telling the audience, "Every vaudeville act must have an opening and a closing, so I'll pack up my jokes and my little friends and now say goodbye." Later that evening, he died in his sleep at age 75. His wooden sidekick for over five decades, Charlie McCarthy, now sits on display at the Smithsonian Institution.

 

 

 

 [1] A. Brad Schwartz, Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles's War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News (2015), 7.

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Thirty Years Ago Today: My Lunch with Former President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev

Chatting with President Gorbachev, Los Angeles, May 5, 1992

 

 

Thirty years ago today, I attended a private luncheon for the former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev. At the time, I was a young trial court judge in Los Angeles County. Although in later years during my congressional service he and I reconnected, this was my first chance to meet the man who presided--unintentionally--over the dissolution over the evil empire once known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

 

Below is the story of that first meeting, which is excerpted from my 2013 book, "And Then I Met...."

 

* * *

 

In the spring of 1992, I received an invitation from Lodwrick Cook, chairman of ARCO, to a luncheon at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library honoring former President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the now-defunct Soviet Union—for a $5,000 contribution. The invitation to dine with Reagan and Gorbachev was enticing but prohibitive. I wrote Cook and thanked him for thinking of me but declined respectfully: Raising a family on a government salary, I told him, meant that if I spent $5,000 to dine with anyone, I would need to move to the Reagan Library permanently because I'd no longer be welcome in my current home.

 

A few days later, Cook's secretary surprised me with a phone call: "The Reagan event is sold out anyway," she said, "but Chairman Cook wants to invite you to a private lunch for Gorbachev at ARCO Towers in Los Angeles. He is having the lunch and reception so some of our executives and local government officials can meet Gorbachev during his visit to California." She advised me to get there an hour early because the Secret Service planned to secure the building.

 

I arrived for the event and found the surrounding streets swarming with activity. Police closed the traffic lanes closest to the building and security agents hovered everywhere. Hundreds of ARCO employees stood behind an outdoor barricade to get a glimpse of Gorbachev when his motorcade arrived.

 

A Secret Service agent escorted me to a private elevator to the 37th floor; another agent brought me into a large reception room where Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and other local officials awaited Gorbachev's arrival.

 

At 12:15 p.m., spontaneous applause spread through the room. Gorbachev, accompanied by his wife Raisa and their daughter Irina, had arrived. Smiling broadly, he mingled freely during the reception and chatted with guests through a simultaneous translator.

 

When Cook introduced me to his honored guests, Mrs. Gorbachev extended her hand and greeted me in her best English: E-e-e-t  e-e-z  n-i-z-e to meet you!" Former President Gorbachev gripped my hand and pumped it vigorously.

 

As Gorbachev and I talked, I had the impression he was in no hurry to move on because (unlike everyone else) I didn't speak "at him" through the interpreter, meaning I didn't look at the interpreter and say things such as, "Please tell Mr. Gorbachev that I want him to know that I...." When communicating with him, I spoke to him directly and he did the same with me. He told me later that I was the only person he met during his California trip who knew how to speak through a simultaneous translation interpreter. I replied that I had an unfair advantage over others: As a trial court judge in Los Angeles County, I dealt each day with criminal defendants through simultaneous translators, so the skill came naturally to me.

 

 "I hope that is the end of the comparison!" he said as he laughed.

 

Ushers steered the guests into the main dining room. I found myself seated at the table right next to the honorees, with Raisa Gorbachev sitting behind me. During the luncheon, county and local government officials took turns presenting the Gorbachevs with gifts, certificates, and plaques. He acknowledged each memento with a smile and a bow before turning over the booty to an aide.

 

Between presentations, he continued to greet guests and sign autographs. Even my seatmate Tom Plate, editorial page editor for the Los Angeles Times, wasn't immune to the temptation. "It's not very chic for reporters to ask for autographs," Plate told me. I suggested this might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to obtain a great memento for his grandchildren. He swallowed hard and approached the former Soviet leader with a pen and menu in hand. Gorbachev inscribed it in Russian, "To a great news editor."

 

In starting the program, Cook mentioned that Mrs. Gorbachev had a distinguished background as an educator, and that Gorbachev loves the ballet and opera. "And," he noted, "he can recite the works of [Russian author Alexander] Pushkin!" Gorbachev chuckled when he heard the translated claim and then called out a response from his seat: "I can't do too much of that anymore!" Cook presented the Gorbachevs with a handmade quilt from an Amish village in Pennsylvania. While Gorbachev admired the quilt, Mrs. Gorbachev climbed on top of her chair, pointed to the quilt, and said (in Russian), "That quilt is meant for me and not for my husband!"

 

Gorbachev received a standing ovation when introduced. He embraced his American host and then waved the room to silence. Speaking without notes (and with his interpreter at his side), he promised a brief impromptu speech. Noting that Los Angeles had been rocked by riots the previous week, he praised local officials for their handling of the violence. He said there had been speculation as to whether the unrest might force him to cancel his Los Angeles visit: "I had no intention of canceling," he said, which brought a rousing cheer.

 

His speech focused on expanding markets in the former Soviet Union. He encouraged the gathering of business leaders to expand commerce to Russia. "Your investments will help to make a free-market economy work there," the former head of the Communist Party implored the gathering of capitalists. It was ironic to hear the man given unprecedented power to hold together that dying communist regime now preaching the gospel of free markets. Yet Gorbachev showed no hint of discomfort at this new role. He expressed his hope repeatedly that Russia and the United States would work together to help modernize his nation through pro-growth policies and economic development.

 

Three decades have now gone by since I sat in ARCO Towers and listened to the former president of the Soviet Union preach to an American audience the failures of socialism and the benefits of capitalism over a command economy. When reading the economic nostrums of some of our state and national leaders these days, I'm thinking we should invite Gorbachev back for another speech.

 

* * * * *

 

 

 

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Sound Advice from a Democratic Leader of Yesteryear

Signed 1928 Campaign portrait of New York Governor Alfred E. Smith

(Author's collection)

 

The 1928 Democratic Party's presidential nominee, New York Governor Alfred E. Smith, was one of America's most colorful political figures. Born in 1873 and growing up in New York's Lower East Side, he rose from humble beginnings to winning four terms as his state's governor. Capturing his Party's presidential nomination in 1928, he made history as America's first Catholic major party nominee.

 

Addressing his fellow Democrats at their national Jefferson Day Dinner in Washington, D.C. on April 13, 1932, he identified a divisive problem in America that persists to this day. When I read this, it made me wish we had more Al Smiths in politics today:

 

I will take off my coat and fight to the end any candidate who persists in any demagogic appeal to the masses of working people of the country to destroy themselves by setting class against class and rich against poor."

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Remembering Orrin Hatch (1934-2022)

I am saddened to hear that my friend and former colleague, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who served in the U.S. Senate from 1977-2019, died today at age 88. His 42-year tenure made him the longest serving Republican senator in U.S. history. Although I often bristled over his need to compromise on bad legislation rather than killing it, he was the consummate gentleman to all with whom he worked.

 

I remember the time we crossed swords during the height of the Clinton impeachment trial. He and I appeared on the Sunday morning ABC News program, "This Week." Orrin kept professing his public support for our team of House Managers (prosecutors), but he kept trying to negotiate a quick exit with the Democrats that precluded us from putting on any evidence and shutting down the so-called trial without giving us a chance to show why the House of Representatives, with five Democrats voting aye, impeached the first president in 135 years. 

 

I wrote about one encounter with Orrin in my book on the Clinton impeachment, "Catching Our Flag":

 

On Sunday, January 10, 1999, an intern escorted me to the greenroom at ABC to join Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and John Breaux (D-LA), all of whom were scheduled for a separate interview segment on the show. Hatch seemed especially worried about what I might say regarding the Senate's "bipartisan" trial procedures. He also expressed his deep concern over Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA) being one of our House Manager presenters. Hatch said Barr wouldn't be effective because the senators view him as a lightning rod.

 

Before we went into the studio for the interview, Hatch put his arm around my shoulder and asked if he could speak to me privately. We walked out in the hallway together. "I'm on your side," he said (despite his joining in the senatorial chorus approving the fast exit plan). Then Hatch hit me with an unexpected request: "I'm seriously thinking of running for president in 2000," he told me. "Having smart and respected fellows like you on my side would make a big difference. What do you think? Do you think I could do it, and do you think you could support a guy like me?"

 

Taken aback by the unexpected plea, I smiled: "Orrin, ask me that question later—after you vote in the Senate on whether we get to call witnesses."

 

Oblivious to the backhanded shot I took for him not backing us on witnesses, he replied, "Great! When this is all over, come by my office and get together with me on this. I really want to talk to you about it."

 

Walking away, I shook my head in amazement. I liked Orrin Hatch—then and now. In fact, he came to my district and campaigned for me when I first ran for Congress. However, asking someone to help make you president while you stab him confirmed my view that breathing the Senate air for too long can seriously distort one's judgment.

 

Orrin did run for president--briefly--in 2000, but his campaign never got off the blocks. He returned to the Senate where he served until his 2019 retirement. Despite our occasional political differences, and notwithstanding my unsuccessful battle against him and the Senate's GOP leadership during the Clinton trial, Orrin Hatch loved his family, loved his country, and loved the Lord. I mourn his loss today, and I join with thousands of others in paying my respects to a man who devoted his life to public service.

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Fifty Years Ago Tonight: I Meet 1972 Democratic Presidential Nominee George McGovern on the Campaign Trail, San Francisco, April 5, 1972

I took this photograph of presidential candidate George McGovern with my $12 plastic Kodak Instamatic camera, the San Francisco Hilton, April 5, 1972. He autographed it for me some months later.

 

As the gun sounded for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination race, Senator Edmund Muskie (D-ME), who had run as Hubert Humphrey's running mate for vice president in 1968, remained the heavily favored frontrunner during the three years leading up to 1972. Universal expectations had Muskie winning New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary. Senator George McGovern (D-SD), largely unknown after over a year of campaigning, straggled far behind in the polls. On primary night, Muskie did very well. He won almost 50 percent of the vote in a field of five contenders. McGovern lost, but his grass-roots campaign did better than expected with a second-place finish at 37 percent. Immediately the pundits and network anchors proclaimed the meaning of the New Hampshire results in their peculiar version of political algebra:

 

Muskie won

+

McGovern lost, but he did much better than the pundits expected

=

Muskie lost; McGovern won

 

The following morning, McGovern's name, and not Muskie's, splashed across the headlines. In the upcoming Wisconsin primary on April 4, McGovern parlayed his New Hampshire momentum into a stunning and unexpected first-place victory. This catapulted the near-anonymous candidate only days earlier into the frontrunner position.

 

The day after his Wisconsin win, McGovern brought his now-noticed campaign to San Francisco. For weeks his local headquarters couldn't give away tickets to his scheduled $25 per person fundraising dinner at the Hilton Hotel. Within minutes of Wisconsin's vote tabulation, the event sold out.

 

Today, we live in an era where tickets to political events cost thousands of dollars. It's hard to conceive that in 1972 the price tag for admission to a sit-down dinner for the leading presidential candidate at a major venue cost $25. Yet, for myself (age 14 at the time), the price might as well have been $25,000. Along with my 12-year-old brother Pat, we had no money for a ticket, but that didn't dissuade us from trying to get inside to meet McGovern.

 

We took the Greyhound bus from the East Bay to San Francisco and arrived at the Hilton three hours before the dinner began. We sat in the lobby hoping to see McGovern when he arrived. Not long after we parked ourselves, I saw a chunky man with a buzz haircut and wearing a Hilton blazer staring at us from across the room. He approached, identified himself as hotel security, and he asked what we were doing there. I explained that we had taken the near two-hour bus ride from Pinole to see McGovern. Once he learned that we had no dinner ticket, his already unpleasant attitude grew nasty. "Let me give you boys some advice," he said sarcastically. "Get back on your bus to Pinole and get the hell out of here. You aren't meeting anybody in this hotel tonight." Before we knew it, we found ourselves outside on the sidewalk.

 

Pat and I didn't surrender easily. We snuck back inside at another entrance, but the same guard nabbed us. Tossing us out once again, he warned that any further entry would result in our arrest.

 

I had an idea. Finding a pay telephone, I called the hotel switchboard, dropped my voice to the deepest baritone a 14 year-old could muster, and I told the operator that I was Senator McGovern's speech writer. I commanded her to put me through to his suite. To my surprise, she routed the call.

 

Dick Dougherty, McGovern's national campaign press secretary, answered. I explained our situation and he proved sympathetic. He arranged for us to get freelance photographer passes and complimentary dinner tickets at the press table. Dougherty told us to have the hotel security guard call him directly if he gave us any more problems.

 

We returned to the hotel and waited. It didn't take long for Inspector Javert to find us. He grabbed our arms and started yanking us across the lobby while saying that the police were on the way to arrest us for trespassing. When I told him to call Dougherty to confirm that we had tickets, he refused. Amid the yelling and the tugging, the hotel manager rushed over to investigate the disturbance. After hearing our explanation, the manager picked up a courtesy phone in the foyer and called McGovern's suite. A few moments later, the manager summoned the guard to join him over in the corner. I couldn't hear their discussion, but I saw the guard's face redden as the manager spoke with him harshly while poking an index finger into his chest. The guard stalked away.

 

The manager returned. "Personal guests of Senator McGovern are always welcome in this hotel," he said.

 

With the event still two hours away, and while we continued our lobby stakeout, I saw McGovern alone and unrecognized strolling from the elevator bank. Pat and I introduced ourselves, and the candidate (in no apparent hurry) settled into a high-backed lobby chair and invited us to visit with him for a few minutes. "I was just going to take a walk around the block," he said with a chuckle, "so I've got some time to kill." When we told him the story of the guard and Dick Dougherty, he laughed. "So—you're the boys, eh? Dick told me about your enterprising effort to join us tonight. We're glad to have you."

 

I asked how he felt about his sudden vault to the front of the presidential pack. He said he felt reluctant to claim frontrunner status just yet, but yesterday's Wisconsin result gratified him, and he hoped to continue his momentum.

 

Before resuming his walk, he obliged an autograph request. On an index card he wrote out in longhand and signed his campaign slogan for me: "For Jim, I make one pledge above all others—to seek and speak the truth. With kindest regards, George McGovern."

 

 mcgovern-01.jpg

 

Presidential candidate George McGovern put his campaign pledge in writing for me, April 5, 1972. (Author's collection)

 

After thanking him and wishing him luck, we watched as McGovern rode the escalator down to O'Farrell Street for his constitutional.

 

Later that evening, and shortly before the dinner began, two couples chatting nearby came over to talk to Pat and me. One man in the group said they saw us in the lobby with McGovern earlier and he asked if we had gotten his autograph. I showed him the quotation, and they passed it around and congratulated me on the acquisition. It wasn't until they introduced themselves that we realized with whom we were speaking—movie stars Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty and Julie Christie, along with pop singer Michelle Phillips from the 1960s rock group The Mamas and the Papas.

 

Following dinner, Congressman Don Edwards (D-CA) introduced McGovern to the packed and enthusiastic ballroom. I moved from the press table to the stage to snap a few photographs as the candidate urged his supporters to help him win the California primary and clinch the nomination.

 

At the end of the dinner, and as the crowd departed, I saw California State Assemblyman (later Congressman) John Burton standing nearby. He wore on his lapel a type of McGovern campaign button incorporating the American flag and a peace symbol that I had never seen before (or since). After introducing myself, I told him I collected political memorabilia and asked him to give me the badge. Burton didn't want to part with it, but my zeal wore him down and he relented.

 

Twenty-four years after he gave me the badge, John Burton and I served together in the State Assembly as colleagues. One day I wore his old McGovern button in my lapel and struck up a conversation with him in the chamber while waiting to see if he recognized my vintage treasure. Sure enough, after a few moments he asked about it. I recounted the story for him. "Those were the good old days," he sighed.

 

I sought to draw him out: "You mean the good old days when liberalism was on the rise? You mean the days when liberals believed they could solve the ills of the world, and when idealistic antiwar activists marched for world peace?"

 

He looked at me dismissively. "No," he said. "I don't mean any of that shit. I mean the good old days—when we could take money out of the Assembly Rules Committee budget and use it to pay for our fucking campaign buttons!"

 

mcgovern-03.jpg

 

Assemblyman John Burton's 1972 memento of "The Good Old Days" that he gave me at the McGovern for president dinner, Hilton Hotel, April 5, 1972. (Author's collection)

 

• • •

 

Senator George McGovern won the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination, but he lost the election in a landslide to Richard Nixon. Decades later, during my own time in politics, I became friends with the man who gave me his autograph in the Hilton hotel in 1972. When I was in the state legislature, he told me after a luncheon we both attended that he had heard that I might be running for Congress in the next cycle. "You know, Jim, if you run, as a Democrat I won't be able to endorse you," he said apologetically. "But the fact I can't endorse you doesn't mean I can't take great pride in you if you win."

 

That meant much more than an endorsement.

 

When I went to Congress in 1997, with both of us back in Washington, he and I visited occasionally. I last saw him, of all places, when he spoke at the presidential library of the man who defeated him in 1972. At age 88 he gave a talk and did a book signing at the Richard Nixon Library in 2009. As an elegant touch, all the Nixon Library employees and docents wore vintage McGovern campaign buttons to welcome the Democrat Party's elder statesman. He died of natural causes in a South Dakota hospice facility at age 90 on October 21, 2012. Although we had little in common politically, I consider it an honor to have known this decent man and devoted public servant.

 

mcgovern-04.jpg 

California State Assembly Majority Leader James Rogan and his friend George McGovern, 1995

 

• • •

 

When writing this remembrance of my night at the Hilton with Senator McGovern, I wanted to track down Dick Dougherty and thank him for helping to create a fond memory for two grateful boys who tried crashing his event. In looking him up on the Internet I found this entry dated January 2, 1987: "Richard Dougherty, former New York bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times and press secretary for Senator George McGovern, died of lung cancer Tuesday. He was 65." Thanks again, Dick. I never forgot your kindness.

 

+ + + + +

 

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Fifty Years Ago Tonight: I Meet Former Vice President and 1968 Democratic Presidential Nominee Hubert H. Humphrey on the Campaign Trail, San Francisco, March 24, 1972

Fifty years ago tonight I took this snapshot of former Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey in the San Francisco Fairmont Hotel's Crystal Room before a group of stewardesses distracted him, March 24, 1972. He autographed this for me ("H.H. Humphrey") a couple of months later at another campaign event.  (Author's collection)

Writing this story five decades later, I am mindful that with each passing year Hubert Humphrey's name registers with fewer people. That was not true when I was young. A Washington heavyweight for decades, the former pharmacist and Minneapolis mayor first won election to the U.S. Senate in 1948. He ran unsuccessfully against John F. Kennedy for the 1960 Democrat presidential nomination, but four years later President Lyndon Johnson tapped him as his running mate. As the 1968 Democrat presidential nominee, Humphrey lost the White House to Richard Nixon by a whisker. After recapturing his old Senate seat two years later, and with the 1972 presidential campaign around the corner, he itched for a rematch with the Republican president.

 

When I was a boy, Humphrey was more than a politician to me. He was an early inspiration. As a fifth grader during his 1968 presidential run, I read a Life magazine profile on him. It told of his experience as a young Midwestern pharmacist making his first visit to 1930s Washington and the newfound passion for politics he found there. One night, after an exhilarating tour of the monuments, he rushed off an excited letter to his fiancée back home. After pleading with her not to laugh at him, he wrote that if he applied himself then maybe he could return one day as a congressman. She didn't laugh, they married, and along the way he helped shape almost every landmark law of his era. That magazine profile on HHH showed me that if an ordinary Midwestern druggist could accomplish such great things through politics, then maybe one day I could do the same. Once I connected those dots, I set my compass.

 

I was 14 when Humphrey entered the race for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination. When I saw that he planned to make a daylong campaign swing through San Francisco on March 24, 1972, my younger brother Pat and I grabbed our cameras and waited for the candidate outside station KPIX, located at 2655 Van Ness Avenue, a busy street that cut through downtown. Pat and I each had pinned to our jackets two jumbo-sized Humphrey for president badges.

 

Humphrey exited the studio and waved to the small cheering crowd waiting for him. When he saw Pat and me wearing the oversized badges, he made a beeline straight for us while exclaiming, "Oh, boy! Am I for you!" I had brought a typescript quotation from one of his major 1968 campaign speeches for him to sign, but he went one better. Ignoring the increasingly frantic pleas of his Secret Service detail to return to the safety of his car, he led Pat and me (along with a parade of security agents and reporters) down to Filbert Street so that he could use the mailbox at the northwest corner as his writing desk.

 

He took several minutes to write out the quote in slow and careful longhand strokes. Unhappy and fidgety agents nervously watched the nearby rooftops, passing cars, and gathering spectators with good reason: Two weeks earlier, a would-be assassin pumped four bullets into Alabama Governor George Wallace as he campaigned for the presidency. Tossing aside safety concerns, HHH created what remains one of the sentimental favorites in my political memorabilia collection.

 

 hhh-01-quote.jpg

 

"If I am permitted to be president, I intend to be president. I've noticed most presidents are like that. They don't take orders from vice presidents or anyone else. Hubert Humphrey as vice president is a member of a team. Hubert Humphrey as president is captain of a team. There's a lot of difference. —Hubert H. Humphrey." HHH wrote out this quotation for me using a mailbox on a busy street corner while agitated Secret Service agents tried to hurry him along, March 24, 1972. (Author's collection)

 

Later that evening, Pat and I snuck into Humphrey's private reception for his California Democrat National Convention delegation slate in the Fairmont Hotel's Crystal Room. Near the end of his brief campaign speech, a group of young and pretty stewardesses staying at the hotel peeked inside the room and recognized him. Sheepishly, one of them asked a campaign aide if they could come in and meet the candidate. When Humphrey saw them talking to his aide, he strode over and escorted them personally into his reception. After shaking their hands and posing for a photo, he announced that he had a gift for each. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a fistful of brass "HHH" pins that fastened in the back with a butterfly clutch. "These are our special campaign pins that we give to special friends," he told the flight attendants, "and I would like to give one to each of you."

 

The first stewardess reached out her hand to receive the gift. He ignored her outstretched palm and said, "Here, let me pin it on you!" With the practiced speed of a teenage boy in the backseat of an old Buick, he slid his hand down and inside the young woman's blouse while he fastened the clasp. The startled stewardess blushed through saucer-sized eyes, but her giggling smile never wavered. Onlookers chuckled while two campaign workers exchanged awkward glances as HHH moved down the line and, with unfettered gusto, pinned one to each woman's top.

 

As he fastened the last pin, someone in the crowd called out, "Muriel [Mrs. Humphrey] will give you hell for this!" He ignored the crack and completed the task. As the last flushed attendant straightened her disheveled blouse and thanked him, he looked over at Pat and me and gave us a wink. "Ahh," he exclaimed with a grin, "the joys of running for president!"

 

He shook my hand as he prepared to leave. I said, "You know, Senator, you were the envy of every guy in this room a minute ago." Then I leaned in and whispered, "And if you give me one of those HHH pins for my collection, I'll keep my mouth shut!" Humphrey looked down at me, smiled, and then reached into his pocket and produced pins for Pat and me.

 

Fifty years later, I still treasure the pin, which is on display in my office to this day.

 

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• • •

 

Humphrey lost the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination. He never again sought the presidency. During a routine medical checkup in the fall of 1976, doctors found a tumor and diagnosed it as terminal.

 

He refused to surrender. "Life was not meant to be endured," he said. "Life was meant to be enjoyed." He gamely resumed his duties in the U.S. Senate and helped lead the battle for President Carter's legislative agenda. Despite this brave determination, news clips throughout 1977 depicted a progressively haggard and dying man. He spent his final days calling old friends and political enemies to say goodbye. He made one such call to the man who had vanquished his dream in 1968, Richard Nixon, and invited him to attend his funeral.

 

Hubert H. Humphrey died at age 66 on January 13, 1978.

 

In the final letter he sent me a few months before the end, he encouraged me to press on with my goals for a life of public service. He closed it with this advice: "We need good, progressive, honorable young people in government and politics. So, go to it. Work hard; study hard; fight the good fight; and, my friend, be of good cheer."

 

Even though our political philosophies parted long before I returned to Washington as a congressman, I always tried to live by Hubert Humphrey's advice—and by his example.

 

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Fifty Years Ago Tonight: I Meet Senator Edmund S. Muskie During His 1972 Presidential Campaign, The Fairmont Hotel, San Francisco, February 22, 1972

1968 Election Day Cover Signed by the Democratic Presidential and Vice Nominees Hubert H. Humphrey and Edmund Muskie. I added Muskie's signature to this collectible at San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel on February 22, 1972. 

 

As a fifth grade student, my interest in politics and government coincided with that year's 1968 presidential campaign. I followed the primary races, the national nominating conventions, and the lead-up to Election Day with the same level of enthusiasm that most boys give to major sporting events. In what ended up as one of the closest elections in American history, the Republican ticket of former Vice President Richard Nixon and Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew defeated the Democratic nominees, Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Senator Edmund Muskie. Although a virtual unknown at the time Humphrey selected him as his running mate, Muskie developed a strong national following for his calm and steady demeanor in a year that exhausted the electorate from months of tumult and ongoing overseas war. Following their loss to Nixon, as the national Democrats regrouped and assessed their situation, many saw Muskie as the perfect presidential candidate to carry their banner against President Nixon four years later.

 

Born in 1914, Muskie served in the Navy during World War II. After the war, he returned to his native Maine, where he won a seat in the state legislature. In 1954 he became the state's first Democrat governor in 100 years. In 1959, voters sent him to the U.S. Senate. 

 

Following his nearly-successful vice presidential campaign in 1968, by late 1971 and early 1972, Muskie rode high in the presidential preference polls, and he held steady leads over all potential rivals. He declared his candidacy on January 4, 1972.  When he brought his campaign to San Francisco for a fund-raising event the following month, he remained the man to beat.

 

On February 22, 1972, while indulging our youthful passion for politics, my younger brother Pat and I rode the bus into downtown San Francisco. We walked up Nob Hill to the Fairmont Hotel with a plan to sneak into Muskie's big fundraising dinner and try meeting the man who might be the next president. With tickets for the event priced at $250 (the equivalent of $1,600 in 2022), and at age 14, crashing the party offered my only chance of attending.

 

We waited outside the hotel's main entrance for a couple of hours on that blustery evening. At 7:30 p.m., a line of cars pulled into the main driveway. Flanked by a few aides, Muskie climbed out of the lead car and headed for the entrance. 

 

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I snapped this picture of Senator Muskie as he arrived at the Fairmont Hotel, February 22, 1972.

 

The candidate shook hands with Pat and me, and he invited us to walk with him through the lobby while he autographed a campaign pamphlet for me. He then boarded an elevator and went to his suite on the eighth floor to freshen up before the event. 

 

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1972 Muskie campaign brochure inscribed for me by the candidate

 

Half an hour later, Muskie and his entourage returned to the lobby and walked to the hotel's Gold Room, the ballroom reserved for that night's big event. The waiting audience rose and cheered as he waved and shook hands on his way to a reserved table, where he joined his California campaign manager, former U.S. Trade Representative William Matson Roth. During the excitement caused by Muskie's arrival, Pat and I managed to sneak inside by walking briskly alongside Muskie's aides as they swept into the ballroom. Somehow, we eluded the otherwise watchful eyes of security guards posted at the doors.

 

We stood in the rear of the room trying to look inconspicuous while hoping to hear Muskie's speech before security detected our uninvited presence and ejected us. I almost blew my luck just before the formal program began when I walked over to Muskie's table and snapped a photo just as he shoved a forkful of salad into his mouth. An irate security guard rushed over, grabbed my arm, and shouted at me, "Don't come close to the senator again!"  before he released his grip. Counting myself lucky to have suffered only a stern admonishment and not a trespass arrest, I retreated to the corner of the ballroom, where Pat and I hid throughout the remainder of the evening.

 

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 The offending picture: Muskie masticating his salad! He autographed this

later in the year.

 

We had not eaten anything since lunch nine hours earlier, so by now we had grown hungry. With just enough money for bus fare home, buying food was no option. We sauntered over to where the hotel waiters stacked their serving trays, and when nobody was looking, we filled our pockets with leftover dinner rolls.

 

We watched from our position in the back of the ballroom as Roth introduced Muskie, who received another standing ovation as he walked to the lectern to deliver a brief stump speech asking for support in his White House quest.

 

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When he concluded, he posed for photographs with donors and signed autographs. As he and his party exited, he walked over to where Pat and I stood and again shook our hands. "Let's have a picture together," he said to me, and then he took my camera and handed it to his aide with directions to take one.

 

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Muskie and me at the Fairmont, February 22, 1972

 

Waiters continued to clear the dishes while Pat and I collected the remainder of the campaign buttons left on the tables, each of which proclaimed, "President Muskie (Don't You Feel Better Already?)"  Meanwhile, Pat scooped up a unique souvenir: he took Muskie's dinner fork.

 

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• • •

 

When I met Edmund Muskie that night at the Fairmont Hotel, his then-domination of the presidential preference polls was only hours away from derailment.  Four days later, he delivered a speech in New Hampshire that marked the beginning of the end of his White House aspirations. As reported in Britannica.com: "Mounting the bed of a truck parked outside the offices of the conservative Manchester Union Leader, [New Hampshire's] largest newspaper, Muskie launched an attack on the paper's publisher, William Loeb. As he spoke of Loeb's unflattering remarks about Mrs. Muskie, the senator's voice cracked, and the crowd saw tears form in his eyes. The spectacle badly dented the image Muskie had tried all year to present—that of a calm, trustworthy, serene candidate. When New Hampshire voted [in their presidential primary] on March 7, Muskie won the hollowest of victories, 46 percent of the vote, far below the predicted 65 percent. [Longshot Democratic presidential candidate George] McGovern, reaping the benefit of his early start and vigorous organization, was close behind with 37 percent." https://www.britannica.com/event/United-States-presidential-election-of-1972

 

Fifty years after meeting Muskie in San Francisco, I still have the memorabilia from that night. If you want to see the salad fork, the next time you visit my brother Pat's home, you might try opening his kitchen utensil drawer.

 

• • •

 

After spending over 20 years in the Senate, Edmund Muskie resigned in 1980 to serve as President Jimmy Carter's Secretary of State. With Carter's defeat the following year, Muskie retired from elective office. He practiced law and remained active in governmental affairs. He died at age 81 of congestive heart failure on March 26, 1996.

 

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Sixty Years Ago Today: Astronaut John Glenn Becomes the First American Astronaut to Orbit the Earth

Project Mercury first day postal cover canceled from the NASA launch site at Cape Canaveral, Florida, on February 20, 1962, 3:30 p.m., the precise moment of Glenn's reentry into earth's atmosphere and fourteen minutes before his splashdown in the ocean. He signed this for me during our dinner over forty years later.

 

* * *

 

Let your imagination take you back to the 1950s. You are a military pilot who flew combat missions during World War II and in Korea, and you live in an era when rocketry and missile technology remains primitive. A new government agency approaches you with a proposal:

 

They have designed a seven-foot-by-nine-foot metal container with only enough room inside for a man to squeeze into the coffin-tight compartment. They want to attach that capsule (with the man inside) atop a long-range missile designed for nuclear warheads, and then launch the missile into outer space. If the missile makes it that far, they hope to have the capsule break away, orbit the Earth repeatedly, reenter the atmosphere, and splash down into the ocean using pop-up parachutes. Of course, there are some problems. They have never sent a man into outer space, and they have no validated research available on how to do it and bring him back safely. Of their five previous missile tests, two of them failed on the launch pad and exploded into fireballs. Also, without any available medical testing, they worry that prolonged exposure to G-forces and zero gravity will crush his eyeballs or make them pop out of their sockets, as well as cause severe brain and skeletal damage. Mostly, they fret that the estimated 10,000-degree Fahrenheit reentry heat might vaporize both capsule and passenger. After explaining these multiple dangers, and in the interest of science and exploration, they ask you to climb into that glorified tin can atop the missile and let them light the fuse.

 

What kind of man would take such a catastrophe-beckoning gamble?

 

Meet John Glenn.

 

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Born in 1921, as a Marine Corps pilot he flew fifty-nine combat missions during World War II, and ninety more in Korea. In 1959, NASA named him to its first group of astronauts, the Mercury 7. After two earlier launches completed successful suborbital flights, on February 20, 1962, he became the first American to orbit the Earth. His spaceship, Friendship 7, completed three revolutions in under five hours. Returning to a hero's welcome and tickertape parades, Ohio voters elected him to the U.S. Senate a dozen years later.

 

Glenn ranked as one of my earliest boyhood heroes. I wasn't yet five years old when he launched, but I still remember his death-defying, Buck Rogers-styled adventure. During his flight, I watched the live television coverage of his elderly mother waving at the sky as her son's capsule soared 162 miles above. When the TV newsman reported that in some cities people could view a glint from his spaceship as it passed, I begged my grandmother to bring me outside our San Francisco flat to see him sail across the heavens. As I stood on the sidewalk in front of 2718 Bryant Street holding Grandma's hand and staring upward, she never imagined that one day Little Jimmy would serve in Congress with the astronaut orbiting overhead.

 

When I made my first trip to Washington as a teen in 1975, rookie U.S. Senator John Glenn had arrived at the Capitol only eight months earlier. With no expectation of success, I wrote him and asked if I could drop by and meet him. To my delight, he said yes.

 

I arrived at his Senate office on a muggy afternoon and told his young and bubbly secretary that I was nervous about meeting her boss. "Relax," she said. "He's the nicest man in town. The word's already out among the staffers. They all want to work for him." After she led me into our meeting, I understood why.

 

He sat behind his desk reading a document when I entered. He looked up, removed his eyeglasses, and sprinted across the room to welcome me. Instead of having his aide rush me in and out for a perfunctory handshake and photo, he invited me to join him on the couch while he asked about my background and future ambitions (a paternal grin crossed his face when I told him I wanted to run for Congress someday).

 

After sharing with him my childhood recollections of his 1962 flight, he led me over to a table displaying a model of Friendship 7. "This is a 1/10 scale replica," he said, "which gives you an idea of how small the original was when it was flying over you and your grandmother."

 

"How did you ever fit inside?"

 

He laughed while pointing to his thinning hairline. "I don't know how I got in, but I think I lost a few hairs climbing out!" We walked over to the mantel over which hung an oil painting of Friendship 7 orbiting Earth. Moving his finger over the painting, he traced the course of his three orbits while describing its various stages for me.

 

"Were you ever afraid?" I asked.

 

He shrugged. "I had so many procedures and tasks to accomplish before and after the launch that I really didn't have much time to think about that. The one time I grew concerned was near the end of the flight. Our ground station received an alert that the heat shield on my capsule had come loose. If it fell off, the ship would burn up during reentry. In the original flight plan, I was supposed to jettison the capsule's retro-pack before reentry, but once they got the warning signal, NASA engineers told me to leave it in place. They hoped that it might help secure the heat shield if it were loose. As it turned out, the ground signal was faulty. The heat shield remained secure. Still, it was quite a sight watching chunks of that retro-pack burn off and fly by my small window during reentry."

 

He signed a few autographs, we posed together for a photo, and I left awed at spending over twenty minutes alone with an icon. He couldn't have been more gracious to a young fan who wasn't even a constituent.

 

Over twenty years later, when I joined him in Congress, I looked forward to telling him so.

 

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John Glenn and I posed for this photo in his Senate office in front of an oil painting depicting his 1962 Friendship 7 capsule orbiting Earth. He used this painting to illustrate his flight description for me, September 10, 1975 (Author's collection)

 

• • •

 

After leaving the Senate in 1999, John Glenn helped to educate future leaders through the John Glenn College for Public Service, as well as continuing his advocacy for America's space program. Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, the last surviving member of the original Mercury 7 astronauts died at age 95 on December 8, 2016 from complications following a stroke. When Marine Corps pallbearers laid him to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, a nation in mourning recalled Scott Carpenter's 1962 prayer as Friendship 7 cleared the launch pad:

 

Godspeed, John Glenn.

 

(The above was adapted from my book, "Shaking Hands With History.")

 

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Fifty Years Ago Tonight: I Meet Presidential Candidate Eugene McCarthy, February 19, 1972

Ticket signed for me by Senator Eugene McCarthy, February 19, 1972, during his appearance at the College of Marin

 

Eugene McCarthy was Central Casting's version of how a senator or president looked. He stood over six feet, with silver hair swept back, and he carried himself with a regal bearing. Well-versed in classic literature and with urbane manners, he read and wrote poetry, but any highbrow comparison ended there. He grew up a farm boy in Watkins, Minnesota (population 760) playing baseball and ice hockey. After high school and college, he worked at a variety of jobs, joined a monastery briefly, and later returned to his alma mater as an economics and sociology professor.

 

McCarthy's political entry was fortuitous. Because nobody else wanted the job, he accepted the local Democratic Party's county chairmanship. In 1948 he won a seat in the U. S. House of Representatives, which was the same year his fellow Minnesotan, Minneapolis Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey, won election to the U.S. Senate.

 

In Congress, McCarthy proved himself the ultimate anti-politician. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. observed that McCarthy admired poets, but he showed contempt for his colleagues. Others noted that he felt it beneath himself to engage in the ritualistic glad-handing, fundraising, and support-seeking of retail politics.

 

McCarthy joined Humphrey in the Senate in 1958, but the chamber's slow pace and stodgy formalities bored him. He mocked the Senate publicly, calling it, "The last primitive society left on earth," and he compared its traditions to a savage New Guinea settlement: "Both societies are obsessed with seniority, taboos, and precedent. In that regard, the Senate is like a leper colony." He tweaked senior colleagues publicly and they reciprocated his disdain. Despite a decade of seniority, he never gained (nor wanted) admittance to the Senate's insider club. Among those who found McCarthy's shtick less than sincere was Humphrey, who later described him as "handsome, witty, teacher, poet, Irish mystic, and a clever politician—cleverer for denying it…. Gene is more vain and arrogant than his admirers want to admit[.]"

 

• • •

 

By late 1967, with bloodshed in Vietnam raging for over three years, antiwar activist Allard Lowenstein concluded that collecting signatures on "end the war" petitions at various colleges was a meaningless protest. Instead he sought to recruit an intraparty challenger to the war's root cause, President Lyndon B. Johnson, in his expected 1968 reelection bid. Lowenstein calculated that a nationwide movement might mobilize around a "peace" candidate. With no money, and working off old antiwar mailing lists, he launched his "Dump Johnson" drive. The likelihood of success was so remote that the proposition seemed absurd to all but a handful of like-minded objectors.

 

Lowenstein lobbied Senator Robert F. Kennedy repeatedly to take on the incumbent president of his own Democratic Party. Each time RFK rebuffed him and insisted that nobody could stop Johnson. Kennedy not only refused to run, but he said that if an antiwar challenger surfaced, he would probably endorse Johnson. In desperation Lowenstein went down his short list of antiwar Democratic senators and asked each to run. They laughed off the proposition for the same reason RFK gave: Johnson was unbeatable. Senator George McGovern also refused to run, but as an afterthought he suggested that Lowenstein go and talk to McCarthy.

 

Soon thereafter, McGovern ran into McCarthy and apologized for siccing Lowenstein on him with such a wacky idea. McCarthy brushed off the apology, saying that he had talked to Lowenstein and, to McGovern's astonishment, he added casually, "I think I may do it."

 

In retrospect, McCarthy's cavalier decision to run for president fit his persona. If the road to New Hampshire—the first 1968 primary state—appeared a discouragingly lonely one for an insurgent outsider, who better to trod it than the political world's biggest loner?

 

McCarthy's campaign style drove his staff mad. He entered the race at the end of November 1967, but he didn't bother showing up to campaign in New Hampshire until two months later—only six weeks before the crucial March 12th vote. When he finally sauntered up there, he campaigned with such indifference that reporters dismissed his effort as a joke. He cancelled events arbitrarily and at the last minute.  Once a huge audience gathered in an auditorium for his heavily promoted speech. On the way there McCarthy blithely told his driver to take him back to the hotel. He just didn't feel like talking politics that evening; he felt like writing poetry instead. On another occasion an aide arrived early one morning to pick up the candidate for a packed schedule. McCarthy was gone, having left instructions to cancel all of that day's events. Why? McCarthy had discovered that there was a nearby monastery, so he decided to blow off the campaign to go there and meditate all day. Then there was the time his staff set up a private meet-and-greet with local bigwigs; McCarthy arrived to find over a hundred prominent people anxious to see him. He entered the room, shook a few hands, and then he turned to an aide and said, "Okay, I'm bored now." With that, he blew past everyone in the ballroom, walked over to the bar and ordered a drink, and he remained there until the room emptied.  The day a wealthy donor arrived at McCarthy's campaign office to deliver a personal check for $10,000—a monumental sum in 1968—the candidate refused to walk down the hall to thank him. He explained to his flabbergasted manager that since the donor was giving money to a cause, and not to McCarthy personally, the donor shouldn't expect any thanks.

 

And so it went.

 

Still, there was something about McCarthy's aloofness and contempt for the political rulebook that created its own bizarre appeal. As one former colleague remembered, when Gene was "on," nobody was more articulate and elegant. And when it came to expressing his opposition to the Vietnam War, he was at his best.

 

During those six weeks leading to the New Hampshire primary, McCarthy's message began resonating with college students across America, many of whom faced impending military induction notices because of Johnson's continued war escalation. First dozens, and then hundreds, and finally thousands of them rode buses or hitchhiked east. When they arrived at his headquarters they cut their long hair, put on conservative clothes, and blanketed every New Hampshire neighborhood on his behalf. The now-common nationwide mobilization of students on college campuses for liberal causes began with the McCarthy phenomenon—dubbed by the press back then as "The Children's Crusade."

 

When New Hampshire voted, the nonconformist senator came within 200 votes of outpolling Johnson statewide, which sent shockwaves across the political establishment. A few days later Robert Kennedy reversed course and jumped into the race against LBJ. His last-minute entry infuriated McCarthy's supporters. They viewed RFK's earlier refusal to run as cowardly, and his sudden entry as an opportunistic and selfish act guaranteeing to split the peace vote.

 

Two weeks later, and facing more humiliation with an outright defeat by McCarthy in the upcoming Wisconsin primary, Johnson stunned the nation and announced he would not seek reelection. With LBJ bowing out, McCarthy's erstwhile friend Hubert Humphrey (now LBJ's vice president) entered the race, but he was too late to file for the remaining primary contests. Thus, the battle across the primary map was fought between the two peace candidates—McCarthy and Kennedy—and the warfare between them grew increasingly bitter right up to Kennedy's assassination the night of the California primary in early June.

 

With the almost unanimous support of the Party establishment, Humphrey beat McCarthy for the presidential nomination. Following the Democratic National Convention, McCarthy shattered both tradition and expectations by refusing to endorse Humphrey until (literally) the closing hours of the fall campaign. Humphrey lost the election to Richard Nixon, and he blamed his agonizingly narrow defeat on McCarthy. Humphrey believed that an early endorsement would have motivated McCarthy's tens of thousands of disillusioned young followers to turn out for the Democratic ticket. For his part, McCarthy found it hard, as a matter of intellectual integrity, to ask his legions of draft–age antiwar supporters to go out and work for the man who had been Johnson's foremost Vietnam War cheerleader for the last four years.

 

McCarthy retired from the Senate in January 1971, but in December of that year he announced that he would seek the presidency in 1972. Again directing his message to his strongest base of support—the college campuses—he scheduled a visit to the College of Marin on February 19, 1972. However, in keeping to his quirky style, he did not bill his appearance as a campaign event. Instead, his campaign listed it as a chance to hear him read poetry selections.

 

I was 14 years old at the time. Along with my younger brother Pat, we took the bus from Pinole to the Santa Rosa campus—a three-hour one-way ordeal. When we arrived at the Fine Arts Theater box office two hours before McCarthy's scheduled 7:00 p.m. visit, we were the only people in line to buy $2 tickets, and we remained so until the box office opened 30 minutes before the event began.

 

When the doors opened, an usher collected each ticket and tore them in half. I prevailed upon him to let me keep mine for my political memorabilia collection   It was the only one to survive the mass destruction. Because we were first in line, Pat and I secured the best seats in the house: front row center. 

 

The program began with poetry readings from a local author.  During this presentation, I saw McCarthy appear in the darkened stage wings.  He looked tired and kept rubbing his eyes.  When introduced, he walked out and received a standing ovation. 

 

During his hour-long poetry reading, McCarthy was unable to conceal his fatigue: he yawned, faltered on his lines occasionally, and rubbed his eyes frequently.  From my seat, I raised my $10 plastic Kodak Instamatic camera and snapped a picture of the candidate. A long-haired flower child left over from the 1960s seated next to me turned and growled, "Hey, man, can't you see your goddamned flashbulb is bothering Gene's eyes?  Knock it off, man." 

 

"Get a haircut, hippie," my young brother replied.

 

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The snapshot I took that set off the hippie seated next to me: McCarthy delivering his poetry reading, College of Marin, February 19, 1972

 

Earlier in the evening, while we waited in the ticket line, I had overheard the theater employee also mention that McCarthy would tape an interview in an upstairs classroom following his public reading. As he appeared to be wrapping up his auditorium presentation, Pat and I exited the theater and wandered the darkened hall looking for the door to the classrooms.  Opening and walking through a door that I thought was an exit, I found myself on stage with McCarthy, who stood only a few feet away! He did not notice the intrusion as I backed up and closed the door softly.

 

When his poetry reading ended, McCarthy appeared backstage. Other than a student escort, he had no entourage. We followed as a student escorted him to the upstairs classroom for his interview.  He emerged twenty minutes later looking drained.  We walked with him to the parking lot where his driver awaited. Before squeezing his long, lanky frame into the subcompact car, he shook hands with us, thanked us for coming, passed out small "Gene Lives" campaign buttons, and he signed and dated for me my salvaged admission ticket to his poetry reading session. As the presidential candidate drove off into the night, I noticed that the sticker on the bumper of his car bore an old and fading 1968 legend: "McCarthy for President."

 

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Campaign button given to me by Eugene McCarthy, February 19, 1972

 

 

 

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I took this photograph of McCarthy and a fellow poet in the Marin College college classroom after McCarthy completed his interview, February 19, 1972. McCarthy autographed it for me a few months later when we met again. 

 

• • •

 

Early 1972 polls showed McCarthy maintaining substantial Democrat support from his 1968 effort, but those figures never translated into primary victories once he entered the race. By late May of that year, he had withdrawn from the contest. The 1968 primary season was McCarthy's political high-water mark. In later years, he ran for the presidency three more times: in 1976, 1988, and 1992. These later national efforts went largely (and increasingly) unnoticed. Still the rebel, in 1980 he endorsed Republican challenger Ronald Reagan over incumbent Democrat Jimmy Carter, explaining that Carter was too incompetent to remain as president. When he sought to reclaim his Minnesota Senate seat in a 1982 comeback, he received a mere twenty-four percent of the Democratic primary vote.

 

McCarthy retired to his home in the Virginia countryside, wrote books, gave public poetry readings, and spoke out for his various causes until declining health sidelined him. He died of complications from Parkinson's disease at age eighty-nine on December 10, 2005.

 

Today, few people below the Medicare eligibility age remember Gene McCarthy. But over a half century ago, in his 1968 campaign against Lyndon Johnson, he lit a powder keg that changed the dynamic of American politics, and along the way he midwifed a modern progressive movement that still resonates with millions of voters.

 

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Remembering Gloria McMillan (1933-2022)

Gloria McMillan, an actress who worked primarily during radio's Golden Age, died this week at age 88. Old fans best remembered Gloria from the 1950s television sitcom, Our Miss Brooks starring Eve Arden. During her radio career, she appeared on a variety of top shows, including Big Town, Dr. Christian, Meet Corlis Archer, and many others.

 

I had the chance to act with Gloria about five years ago. Act, you say? Well, yes. Since I seem to be attracted to various enterprises for which I have no innate talent (e.g., writing best-selling books), about six years ago I decided to try my chops at acting—something for which I have no training at all (unless one counts elective office).

 

In 2017, I was honored to rejoin a troupe of great professional actors at the Pantages Theater of the Long Beach Veterans Hospital to recreate (on the 70th anniversary of the original broadcast) the original 1947 Lux Radio Theater's old time radio production of It's a Wonderful Life. Amazingly, it was on that very stage 70 years earlier to the day that James Stewart, Donna Reed, and Lionel Barrymore performed and broadcast the original radio show. The Pantages Theater, by the way, hosted many of the great old radio shows during the World War II era, such as Jack Benny and Bob Hope, 

 

When we did our broadcast, we had a wonderful cast join in for the recreation, including Gloria. Among my other co-stars (I count myself in that category very loosely: in the broadcast I played Nick the Bartender—the mean guy who tosses George Bailey and Clarence the Angel out onto the snow-covered sidewalk) were Paul Petersen (The Donna Reed Show), and fabulous actors from OTR's (old time radio's) heyday—Stuffy Singer, Ivan Cury, and Tommy Cook--Tommy played one of the Bailey children in that original broadcast seven decades earlier! In our production, he took over Lionel Barrymore's role as the mean Mr. Potter. It was great fun, and the elderly vets for whom we performed could not have been a more wonderful audience.

 

During our read-through rehearsals, throughout the broadcast, and post-broadcast, Gloria McMillan was charming, warm, and filled with stories from her days in radio and early television. She was a pure delight to meet and work with that day.

 

Rest in peace, dear Gloria. It was an honor performing alongside you you that day in Long Beach.

 

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A Future Five-Star General and President Learns How to Campaign--And to March

An anonymous boy is suited up for an 1890s political torchlight parade

 

A couple of years before he died, former President Dwight D. Eisenhower published an informal memoir filled with stories of his early life: At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends (New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1967). As a longtime collector of political campaign memorabilia, I found the passage below of interest.

 

Writing about his boyhood in Abilene, Kansas, in the 1890s, the future five-star general, World War II hero, and Commander-In Chief shared his first encounter with both marching in formation and a political campaign:

 

"Somewhere back in that golden time, I had my first experience in a political campaign. I know that some people have always thought that I was not much interested in politics but my debut took place in the fall of 1896, after my entry into grade school. Everybody in school had a button. [Ohio Governor and Republican presidential nominee William] McKinley buttons, bright yellow, predominated because there were few Democrats in the region. Such [Nebraska Congressman and 1896 Democratic presidential nominee William Jennings] Bryan buttons featured the candidate and the figures 16-1.

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"Excitement in the town grew rapidly. Many people were concerned about what they called The Gold Standard. Of course this meant nothing to me; I had neither gold nor much concern about it. But it seemed to mean a lot to my elders. Though most of them were of the same party, discussions were both continuous and heated. One evening we learned that a big torchlight parade was to take place.

 

"Because I was only six, my mother was loath for me to go town to see the parade. Assured by [older Eisenhower brothers] Arthur, now a lordly ten, and Ed, a self-assured eight, that they would take care of me, we started off in the dusk. We were not satisfied to take a place in the middle of the town where the parade would pass. We insisted on going up Buckeye Avenue and into the north end, where it was to start.

 

"The torches were intriguing. They seemed to be nothing but a rod, and a can of liquid at the end with a wick sticking out. As these were lighted, they threw a smoky flame into the evening air. One was to be carried by each person in the parade, then mustering in a column of fours facing the town. As each torch-lighting took place, it soon became clear that there were more torches than bearers.

 

"Spying a group of boys standing wide-eyed on the edge of the formation, the parade managers commanded us to come over. We offered no resistance. Each of us was handed a torch and mine was exactly my own height. We were told to shoulder torches, somewhat like shouldering arms. Off we went.

 

"The town band of a dozen pieces at the head of the procession was supposed to keep us all looking soldierly and marching in cadence. But my short legs presented a problem and the group at the end of the parade was more like a cavorting crowd of lambs. There was a certain amount of disrespectful laughter but we got through the parade in our fashion, with no singed hair and without undoing McKinley. The torches were gathered for return to wherever they had been rented. But my parents missed not only my first appearance in parade formation but my first successful venture into politics. They were among those who were not impressed by the importance of the affair. At least they hadn't taken the trouble to walk the three or four blocks to the parade. It was just as well. There was a tiresome speech underway when my brothers and I took off for home. We wanted to get there before it was too late, for we needed no speeches upon our arrival. Safely concluded, that was one of my few brushes with political life until I found myself drawn into another campaign, half a century later."

 

Dwight D. Eisenhower, At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends (New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1967), 74-75.

 

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A Note on Congressman Bobby Rush (D-IL)

I read in today's newspaper that Congressman Bobby Rush (D-IL) is expected to announce today that he will retire from Congress after 30 years of service there. Aside from his congressional duties, Bobby is the ordained minister of Chicago's Beloved Community Christian Church of God in Christ. He wants to devote this new season in his life to his church and his ministry.

 

Bobby and I became acquainted during our service together in the House . It was hard for me to conceive that this soft-spoken, kindly, church pastor was, in the late 1960s, the co-founder of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. He served as the Panthers' defense minister, and in that capacity he urged blacks to take "offensive violence" against the "power structure." (Growing up in San Francisco during this time, I remember the Oakland Black Panthers for their resistance to power—multiple shootouts with police.)

 

In 2000, Bobby and I talked occasionally about our respective tough reelection campaigns that year. I faced a Democrat challenger in California flogging me for my role in the Clinton impeachment; back in Chicago, Bobby faced a Democrat primary challenger—a legislator decrying Bobby as a relic of the past who was "unable to build bridges" with white officials and "get things done." Bobby and I exchanged reports on occasion about our respective races back home.

 

Ultimately, I lost my reelection that year, but Bobby prevailed over his upstart primary challenger—

 

—A young and ambitious Illinois state senator named Barack Obama.

 

Congratulations on your pending retirement, Bobby, and may God continue to bless you in your ministry. 

 

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Congressman George Gekas (R-PA), 1930-2021

Signed Photograph of the Thirteen House Managers in the Impeachment Trial of President Bill Clinton, 1999 (Collection of James Rogan)

Remembering my friend and colleague, former Congressman George Gekas (R-PA), who died last week at age 91.

 

George represented his district from 1983 to 2003. George was one of our 13 House Managers (prosecutors) in the impeachment trial of President Clinton. In that capacity I came to know him well. We worked closely together and I respected him greatly. He was a selfless leader who loved his country and his constituents.

 

After the Democrat-controlled legislature redistricted him into a Republican-minority district, he lost his reelection in 2002. George felt devastated by the rejection. He didn't show up at his office to pack his things; he failed to return after the election to cast votes in the lame duck congressional session, and he wouldn't return phone calls. When I learned of his severe depression, I called him daily for weeks. Finally, I got him on the line. He told me he felt ashamed to have been turned out of office after 20 years of faithful service, and because of that he didn't want to face anybody at the Capitol. . His voice cracked with emotion as he explained his sorrow. I knew I had to try and cheer him up.

 

 "Listen, George," I told him, "you won ten consecutive elections because your district knew and loved you. You had a connection to your voters, and it's because they knew you that they wanted you to be their voice in Washington. The only way the Democrats could beat you was to push you into a district where people didn't know you. If that were not the case, you'd be back in Washington for another term. Now take my case: I was my constituents' deputy county prosecutor, municipal court judge, state legislator, and congressman for almost seventeen years. When my heavily Dem district voted me out of office two years ago, it's because they knew me--and they were mad at me for impeaching Clinton. They booted me from office for doing what they disliked. The Democrats didn't need to redistrict me to beat me--but that was the only way they could beat you. They had to move you to an area where people didn't know you. That's a big difference."

 

George brightened. "You know," he told me, "you're right! I hadn't thought about it that way. Thanks so much, Jim--I feel so much better now!"

 

"You're welcome, George," I told him. "I'm glad I was able to help. I just have one question for you."

 

"What's that?" he asked.

 

I replied: "How come all of the sudden I feel like shit?"

 

Rest in peace, old friend.

 

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Senator Bob Dole (1923-2021)

1996 GOP Presidential Nominee Bob Dole with Assembly Majority Leader (and congressional candidate) James Rogan, Glendale CA campaign rally, October 17, 1996

This coming May will be the 50th anniversary of the day I cut classes in high school, took the bus into downtown San Francisco, and snuck into the St. Francis Hotel to hear Kansas Senator Bob Dole, the then-Republican National Committee Chairman, give a speech in support of President Nixon's reelection effort. When he concluded, I hung around for him to leave so that I could shake his hand and get his autograph.

 

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A very blurry snapshot of Senator Bob Dole at left; me (age 14), and

California Lt. Governor Ed Reinecke (right), May 13, 1972


Little did I imagine on that long-ago day that a quarter-century later, as the 1996 Republican presidential nominee, he would fly to California and campaign for me when I was my district's GOP congressional nominee.

 

Bob failed in his bid to unseat Bill Clinton by almost nine points. That same year he lost my county (Los Angeles County) by a whopping 20 points. Meanwhile, I won election to Congress that same day by squeaking out 50.1 percent of the vote in my Democrat-heavy district. After I moved to Washington, I saw Bob occasionally, and he did several events for me when I ran in each of my later reelection efforts. Whenever I needed any help from him, politically or advice-wise, he always was there.

 

I asked him in later years why he came to California repeatedly so late in the 1996 race to do rallies like the one he did for me when he knew he couldn't win California. He replied that if he couldn't win there, at least he could try and help the down-ticket candidates. Most nominees running behind would have blown off the loser states—and us. When it came to California in 1996, Bob Dole took one for the team. Because he did, I went to Congress. I'm forever grateful to him.

 

From that time until his death today at age 98, Bob had been a friend. He was a patriot who loved his country and who sacrificed immeasurably in her service. Even his political enemies came to love him, and the affection was reciprocated.

 

Rest in peace, thou good and faithful servant.

 

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Senator Bob Dole with a very rookie Congressman James Rogan, February 1997.

 

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President Abraham Lincoln on "Judicial Supremacy"

"I do not forget the position assumed by some that constitutional questions are to be decided by the Supreme Court, nor do I deny that such decisions must be binding in any case upon the parties to a suit as to the object of that suit, while they are also entitled to very high respect and consideration in all parallel cases by all other departments of the Government. And while it is obviously possible that such decision may be erroneous in any given case, still the evil effect following it, being limited to that particular case, with the chance that it may be overruled and never become a precedent for other cases, can better be borne than could the evils of a different practice. At the same time, the candid citizen must confess that if the policy of the Government upon vital questions affecting the whole people is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, the instant they are made in ordinary litigation between parties in personal actions the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their Government into the hands of that eminent tribunal. Nor is there in this view any assault upon the court or the judges. It is a duty from which they may not shrink to decide cases properly brought before them, and it is no fault of theirs if others seek to turn their decisions to political purposes." -- Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861.

Mayor (later Governor) James Rolph (1869-1934) and the Belgian Order of the Crown

As a boy growing up in San Francisco in the 1950s and 1960s, my grandmother and great-aunt regaled me with the story of how their father (my great-grandfather) was a San Francisco trolley car driver who rode with then-Mayor James Rolph (later California governor) on the inaugural public trolley car ride through the newly-constructed Twin Peaks Tunnel in 1918—and how the happily-celebrating Mayor Rolph was clearly inebriated when he took over the motorman's controls for this festive trip.

 

This weekend I was reading former President Herbert Hoover's memoirs, and this story of the future president's encounter with Mayor Rolph amused me greatly.

 

In October 1919, the King and Queen of the Belgians paid a visit to America as guests of the United States government. At the request of the State Department, Hoover (at the time famous for organizing relief for millions of starving Europeans before and during World War I) escorted the King and Queen on their California tour. In his 1952 memoir, Hoover related this story about his visit with the royals to San Francisco:

 

"Mayor Rolph of San Francisco had called upon me to reveal a personal difficulty [over the royal visit]. He was up for reelection in a few days, and he worried over the effect that consorting with Kings and Queens might have on the South of Market Street vote. I offered to take over the chairmanship of the reception in San Francisco and let him play as large or as small a part as he thought advisable. This was arranged by getting the Governor to appoint me official host. I worked up the program and presided.

 

"We decided to have a parade escorting the King and Queen up Market Street from the Ferry Building to the City Hall, where the Mayor could make a short address of welcome…. With the help of Army and Navy contingents and their bands, we made a good showing in the parade and, in time, arrived at the City Hall with plaudits from the great crowds. I duly presented the King to the Mayor, who stood on a little platform under the dome of the City Hall. Mr. Rolph at once noticed that all the galleries around the dome were crowded—an opportunity that no good politician would overlook. After a few words of welcome he delivered a few minutes of well-chosen remarks upon our municipal issues and the virtues of the common man. A good time was had by all…. From the City Hall we went to the Palace Hotel, where we had engaged rooms for the King's use prior to a public luncheon in his honor…. I had no sooner returned to the King's rooms than the Mayor descended upon me with the Order of the Crown, second class—glittering star, red ribbon, and all—in his hand, and a troubled look. The King had just put it on him. And the very next day, he was coming up for reelection. He felt certain that if he faced over a thousand people and reporters at a luncheon with this display of feudalism on his breast, he would lose thousands of votes. It was an emergency that called for quick action. I suggested to His Honor that certain European cities had been decorated for valor; Verdun, for example, had received the Croix de Guerre. Why should he not speak at the luncheon, refer to this precedent, and go on to grow eloquent over the great honor conferred on the City of San Francisco? The Mayor thought this a stroke of genius. When he rose to speak, he held up the Order for all to see and in most eloquent terms accepted it on behalf of the city of which he had the honor to be chief magistrate. I sat next to the King, who turned to me and said, sotto voce, and in the colloquialism of his youthful period as an American railroad man: 'What in blank is he talking about?'

 

"'Pay no attention to the Mayor,' I replied. 'He has his troubles. I'll explain later on.' Which I did. The King was so interested that he asked me to telegraph him the results of the election. I was happy to inform him next night that the Mayor had been retained in office by an unusually handsome majority.

 

"I had forgotten this episode when later I was called on to serve as a pallbearer at Mr. Rolph's funeral—he died Governor of California."

 

When looking into Rolph's casket, Hoover saw that pinned to the breast of the late governor's body for his journey into eternity was the Belgian Order of the Crown. -- Herbert Hoover, The Memoirs of Herbert Hoover 1920-1933: The Cabinet and the Presidency (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1952), 7- 9.

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Herbert Hoover and Civility in Politics

(Original Signed Photograph of President Hoover from the Collection of James Rogan)

The 1928 presidential campaign was no different than any other campaign where slurs and mud are flung from both sides. That race pitted Republican Herbert Hoover against Alfred E. Smith. The minions of both campaigns fired baseless charges back and forth as happens in politics. Accusations against Smith (the first Catholic major party nominee) included his supposed secret plan to build a tunnel from Washington to the Vatican so he could take his orders from the Pope; against Hoover was heard the false claim that he was secretly a British citizen planning on taking his orders from King George V.

 

Despite all this, how refreshing it is to read what Hoover later said about the man he defeated for the presidency:

 

"Governor Alfred E Smith, the Democratic candidate, was a natural born gentleman. Both of us had come up from the grass roots or the pavements, and from boyhood had learned the elements of sportsmanship. During the campaign he said no word and engaged in no action that did not comport with the highest levels. I paid a natural tribute to him when speaking in New York during the campaign, and he did so to me when speaking in California. In after years, when I was often associated with him in public matters, we mutually agreed that we had one deep satisfaction from the battle. No word had been spoken or misrepresentation made by either of us which prevented sincere friendship the day after the election." -- The Memoirs of Herbert Hoover 1920-1933: The Cabinet and the Presidency (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1952), 198.

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Ulysses Grant on Slavery

Near the end of his life, former President Ulysses S. Grant made a prescient prediction regarding slavery. In his 1885 memoir (published posthumously), he wrote, "The justice of the [Union] cause which in the end prevailed, will, I doubt not, come to be acknowledged by every citizen of the land, in time. For the present, and so long as there are living witnesses of the [Civil War], there will be people who will not be consoled for the loss of a cause which they believed to be holy. As time passes, people, even of the South, will begin to wonder how it was possible that their ancestors ever fought for or justified institutions which acknowledged the right of property in man." -- Ulysses S. Grant, Memoirs and Selected Letters (New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., 1990), 115-116.

Campaign Finance in the Good Old Days

Senator James E. Watson (R-IN)

(1864-1948)

Last week I posted a quotation I found buried in William Jennings Bryan's published memoir of his campaign as the 1896 Democratic presidential nominee.

 

This week I read former U.S. Senator James E. Watson's memoir, published in 1936, of his 40 years in Congress. As it turns out, Watson knew Bryan and met him a few times.

 

Below is an amusing recollection of Bryan that Watson shared publicly 85 years ago. It made me wonder if, in this era of presidential nominees and their political campaigns now raising and spending upwards of a billion dollars for a White House run, maybe we should go back to basics and let them adopt Bryan's manner of raising campaign funds for a presidential run!

 

Watson (then a U.S. congressman from Indiana) wrote that during Bryan's 1896 campaign as the Democratic presidential nominee, Bryan "charged so much for every speech he made and collected the money on the ground before uttering a word. At Connersville in my [congressional] district, he was paid $200, and at Shelbyville, $225. He caused much difficulty at Rushville, my home town. My law partner was John D. Magee, a member of the Democratic State Central Committee from that district, and from him I learned the real inwardness of the situation.

 

"When the train carrying Bryan reached Rushville and stopped, he failed to appear, and the great crowd which had assembled kept yelling and shouting for him. It was some considerable time before he descended and went to the temporary stand fixed up for his meeting about 200 feet from the railroad. I afterward learned that his regular price was $150 if he spoke from the rear platform of the railway car, and $200 if he was taken to a platform somewhere else. The Democratic Committee had provided $150 on this occasion, and Bryan refused absolutely to go out to the stand unless the other $50 were paid beforehand. After much wrangling and disputation Magee gave his personal check for the extra $50, and Bryan consented to make the shift. So much of his time had been taken up in quibbling [over the $50 balance] that he made a very short speech, much to the disappointment of all who had swarmed out to hear him, and to the deep chagrin of all the Democrats in the crowd.

 

"My partner told me all this within an hour after the meeting, and he was very irate over the episode.

 

"Permit me to remark here, in justice to Colonel Bryan, that he always claimed that the Democrats had been able to collect no money for their campaign, that all the wealthy were arrayed against them, and that the only way cash could be raised was in this manner: that is, by his charging for his speeches."--Watson, James, "As I Knew Them" (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1936), 180–181.


By the way, it was Watson who was credited with first uttering an oft-used comment. When Wendell Willkie won the 1940 Republican presidential nomination, Watson refused to endorse the former Democrat (Willkie had supported Franklin D. Roosevelt previously before Willkie changed parties and challenged Roosevelt for a third term that year). When asked why he refused to endorse his own party's presidential nominee, Watson reportedly replied, "I may welcome a whore into my church, but I don't want him to lead the choir on his first visit there."

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William Jennings Bryan and Civility in Politics

William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925), the 1896, 1900, and 1908 Democratic Party's Presidential Nominee

 

In reading William Jennings Bryan's published account of his campaign as the 1896 Democratic presidential nominee , I am struck by how far afield we have come from what passed as popular sentiment in those days gone by.

 

In one of his first campaign rally speeches after winning the nomination, Bryan said, "We differ in opinion and we differ in party politics, but we meet today recognizing these differences and yet each charitable toward the other. We were all imbued with the same spirit; we all possess the same ambition; we are all endeavoring to carry out the same great purpose. We all want a government of the people, by the people and for the people. However we may differ as to the means of securing that kind of government, we can differ as honest citizens – apart in judgment but together in purpose. I thank the Republicans who have assembled here; I thank the Populists; and I thank the Prohibitionists as well as the Democrats, because while we dispute about the questions which rise to the surface from time to time and agitate the people, we all agree in those great fundamental principles which underlie our form of government. We believe that all men are created equal – not that they are equal in talents or in virtue or in merit, but that wherever the government comes into contact with the citizen, all must stand equal before the law. We agree in the belief that the government should be no respecter of persons – that its strength must be used for the protection of the fortunes of the great and the possessions of the poor, and that it must stand as an impartial arbiter between citizens. We agree in the belief that there are certain inalienable rights – rights which government did not give, rights which government should not take away. We agree in the belief that governments are instituted among men to secure and to preserve these rights, and that they derive their just powers from the consent of the [governed]. We know no divine right of kings; the people are the sovereign source of all power." -- William J. Bryan, "The First Battle: A Story of the Campaign of 1896" (Chicago: W.B. Conkey Company, 1896), 234.

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Why They Fought and Died Then--And Why They Still Do

General William T. Sherman (1820-1891)

Sixteen years after the end of America's Civil War, General William T. Sherman was greeted by a group of fellow Union Army soldiers during his visit to Mansfield, Ohio. In a brief and impromptu speech to them, he reminded us of the sacrifice made by every citizen who wears the uniform of the United States Armed Forces--and he reminded us of each generation's continuing obligation if we are to preserve our Republic:

 

"We fought, not for ourselves alone, but for those who are to come after us. The dear old flag we carried through the storm of many battles, ready to die, if need be, that it might still wave over the government of our fathers… Teach your children to honor the flag, to respect the laws, and love and understand our institutions, and our glorious country will be safe with them." General William T. Sherman, July 20, 1881, As quoted in John Sherman, "John Sherman's Recollections of Forty Years in the House, Senate and Cabinet "(Chicago: Werner Company, Popular Edition, 1896), 649–650.

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General Colin Powell (1937-2021)

General Colin Powell and Congressman James Rogan, Washington, D.C. 1997

When Colin Powell died yesterday at 84, he left behind a remarkable legacy as an Army general, war veteran, National Security Advisor, U.S. Secretary of State, best-selling author, and role model to millions. Although our political views did not always mesh, I worked with General Powell on a couple of projects during my time in Washington. I always found him to be bright, insightful, creative, very down to earth, and utterly charming to my family when he invited them to his office for a visit. Despite our policy differences, when I ran my final race for Congress in 2000, he sent my campaign a personal check for $1,000—the maximum amount allowed under the law. I appreciated his friendship and support, I appreciated his lifelong service to our country, and I mourn his passing. 

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Some Things Never Change

1924 Robert M. La Follette Campaign Poster

When I attended law school in the late 1970s-early 1980s, I stumbled across a 1913 copy of former congressman, Wisconsin governor, U.S. senator, and 1924 Progressive Party presidential nominee Robert M. La Follette's autobiography. I read it 40 years ago; I am rereading it now.


In writing about his three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives (1885-1891), he penned these words:

 

"It seems to me now, as I look back upon those [House of Representatives] years, that most of the lawmakers and indeed most of the public, looked upon Congress and the government as a means of getting some sort of advantage for themselves or for their hometowns or home states. River and harbor improvements without merit, public buildings without limit, raids upon the public lands and forests, subsidies and tariffs, very largely occupied the attention of Congressmen. Lobbyists for all manner of private interests... crowded the corridors of the capitol and the Washington hotels and not only argued for favorable legislation, but demanded it.... It was easier to grow rich by gifts from the government than by efficient service and honest effort." Robert M. La Follette, A Personal Narrative of Political Experiences (6th edition 1913), pp. 86, 88.

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Senator Adlai E. Stevenson III (1930-2021)

Senators Robert A. Taft, Jr. (R-OH) and Adlai E. Stevenson III (D-IL), 1971 (Photograph by James Rogan)

Nearly fifty years ago (January 13, 1972), I cut school with my brother Pat. We took the bus into downtown San Francisco because I wanted to attend a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing at the Federal Courthouse. I had read that a couple of US Senators would be holding the hearings, and I wanted to see them in person, take their picture, and maybe get a chance to ask their advice on how to enter politics. They were the sons of two legendary 20th Century political leaders: Senator Robert A. Taft, Jr., who was the son of the late Senator (and three-time GOP presidential candidate) Robert A. Taft; and Senator Adlai E. Stevenson III, son of Governor Adlai E. Stevenson, the 1952 and 1956 Democratic presidential nominee. I took this Kodak Instamatic snapshot of Taft and Stevenson during the hearing; they both signed it for me later. Taft died at age 76 on December 7, 1993. Stevenson died two days ago at age 90. Rest in peace. 

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Congressman Jerry Lewis (1934-2021)

Remembering my old friend, former Congressman Jerry Lewis, the longest serving Californian to serve in the House of Representatives (34 years), who died on July 15th at the age of 86. At one time the third-ranking Republican in the House, Jerry served as the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. My former constituents who have benefitted from the NASA Science Center at Glendale Community College can thank Jerry for steering the money to the college.

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Apollo 11 Astronaut Michael Collins (1930-2021)

Astronaut Michael Collins and Congressman James Rogan, July 19, 1999

Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins, who (along with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin) flew into history with mankind's first Moon landing in July 1969, died today of cancer at age 90.

 

I had the incredible honor of knowing all three Apollo 11 astronauts and also attending with them the private ceremony on the 30th anniversary of their Moon landing. Here is a brief excerpt from my newest book, "Shaking Hands with History: My Encounters with the Famous, the Infamous, and the Once-Famous but Now Forgotten" that tells of my meeting Collins for the first time. It was at the funeral service for Apollo 12 astronaut Pete Conrad at Arlington National Cemetery, which coincidentally was the day before Apollo 11's 30th Moon landing anniversary. After the chapel and graveside service, we were at a private reception for guests following the burial:

 

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The Conrad family hosted a reception for invited guests at nearby Spates Hall, located a few hundred feet from the chapel. All three of the Apollo 11 crew members attended: Armstrong and Collins stood alone in quiet, private conversation, while Aldrin and his wife moved through the buffet line.

 

It was there that I met Collins. "Congressman Rogan, I know you by reputation quite well," he said as he walked over and shook my hand, leaving me flattered that he knew me. I told him I could prove I was a longtime admirer: on my first trip to Washington as a teenager I wandered back and forth throughout the public floors of the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum. "I knew you were the museum director at the time," I explained, "so I was hoping to get a glimpse of you in person!"

 

Collins laughed. "You should have just knocked on my office door!" Then, with a sigh, he added, "That was a long time ago. Now I spend most of my time down in Florida where I live."

 

As the reception wound down, it was time for me to return to the Capitol. I was leaving when Aldrin grabbed my elbow. "See you at the breakfast tomorrow morning?" he asked. I told him that I would not miss that event for anything. Tomorrow's "breakfast" was a private NASA reception at the Air and Space Museum commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the Moon. Originally only crew members Aldrin and Collins planned to attend. Now, with Armstrong in town for the funeral and staying overnight, all three Apollo 11 members would reunite on the historic anniversary. And, thanks to NASA's congressional liaison office, I had one of the hottest breakfast tickets in town.

 

For a space and history buff, it promised to be the photo op of a lifetime.

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G. Gordon Liddy (1930-2021)

Congressman James Rogan and G. Gordon Liddy, 1997

G. Gordon Liddy, the unrepentant Watergate burglar who oversaw the burglary operation that brought down Richard Nixon's presidency, died yesterday at age 90.

 

In my newest book, "Shaking Hands with History," I have a chapter reflecting on the many players I met who were involved in the Watergate scandal, and the stories that they shared with me about their roles. Below is an excerpt of this chapter (now updated) that tells of my encounter with the "G-Man," G. Gordon Liddy:

 

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I was a freshman congressman in 1997 when a Washington producer for a radio talk show called and invited me for an in-studio interview with the host, G. Gordon Liddy, the former head of the Nixon White House's so-called "Plumbers Unit"—a group of political operatives tasked with investigating enemies and plugging press leaks. Would I be willing to appear?

 

Hell, yes.

 

I arrived at the WJFK studio a few minutes before my segment began. While waiting in the control room I watched Liddy at the microphone excoriating liberals, squishy Republicans, and any number of my colleagues he deemed cowardly for voting for various government expansions. During a commercial break, the producer escorted me into the broadcast booth and introduced me to Liddy. He welcomed me, asked an assistant to get me coffee, and then he directed me to put on the pair of nearby headphones. The director threw him the cue and we went live on the air.

 

We did a couple of segments covering various current issues, none of which I remember now. When my interview ended, I took off my headphones as he broke for news and a round of commercials. While off the air he thanked me for coming, and as we said goodbye I told him, "I know that there are a lot of G-Man fans [Liddy's radio nickname], but I think these make me the original." Then I handed him two old letters that he wrote to me from his prison cell when I was a teenager in the 1970s. As he read them, his face registered shock.

 

"I sent these to you?"

 

Yes, I told him. I felt his sentence unfair and I wrote and told him so. I also offered to send him magazines or cigarettes if he needed them. Liddy had written me those two letters from prison thanking me for my kindnesses to a prisoner.

 

Putting down the letters, he exclaimed, "I just can't believe this," and then he asked me to put back on the headphones. He held me over for another few segments while he read the letters to his audience, and then he had me recount the circumstances of our correspondence. He seemed genuinely moved by the letters, and his gratitude overflowed.

 

When our interview ended finally, the show broke for a final commercial. He embraced me, shook my hand enthusiastically, and told me, "You always have a home at this station. I'm here for you—no matter what."

 

"Gordon, given the mysterious legends that surround you, I am very glad to have you for me instead of against me."

 

Still gripping my hand, he leaned in close and locked his dark, intense eyes on mine. "You can count on it, my friend. I'm here for you for anything."

 

A few weeks after our interview, he sent me two signed photos taken of us. My favorite was the one on which he wrote, "When Jim Rogan speaks the G-Man listens!" I called and thanked him for his thoughtfulness. During our conversation, I got in a Watergate question that I had wanted to ask during our interview, but the opportunity never arose: with the burglary in progress, how did he learn that the jig was up?

 

"When McCord and the Cubans [the other four burglars] went in, I was in a nearby hotel monitoring the operation," he told me. "I stayed in communication with both the burglars inside the DNC offices and with the lookouts watching for police from across the street.

 

"At one point my lookout asked me if any of our Cubans were dressed like hippies. I told him no. 'Well,' he said, 'there are guys in the building dressed like hippies and they're carrying guns. They're moving upstairs to the offices.' That's when I knew that undercover police had arrived and that we had been compromised. I tried to radio the Cubans to tell them to abort the operation and get the hell out of there, but they had turned down their radios and couldn't hear my warnings. After a few tense minutes, I heard the voice of one of the Cubans over my radio. He whispered, 'They got us.'

 

"When Baldwin [Alfred C. Baldwin III, a lookout] radioed to me that police were converging around the building, I took as much of our electronics gear out of my command post that I could carry. The next day I went to my office at the Committee to Reelect the President and shredded everything, including a stack of consecutively serial-numbered $100 bills."

 

I asked how much it worried him that an accomplice might implicate him in the crime once the police arrested the burglars and foiled the operation. He replied, "Late that night, when I finally got home, my wife was in bed asleep. She awakened and asked me what kind of day I had. I told her, 'Not so good,' and that I might be going to jail." When I asked how she reacted to the stunning news, he laughed and said, "You know, I really don't remember. After I told her that, I climbed into bed, and I went right to sleep."

 

* * * * *

 

Aside from his two decades as a syndicated radio talk show host, G. Gordon Liddy's post-prison career included best-selling author, popular lecture circuit habitué, television and motion picture actor, and founder of a counter-surveillance firm. I appeared on his radio show a couple of times more, with the last time in 2012. During that final interview, he sounded old and tired, and his edginess was gone. Retiring soon afterward, he died of natural causes at age 90 on March 30, 2021.

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Larry King (1933-2021)

CNN's Larry King Live with Congressman James Rogan, 2000

During my Washington years I appeared several times on the Larry King Live show on CNN. What I always appreciated about his interviewing style is that he asked a question, and then he listened while you answered. He didn't jump in, talk over you, or try to make himself part of the story. I suspect that accounts for why he had a successful 50-year career in broadcasting. He died on January 23 at age 87.

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Hank Aaron (1934-2021)

Congressman James Rogan and Hank Aaron, 1999

I was saddened to see that one of the greatest baseball players of all time, Hank Aaron, died just a few days shy of his 87th birthday. I met Hammerin' Hank a couple of times; this photo was taken of us at the US Capitol in 1999. Back then a few of my congressional colleagues and I held a private reception for him to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the day he broke Babe Ruth's home run record.

 

The stories surrounding these encounters (and many, many other subjects) are in my newest book released last month, "Shaking Hands With History."

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Secretary of State George Shultz (1921-2021)

Former Secretary of State George Shultz and California State Assembly Majority Leader James Rogan, 1996

George Shultz served his country in World War II as a Marine Corps artillery captain. He went on to serve America in three cabinet positions: Secretary of Labor and Secretary of the Treasury under Richard Nixon, and later as Ronald Reagan's Secretary of State. The Associated Press reported that, "as Secretary of State in the 1980s he shaped U.S. foreign policy in the closing phase of the Cold War when a dangerous nuclear-armed stalemate gave way to peaceful — if not quite cordial — relations between the superpowers." He died yesterday at age 100. It was a privilege knowing this titan of politics, government, business, and economics, and I remain grateful that he joined Speaker Newt Gingrich in campaigning for me in my district during my 1996 congressional campaign.

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Los Angeles Dodgers' Manager Tommy Lasorda (1927-2021)

Former California Governor George Deukmejian giving a haircut to former L.A. Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda

I'm saddened to learn of the death last night of Los Angeles Dodgers legend Tommy LaSorda at age 93. Tommy was close friends with another California icon, former Governor George Deukmejian (1928-2018), the governor who first appointed me to the bench over 30 years ago. In fact, both men used to go together for their haircuts at their favorite barber's.

 

A few years ago, the governor decided to surprise me with a gift. He had Tommy pose for this picture of the governor giving the ballplayer a haircut. He and Tommy signed it for me, and then the governor presented it to me.


Today seems an appropriate day to publish the photograph for the first time.

 

Requiescat in pace to both of these great gentlemen.

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General Chuck Yeager (1923-2020)

General Chuck Yeager visiting me during my tenure as Majority Leader of the California State Assembly, 1996

In memory of one of the world's greatest pilots and one of America's great heroes, General Chuck Yeager, who died today at age 97.


A combat pilot becomes an air "ace" after five confirmed enemy kills. During aerial combat with German planes in World War II, Yeager accomplished that feat in a single day. After the war, in 1947, he entered aviation's pantheon when he became the first test pilot in history to break the speed of sound. 

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Here Comes the Judge

Thirty years ago today—My first tour of duty as a state court judge thanks to one of California's greatest governors, George Deukmejian, who appointed me to the Municipal Court of California, Glendale Judicial District, on this date in 1990.

 

The Way They Used to Make 'Em

During this presidential election season I thought my fellow Californians might enjoy seeing the newest addition to my political memorabilia collection. This is from California's gubernatorial election of 1918--102 years ago. It depicts two governors (one current and one future). William D. Stephens served during World War I (as indicated on the card) from 1917 to 1923. C.C. Young later served as governor from 1927 to 1931. They just don't make campaign items with such great graphics as they did in this lost era.

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Congressman Sam Johnson (1930-2020)

Remembering today the courage and sacrifice of my friend and former House colleague, Sam Johnson (R-TX), who died last week at age 89. A former POW who spent almost 7 years in the "Hanoi Hilton," Sam's crippled fingers bore daily witness to the brutal physical torture he underwent while serving his country. He was a true gentleman and a great statesman, and I will always remember his support and kindnesses shown me.

 

This photograph was taken in Pasadena, CA during the waning days of my 2000 reelection campaign, when Sam came to my district (along with several other colleagues) to campaign for me.

 

From left: Sam, Congressman Duke Cunningham (the first "ace" fighter pilot in the Vietnam War whose military career was the inspiration for Tom Cruise's movie "Top Gun"--Duke later went to prison for bribery), me, Congressman John Shadegg of Arizona, and Congressman (now Arkansas Governor) Asa Hutchinson.

Congressman John Conyers (1929-2019)

My former colleague on the House Judiciary Committee during the Clinton impeachment, John Conyers (D-MI)--the founder of the Congressional Black Caucus--died this morning at age 90. After serving almost 53 years in Congress (1965-2017), he resigned two years ago under unhappy circumstances relating to previous sexual harassment allegations.

 

Despite our vast political differences, I had a wonderful relationship with John, which I related in my 2011 book, "Catching Our Flag: Behind the Scenes of a Presidential Impeachment." It showed how my boyhood hobby of collecting political memorabilia created a friendship between us. The story is excerpted below:

 

In the world of veteran congressmen, they just didn't come much grumpier than John Conyers.

 

Republicans disliked the cranky senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, and the feelings appeared to be mutual. First elected to the House in 1964, the 69-year-old Michigan liberal knew that the only thing now standing between him and the chairman's gavel was a switch of six Republican House seats to the Democratic column. John waited a long time for this chairmanship, so it wasn't surprising that he brushed off Republican gatecrashers responsible for displacing him.

 

None of that mattered to me. As a teenager, I sat spellbound watching the 1973-1974 televised Judiciary Committee impeachment hearings against President Nixon. Now, 24 years later, John remained the last Watergate member still serving on the committee. As a lifelong political junkie, I longed to hear him share his first-hand account of that historic period. Yet whenever I tried talking to him, he offered me little more than a discontented grunt.

 

I formulated a plan to crack through his unresponsiveness. Having collected old political campaign memorabilia since the age of ten, I knew from experience that most politicians never save their own campaign items, and years later they regret it. While serving in my state legislature, I created a wealth of bipartisan goodwill giving colleagues items from my collection. Determined to find an icebreaker with John, I rummaged through my collection for a relation-building opportunity.

 

The next time I saw John sitting alone on the House floor, I invited myself to join him. Before he could run me off, I asked if he remembered doing a campaign rally with Senator Edward Kennedy in Michigan almost 30 years earlier. He said he had thought about it just the other day: "This was back when everyone believed Ted Kennedy would be the next president," John said. "It was the biggest rally I ever had in my district!" I asked John if he remembered seeing yellow campaign badges there with the legend, "The People's Choice in 1972: Edward Kennedy for President - John Conyers for Vice President."

 

"I remember those badges!" John said excitedly. "In fact, I wanted my staff to save me one, but they never did."

 

Before John could ask his next obvious question ("How do you know about that badge?"), I reached into my pocket. "I saved one for you, John." Pressing the badge into his hand, I smiled and walked away.

 

My childhood passion forged a new friendship.

 

John's later kindness toward me caused more than a few raised eyebrows at my maiden appearance as a member of the House Judiciary Committee [after the Monica Lewinsky story broke and the nation geared up for a possible presidential impeachment--partisan tensions were already at the breaking point by this time]. On March 3, 1998, Lindsey Graham (R-SC), another new committee member, and I attended our first hearing. As the senior Republican, Chairman Hyde drew the duty of making the welcome speech for Lindsey and me. After Henry finished and then called up the first bill, John Conyers interrupted unexpectedly: "Mr. Chairman, will you yield to me?"

 

Everyone looked around nervously. "Here it comes," remarked a congressman seated behind me. Republicans hunkered down for another Conyers partisan tirade. Instead, jaws dropped as John made a lovely speech embracing my membership on Judiciary. As he extolled my virtues, Republican members began eyeing me suspiciously. Even Henry looked baffled. To make things worse, after John finished praising me, he gazed icily at Lindsey and remarked, "Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time."

 

Rest in peace, John. 

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Apollo 11--Fifty Years Ago Today

Today marked the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, becoming the first men to set foot on the Moon.

 

As an 11-year old boy, I watched them take those historic first steps on an old black-and-white Magnavox TV with my great aunt, Della Glover, who was born before the Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk. To watch space history made with someone whose life predated manned flight added to the thrill and appreciation of the moment.


Little did I dream that on the 30th anniversary of those historic steps, July 20, 1999, I would spend the day with Neil and Buzz, along with their command module pilot Mike Collins, at a private reception for them at the Air and Space Museum in Washington, and later at NASA's DC headquarters.

 

The small Apollo 11 flag on the NASA certificate was flown in space on the Space Shuttle Columbia on the 25th anniversary of the Moon landing. July 20, 1994. The director of NASA presented the flag to me five years earlier. On the 30th anniversary, I had both Neil and Buzz autograph and date it for me. It remains one of my treasured mementos.

 

God bless our Apollo 11 crew, and God bless America--the nation that conquered the Moon.

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Remembering Senator Birch Bayh (1929-2019)

One of the U.S. Senate's most prominent liberals of the 1960s and 1970s, Birch Bayh (D-IN, 1963-1981) died today of pneumonia at age 91.

 

Twice a candidate for president (1972 and 1976), he authored two constitutional amendments: the Twenty-Fifth (presidential succession) and the Twenty-Sixth (giving 18-year olds the vote), which gave him the distinction of being the only non-Founding Father to have authored two constitutional amendments.

 

News of Birch's death leaves me deeply saddened. It might seem odd that a conservative former GOP congressman would mourn (in the eyes of most other conservatives) a liberal bogeyman, but I do.


In 2001, a couple of months after I left Congress and became a partner in the Maryland-based law firm of Venable LLP, I was asked to help form a government relations practice. As I sifted through resumes, one came across my desk that caught my eye—former Senator Birch Bayh, who was by then out of office for two decades, in his mid-70s, and desirous of leaving his current law firm and joining us.

 

We set up a "meet-and-greet" breakfast for him, which was very pleasant but somewhat formal. It was a chance for a few of my partners to get a feel for whether we wanted to pursue further discussions with the former lawmaker, and for him to size up our firm. All went well that morning, but when breakfast was over, he approached me and asked if we might meet privately before he left. I invited him to my office down the hall.

 

We sat alone and he said to me, "Congressman, may I be candid with you? I know you are a hard-core conservative, and you know that I am a hard-core liberal. I'm also an old man, so I am asking you to do me a personal favor. If you plan to veto my joining the firm because of our political disagreements, would you be kind enough to tell me right now? At my age I really don't want to go through a series of interviews with the other practice groups if it is all going to be for nothing. I won't take it personally, and in fact, I would respect your position if that is what you feel you need to do."

 

"Senator," I replied, "I don't know why, but for some reason I had a feeling that might be a concern for you. Maybe this will answer your question." I opened my desk drawer, retrieved a manila envelope, and handed it to him. He opened it and pulled out a dark Kodak snapshot (dark because the flashbulb failed) from August 1971 – – 30 years earlier. It was a photograph taken of him signing an autograph for me when I was in junior high school. Also in the envelope was a letter he had written me 30 years earlier thanking me for my interest in his upcoming presidential campaign, and sending me an autographed photograph.

 

"Birch," I smiled, "I'm your original fan! Does that answer your question?"

 

Birch stood up, came around my desk, and threw a bear hug around me. From that moment, we were the best of friends. We hired Birch, he became my law partner, and I was thrilled when he asked to have the office directly next to mine.

 

In time, the firm wanted to separate our offices, because whenever he and I didn't feel like billing hours (which was often), we would wander into each others' offices and talk about politics—especially the politics of the tumultuous 1960s. Almost always Birch did the talking and I was his eager listener and student.

 

Far too many times I wandered into Birch's office, plopped down on his couch, and threw out questions such as, "Hey Birch, when you were first running for the Senate in 1962 and John F. Kennedy came out to campaign for you in Indiana, and then he cut short his appearance because he said he had a cold and flew back to Washington, did you have any inkling that he was really heading back because he had gotten word that the Soviets had put missiles in Cuba at the start of the Cuban Missile Crisis?" Then I would sit back for the next couple of hours and listen to Birch regale me with stories, all of which I loved and absorbed.

 

During our time together Birch was a fountain of political history, and I relished his first-person accounts of Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush, Hubert Humphrey, Everett Dirksen--the yarns were endless, and so was my delight.

 

Christine and I moved home to California 15 years ago. I stayed in touch with Birch for many years, but as he grew older the contacts became less frequent. When he died this week, all of my memories of that warm, friendly, and lovable Hoosier flooded back. Regardless of party, America lost a gifted and tenacious legislator, and a patriot who loved his country deeply.

 

And I lost a pal. Requiescat in pace.

 

https://www.nytimes.com/.../obituaries/birch-bayh-dead.html

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Clinton Impeachment Trial: 20 Years Later

Twenty years ago this evening, February 8, 1999, I delivered my closing argument before the United States Senate on live worldwide television in the impeachment trial of President Clinton.

 

For reasons explained on pages 390-398 of my book, "Catching Our Flag: Behind the Scenes of a Presidential Impeachment," the closing argument I prepared - - and the closing argument I gave at the very last minute -- ended up differently. In later weeks and months my congressional staff began teasing me about "The Lost Closing Argument" that I intended to give (later I lamented my brash act of jettisoning it) to deliver a mostly extemporized version.

 

To salve my continuing regrets, in 1999 my campaign committee surprised me by printing up a large supply of 8-page glossy brochures of the "lost" closing argument.

 

This weekend I found a stack of them in my garage. They are vintage and original items from my last congressional race and distributed to fans and supporters between 1999 and 2000.

 

I will be happy to send a free original of one of these brochures (signed or unsigned) to anyone who might like it--so long as you send me a self-addressed return envelope with sufficient postage (two stamps without cardboard). They are about 5x7 in size, so you will need to send an envelope large enough to accommodate the brochure. Mail to my webmaster at P.O. Box 33, Yorba Linda CA 92885, and it will reach me.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSJr_w23bdI...

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President George H.W. Bush (1924-2018)

Of the millions of dollars I raised in my final campaign for reelection to Congress back in 2000, this was the one check I never could bring myself to cash--and after he stuffed it into my pocket I told him so. Then he insisted on writing me a second check that I would cash (I told him if he did, it would just end up framed on the wall along with this one).

 

In memory of a great patriot who became a cherished friend to my entire family.

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The Palomino Club, North Hollywood CA

Earlier this week, and for one night only, the world famous Palomino Club--along with the Grand Ole' Opry it was America's premiere country western venue--reopened for a museum fundraiser in its original North Hollywood location. The Palomino closed its doors almost a quarter century ago.

 

For me it was a trip back in time. I bartended there 1979-1982 while a law student at UCLA. It brought back a flood of memories stepping inside that cavernous old hall one last time.

 

To commemorate the occasion I wore my original Palomino Club jersey. The last time I wore it I was 25, and it was the last night I bartended there. Today I'm 61--and it still fits!

 

Thanks to the Valley Relics Museum for making this wonderful memory for the hundreds who joined me this week.

 

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment/music/la-et-ms-palomino-club-benefit-revival-20181009-story.html?fbclid=IwAR2SAnLcMvzW6MC9vNEajyOudOqWMJiTKR2WqG9RAejElLgGklnhY3bmTsw

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Senator John McCain (1936-2018)

During my service in Congress, I had my differences with John McCain (as did every other Republican), who died yesterday at age 81. Still, I never forgot that he helped in my reelection--even when we did a joint press conference and I criticized his signature McCain-Feingold campaign finance proposal while he stood at my elbow (that explains the grimace on his face in this photograph).

 

He was an American original and a true war hero. Requiem in pacem.

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The 1968 Presidential Campaign 50 years Ago Today: Senator Robert Kennedy Dies

From the Collection of James Rogan

"So my thanks to all of you – and now it's on to Chicago, and let's win there." – Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles, 12:15 a.m., June 5, 1968

 

The most tragic part of the story is that he was not supposed to go that way. The pantry was a last-second decision. His staff had earlier prompted him to turn to his right when he finished his victory speech, exit through the ballroom crowd, do a quick press conference next door, and then leave for a private party at a nearby discothèque to celebrate his presidential primary victory.


On countless occasions over the last 50 years I have seen the film of that speech. Now, whenever it airs, I no longer watch the jubilant candidate. My eyes always drift to the right corner of the footage. It is where I know there are two unobtrusive swinging doors behind the curtain and off to the side of the stage.

 

"And now it's on to Chicago. …" Bobby flashed a thumbs-up and V-for-victory sign, brushed aside a lock of hair, and then moved to his right to exit the stage as prearranged. That was the plan.

 

And then it happens:

 

"This way, Senator …"

 

Eyeing the thick crowd through which the candidate's entourage must navigate to attend the press conference, a well-meaning aide called to his boss, "This way, Senator …" RFK stopped, pivoted and backtracked toward the voice calling to his left. Kennedy's staff had a standby plan if the throng was too dense: Exit behind the stage backdrop curtain, pass through the two swinging doors, and cut through the kitchen pantry.

 

Every time I see that footage and hear the aide call to him, I find myself pleading silently: Press on through the crowd – don't go into the pantry.

 

But he always does.

 

Shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968, Robert Kennedy stood before 1,500 cheering supporters in the Embassy Room at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. There he declared victory over Sen. Eugene McCarthy in a hard-fought California primary battle for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination. A few minutes later, Kennedy closed his speech with these words: "So my thanks to all of you – and now it's on to Chicago, and let's win there." Kennedy exited the stage, went through the swinging doors and walked halfway across the short pantry. As he stopped to shake hands with a teenage busboy, a young drifter stepped from behind a serving table, raised his pistol and fired. His first shot struck Kennedy behind the right ear and crashed through his brain.

 

Ironically, one of Kennedy's surgeons from that night said years later that if the fatal shot had struck just a centimeter off, Kennedy would have recovered and resumed his campaign. Because it did not, 50 years ago today Robert Kennedy died at age 42, leaving behind a pregnant widow and 10 young children.

 

He left behind something else. Because millions of voters that year – those who loved and hated him – were denied the final judgment of their ballots, his death left a gaping hole in political history.

 
I was finishing the fifth grade in June 1968. As a 10-year-old boy, I had already developed what would remain a lifelong fascination for American history and politics, and I followed that year's presidential campaign the way other boys my age followed baseball statistics.

 

As I related in a previous column, our teacher that year, Miss Firpo, encouraged those interests. In the weeks leading up to the end of the 1968 primary season, she had us studying the campaigns of the White House contenders. Living in California brought added excitement to the race: our state's June 4 presidential primary was touted as the one that might well decide the Democratic contest (there was no meaningful GOP primary in California that year). Miss Firpo let us decorate the classroom with campaign posters and bumper stickers for our favorite candidates.

 

On the morning of the primary, we boys were betting our best baseball cards on who would win. That evening I stayed up late watching the lead between Kennedy and his California opponent, Sen. Eugene McCarthy, seesaw back and forth. As midnight neared, and as I struggled to stay awake, McCarthy appeared before his supporters, conceded his narrow defeat and vowed to continue his campaign for the presidential nomination all the way to Chicago's Democratic National Convention that August. I kept the TV on a while longer and watched as the coverage now cut across town, where camera crews broadcast live images of the excited crowd at the Ambassador Hotel awaiting RFK's victory speech.

 

Shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968, a beaming Kennedy and his wife stepped before their cheering supporters. After making a brief speech of thanks, he made a plea for party unity, and then he closed with his "on to Chicago" pledge.

 

As Bobby and his entourage made their way off the stage, I turned off the TV, climbed into bed and fell fast asleep.

 

The next morning, as I got ready for school, my classmate Mike Dittman called and asked if I had heard about Kennedy. Yes, I told him, I knew Kennedy had won. When Mike broke the news of what had happened moments after I turned off the television, I couldn't believe it. I turned on a new household novelty – our first-ever color television – and watched the news broadcasts replay unendingly the footage of the fallen candidate, his head resting in a spreading pool of maroon blood.

 

I had never seen anything so graphic or so tragic.

 

In class that morning, as Kennedy's life ebbed away, yesterday's friendly Kennedy vs. McCarthy schoolyard rivalry gave way to confusion and profound sadness. Miss Firpo tried to comfort her students seated in a room still decorated with a dozen Kennedy posters. I remember looking at Bobby's picture gazing down on us from those posters as she spoke, his black-and-white image frozen with a half-smile. Yesterday that image suggested confidence. Now it bore the haunting aura of death.


Today, on what is the 50th anniversary of Robert Kennedy's assassination, I still reflect on what his neurosurgeon said: The shot that killed him was a fluke. Had it been just a fraction to the right, it is likely he would have survived. Since reading of that sad irony decades ago I have often wondered – what if someone in that crowded pantry had shouted a warning and Bobby flinched – even slightly? What if something – anything – had deviated that bullet's fatal trajectory? What if millions of voters didn't lose their hopes in a pool of blood on a concrete pantry floor? What if he had survived his wound?

 

What if Bobby had gone on to Chicago?

 

That is the premise of my new book, which was released yesterday: "On to Chicago: Rediscovering Robert F. Kennedy and the Lost Campaign of 1968." In it I make a historian's best effort to answer that "what if?" question – based on facts, not on romanticism or wishful thinking. It is, technically, a work of historical fiction – but it is far more heavy on the history as opposed to the fiction.

 

Childhood Camelot sentimentalities notwithstanding, the ensuing years have long ago disabused me of the notion that Bobby Kennedy was a saint. In fact, as one who (30 years after his death) went on to serve as a conservative Republican in Congress – and as one of the prosecutors who helped lead the impeachment of President Clinton – RFK was hardly a political role model for me. Had I served with him back then, I would have opposed him politically – and there is a decent chance I would have disliked him personally for his legendary traits of expediency and ruthlessness.

 

Still, in that frenetic 85 day presidential campaign of 1968, Bobby Kennedy did more than capture a fifth-grade boy's attention: He helped ignite a lifelong passion for public service. In the end, that is the lasting legacy of any great political leader – the ability to motivate both his own and the next generation.

 

That was RFK's gift to many of the idealistic youths of yesteryear who remain of my now-graying generation. I hope that, in my new book, I have repaid the gift in one small way: For better or for worse, he will finish his journey.

 

Through the marriage of the author's pen and the readers' imagination, half a century later, Robert Francis Kennedy will go on to Chicago.

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The 1968 Presidential Campaign 50 Years Ago Today: Senator Robert Kennedy is Shot and Mortally Wounded

Dinner program autographed by Senator Robert F. Kennedy, May 10, 1968 (James Rogan Collection)

(Excerpted from James Rogan's 2018 book, On to Chicago: Rediscovering Robert F. Kennedy and the Lost Campaign of 1968)  

 

I was finishing the fifth grade in the spring of 1968. Although only a 10-year-old boy, no political pundit awaited the start of that presidential campaign year more eagerly than I. Since Ronald Reagan's election to our state's governorship, I had developed an unquenchable fascination for American history and politics, and 1968 would be my first national election to follow with great passion.

 

My elementary school teacher, Miss Firpo, encouraged these interests. In the weeks leading up to the end of the primary season, our class studied the campaigns of the major White House contenders. On the Democratic side were Vice President Hubert Humphrey (who entered the race after President Johnson dropped out – too late to file for any primaries), and the two "peace" candidates, Senators Robert F. Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy, both of whom ran in opposition to the Johnson administration's Vietnam War escalation. On the Republican side, the presidential nomination looked like it was former Vice President (and GOP front-runner) Richard Nixon's to lose. The Nixon campaign chugged through the primaries and swept almost every one, but along the way they kept a wary eye on Governor Nelson Rockefeller and Reagan – both of whom stood in the wings looking to exploit any Nixon slippage before the Republican convention.


Living in California brought added excitement to the race: Our state's June 4 primary was touted as the one that might well decide the Democratic presidential contest. Humphrey wasn't on the ballot, but for Kennedy and McCarthy, California might well prove "make or break." After losing the Oregon primary to McCarthy a week earlier, Kennedy said he would drop out of the race if he suffered a back-to-back defeat in California.

 

Miss Firpo urged us to visit the campaign headquarters of our favorite candidates and bring back posters and stickers to decorate the classroom. I rooted for McCarthy only because Cheryl Briones, the freckle-faced girl on whom I had a secret crush, was for him. We were in the minority; most of the kids at Fairmont Elementary School in Pacifica were going "All the Way with RFK," and an overabundance of Bobby Kennedy posters dominated our classroom walls.

 

On primary day, we boys were betting our best baseball cards on who would win. That morning, and as a joke, my classmate Mike Dittman (an ardent RFK fan) pinned to my coat a blue Kennedy badge. I yanked off the contraband button and stuffed it into my pocket before Cheryl saw it and thought me a traitor to the cause.

 

That evening I stayed up late watching the lead between Kennedy and McCarthy seesaw back and forth. In between election returns I channel-surfed to the baseball game and watched snippets of Dodgers superstar Don Drysdale make history by pitching his sixth straight shutout, which broke the record held since 1904.

 

As midnight neared, and as I struggled to stay awake, McCarthy appeared in the ballroom of the Beverly Hilton hotel, conceded his narrow defeat and vowed to continue his campaign for the presidential nomination all the way to Chicago's Democratic National Convention that August. Feeling deflated at Cheryl's and my loss, I kept the TV on a while longer. The election coverage now cut across town, where camera crews broadcast live the excited crowd at the Ambassador Hotel awaiting RFK's victory speech.

 

And so, 50 years ago today, shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968, a beaming Kennedy and his wife stepped before 1,500 cheering supporters in the Embassy Room of Los Angeles' Ambassador. After making a brief speech of thanks – and tossing in congratulations to local hero Drysdale, Bobby made a plea for party unity, and then he closed with these final words:

 

"My thanks to all of you, and now it's on to Chicago, and let's win there."

 
Bobby smiled and waved, gave a V-for-victory salute, and then made his way off the stage.

 

Deflated by my first taste of political defeat, I turned off the portable black-and-white TV my mother let me keep in my room for this special night, climbed into bed and fell fast asleep. I had never before stayed up past midnight on a school night, and I nodded off knowing that I would have deep regrets about going to bed so late when the morning came.

 

But in that moment, I had no conception of how overwhelming tomorrow's regrets would be, or that the pain of the morning would remain – half a century later.

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The 1968 Presidential Campaign 50 Years Ago Today: Senator Eugene McCarthy Upsets Senator Robert Kennedy in the Oregon Presidential Primary

Photograph autographed for James Rogan by Senator Eugene McCarthy, 1969

(Excerpted from James Rogan's 2018 book, On to Chicago: Rediscovering Robert F. Kennedy and the Lost Campaign of 1968)

 

 

It was supposed to be easy.

 

By late 1967, with the Vietnam War raging for over three years, antiwar activists sought to recruit an intraparty challenger to the incumbent president they blamed for the conflict, Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson, in his expected 1968 re-election bid. Their favored candidate to take on Johnson for renomination, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (brother of the slain president and the man who selected Johnson as his vice president in 1960) repeatedly refused to run, telling advisers LBJ was unbeatable. After burning through a list of second-string potential challengers – all of whom turned down their entreaties – the activists found only one taker – Eugene McCarthy, a virtually unknown U.S. Senate backbencher who preferred writing poetry to the glad-handing world of politics.

 

McCarthy's candidacy drew a yawn from the political establishment. Demonstrating his nonconformist reputation at his announcement press conference, when a reporter asked why he wanted to be president, McCarthy corrected him: "I didn't say I wanted to be president. I'm willing to be president." Taken aback by that answer, another reporter asked what kind of president he would make. McCarthy replied, "Oh, I'd be adequate." During the lead-up to his first primary confrontation with LBJ, McCarthy's most favorable poll showed the president clobbering him 3-to-1 (one poll showed LBJ drubbing him 10-to-1).

 

Still, there was attraction to McCarthy's unconventional style. During his six week seemingly impossible New Hampshire primary race, college students across America drawn to his antiwar message and his aura of integrity hitchhiked or rode buses to the Granite State to volunteer. On primary day, McCarthy rocked the establishment by coming within 200 votes of outpolling Johnson statewide.

 

During the preceding weeks, Robert Kennedy and his team never viewed McCarthy as a serious contender. They believed, along with most others, that McCarthy could never provide Johnson any meaningful opposition. Besides, according to Kennedy senior campaign aide Richard Goodwin, they all knew that if Kennedy later changed his mind and entered the race, McCarthy would step aside for him. After the New Hampshire shock, and with LBJ stripped of his invincibility cloak, Kennedy reversed course and jumped into the race for the Democratic nomination. McCarthy, who challenged Goliath when nobody else would, refused to yield. His supporters viewed Kennedy's earlier and repeated refusals to run against Johnson as cowardly, and his sudden entry following their man's stunner as an opportunistic and selfish act guaranteeing to split the peace vote.

 

 

A second political shock came two weeks after New Hampshire. Facing more humiliation from a likely outright win over him by McCarthy in the upcoming Wisconsin primary, Johnson announced he would not seek re-election. This set the stage for Vice President Hubert Humphrey's entry into the race a month later as the administration's Vietnam defender. Since Humphrey declared too late to file for any primary, Kennedy and McCarthy scrambled for votes in those handful of states selecting delegates in the 1968 primaries.


According to historian Theodore H. White, Kennedy's strategy was to blitz McCarthy in the primaries but avoid attacking him personally. This created a conundrum: Privately, Kennedy detested McCarthy and felt him unfit to be president, but he feared attacking McCarthy would alienate the thousands of young people who already rallied to his cause. Kennedy needed those "McCarthy kids" in his corner once he dispatched "Clean Gene." Kennedy hoped that by rolling over McCarthy comfortably in every primary, he could win enough delegates to make the argument at Chicago's Democratic National Convention in August that he, not McCarthy or Humphrey, was the more electable nominee.

 

Over the next two months Kennedy and McCarthy battled their way across the primary map. They faced off first in Indiana on May 7, where Kennedy beat McCarthy, but he did so with an unimpressive 42 percent in a three-man race – and that was after McCarthy pulled out of the state completely. The same thing happened in Nebraska a week later: Kennedy poured in huge amounts of time and money, McCarthy spent one day campaigning there, and Kennedy barely cleared 50 percent. The Kennedy team tried to put a game face on their modest Nebraska margin – aide Pierre Salinger spun their 51.5 percent majority as proof that McCarthy's candidacy was not "credible." But inside their campaign bubble Kennedy forces knew the opportunity for a knockout was diminishing. It was the next primary, Oregon, where Kennedy needed to flatten McCarthy to end his effort.

 

And so, 50 years ago today, May 28, 1968, Oregon Democrats voted. When the dust settled, it was McCarthy who walloped Kennedy by 6 points, thereby derailing Kennedy's blitz strategy. The surprising loss also unnerved Kennedy's pride – Oregon made RFK the first Kennedy ever to lose an election, which galled the competitive candidate greatly.

 

With his two unimpressive victories, and then a sobering defeat in Oregon, a chastened Kennedy privately told his staff that if he lost the next big primary the following week he would drop out of the race. All eyes thus turned to California, where the warfare between Kennedy and McCarthy grew increasingly hostile right up to that fateful election night, June 4, 1968.

 

What was the ultimate impact of this make-or-break California primary on both the 1968 presidential campaign and on history? I will offer a reflection on that topic one week from today – on the 50th anniversary of that epic race.

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Speaker Newt Gingrich On My New Book "On to Chicago: Rediscovering Robert F. Kennedy and the Lost Campaign of 1968"

My new book has struck a chord with the historian-DNA embedded deeply within my friend and former House colleague, Speaker Newt Gingrich. He posted this article to the FoxNews.com website this last weekend: 

 

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2018/05/19/newt-gingrich-learning-our-history-and-why-it-matters-for-americas-future.html

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The 1968 Presidential Campaign 50 Years Ago Today: Governor Nelson Rockefeller--"Rocky Redux"

Photograph signed for James Rogan by New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, 1971

(Excerpted from James Rogan's 2018 book, On to Chicago: Rediscovering Robert F. Kennedy and the Lost Campaign of 1968)


On April 23, 1968, three weeks after declaring – again – that he would not run for the presidency, the New York governor entered the White House quietly through a side door for a private dinner with the occupant – Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson, who himself announced recently that he would not seek re-election that year.

 

During dinner, LBJ revealed that his first choice for the presidency was not a member of his own party – it was his Republican guest. Johnson regarded the governor as a sensible moderate and, far more importantly, the one man who could beat either of LBJ's bitter foes should they win their respective party's nominations: Democrat Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and Republican former Vice President Richard Nixon. LBJ urged his guest to reconsider his decision and, to sweeten the pot, promised that if he ran, LBJ would support him privately and not campaign against him publicly.

 

Not many presidential contenders could consider such a course change only three months before the nominating convention convened, but then, not many political leaders were like Nelson A. Rockefeller, the three-term governor of New York, grandson of John D. Rockefeller, heir to the greatest wealth accumulation in history and the leader of the GOP's liberal wing. Over many months prior to his clandestine White House dinner, the middle-aged, sturdily built governor met repeatedly with the Republican Party's liberal and moderate major domos over whether, in 1968, he should make a third try for the GOP presidential nomination. At each of these meetings, the leaders pleaded with him to challenge the more conservative Nixon, but at the end of every session, his answer remained the same: no.

 

Rocky (a nickname so universally identified with him that he used it when signing autographs) did not suffer from timidity – he wanted to be president. After considering a challenge to Nixon for the 1960 nomination, he made a vigorous play for it four years later promoting his brand of Republicanism – free enterprise and massive government spending. Theodore H. White noted that of all the big-spending governors, "Nelson Rockefeller was the biggest spender of them all –in his decade [as governor] spending in the state budget had almost quadrupled. … Rockefeller's dreams dazzled large scale planners – but the costs shocked ordinary Republicans."

 

If Rocky's freewheeling spending shocked ordinary Republicans, it positively enraged the party's conservative base, who registered their disapproval by supporting Barry Goldwater over him for the 1964 presidential nomination. Goldwater was the anti-Rockefeller, opposing virtually every federal income redistribution program from compulsory government-controlled Social Security to Medicare to welfare. During their primary campaign, Rocky attacked Goldwater as a tightfisted, trigger-happy, anti-civil rights kook. Conservatives returned fire, slamming Rocky for both his obscene big-government profligacy and his moral deficiencies (citing his recent divorce and remarriage to his mistress). After a bitterly divisive fight ended with Goldwater's nomination, Rocky refused to endorse him. When Rocky addressed the convention, conservative delegates booed him for 16 uninterrupted minutes. On Election Day, with Lyndon Johnson's utter destruction of Goldwater and many down-ticket Republicans, conservatives blamed Rocky for the catastrophic losses.

 

Now, four years after the Goldwater challenge, Rocky understood (even if his supporters did not) that the aftertaste of 1964 likely dashed his national prospects, at least for now. However, by 1968, many rank-and-file Republicans started giving him a second look. Following the Goldwater debacle, this time around Republicans wanted a winner, and they had nagging concerns that Richard Nixon was a perpetual loser after his back-to-back defeats for president in 1960 and for California governor in 1962. With polls showing Rocky beating every Democrat in head-to-head matchups, and with Nixon often lagging behind them, forgiving his previous heresy remained a possibility worth considering.


Even with LBJ's tempting pledge ringing in his ears, Rocky knew he had to overcome other hurdles to pull off a successful 11th-hour run. He was too late to enter any primaries, but that limitation was not fatal. In 1968, the primary states picked only a small percentage of the delegates needed to win the nomination – and, in many of those states, the GOP governors controlled their delegations as "favorite son" candidates. The selection of most convention delegates would occur in caucuses, state conventions and smoke-filled rooms – the places where politicians understood the meaning of winners and losers. If Rocky entered now, he would need to convince the delegates of two things: 1) he could beat any Democratic Party nominee, and 2) Nixon could not. True, every poll showed that most delegates preferred Nixon over Rocky, but they qualified this preference: They wanted Nixon only if he could win in November.

 

With the temptation proving too great, Rocky threw the dice. And so, 50 years ago today, on April 30, 1968, Nelson Rockefeller declared his candidacy for president of the United States.

 

Rocky's 1968 blitz followed a three-prong underdog strategy: First, barnstorm to as many states as possible between now and the convention to meet delegates and urge them to "stay loose" – keep an open mind. The second prong involved influencing public opinion directly with an unrelenting media and direct mail saturation campaign to drive up and maintain his favorable poll numbers. The third prong was trickier: entice California Gov. Ronald Reagan (already holding more than 80 delegate votes automatically as California's favorite son) into the race to challenge Nixon's right flank, especially among Southern delegations that loved Reagan and where Nixon's support was soft. If Rocky could bring 400 delegates to Miami, and Reagan added a couple hundred more Southern delegates to his California pledges, their combined forces would block Nixon's first ballot nomination and resurrect his fatal "loser" image. Once the pledged delegates cast Nixon adrift, that would leave the final nomination showdown between these two powerhouse governors.

 

Lest anyone not take Rocky's candidacy seriously, the day after announcing his entry, and without appearing on the ballot, he beat both Nixon and the favorite son governor in the Massachusetts Republican presidential primary, and he did it with write-in votes (since he declared too late to appear on the ballot). Rocky pocketed every one of the 34 delegates the Bay State would send to the Republican National Convention.

 

In Miami three months later, and despite the combined Rockefeller-Reagan effort to block Nixon, the former vice president held his Southern flank and won the 1968 Republican presidential nomination. Nelson Rockefeller went on to win re-election to a fourth term as New York governor in 1970; after Nixon's 1974 resignation, President Gerald Ford selected him as his vice president. Declining to seek the 1976 GOP vice presidential nomination for a full term, Rocky retired from public life in 1977 and returned to his philanthropic and business interests. He died of a heart attack at age 70 on Jan. 26, 1979.

 

Nelson Rockefeller's memory remains a Republican Party presence. Forty years after his death, GOP activists still identify themselves by – or hurl as an epithet – the defining phrase:

 

"A Rockefeller Republican."

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The 1968 Presidential Campaign 50 Years Ago Today: Hubert Humphrey--The Happy Warrior

(Excerpted from James Rogan's 2018 book, On to Chicago: Rediscovering Robert F. Kennedy and the Lost Campaign of 1968

 

On March 31, 1968, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey spent the evening in Mexico City trying to focus on the dinner given in his honor at the home of the ambassador to the United States, but through it all he kept one eye on the clock. Twelve hours earlier he was packing for this trip when a sudden commotion outside his Washington apartment caught his attention. He looked out the window and saw a motorcade parked outside. Walking toward the building entrance was the tall, lumbering figure of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Humphrey rushed to open the door; Johnson blew in, greeted Mrs. Humphrey and then asked to meet privately in the bedroom with his vice president.

 

When they were alone, Johnson told Humphrey that he would deliver a nationally televised speech on the Vietnam War that evening. Johnson then handed Humphrey two sheets of paper with alternative speech endings. Humphrey reviewed the first, which contained two brief paragraphs with Johnson's formal announcement that he would seek re-election in 1968 – an announcement Humphrey (and the rest of America) anticipated. The second possible ending, which declared that Johnson would forgo re-election, left Humphrey speechless. As Humphrey handed back the papers to the president, Johnson said that he had not decided which ending to use, and that Humphrey would have to listen to his speech that night to learn the answer. After swearing Humphrey to secrecy, Johnson returned to the White House; a few minutes later the Humphreys departed on their diplomatic mission.

 

Later that afternoon, on the flight to Mexico, Humphrey reflected on Johnson's threat to withdraw from re-election. He dismissed it summarily as yet another example of LBJ's famous theatrical streak. With Sen. Robert F. Kennedy's recently announced challenge to Johnson's renomination, anybody who knew the president knew with certainty that he would never surrender the presidency to a man he hated.

 

In Mexico that night after dinner, Humphrey and the other guests gathered in the ambassador's library to hear Johnson's speech. Pandemonium broke out when, in the last minute of a 40-minute address, and after telling listeners that he wanted to devote all of his efforts to ending the war, Johnson stated firmly, "I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president." Within seconds of this bombshell announcement, scores of reporters seeking comment overloaded the embassy's switchboard, while in the outside lobby the press pool covering the trip pounded on the library door and shouted questions to the official party on the other side: Was Hubert Humphrey now a candidate for president?

 

Hubert Horatio Humphrey. By 1968 he was perhaps one of the most recognizable political figures in America. As mayor of Minneapolis, Humphrey first won election to the U.S. Senate in 1948 – the same year he caused a walkout of Southern delegates to the Democratic National Convention when he rammed a civil rights plank into the national party platform. As one of the leading liberals in Congress throughout the 1950s and 1960s, he sponsored landmark legislation such as Medicare, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Peace Corps and nuclear disarmament. When President Kennedy signed the 1963 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, he gave Humphrey (the man JFK defeated for the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination) the pen as a souvenir and told him, "Hubert, this is your treaty. It had better work." Chosen by Johnson as his 1964 running mate, Humphrey remained a loyal vice president, but by 1968 he felt deeply conflicted between private concerns over Johnson's Vietnam policies and personal loyalty to his mentor.

 

Now, in Mexico, and despite the warning Humphrey received at his apartment meeting that morning, Johnson's announcement caught him off guard. He delayed making any decision about a second presidential candidacy that night – and for almost a month thereafter. With most primary filing deadlines having expired already, Humphrey understood that the election calendar would force him to bypass that route and seek delegates in the states where selection was governed not by primary voters, but by party elders in caucuses and state conventions. In 1968, only a small percentage of national convention delegates were chosen through the primaries, so a potential late start did not concern him terribly.

 

During this interval, the public's attention diverted to the Democratic primary states where the two "peace" candidates, Kennedy and Sen. Eugene McCarthy (both of whom entered the race earlier to challenge Johnson for renomination), slugged it out. Humphrey ceded the spotlight to them, gambling that Kennedy had far less organizational support than most imagined, and that the gadfly McCarthy had even less.

 

It was 50 years ago today, April 27, 1968, that Hubert Humphrey formally entered the presidential race. His announcement received only passing notice, but the media's indifference mattered little. Kennedy and McCarthy might have held the hearts of the party's antiwar wing and the college students, but (with Johnson's grudging acquiescence) Humphrey had the establishment. While Kennedy and McCarthy ramped up their mutual attacks on each other in their quest for the small pockets of primary delegates, a few days after Humphrey's entry, his private poll showed that without contesting a single primary he already had 900 of the 1,312 delegates he needed to win the nomination. By June 5 of that year, the night Kennedy won the California primary and then was cut down by an assassin, Humphrey had enough votes to lock up the nomination.

 

After losing the presidency to Richard Nixon that November in one of the closest elections in U.S. history, Humphrey left politics briefly after his vice presidential term ended in January 1969. When Eugene McCarthy declined to seek re-election to the Senate the next year, Humphrey jumped into the race to succeed him and won the seat.

 

Returning to Washington and itching for a rematch against Nixon, Humphrey ran for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination, but lost out to Sen. George McGovern. (Stories of my many boyhood meetings with HHH, and with scores of other notables, are in my third book, "And Then I Met … Stories of Growing Up, Meeting Famous People, and Annoying the Hell Out of Them," available at the WND Superstore).

 

Re-elected to the Senate in 1976, doctors diagnosed Humphrey late that year with terminal cancer. He fought the disease bravely while maintaining his Senate duties until death claimed him at age 66 on Jan. 13, 1978.

 

A passion for justice, an unfailing love of country and an infectious optimism earned Humphrey the sobriquet for which he was known in life, and which still conjures his memory 50 years after his greatest quest: The Happy Warrior.

 

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The 1968 Presidential Campaign 50 Years Ago Today: President Lyndon Johnson Detonates a Political Grenade

[Excerpted from James Rogan's new book, On to Chicago: Rediscovering Robert F. Kennedy and the Lost Campaign of 1968]

 

 

During the Vietnam War, President Lyndon B. Johnson authorized approximately 35,000 bombing raids on enemy targets in Southeast Asia. Fifty years ago tonight, March 31, 1968, he dropped a political bomb on America.

 

First elected to the Congress in 1937, Johnson later served in the Senate as majority leader, vice president under John F. Kennedy and succeeded to the presidency upon Kennedy's assassination in 1963. The following year, LBJ won a landslide election by beating conservative Republican Barry Goldwater in a 44-state rout. Soon thereafter, Johnson ordered U.S. combat forces into Vietnam in an effort to halt the spread of Soviet and Red Chinese-backed communist aggression.

 

By late 1967 the Vietnam War had raged for over three years and grew increasingly unpopular. With no end in sight, antiwar activists sought to recruit an intraparty challenger to Johnson's anticipated 1968 re-election. Working off old "end the war" mailing lists, they launched a "Dump Johnson" drive. The likelihood of success was so remote that the proposition seemed absurd to all but a handful of like-minded objectors.

 

Allard Lowenstein, the founder of the fledgling movement, visited every antiwar Democratic senator – including Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, whom he lobbied repeatedly to run. Lowenstein's pleas with all (but one) were in vain, and each gave the same reason Kennedy gave in refusing to take on the president of his own party: Johnson was unbeatable in 1968. Only Sen. Eugene McCarthy, a quirky congressional backbencher who preferred writing poetry to the grubby political world, agreed to challenge LBJ for the Democratic presidential nomination. With no major funding, no organizational base, almost zero name identification, and with Johnson holding a monopoly on party establishment support, McCarthy filed for the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary. Party elders and the press treated his quest as a national joke.

 

During his six week New Hampshire campaign, McCarthy's message began resonating with college students across America, many of whom faced impending military induction notices because of Johnson's continued war escalation. First dozens, and then hundreds, and finally thousands of them rode buses or hitchhiked east. Arriving at McCarthy headquarters, they cut their long hair, put on conservative clothes and then blanketed every New Hampshire neighborhood on his behalf.


For his part, Johnson ignored McCarthy. Once Johnson's main potential competitor for the nomination – Kennedy – announced he would not run, Johnson did not bother filing for the New Hampshire primary ballot. After McCarthy jumped into the race at the last minute, Johnson decided that filing would give his challenger credibility, so he again passed. Instead, he allowed the state's leading Democrat, Gov. John King, to initiate a formal write-in campaign for Johnson to energize the party's base and to coax back some of the press attention now focused almost exclusively on the contested Republican primary between Richard Nixon and George Romney.

 

From the man who led the effort to oust Bill Clinton from office, Rep. James Rogan's "Catching Our Flag: Behind the Scenes of a Presidential Impeachment"

 

When New Hampshire voted on March 12, 1968, the nonconformist senator expected to draw no more than 10 or 15 percent came within 200 votes of out-polling Johnson statewide, sending shockwaves across the political establishment. With LBJ now showing unexpected vulnerability, and after McCarthy did the heavy lifting, Robert Kennedy jumped into the race against Johnson a few days later.

 

With Johnson next facing McCarthy in a head-to-head matchup in the April 2 Wisconsin primary, the White House dispatched Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Cabinet members, various administration officials and members of Congress to the Badger State. Local party officials coordinated their efforts through the Democratic National Committee to crush the McCarthy insurgency.

 

A few days before the primary, Johnson met with his campaign manager, Postmaster General Lawrence F. O'Brien, whom he had sent to Wisconsin to assess their operation. O'Brien stunned LBJ with the news: Their polls showed that McCarthy would beat the president by as high as 60 percent. It was hopeless.

 

With his earlier embarrassing New Hampshire showing, a likely humiliation coming in Wisconsin and a new Gallup poll showing he had cratered to a 35 percent approval rating, Johnson knew that his once-iron grip on the nomination might slip quickly if party leaders concluded that he was beatable. After sharing O'Brien's field report with a longtime aide, Johnson lamented, "If a president has to spend 10 million dollars to get the renomination of his party, then it's time for [he] and his party and everybody else to go some other way. I don't want to go that way. … I can't get peace in Vietnam and be president, too."

 

Johnson reserved network airtime for an address to the nation on Vietnam for the evening of March 31, 1968, which was two days before the Wisconsin primary. Speaking from the Oval Office, LBJ announced a partial bombing halt over North Vietnam and indicated the U.S. was prepared to engage in peace talks. Then, in the last minute of a 40-minute speech, and after telling listeners that he wanted to devote all his efforts to ending the war, he pulled the pin on his grenade: "I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president."

 

Unexpectedly, Johnson went from victim to victor. His approval rating shot up an unprecedented 13 points – from 36 percent to 49 percent – in one night. After the speech, millions of anti-LBJ partisans jettisoned nearly four years of anger and now hailed him as a statesman. This newfound popularity made him regret privately removing himself from the campaign. For a time he even toyed with the idea of having his supporters start a "Draft Johnson" movement at the upcoming Democratic National Convention, but in the end he let the cup pass.

 

LBJ's exit from the campaign threw open the race to succeed him. Ahead that year awaited divisive primaries, riots, assassinations, a bloody nominating convention and a hard-fought three-way race to the November finish line.

 

Yet all of that turmoil remained down the road 50 years ago tonight – the night President Lyndon Johnson, one of the fiercest political competitors of the 20th century, laid down his sword.

 

Johnson left the White House in January 1969 and retired to his Texas ranch. In later years he oversaw the building of his presidential library, wrote his memoirs, raised his cattle and spent time with his grandchildren. He died of a heart attack at age 64 on Jan. 22, 1973.

 

 

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The 1968 Presidential Campaign 50 Years Ago Today: Robert Kennedy Declared His Presidential Candidacy

Four days before his assassination, Senator Robert F. Kennedy signed this program after addressing the members of the San Francisco Commonwealth Club during his ill-fated presidential campaign, May 31, 1968 (James Rogan Collection)

[Excerpted from James Rogan's new book, On to Chicago: Rediscovering Robert F. Kennedy and the Lost Campaign of 1968]

 

 

Robert Kennedy: The man, the myth, the truth

Each generation produces a handful of universally known political figures who arouse deep-seated love or blinding disdain, and with almost no middle ground between either passion. In my grandparents' day, it was Franklin D. Roosevelt: People loved him or hated him, but very few had no opinion of him. One might argue today that the names Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton provoke the same polarized feelings. During my boyhood, there wasn't one or two such leaders – there were eight, and they all squared off against each other in the 1968 presidential campaign. Those to whom public indifference failed to attach back then were Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George Wallace, Nelson Rockefeller, Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy and the charismatic young candidate whose murder that year shielded him from the continued harsh spotlight of contemporary scrutiny and into the realm of martyrdom and legend.

 

That final metamorphosis began 50 years ago today, March 16, 1968, when Sen. Robert F. Kennedy announced his candidacy for the presidency of the United States.

 

RFK for president – you had to be there to understand the excitement he ignited. As a San Francisco boy growing up in the 1960s in a blue-collar, part-Irish and all-Roman Catholic family, John and Robert Kennedy were heroes to our generation of immigrant and denominational descendants. We admired them in life and mourned them in death – deeply. I was too young to remember Jack Kennedy's 1960 race, but I was all over Bobby Kennedy's 1968 drive for the White House. Although only in the fifth grade, I followed it with the same enthusiasm other boys my age reserved for that day's baseball standings. His landmark campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination against Sen. Eugene McCarthy infused me with such an intense interest in history and government that it led to my own eventual path into law and politics.

 

The excitement of Kennedy's battle, and then the horrible violence that ended it instantly the very night he beat McCarthy in their hard-fought California primary, left a profound impact on me that never waned. Decades later, during my service as a Republican congressman, I still held Kennedy in awe – a sentiment no other conservative House colleague apparently shared. In 1998, Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III, D-Mass., and I co-sponsored a bill to name the U.S. Department of Justice building after his late father. Republicans killed the bill in committee. Thirty years after RFK's death, his memory still aroused so much GOP disdain that they would not have named the DOJ outhouse after him. When I tried raising the issue with Speaker Newt Gingrich directly, he cut me off. "That bill is dead – dead," he snapped irritably. Later, when my friend Lyn Nofziger, Ronald Reagan's longtime spokesman and adviser, visited my Capitol Hill office, I saw him staring at a large autographed photo of Bobby Kennedy hanging on my wall. Turning to me and looking both confused and disgusted, he asked, "What the hell is that thing doing here?"

 

This leads to my next point: Fascination does not cause blindness.

 

Like two other supermen with whom he shared the crowded stage in 1968, Robert Kennedy shares a common fate with Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon: over the ensuing decades all three have been the subject of countless biographies teeming with pseudo-psychological interpretations of what made them tick. Here the comparison ends. With LBJ and Nixon, the pop-culture consensus is that their power-grasping temperaments sprang from sinister motives and deep-seated personal inferiorities. Bobby's biographers usually promote loftier interpretations. For example, Arthur Schlesinger softened for history Bobby's hard-edged, knee-to-the-groin political style, writing, "Because he wanted to get things done, because he was often impatient and combative, because he felt simply and cared deeply, he made his share of mistakes, and enemies. He was a romantic and an idealist. …"

 

Romance and idealism aside, many of RFK's ardent supporters never knew, or chose to ignore, that Bobby started his political career in the 1950s as one of the lead investigators for Sen. Joseph McCarthy, whose last name became – fairly or unfairly – a synonym for reckless and career-destroying witch hunts. After leaving McCarthy's staff, Bobby became chief counsel to the Senate committee investigating labor union racketeering. He dragged in over 1,500 witnesses before the committee in a vendetta to "get" those he perceived as enemies, especially Teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa – an obsession that carried over into his tenure as President John F. Kennedy's attorney general. During Bobby's stint at the Justice Department, he supported covert foreign assassinations and coups. He ordered wiretaps on enemies and friends alike, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whom he knew cavorted with communists. Incidentally, these wiretaps disclosed King's many marital infidelities, which FBI agents later used to harass and threaten King. Revisionist histories notwithstanding, Attorney General Robert Kennedy did not champion the cause of Southern civil rights marchers – he viewed them as irritants creating escalating nuisances to his brother's 1964 re-election prospects. Right up to the end of his life, in private conversations, sometimes he used ethnic vulgarities when talking about blacks and Jews.

 

 

Just as those of us who venerate Thomas Jefferson – the man who gave voice to freedom's greatest proclamation – must live uncomfortably with the fact that he owned slaves, one would think that the venerators of Robert Kennedy would live uncomfortably with his stark and often disturbing record.

 

Wrong.

 

Instead, RFK's post-assassination biographers overwhelmingly offer a more forgiving explanation – his brother's 1963 assassination changed Bobby Kennedy. Dallas supposedly transfigured him from vicious street-fighter into Greek tragedian: deeper, sensitive, selfless. Bobby helped in this rehabilitation by peppering his post-JFK era speeches and interviews with quotations from Camus, Emerson and Aeschylus. He dined with poets, strikers and migrant workers. He walked the ghettos. Those perpetuating the RFK myth excuse his calculated back flips on Vietnam. This renovated RFK meets us in history books as one who "grew" in his opposition when he saw an unjust war and its aftermath, and upon whom fate forced leadership, which he accepted for duty, not ambition.

 

The truth: Robert Kennedy, both before and after his brother's death, was a calculating politician who fought dirty, played for keeps and (when politically expedient) took various sides of an issue to please specific and often conflicting interest groups. Strip Bobby Kennedy of the sentimental hogwash that bathes his memory and we find that he and his brother had the same cunning ambitions and methods as their non-idealized counterparts. We forgive the Kennedys, but not the graceless LBJ or the sweat-beaded and shifty-eyed Nixon, because the Kennedys had a cultured, smooth veneer when cutting an opponent's throat.

 

Doubtless Dallas and its aftermath changed Robert Kennedy. All the evidence suggests that Bobby did become more soulful, patient, thoughtful and empathetic for the underclass, but his darker political side never wandered far. Of Bobby's 1968 opponents – Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Richard Nixon, Nelson Rockefeller, George Wallace, Ronald Reagan, Eugene McCarthy, George Romney – if any were alive today, they would tell you that RFK understood the family business perhaps better than any other member of his clan. When Bobby fought you on the political battlefield, he fought to win, and if that meant leaving your corpse rotting in the dust, tough luck.

 

Still, RFK represented more than a political contender. To millions he was their voice and, more importantly, their hope – a symbolic resurrection from that cruel Dallas motorcade five years earlier. One need not have been a Camelot sentimentalist to have shared the grief at his own violent death.

 

His frenetic 85-day campaign for the presidency proved all the more Shakespearean when his neurosurgeon later reported that if the fatal shot had struck just one centimeter to the right, Bobby would have recovered and resumed his campaign. Because it did not he died at age 42, leaving a pregnant widow, 10 young children and a gaping hole in American history.

 

Many of us old enough to remember that tragic night have defaulted repeatedly over the years to the question that still haunts: What if?

 

What if someone in that crowded pantry shouted a warning and Bobby flinched – even slightly? What if something – anything – had deviated that bullet's fatal trajectory? What if millions of voters didn't lose their hopes in a pool of blood on the pantry floor of a Los Angeles hotel? What if Bobby survived his wounds and finished his journey?

 

As we approach the 50 anniversary of RFK's death later this June, these thoughts remind us, ever so painfully, of the poet's lament: "For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these – It might have been."

 

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The 1968 Presidential Campaign 50 Years Ago Today: Eugene McCarthy's New Hampshire Earthquake

1968 Eugene McCarthy for President campaign button (from the collection of James Rogan)

[Excerpted from James Rogan's new book, On to Chicago: Rediscovering Robert F. Kennedy and the Lost Campaign of 1968]

 

 

Ralph Pill left a filthy mess when he vacated the old three-story red brick building that formerly housed his electrical supply company in Concord, New Hampshire. In early January 1968, two anti-Vietnam War activists rented it for $100 a month. They entered to find rats, rubbish piles, wooden boards covering floor holes, exposed plumbing pipes and bare lightbulbs hanging from ceiling cords. They began by sweeping up the trash. Six weeks later, with their purpose completed, they had helped topple a president of the United States, and also set in motion the founding of the Democratic Party's modern progressive movement.

 

And it all happened 50 years ago today.

 

On Nov. 30, 1967, an almost-unknown U.S. senator with no funding or organizational base, Eugene McCarthy, announced he would challenge incumbent President Lyndon B. Johnson for the 1968 Democratic Party nomination. McCarthy chose New Hampshire, the first-in-the-nation primary, as the place where he would make his opening stand against LBJ. The quirky senator who preferred writing poetry to the grubby world of politics seemed an unlikely giant killer. Johnson held a monopoly on New Hampshire Democratic Party endorsements, including the governor, the U.S. senator and every noteworthy official. Aside from some low-level peacenik officeholders, McCarthy at first had little more than a small coterie of volunteers backing his antiwar endeavor, but the challenger soon caught a couple of unexpected breaks.

 

The first opening came on Jan. 31, when communist North Vietnam violated an agreed-upon cease-fire with U.S.-backed South Vietnam on "Tet," the Vietnamese new year. Seventy thousand Northern communists and their Vietcong allies launched surprise attacks against the U.S. Embassy in Saigon and over 100 South Vietnamese cities. Although U.S. and South Vietnamese troops repelled the attackers with relative ease, it took over a month to drive back the enemy. Despite this victory, the three major U.S. networks highlighted the brutal fighting on their evening news broadcasts each night, which caused a major slide in continued public support for U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

 

Before Tet, a majority of Americans approved of Johnson's war policies. Two weeks after Tet, Gallup reported that 50 percent disapproved. When LBJ suggested that the Pentagon might draft an additional 200,000 young men to supplement the 500,000 U.S. troops already stationed in combat zones, draft-age college students responded. First a handful, and then dozens, and then hundreds, and finally thousands of them made their way to the Granite State. They cut their long hair, donned conservative clothing, and blanketed every New Hampshire precinct on McCarthy's behalf. The nationwide mobilization of students for liberal causes began with this 1968 McCarthy phenomenon – dubbed by the press back then as "The Children's Crusade."


McCarthy's second break came courtesy of New Hampshire Gov. John W. King, a staunch LBJ supporter.

 

From the man who led the effort to oust Bill Clinton from office, Rep. James Rogan's "Catching Our Flag: Behind the Scenes of a Presidential Impeachment"

 

Once Johnson's main potential competitor for the nomination, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, announced he would not challenge LBJ for re-election (Kennedy told friends privately that Johnson was unbeatable), Johnson did not bother filing for the New Hampshire primary ballot. After McCarthy jumped into the race at the last minute, Johnson decided that filing would give the challenger credibility, so he again passed.

 

With LBJ not participating, the state's leading Democrat, Gov. King, resented that press attention focused on the Republican primary between Richard Nixon and George Romney. To bring some excitement to the Democrats' ledger, he initiated a formal write-in campaign for Johnson. King ordered printed tens of thousands of pledge cards, and he distributed them to every government employee and registered Democrat in the state. The three-part, serially numbered perforated cards, captioned, "N.H. Democrats are 90,000 Strong," were designed for the voter to sign an LBJ write-in pledge with their personal identifying information included. The card indicated that state party officials would collect and record the pledges, and then forward the data to the Johnson White House.

 

The pledge cards angered and offended thousands of recipients. Because the cards bore a serial number, many thought these were the actual primary ballots – violating the secrecy of their choice. Voters also resented providing their names and addresses on pledge cards going to state and national party officials who could track and (presumably) punish those balking. King aggravated these suspicions when he told the press the reason for the pledge cards: "Now is the time for Democrats to stand up and be counted – or be counted out."

 
The McCarthy campaign pounced. They nailed up posters around the state with a picture of the pledge card and the slogan "Whatever Happened to the Secret Ballot?" McCarthy said LBJ was using the pledge cards on voters the same way he used branding irons on his Texas cattle. He urged voters to reject this intimidation tactic and to show their independent spirit, reminding them that they need not pledge anything to his campaign. By primary day, thousands of those pledge cards had been returned to McCarthy's Concord campaign office – with Johnson's name scratched out and McCarthy's name written in.

 

And so, 50 years ago today, March 12, 1968, New Hampshire voted. The nonconformist senator expected to draw no more than 10 or 15 percent came within 200 votes of outpolling Johnson statewide. This sent shockwaves across the political establishment. With LBJ showing unexpected vulnerability, Robert Kennedy jumped into the race a few days later. McCarthy's furious supporters viewed Kennedy's last-minute entry as ruthless opportunism that threatened to split the peace vote – after they had done the heavy lifting against Johnson. They dubbed him "Bobby Come Lately," and their bitterness toward him lasted throughout the remaining state contests.

 

In the weeks following New Hampshire came Johnson's eventual withdrawal from the race, the entry of Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Kennedy's assassination, the bloody riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and the fall campaign against Republican Richard Nixon and third-party candidate George Wallace. The long road that lay ahead all started in an abandoned, $100-a-month warehouse, which became Eugene McCarthy's campaign headquarters for the New Hampshire primary.

 

And so, if you ever stroll through downtown Concord, New Hampshire, pause for a moment at the old red brick building that still stands on the northeast corner of Main Street at 3 Pleasant Street Extension. It will probably be abandoned – just as it was 50 years ago when the McCarthy campaign assembled a political atom bomb within its walls. Be respectful as you walk by …

 

History was made there.

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Singer Vic Damone (1928-2018)

Comedian Bob Newhart, James Rogan, and singer Vic Damone, 1995

When a reporter once asked Frank Sinatra who was the best male vocalist of that day, the Chairman of the Board didn't hesitate when he answered: he said the singer with "the best pipes in the business" was Vic Damone.

 

Long ago, when I attended a charity event with Vic and another legend, comedian Bob Newhart, Vic proved Sinatra was on to something. He was an amazing and beloved entertainer whose career covered seven decades

 

When Vic died this weekend at the age of 89, we lost one of the few remaining stars from the golden age of the Great American Songbook.

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The 1968 Presidential Campaign 50 Years Ago Today: Former Alabama Governor George Wallace

Photograph signed by former Alabama Governor George Wallace for James Rogan, 1971

 

[Excerpted from James Rogan's new book, On to Chicago: Rediscovering Robert F. Kennedy and the Lost Campaign of 1968]

 

 

"Hitler go home!"

 

The heckler in the audience screamed out the insult to the presidential candidate standing on the rally stage below. Cohorts who also came to disrupt the event cheered, and then they booed loudly at the candidate's reaction to it. Instead of appearing agitated, he smirked at the catcaller and replied, "Somebody needs to show that child where the little boys' room is!" That set the galleries afire – now the hostile mob screamed obscenities while the candidate's just-as-passionate supporters, albeit a substantial audience minority, tried to drown them out with cheers and chants of "USA! USA!"

 

Signaling to the troublemakers, the candidate roared into the microphones, "These young punks are the ones that decent people are sick and tired of. These little Nazis talk about free speech but won't allow it to others." More jeers and applause as he drove home his point: "You can't really blame these kids. This is what their professors are teaching them. So let me tell all you college professors something – you'd better get your protesting done right now, because when I become president, I'm going to ask my attorney general to indict every one of you who supports publicly a military victory over American troops fighting overseas. That's not dissent. That's not free speech. That's treason – and we're seeing the fruits of that treason at this college here today." (The quotations are adapted from actual speech remarks made by the candidate at various campaign rallies.)

 

If this sounds like a Donald Trump campaign rally, your guess is 50 years off. Long before President Trump began throwing rhetorical gasoline on the political fires burning around him, there was former Alabama Gov. George Wallace.

 
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, repeated violent police confrontations with peaceful black civil rights marchers in the South shocked white Americans, who responded to those outrages by supporting President Lyndon Johnson and his "Great Society." After winning his landslide 1964 election, Johnson and a Democratic Congress committed billions of dollars to welfare and social programs to help the poor and minorities work their way out of poverty. However, starting with the Watts riots of 1965, increasing militancy among newly rising black leaders gained heightened press coverage. Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown and Huey Newton (among others) became household names. They rejected Martin Luther King's calls for peaceful civil disobedience; some preached armed resistance and revolution.

 

Over the next three tense years, the evening news broadcasts showed riots, looting and arson in over 100 major cities. These haunting images from black neighborhoods ablaze left many whites believing that mobs of "ghetto radicals" wanted to burn down America. By 1968, an increasing number of these previously sympathetic white voters grew both scared and angry. Just as state-sanctioned abuses against earlier nonviolent civil rights marchers shocked them into demanding an end to segregation, this ongoing wave of violence stirred them once again, but in another direction. Polls showed that they responded to presidential candidates promising to restore law and order.

 

Many of them responded to George Wallace.

 

From the man who led the effort to oust Bill Clinton from office, Rep. James Rogan's "Catching Our Flag: Behind the Scenes of a Presidential Impeachment"

 

The short, wiry farm boy from Clio, Alabama, grew up so poor that the first home he shared with his new bride was a converted chicken coop. After working his way through college and law school, he entered the Army and saw combat in World War II. Upon returning home he became a prosecutor, a state legislator and a circuit court judge. During an unsuccessful run for governor in 1958, Wallace's comparatively moderate views earned him the endorsement of the NAACP, while the Ku Klux Klan supported his opponent.

 

Four years later, with federal court decisions ordering desegregation in the Deep South, Wallace ran again and challenged the U.S. Supreme Court's legal right to force its unelected will upon the states. Winning 96 percent of the vote (no Republican filed against him), he became the national symbol of Southern defiance by proclaiming in his 1963 inaugural address, "I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever." Wallace went on to make his point defiantly: When Attorney General Robert Kennedy's Justice Department sought to integrate the University of Alabama with federal troops, Wallace stood in front of the college's door and confronted Kennedy's deputy as cameras recorded the temporary standoff.

 

Wanting to test his populist message outside the South, in 1964 Wallace entered three Democratic presidential primaries. Hammering away on states' rights, a strong national defense, and law and order to combat violent racial and campus protests, he showed surprising strength with primary voters in Indiana, Wisconsin and Maryland. Those states gave him 34 percent, 30 percent and 43 percent, respectively. With his ideas now resonating beyond Dixie, he set his sights on the 1968 presidential election.

 

And so, 50 years ago today, Feb. 8, 1968, George Wallace announced he would seek the White House as a third-party candidate leading his newly formed American Independent Party. Wallace's was the first third-party presidential campaign to qualify for the ballot in all 50 states. The specter of him on every state ballot terrified both the Republican and Democratic Party establishments. The GOP feared Wallace would siphon votes from conservative Southerners, while Democrats feared a hemorrhage of their union and blue-collar voters from every region.

 

By 1968 Wallace had long since jettisoned his earlier segregationist message and instead focused on the populist themes he had used in 1964, adding to them a call for a complete military victory for U.S. troops fighting in Vietnam. "When I'm president," he declared, "you good people will be able to walk any street in Washington, D.C., safely, even if I have to keep 30,000 troops standing on those streets two feet apart with two-foot-long bayonets. And I'll throw in jail every rioter and every treasonous college professor supporting our enemies in Vietnam. The day for these anarchists, revolutionaries and communists is coming to an end."

 
How did his message resonate with a national audience? In October 1967, polls showed him with 10 percent of the vote. By the summer of 1968 he hit 16 percent, and pollster George Gallup reported, "If the presidential election were being held today, the strong possibility exists that… George Wallace would deny either major party candidate the electoral votes needed to win." It grew worse for the establishment: By the end of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in late August, a new poll reported that a surging Wallace ran only 7 points behind Democratic presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey – with the gap closing.

 

George Wallace never reached the White House, but he denied it to Humphrey, a diehard liberal and a recent Vietnam peace convert. On Election Day, Wallace racked up 10 million popular votes and 46 electoral votes. He put five states in his American Independent Party's column, and the electoral map that he divided put Richard Nixon (a moderate-conservative and a Vietnam War hawk) in the White House.

The 1968 Presidential Campaign 50 Years Ago Today: Richard Nixon Enters the Race

Former President Richard Nixon with James Rogan, 1992

[Excerpted from James Rogan's new book, On to Chicago: Rediscovering Robert F. Kennedy and the Lost Campaign of 1968]

 

 

People exiting their cars in the parking lot of the Manchester, New Hampshire, Holiday Inn that snowy night felt the biting cold as they hurried inside. That was true of the five unobtrusive men who entered the motel through a side door. Four of them were young – late 20s and early 30s. The fifth man, in his mid-50s, held the block of room reservations under the name given the desk clerk: Benjamin Chapman. After finding their rooms, the younger men went down to the bar for drinks while the older man remained upstairs to polish his speech for tomorrow's event.

 

In that speech, delivered 50 years ago today, Feb. 1, 1968, Richard Nixon (traveling incognito as "Benjamin Chapman" the night before) began his long climb out of dual electoral defeats by announcing his candidacy for the presidency of the United States. What his longtime aide Pat Buchanan later called "the greatest comeback" had begun.


First elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1946, Congressman Nixon gained national fame for doggedly exposing Alger Hiss as a Soviet agent. Hiss, a high-ranking State Department official in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, later went to prison. The liberal establishment who defended Hiss never forgave Nixon for bringing down one of their favorites, despite Soviet archival evidence proving decades later that Hiss was a traitor. Capitalizing on this notoriety, Nixon won election to the U.S. Senate in 1950. Two years later, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower tapped him (at age 39) as his running mate. After serving eight years as Ike's vice president, he won the 1960 Republican presidential nomination and squared off against John F. Kennedy, who claimed victory that November in one of America's closest White House races. Evidence of massive voter fraud in Illinois and Texas left the legitimacy of Kennedy's win in doubt – then and now. In a remarkably unselfish display of sacrifice for the sake of national unity, and one for which the media and historians almost never give him credit, Nixon refused to contest the results. Two years later Nixon ran unsuccessfully for California governor. In a concession speech legendary for its bitter tone, Nixon announced that he was through with politics.

 

Leaving California for New York, Nixon practiced law, wrote articles, gave speeches and eased back into political life. In 1964, when many Republican leaders avoided campaigning with GOP presidential nominee Barry Goldwater, Nixon stumped the country for the ticket, covering 36 states and making more than 150 appearances. Two years later, during the 1966 midterm elections, he became the party's most peripatetic campaigner, traveling 127,000 miles, visiting 40 states and delivering over 400 speeches for GOP candidates and causes. Republicans won stunning gains that November, picking up 47 House seats, three U.S. Senate seats, eight governorships and 557 state legislative seats. Around the country, countless winning and losing candidates credited Nixon for helping them in 1964 and 1966, and from this large pool would come delegates to the 1968 Republican National Convention.

 

As the next presidential election year approached, Nixon's popularity soared within the party establishment and with its rank-and-file members. However, these same leaders also worried about Nixon making another White House run. He had not won an election in his own right since 1950, and after suffering defeat in two back-to-back major races, they feared he couldn't go the distance in 1968. For his part, Nixon understood that a successful return to the arena required that he shed this "loser" image.

 

These days, when presidential candidates mobilize their White House efforts four or more years in advance, it seems almost inconceivable that a leading presidential candidate would take a six-month moratorium from all political activity in the year leading up to the campaign. It is equally unimaginable that the same aspirant would wait until six weeks before the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary before declaring his candidacy. In a doubly risky move, Nixon did both.

 

With this self-imposed moratorium, Nixon ceded the national stage intentionally to the then-front-runner for the nomination, Michigan Gov. George Romney. A moderate Republican, Romney enjoyed the backing of New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and was a proven vote-getter with minority and blue-collar Democrats. Running as a Republican in one of the nation's most heavily Democratic states, Romney won three terms as governor and rolled up increasing majorities each time. Romney showed such broad support that President Kennedy confided to a friend shortly before his assassination that the only Republican he didn't want to face in his anticipated 1964 re-election race was Romney.

 

By giving Romney the stage, Nixon wagered that Romney would prove himself unready for the Oval Office. The gamble paid off. When Romney's campaign imploded after a string of candidate gaffes, Nixon claimed victory in New Hampshire, beginning his long climb out of the slump.

 

During the next six months, from his candidacy announcement to the Republican National Convention in August, Nixon ran the gauntlet of the other major contenders for the nomination. After dispatching Romney, he took on Rockefeller, the formidable two-term Republican governor of New York. Later still, on the eve of the convention, a new conservative rock star, California Gov. Ronald Reagan, threw his hat into the ring. During the convention, with neither Rockefeller nor Reagan securing enough votes to win outright, the former vice president faced a fourth challenge: a combined Rockefeller-Reagan "Stop Nixon" effort that sought to peel off enough moderate and conservative Nixon delegates to block his first-ballot victory. If that happened it would revive the "loser" mantra and precipitate a rush of Nixon delegates to either camp, leaving Rockefeller and Reagan as the last two men standing to battle for the nomination and, ultimately, for control of the Republican Party.

 

All these hurdles loomed as Nixon stepped before the microphones at the Holiday Inn that day. Beyond New Hampshire lay more primaries, the convention and a general election faceoff against the Democratic presidential nominee and a populist third-party candidate. Ahead of victory awaited the Vietnam War, a faltering economy, campus riots and urban unrest, Supreme Court vacancies, major diplomatic coups, a stunning re-election victory in 1972 and an even more stunning collapse of his presidency from the Watergate scandal. Further still, beyond the ashes of defeat and humiliation, lay regeneration, reformation and, in the end, the earned mantle of elder statesman.

 

The fuse igniting that incredible journey was lit in a motel room 50 years ago today. On its anniversary, we remember Richard Nixon, a man wholly gifted, wholly flawed, wholly undaunted – wholly American.

 

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The 1968 Presidential Campaign 50 Years Ago Today: Tet--The Domino for Freedom Falls

1968 protest badge (from the collection of James Rogan)

[Excerpted from James Rogan's new book, On to Chicago: Rediscovering Robert F. Kennedy and the Lost Campaign of 1968]

 

 

On Jan. 31, 1968 – 50 years ago today – in a jungle country 9,000 miles from Washington, a horde of communist soldiers and sympathetic guerrilla fighters launched a massive attack against a nascent democratic republic across their southern border. The democratic forces and their allies repelled the invaders easily and crushed the assault. However, that raid became the first falling domino that led to the destruction of an American presidency, the murder of a leading presidential candidate, over a decade of politicians degrading the U.S. military and a permanent reconfiguration of America.

 

Modern historians refer to that failed attack as the "Tet Offensive," and they often cite its aftermath as America's only lost war – Vietnam. We will return to that latter claim momentarily.

 

The vast majority of Americans living today were not yet born when the Vietnam War ended, yet thanks to what they have been taught in school, most believe it was a "bad" war – but they don't know why. Explain to them that the U.S. went into Vietnam to blunt Soviet and Red Chinese communist domination of Southeast Asia, and they blink in confusion. The Soviet Union? That totalitarian empire crumbled when they were in diapers. "Red" China? Is that like today's "red state-blue state" political distinction? Don't bother trying to explain the "Domino Theory" to a generation that never played Dominoes – or any other game not accessible on a video screen. To the "bad war" crowd, Vietnam was just bad – period – and everyone knows it. What's your next question?

 

Summarizing the origins and legacy of the Vietnam War in a few paragraphs is an exercise in farce, but for those opinionated latecomers, a brief explanation of why America fought there might help lift the fog.

 

After a century of occupation by various countries, in the post-World War II years a peace agreement divided Vietnam into two states – the communist North and the democratic South. Later, the North attacked the South to force a reunification under Stalinist domination. The Soviet Union and Red China (so called in those days to distinguish it from the non-communist Republic of China, which relocated to Taiwan during China's civil war in 1949) supported their fellow communists in the North. Since South Vietnam was ill-equipped to defend itself against this troika, the U.S. faced two choices: let them fall to the communists and risk the spread of totalitarianism in the region, or step in and help.

 

We chose to help.

 

President Eisenhower sent advisers; President Kennedy sent military personnel disguised as more advisers. Formal combat operations began in 1964 under President Lyndon B. Johnson after communist guerillas reportedly fired on two U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin. Congress approved a resolution authorizing the president to respond militarily to such aggression, but over the next four years, Johnson treated the Gulf of Tonkin resolution as a de facto declaration of war. From 1965 until the end of his presidency in January 1969, Johnson ordered his generals to attack, but not obliterate, the North and their Vietcong guerrilla allies. Johnson's policy was not to defeat the communists, but rather to coerce them into signing a peace treaty. Johnson feared an all-out attack on the North might bring Red China into the war directly and precipitate a nuclear  confrontation.

 

From the man who led the effort to oust Bill Clinton from office, Rep. James Rogan's "Catching Our Flag: Behind the Scenes of a Presidential Impeachment"

 

LBJ's vice president, Hubert Humphrey, later recalled the night in 1966 when Johnson told neutralist Burmese President Ne Win that he was doing everything he could for peace, and then he asked Ne Win why that goal eluded him. Ne Win replied, "What you are doing wrong is asking for peace. The North Vietnamese view that as a sign of weakness." Johnson insisted that, as president, he must do everything possible for peace. Ne Win told LBJ, "The North Vietnamese do not hear your peace overtures as an honest, legitimate desire for peace, but as weakness. You must make them believe there will be no peace until they are defeated. When they understand you are going to destroy them, then there will be peace."

 

Johnson shook his head glumly. "I can't do that," he replied, thus dooming any prospect for military success during his tenure.

 

Despite its increasing cost in American lives and tax dollars, throughout most of his presidency Johnson's Vietnam policies enjoyed bipartisan congressional and public support. In 1966, when Sen. Morse offered an amendment to repeal the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, the Democrat-controlled Senate defeated his proposal 92-5. Even as late as 1967, with Johnson escalating militarily, antiwar congressional forces mustered a meager five votes in the Senate to end American involvement. In 1968, one from their ranks, Sen. Eugene McCarthy, challenged Johnson for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, promising to end all U.S. military action in Vietnam if elected. When the unknown senator announced his candidacy, Johnson enjoyed a 50 percent favorable rating in the polls, McCarthy's name identification registered a blip, and Americans overwhelmingly favored the administration's Vietnam policies. Most political analysts expected Johnson to coast to an easy re-election victory in 1968.

 

Then came the Tet Offensive.

 
In late January 1968, North and South Vietnam agreed to a cease-fire so both sides could celebrate "Tet," the Vietnamese new year. On Jan. 31, the day of the agreed truce, Northern communist troops and Vietcong guerrillas launched a massive sneak attack on over 100 South Vietnamese cities. They succeeded in blasting their way into the U.S. Embassy compound in Saigon. Although the Tet assault took U.S. and South Vietnamese forces by surprise, they repelled it in a few weeks with relative ease and inflicted heavy enemy casualties on the North.

 

Before Tet, Johnson and his generals had been assuring Americans for a year that we were on the verge of victory and peace in Vietnam, and most believed the claim. Once the Tet assault began, and for the several weeks that it lasted, the U.S. network news broadcasts aired nightly footage of heavy enemy fire on U.S. and South Vietnamese forces. Americans watching this on television were shocked that our "defeated" enemy could launch such widespread attacks – even hitting our embassy. These images produced a rapid public backlash against the war. Although U.S. and South Vietnamese troops defeated the communists militarily, the reds inflicted a psychological wound on the American voter. Public opinion shifted, and many people adopted what a small minority of antiwar activists had been preaching for years: LBJ and the Pentagon were lying about our military prospects in Southeast Asia.

 

Next, LBJ magnified this simmering public displeasure by suggesting he might need to call up 200,000 more U.S. troops for Vietnam – on top of the 500,000 already there. Once high school seniors and college students learned that a quarter million new induction notices might issue, they hitchhiked or took Greyhound buses by the thousands to New Hampshire to help McCarthy battle Johnson in that state's presidential primary.

 

Six weeks after Tet, on the day of the first-in-the-nation primary, McCarthy came within 200 votes of outpolling Johnson in perhaps the most pro-Vietnam War state in America. LBJ's now-exposed vulnerability proved too irresistible: Sen. Robert Kennedy, who had refused repeatedly to challenge Johnson for the nomination, jumped into the race and offered himself as an alternative peace candidate to McCarthy.

 

With fresh polls showing another likely humiliation in the upcoming Wisconsin primary only two weeks later, Johnson stunned America and announced he would not seek re-election. The man who wanted to be remembered for his Great Society social programs and public works spending frenzy saw his presidency run aground on the shoals of Vietnam.

 

Vice President Humphrey joined McCarthy and Kennedy in the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination. Two months after LBJ withdrew, and while campaigning in California, Kennedy was assassinated. Humphrey beat McCarthy for the nomination at the Chicago Democratic Convention, and then he went on to lose the November election narrowly to Richard Nixon.

 

Over the next four years, President Nixon succeeded in turning over more of the responsibility for the war to South Vietnam. He began a steady drawdown of American forces overseas while maintaining strategic and aggressive U.S. bombing campaigns against the communists. Nixon's "Vietnamization" policies finally brought the North to heel, and the communists signed a peace treaty with the United States and South Vietnam in early 1973. Soon after Nixon brought peace, however, his presidency began unraveling from Watergate. With Nixon's and America's attention diverted by this domestic specter, and showing as much fidelity to their 1973 peace treaty as they showed to their 1968 Tet cease-fire, the North Vietnamese quietly rebuilt their military during this interlude and prepared for another invasion.

 

In 1974 Nixon resigned and Vice President Gerald Ford succeeded him. During the Ford administration the Democrat-controlled Congress set in motion an end to South Vietnamese military aid. By 1975, with no further likelihood of U.S. retaliation facing them, the heavily fortified and re-armed communists once again overran their neighbor. The Democratic Republic of South Vietnam collapsed and the communists took control of the nation.


Are the historians correct when they cite Vietnam as America's first defeat in war?

 

No.

 

America didn't lose the Vietnam War. America ended the war with South Vietnam relatively secure from communist aggression, and then withdrew from the battlefield after Nixon brought peace. When communist aggression again arose, and the South looked to her ally to honor their prior commitment of help, the overwhelming post-Watergate Democratic congressional majority followed through on a campaign promise to end U.S. involvement there.

 

In Vietnam, America did suffer a defeat, but it was not a defeat inflicted by superior military might. It was the psychological defeat of our will to win. But for an indecisive president who squandered countless opportunities for victory in the name of limited warfare, and then later a war-weary Congress with the political muscle to overrun an unelected president, it might have been otherwise.

 

The seed of that defeat was sown 50 years ago today, and on this black anniversary of the Tet Offensive we remember the 58,200 Americans who died in the jungles of Vietnam, the 300,000 Americans wounded there, the 1,600 Americans still missing in action, and the nearly 2 million South Vietnamese casualties killed or wounded in the battle for a worthy cause – living free.

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Twenty Years Ago Today: The Clinton Scandal That Led to a Presidential Impeachment, and Why the Monica Lewinsky Saga Mattered

[Excerpted from James Rogan's book, Catching Our Flag: Behind the Scenes of a Presidential Impeachment]


Twenty years ago today, Jan. 21, 1998, I was a freshman congressman sitting at my kitchen table pouring a cup of coffee and preparing to leave for the airport. An article on the front page of the Washington Post caught my eye: "Clinton Accused of Urging Aide to Lie." It wasn't until I got to the bottom of the lead paragraph that I learned the supposed lie involved a White House intern named Monica Lewinsky with whom the president might have had an affair.


I shrugged off the revelation. During Clinton's presidential campaign, cabaret singer Gennifer Flowers disclosed her 12-year affair with him. After he denied it vehemently, she produced audiotapes of their phone conversations confirming the relationship. In later years other women came forward with claims against him ranging from adulterous liaisons to sexual assault. These stories were a small part of the Clinton scandal mosaic that disrupted his administration almost from his first day in office: Whitewater, cattle futures and the unending "gates" – Chinagate, Travelgate, Filegate, Pardongate, Troopergate, Donorgate, Hubbellgate and so forth.

 

"No big deal," I thought when I read of this new allegation. If America didn't care about Clinton's private life before they twice elected him president, why would one more girlfriend matter? Thinking this story rated no special notice, I finished my coffee and headed out the door without bothering to read the article.

 

I was wrong. Over the next year, as the layers peeled back slowly from this newest indignity, it did rate – and its significance changed more than a presidency. It changed our culture.


Why did Clinton's affair with an intern mutate into a constitutional confrontation?

 

Early in Clinton's presidency, several of his former state trooper bodyguards revealed that he used them to procure women when he was Arkansas' governor. After a trooper outed Paula Jones as one of these women, she filed a lawsuit against Clinton. Jones, a low-level Arkansas state clerk, was at Little Rock's Excelsior Hotel during one of Gov. Clinton's appearances there. A member of his security detail approached and told her that the governor wanted to see her privately. The bodyguard escorted her to Clinton's hotel suite, where she claimed that Clinton touched her and tried to kiss her, and then he propositioned her while exposing himself. When Jones rebuffed his advances he reminded her that her employer was his buddy, and then he added, "You're smart. Let's keep this between ourselves." In May 1994, when Jones went public and filed her lawsuit, and as Clinton issued a stern denial, his political operatives hit the airwaves and depicted her as lying trailer park trash.

 

A year after Jones filed her claim, Clinton's White House chief of staff hired 21-year-old Monica Lewinsky as an intern. Five months later, after Clinton espied her, they began a two-year sexual relationship. During this time Lewinsky transferred to the Pentagon where a coworker, Linda Tripp, befriended her. As the two women grew closer, Lewinsky shared with Tripp the intimate details of her continuing extracurricular romps with Clinton.

 

Meanwhile, on the Jones front, Clinton fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to keep the case from proceeding. When the Court ruled against Clinton, he knew that his sexual behavior would be subjected to heightened scrutiny, so he dumped Lewinsky. Lewinsky bemoaned to Tripp that Clinton had jilted her, and she continued sharing details of her relationship with the president, unaware that Tripp was now taping their conversations.

 

While preparing for trial, Jones' lawyers learned about Lewinsky through Tripp. This improved Jones' chances substantially: Before this discovery, their case revolved around the uncorroborated word of a nobody against that of the president of the United States. The Lewinsky factor gave Jones evidentiary corroboration of Clinton chumming for sexual favors with female subordinate employees. Jones' lawyers subpoenaed Lewinsky as well as all gifts exchanged between her and Clinton.

 

Undermining a court order to turn over those gifts, Clinton directed his White House secretary, Betty Currie, to go to Lewinsky's home and collect them. Currie drove to her home, fetched the gifts and then hid them under her own bed. Currie then called Vernon Jordan, a well-connected lawyer and Clinton intimate, and relayed that Clinton wanted him to find Lewinsky an out-of-town job. Jordan landed the inexperienced intern a well-paying position in New York with a corporation upon whose board of directors he sat.

 

Lewinsky discussed her upcoming testimony in the Jones case at least twice with Clinton. He coached her to lie when answering questions under oath. With Clinton's direct guidance, on Jan. 5, 1998, Lewinsky testified in the Jones case and declared under penalty of perjury that she never had a sexual relationship with him.

 

One week later Linda Tripp turned over to law enforcement the tapes she made of her conversations with Lewinsky, which revealed not only detailed accounts of the affair, but also how both Clinton and Vernon Jordan told her to lie under oath about it. On Jan. 16, Clinton's own attorney general ordered investigators assigned under the direction of former federal Judge Kenneth W. Starr to determine if Clinton used Lewinsky to suborn perjury and obstruct justice in the Jones lawsuit. Judge Starr's investigators intercepted and questioned Lewinsky, and then gave her immunity from perjury prosecution in exchange for her cooperation.

 

Clinton remained unaware that his Lewinsky scheme was now undone, so he went ahead with his plan to lie about their relationship during his own deposition testimony in the Jones case. Clinton understood that losing to Jones exposed him to more than personal and political humiliation – he might have to pay her millions of dollars in damages and legal fees out of his own pocket. Still, a financial hit was not his biggest risk. Public denials, if later proven untrue, might cost him popular support. If he lied under oath during his deposition testimony, he faced impeachment, felony criminal charges and potential imprisonment. Nobody had to explain this to the Yale-trained lawyer, constitutional law professor, former state attorney general and governor, and as president the only federal official charged by the U.S. Constitution to "take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed."

 

The table stakes for Clinton were high, but with Lewinsky's under-oath denial already on record, with Vernon Jordan having shuffled her out of town safely, and unaware that Linda Tripp had turned over the damning tapes, Clinton assumed he held the winning hand.

 

On Jan. 17, 1998, after taking an oath to tell the truth, Clinton pushed in all of his chips and called the dealer when he testified in the Jones case:

 

Q. Did you have an extramarital sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky?

 

A. No.

 

Q. If she told someone that she had a sexual affair with you beginning in November of 1995, would that be a lie?

 

A. It's certainly not the truth. It would not be the truth.

 

Q. I think I used the term "sexual affair." And so the record is completely clear, have you ever had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky?

 

A. I have never had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. I've never had an affair with her. …

 

Q. At any time were you and Monica Lewinsky alone together in the Oval Office?

 

A. I don't recall. … It seems to me she brought things to me once or twice on the weekends. In that case, whatever time she would be there, [she'd] drop it off, exchange a few words and go.

 

Q. So your testimony is that it was possible that you were alone with her, but you have no specific recollection of that ever happening?

 

A. Yes, that is correct. It's possible that while she was working there, she brought something to me and that at the time she was the only person there. That's possible. …

 

Q. Have you ever met with Monica Lewinsky in the White House between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m.?

 

A. I certainly don't think so. Now, let me just say, when she was working there, there may have been a time when we were all working late. On any given night, when the Congress is in session, there are always several people around until late in the night, but I don't have any memory of that. I just can't say that there could have been a time when that occurred. I don't remember it.

 

Q. Certainly if it happened, nothing remarkable would have occurred?

 

A. No, nothing remarkable. I don't remember it. …

 

Clinton's cluelessness about his now-compromised Lewinsky perjury strategy was short-lived. On Jan. 19, after Newsweek magazine spiked their investigative reporter Michael Isikoff's story about the Clinton-Lewinsky relationship (Tripp had tipped off Isikoff previously), internet news maverick Matt Drudge broke it first. His scoop received almost no mainstream media attention for two days. Then, on Jan. 21, the story exploded across America's front pages.

 

The White House revved into uber-damage control mode. Clinton gave multiple interviews over the next few days in which he denied flatly any sexual relationship with Lewinsky. First lady Hillary Clinton rushed before television cameras and branded the Lewinsky story a lie concocted by a "vast right-wing conspiracy." In a now-iconic video clip, the president wagged his finger at America and intoned solemnly, "I want to say one thing to the American people. I want you to listen to me. I'm going to say this again. I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time – never. These allegations are false. And I need to go back to work for the American people."

 

While the president and first lady worked the media, their political hatchet men planted stories with friendly reporters that Lewinsky had a White House reputation as an imbalanced stalker who kept throwing herself at the beleaguered president. As New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd later wrote, "Even some veteran Clinton henchmen felt a little nauseated about the debate inside the White House on a slander strategy for Lewinsky: Should they paint her as a friendly fantasist or a malicious stalker?" Incidentally, the ability to shred Lewinsky as a nut-job ended abruptly once Clinton learned that investigators possessed her blue dress stained by his telltale DNA.

 

Clinton's operation of lies and press manipulation worked: Americans believed their president. His poll numbers at first held steady, and then increased to a whopping 67 percent approval rating, allowing much-relieved congressional Democrats to defend him not just through the yearlong scandal and his later impeachment trial, but through the remainder of his term of office – and for years thereafter.


Did the Lewinsky story matter?

 

Was it, as congressional Democrats and the mainstream media sang in unison back then, "just about sex," and "a private indiscretion" that shouldn't count because, after all, "everybody lies about sex"? Or did it have a greater meaning?

 

It had a greater meaning. It wasn't about sex – it was about the rule of law.

 

By late 1998, Judge Starr's meticulous investigation proved beyond a doubt that Clinton committed serial acts of perjury, subornation of perjury and obstruction of justice to crush Paula Jones and her federal civil rights action against him – and most people yawned as they ignored the evidence. Clinton completed his term of office with a high approval rating he still enjoys today. Those people also didn't care (or care to know) that he avoided a post-presidency felony indictment for his criminal behavior by signing a plea bargain with prosecutors on his last day in office. In exchange for admitting that he lied under oath in the Jones case, surrendering his United States Supreme Court and Arkansas Supreme Court law licenses to avoid disbarment, paying the Arkansas court a $25,000 fine and agreeing to a five-year suspension of his state court law license, federal prosecutors agreed not to indict him. Earlier, Clinton also paid Paula Jones $850,000 to settle her lawsuit – without conceding her allegations.

 

Today, 20 years after sipping coffee while skimming that Washington Post article, I still wonder why people back then didn't care, but this confusion is not directed to my former congressional colleagues. Their behavior was predicated on indulging the polls, protecting Clinton's presidency and warding off collateral political damage caused by impeachment's overwhelming unpopularity.

 

No, my question isn't to them. It is to the 67 percent of you who, 20 years ago, tolerated, enabled and rewarded this repeated assault on the Constitution and the rule of law:

 

Why didn't you care?

 

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Remembering Hubert Humphrey on the 40th Anniversary of His Death

I snapped this photo of former Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey as he stepped from his car at KGO Studio, May 16, 1971. He autographed it for me later that year. 
 

In 1968, Vice President Hubert Humphrey lost the presidency to Richard Nixon in one of the closest elections in American history. Regardless of party, he was one of the most accomplished legislators and political leaders of the twentieth century. And, having met him too many times to count when I was a kid, he was one of the nicest men I have ever encountered.

 

He died 40 years ago today, January 13, 1978.

 

In my book, And Then I Met...Stories of Growing Up, Meeting Famous People, and Annoying the Hell Out of Them, I recounted my first meeting with "The Happy Warrior." This is an excerpt from that book:

 

* * *

 

In 1960s and 1970s San Francisco, newsman Jim Dunbar's AM Show on station KGO was a staple of local morning television. From 6:30 to 8:30 a.m., Dunbar hosted a live call-in program with newsmakers. While watching the station one Saturday in 1971, I heard an announcement that Senator Hubert H. Humphrey (D-MN) one of the most recognizable political titans of that generation, would appear with Dunbar the following Monday morning. I called my classmates and fellow political junkies Dan Swanson and Roger Mahan. Together we concocted a plan to cut eighth grade classes and try to meet Humphrey when he arrived at the studio.

 

Writing this story five decades later, I am mindful that with each passing year Hubert Humphrey's name registers with fewer people. That was not true when I was young. A Washington heavyweight for decades, the former pharmacist and Minneapolis mayor first won election to the U.S. Senate in 1948. He ran unsuccessfully against John F. Kennedy for the 1960 Democrat presidential nomination, but four years later President Lyndon Johnson tapped him as his running mate. As the 1968 Democrat presidential nominee, Humphrey lost the White House to Richard Nixon by a whisker. After recapturing his old Senate seat two years later, and with the 1972 presidential campaign around the corner, he itched for a rematch with the Republican president.

 

Humphrey was more than a politician to me. He was an early inspiration. As a fifth grade boy during his 1968 presidential run, I read a Life magazine profile on him. It told of his experience as a young Midwestern pharmacist making his first visit to 1930s Washington and the newfound passion for politics he found there. One night, after an exhilarating tour of the monuments, he rushed off an excited letter to his fiancée back home. After pleading with her not to laugh at him, he wrote that if he applied himself then maybe he could return one day as a congressman. She didn't laugh, they married, and along the way he helped shape almost every landmark law of his era. That magazine profile on HHH showed me that if an ordinary Midwestern druggist could accomplish such great things through politics, then maybe one day I could do the same. Once I connected those dots, I set my compass.

 

 

• • •

 

Well before daybreak that Monday morning, Dan, Roger, and I caught the trolley to downtown San Francisco. To get to KGO, we walked many long blocks down dark streets while passing hobos sleeping in doorways and winos urinating in the gutter. It was a spooky journey for three boys, but we arrived safely. A friendly studio doorman told us that if we waited by the front entrance we would encounter the senator coming into the building.

 

Whenever I saw television coverage of famous political leaders making public appearances, they always had Secret Service, police motorcycle escorts, and photographers wedged between them and their throngs of fans. Expecting this setting for Humphrey's arrival, I assumed that every distant siren signaled their approaching motorcade. I watched for him while I studied people riding in every passing car. Thankfully, I was ready when a plain sedan double-parked in front of the studio and dropped off its passenger. I raised my camera and snapped a picture of Humphrey as he stepped unescorted from the car.

 

He bounded toward us with a broad smile and a friendly greeting. While signing autographs, he showed a genuine and unhurried interest in each us. He asked our names and he wanted to know where we came from. When Dan told him that we lived and went to school in nearby Daly City, Humphrey chuckled, "Daly City—that sounds like Chicago!" [A reference to Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley.]

 

When he heard that we liked politics, he beamed with enthusiasm. While the KGO doorman tried to hurry him along, he stood on the sidewalk and spoke of his love of public service. He encouraged us to work hard in school, and he expressed the hope that we would one day join him in Washington. He wished us luck, waved goodbye, and then he headed inside the studio.

 

Here was my first political hero in the flesh—a man who almost became president—now encouraging me to keep up my interest in government. He left me so tongue-tied that I could only mumble thanks. I don't think I had a bigger thrill as a boy. Half a century later, the memory of that excitement remains undiminished.

 

• • •

 

Back at our junior high school Advanced Government class, our chutzpah in meeting Humphrey became the stuff of classroom legend. It so impressed our teacher Mr. Lasley that he ran interference with the principal to help clear our unexcused truancy.

 

• • •

 

Over the next few years, Dan, Roger, and I became regular fixtures outside KGO. Whenever newsman Jim Dunbar scheduled an interview with any national political figure, we rode the predawn trolley into town, ran the gauntlet of street derelicts, and waited outside to get autographs, take pictures, and seek advice on politics. Thanks to the studio staff, we met many notables making their way through San Francisco in the early to mid-1970s. We became so familiar to Dunbar and his crew that they sometimes let us watch his interviews from inside the control booth.

 

Each visit there proved memorable, and making these connections with famous leaders at an early age taught me an important lesson beyond autograph collecting. In sizing up so many of them personally, I developed the confidence that someday—someday—I could do this, too.

 

 

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The 1968 Presidential Campaign 50 Years Ago Today: Eugene McCarthy--Midwife of the Modern Progressive Movement--Announces His Presidential Candidacy

1968 Eugene McCarthy for President campaign button (Collection of James Rogan)

[Excerpted from James Rogan's book, On to Chicago: Rediscovering Robert F. Kennedy and the Lost Campaign of 1968]

 

A United States Senate backbencher with a reputation for quirkiness and a fervent opposition to an ongoing war sought the presidency. With no major funding, no organizational base, and almost zero name identification, he challenged the presumptive Democratic nominee who held a virtual monopoly on establishment support. Party elders and the press treated his quest as a national joke. After a long campaign, as expected, he fell short of winning the nomination. The establishment candidate who beat him went on to lose the White House to an unlikely Republican that year. However, from the ashes of the backbencher's defeat was born the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

 

Surprise: This is not a column about Bernie Sanders. It is about the real father of the modern progressives, Sen. Eugene McCarthy, and he launched this movement 50 years ago today, on Nov. 30, 1967.

 

Eugene McCarthy was Central Casting's version of how a senator or president looked. He stood over 6 feet, with silver hair swept back, and he carried himself with a regal bearing. Well-versed in classic literature and with urbane manners, he read and wrote poetry, but any highbrow comparison ended there. He grew up a farm boy in Watkins, Minnesota (population 760), playing baseball and ice hockey. After high school and college, he worked at a variety of jobs, joined a monastery briefly and later returned to his alma mater as an economics and sociology professor.

 

McCarthy's political entry was fortuitous. Because nobody else wanted the job, he accepted the local Democratic Party county chairmanship. In 1948 he won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, which was the same year his fellow Minnesotan, Minneapolis Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey, won election to the U.S. Senate.

 

In Congress, McCarthy proved himself the ultimate anti-politician. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. observed that McCarthy admired poets but he showed contempt for his colleagues. Others noted that he felt it beneath him to engage in the ritualistic glad-handing, fundraising and support-seeking of retail politics.

 

McCarthy joined Humphrey in the Senate in 1958, but the chamber's slow pace and stodgy formalities bored him. He mocked the Senate publicly, calling it, "The last primitive society left on earth," and he compared its traditions to a savage New Guinea settlement: "Both societies are obsessed with seniority, taboos, and precedent. In that regard, the Senate is like a leper colony." He tweaked senior colleagues publicly, and they reciprocated his disdain. Despite a decade of seniority, he never gained (nor wanted) admittance to the Senate's insider club. Among those who found McCarthy's shtick less than sincere was Humphrey, who later described him as "handsome, witty, teacher, poet, Irish mystic, and a clever politician – cleverer for denying it. … Gene is more vain and arrogant than his admirers want to admit[.]"


By late 1967, with bloodshed in Vietnam raging for over three years, antiwar activist Allard Lowenstein concluded that collecting signatures on "end the war" petitions at various colleges was a meaningless protest. Instead he sought to recruit an intraparty challenger to the war's root cause, President Lyndon B. Johnson, in his expected 1968 re-election bid. Lowenstein calculated that a nationwide movement might mobilize around a "peace" candidate. With no money, and working off old antiwar mailing lists, he launched his "Dump Johnson" drive. The likelihood of success was so remote that the proposition seemed absurd to all but a handful of like-minded objectors.

 

Lowenstein lobbied Sen. Robert F. Kennedy repeatedly to take on the incumbent president of his own Democratic Party. Each time RFK rebuffed him summarily, insisting that nobody could stop Johnson. Kennedy not only refused to run, but he said that if an antiwar challenger surfaced, he would probably endorse Johnson. In desperation Lowenstein went down his short list of antiwar Democratic senators and asked each to run. They laughed off the proposition for the same reason RFK gave: Johnson was unbeatable. Sen. George McGovern also refused to run, but as an afterthought he suggested that Lowenstein go and talk to McCarthy.

 

Soon thereafter, McGovern ran into McCarthy and apologized for siccing Lowenstein on him with such a wacky idea. McCarthy brushed off the apology, saying that he had talked to Lowenstein and, to McGovern's astonishment, he added casually, "I think I may do it."

 
In retrospect, McCarthy's cavalier decision to run for president fit his persona. If the road to New Hampshire – the first 1968 primary state – appeared a discouragingly lonely one for an insurgent outsider, who better to trod it than the political world's biggest loner?

 

It was at a press conference half a century ago today, and to the collective yawn of the political establishment, that McCarthy announced that he would challenge Johnson in the primaries for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination. Even in this solemn ritual he proved iconoclastic. At the end of his opening remarks, when a reporter asked why he wanted to be president, McCarthy corrected him: "I didn't say I wanted to be president. I'm willing to be president." Taken aback by that answer, another reporter asked what kind of president he thought he would make. McCarthy replied, "Oh, I'd be adequate."

 

McCarthy's campaign style drove his staff mad. He entered the race at the end of November, but he didn't bother showing up to campaign in New Hampshire until two months later – only six weeks before the crucial March 12 vote. When he finally sauntered up there, he campaigned with such indifference that reporters dismissed his effort as a joke. He canceled events arbitrarily and at the last minute. Once a huge audience gathered in an auditorium for his heavily promoted speech. On the way there McCarthy blithely told his driver to take him back to the hotel. He just didn't feel like talking politics that evening; he felt like writing poetry instead. On another occasion an aide arrived early one morning to pick up the candidate for a packed schedule. McCarthy was gone, having left instructions to cancel all of that day's events. Why? McCarthy had discovered that there was a nearby monastery, so he decided to blow off the campaign to go there and meditate all day. Then there was the time his staff set up a private meet-and-greet with local bigwigs; McCarthy arrived to find over a hundred prominent people anxious to see him. He entered the room, shook a few hands, and then he turned to an aide and said, "OK, I'm bored now." With that, he blew past everyone in the ballroom, walked over to the bar and ordered a drink, and he remained there until the room emptied. The day a wealthy donor arrived at McCarthy's campaign office to deliver a personal check for $10,000 – a monumental sum in 1968 – the candidate refused to walk down the hall to thank him. He explained to his flabbergasted manager that since the donor was giving money to a cause, and not to McCarthy personally, the donor shouldn't expect any thanks.

 

And so it went.

 
Still, there was something about McCarthy's aloofness and contempt for the political rulebook that created its own bizarre appeal. As one former colleague remembered, when Gene was "on," nobody was more articulate and elegant. And when it came to expressing his opposition to the Vietnam War, he was at his articulate and elegant best.

 

As those six weeks rolled by, McCarthy's message began resonating with college students across America, many of whom faced impending military induction notices because of Johnson's continued war escalation. First dozens, and then hundreds, and finally thousands of them rode buses or hitchhiked east. When they arrived at his headquarters they cut their long hair, put on conservative clothes, and blanketed every New Hampshire neighborhood on his behalf. The now-common nationwide mobilization of students on college campuses for liberal causes began with the McCarthy phenomenon – dubbed by the press back then as "The Children's Crusade."

 

When New Hampshire voted, the nonconformist senator came within 200 votes of outpolling Johnson statewide, which sent shockwaves across the political establishment. A few days later Robert Kennedy reversed course and jumped into the race against LBJ. His last-minute entry infuriated McCarthy's supporters who viewed RFK's earlier refusal to run as cowardly, and his sudden entry as an opportunistic and selfish act guaranteeing to split the peace vote.

 

Two weeks later, and facing more humiliation with an outright defeat by McCarthy in the upcoming Wisconsin primary, Johnson stunned the nation and announced he would not seek re-election. With LBJ bowing out, McCarthy's erstwhile friend Hubert Humphrey (now LBJ's vice president) entered the race, but he was too late to file for the remaining primary contests. Thus, the battle across the primary map was fought between the two peace candidates – McCarthy and Kennedy – and the warfare between them grew increasingly bitter right up to Kennedy's assassination the night of the California primary in early June.

 

With the almost unanimous support of the party establishment, Humphrey beat McCarthy for the nomination. Following the Democratic National Convention, McCarthy shattered both tradition and expectations by refusing to endorse Humphrey until (literally) the closing hours of the fall campaign. Humphrey lost the election to Richard Nixon and blamed his agonizingly narrow defeat on McCarthy. Humphrey believed that an early endorsement would have motivated McCarthy's tens of thousands of disillusioned young followers to turn out for the Democratic ticket. For his part, McCarthy found it hard, as a matter of intellectual integrity, to ask his legions of draft–age antiwar supporters to go out and work for the man who had been Johnson's foremost Vietnam War cheerleader for the last four years.


The 1968 primary season was McCarthy's political high-water mark. He left the Senate after declining to seek re-election in 1970. In later years, he ran for the presidency four more times: in 1972, 1976, 1988 and 1992. Unlike 1968, his later national efforts went largely (and increasingly) unnoticed. Still the rebel, in 1980 he endorsed Republican challenger Ronald Reagan over incumbent Democrat Jimmy Carter, explaining that Carter was too incompetent to remain as president. When he sought to reclaim his Minnesota Senate seat in a 1982 comeback, he received a mere 24 percent of the Democratic primary vote.

 

McCarthy retired to his home in the Virginia countryside, wrote books, gave public poetry readings, and spoke out for his various causes until declining health sidelined him. He died of complications from Parkinson's disease at age 89 on Dec. 10, 2005.

 

Today, few people below the Medicare eligibility age remember Gene McCarthy. But half a century ago, in his campaign against Lyndon Johnson, he lit a powder keg that changed the dynamic of American politics, and along the way he midwifed a modern movement that dominates his Democratic Party's activist base today.

 

And so, on this half-century anniversary of his presidential candidacy, we remember an American original.

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The 1968 Presidential Campaign 50 Years Ago Today: Governor George Romney--The Man JFK Feared--Enters the Race

Photograph signed by Governor George Romney for James Rogan, 1969

[Excerpted from James Rogan's book, On to Chicago: Rediscovering Robert F. Kennedy and the Lost Campaign of 1968]

 


Shortly before leaving for his fateful Dallas visit, President John F. Kennedy surveyed the field of potential Republican candidates who might challenge him for re-election in 1964. JFK dismissed any concerns over GOP powerhouses like former Vice President Richard Nixon, New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater. A single potential competitor, in JFK's estimation, threatened his 1964 prospects. "The one fellow I don't want to run against," he confided to a close friend, "is George Romney."

 

Kennedy had cause for his unease. Romney was the living embodiment of the Horatio Alger spirit: a devout former missionary from a poor family who never finished college and, as a young man, worked as a stenographer before landing an entry-level job in the automobile industry. Later moving into management, Romney worked his way up the corporate ladder to become chairman of the Board of American Motors. In 1962, as a political novice, he won the first of three terms as Michigan governor, and he was the only Republican candidate that year to win in the heavily Democratic state.

 

Lyndon Johnson became president following Kennedy's assassination, and Romney declined to seek the White House in 1964. That left liberal Rockefeller and conservative Goldwater to fight a nasty primary battle for the GOP nomination (after losing his 1962 California governor race, Nixon sat out a 1964 run). Johnson crushed eventual nominee Goldwater in a 44 state landslide.

 

By early 1967, after three years of Johnson blowing through billions of dollars on his "Great Society" welfare and social programs, as well as America suffering tens of thousands of casualties in LBJ's floundering Vietnam War escalation, the GOP saw their opportunity to retake the White House in 1968. However, the two best-known Republicans most often mentioned as likely contenders had significant electability problems. In 1964 an embittered Rockefeller infuriated GOP conservatives when he refused to endorse Goldwater against Johnson in the general election, and their ire still raged. Republican regulars liked and respected Nixon for his party loyalty and strong anti-communist credentials, but he had not won an election in his own right since 1950, and after two successive defeats, the "loser" image dogged him. The Republicans were in no mood for another fumbled White House run – they wanted a winner against Johnson.

 

Enter George Romney.

 

Romney's increasingly impressive 1964 and 1966 re-election victories in a solidly blue state made him the early favorite for the GOP presidential nomination. Rockefeller endorsed him, and Romney's strong support among independents, ethnics and blue-collar voters gave him a broad crossover appeal. Beyond that, Romney held an irresistible hand: polls showed him as the only potential Republican challenger beating Lyndon Johnson.


And so, 50 years ago today, on Nov. 18, 1967, George Romney announced his candidacy for the presidency of the United States.

 

As it turned out, early assessments of Romney's electoral prowess, and Kennedy's previous anxiety about him, proved premature. In one of the most hapless campaigns on record, the Romney for President juggernaut set a record for implosion.

 

What happened?

 

Throughout most of 1967, with Rockefeller not running and Nixon taking a half-year moratorium from all politics, Romney held the national stage – and the media's bullseye – alone. Despite his experience in the business world and his Michigan successes, he was unprepared in dealing with the heightened scrutiny that attended his front-runner status. When his interviews demonstrated that he had not mastered the various issues with which a potential president must be conversant, the national press corps portrayed him as an empty suit. Reporters delighted in magnifying each gaffe he made on the campaign trail. However, no media exaggeration was necessary when it came to reporting on Romney's self-inflicted fatal wound.

 

In an interview with a local reporter, when asked why he had moderated his position on Vietnam and had become more skeptical of America's role in the war, Romney declared that during his last visit there he had received "the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get when you go over to Vietnam. Not only by the generals, but also by the diplomatic corps over there, and they do a very thorough job."

 
"I was brainwashed …"

 

With the Soviet Union and Red China expanding their international communist threat to America's security, nobody wanted a weak-minded president susceptible to brainwashing, or so the argument went. In a rare act of clemency, the press gave Romney a chance to walk back his comment by asking if he had been misquoted or misunderstood. Instead of grabbing the life preserver, he doubled-down stubbornly and insisted, "Yes, I was brainwashed. We're all brainwashed. The [Johnson] administration simply does not tell us the truth about Vietnam. ... I'm glad I used that word. It woke up the country. Nobody was paying any attention when I only used words like 'snow job.'"

 

The fallout came quickly. Editorial cartoonists depicted a befuddled or glassy-eyed Romney with soapsuds covering his noggin. Newspapers that had been his strongest supporters now called on him to drop out of the race. The most devastating comment came from Democratic presidential aspirant Eugene McCarthy, who, when asked about Romney's ill-advised statement, suggested that the intellectually challenged Romney didn't need a full brainwashing when "a light rinse" would have done the job.

 
Romney descended rapidly from serious contender to object of ridicule, and the daggers in his back proved bipartisan. Despite Rockefeller's continued public expressions of support (and Rocky's repeated private insistence that Romney not drop out of the race as the beleaguered candidate now begged to do), Rocky undercut his man repeatedly. Rocky told the press several times that he would be pleased to accept the GOP nomination if the convention drafted him, and he made gratuitously hurtful public comments on Romney's travails. When a reporter asked Rocky to explain Romney's string of bloopers, he replied with a laugh, "I don't know – go ask a psychiatrist."

 

Humiliated, Romney euthanized his own campaign three days before the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary. His last-minute withdrawal infuriated Nixon privately, who had hoped to beat back his loser image by shredding Romney in New Hampshire and in the later primaries in which they were competing. When told on the eve of their first showdown that Romney had quit, Nixon grumbled that Romney's exit had cheated him out of his earned triumph. "That's just like a businessman," Nixon fumed to an aide. "No guts."

 

After winning the White House in 1968, President Nixon named Romney to his Cabinet as secretary of housing and urban development, where he served for four years before retiring to private life, charitable work and church activities. Stricken by a heart attack while doing his morning treadmill exercise, he died at age 88 on July 26, 1995. His son, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, partially avenged his father's 1968 loss by winning the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

 

Although his White House candidacy proved short-lived, George Romney's entry into the presidential sweepstakes fired off the starting gun for the historic and fateful 1968 campaign. He helped set the stage for Richard Nixon's unlikely and dramatic comeback in a race that may have been our nation's most divisive, bitter and bloody – and one that clearly changed permanently the arc of American history and politics.

 

 

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Remembering Adam West (1928-2017)

Photo signed for James Rogan by Adam West and Burt Ward

On the evening of January 12, 1966, every kid in my third grade class waited anxiously to tune in on prime time television to the ABC Network. On that night, "Batman" premiered, starring Adam West and Burt Ward. Originally, the show aired two nights a week; the first episode always ended in a cliffhanger. The morning after the initial story aired, much schoolyard recess time was expended recapping the excitement of last night's adventure, while also speculating about how the Dynamic Duo might escape what appeared to be certain doom.

 

Fifty years later, I still love the show--as do my daughters, and as will future generations. The great morality and responsibility that Batman and Robin taught--obey the law, be a good citizen, listen to your parents, do your homework--is sadly missing from much of the trash that passes for youthful television entertainment today.

 

I had the chance to meet Adam and Burt a couple of times when I was in the state legislature and they visited my district for a fan show. Adam was very interested in my own experiences as a "crime-fighting" Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney, and also the cases I heard as a municipal court judge. At one such meeting, they signed this photo for me, which I still treasure.

 

Adam West died this week at age 88. May he rest in peace. Through their show, he and Burt are still teaching the next generation of young fans the rules of good citizenship and exemplary service.

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Fox News Documentary on the Clinton Impeachment

This morning a Fox News crew from DC and New York descended on my home. They arrived at 10 am; they were packing up at 4 pm. Mine was the first in a series of many interviews they are doing with survivors of the Clinton impeachment trial for a news retrospective set to air later in the year. They were well prepared and consummate professionals, and Christine and I enjoyed having them spend the day with us.

 

They were so nice that I won't care if (as I always anticipate when dealing with the press) I get shivved in the final product!

 

They did promise that the faded jeans and sneakers I was wearing during the two hour interview wouldn't show in the camera shot....

Baseball Hall of Fame Pitcher Jim Bunning (1931-2017)

Magazine signed for JR by MLB Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher and U.S. Congressman Jim Bunning, 1997

Over 20 years ago, I served in the U.S. House of Representatives with Jim Bunning and Steve Largent (both Hall of Fame members—Jim was a member of the MLB Baseball Hall of Fame, and Steve was a member of the Football Hall of Fame). Jim later went on and represented Kentucky in the United States Senate. 

 

One day my wife Christine, our girls, and I were shopping at a mall in Northern Virginia. While they poked around in a clothing store, I wandered over to a sports memorabilia shop. There I saw in a glass case old baseball and football player cards for sale. On the top shelf of the display case, side-by-side, were cards for both Jim and Steve. I decided to buy them and have my colleagues autograph them for me.

 

The next day I saw Jim sitting alone in the House chamber. I sidled up to him and asked that he sign my baseball card. As he got out his pen, he asked where I found it. I told him that coincidentally I found one for both him and Largent side-by-side at a memorabilia store, and that I bought them both. Jim asked me how much they cost.

 

"I got a deal on them because I bought both."

 

"That's great. How much did you pay?"

 

 

"Well," I told him, "I asked the shopkeeper how much he wanted for the Largent card. He quoted a price of $10."

 

"So how much was mine?" Jim asked.

 

"That's the best part of the story!" I told him grinning. "The owner told me if I bought the Largent card, he'd throw in yours for free!"

 

I should have held back that answer, which came just as Jim's pen was about to make contact with the card. He looked up, replied to me in a way that I need not repeat here, flung the card onto my lap, and stormed away in a huff.

 

I had to wait a couple of years until Jim was in the Senate and I was involved in the Clinton impeachment (which redeemed me in his eyes) to get that card signed.

 

Jim died today at age 85 from complications after sufferiing a stroke. He was 85. 

 

Requiem en pace, old friend.

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John Kasich and a Very Cool Gavel

Yesterday at the Nixon Library I was reunited with my old congressional colleague, now Ohio Governor John Kasich, when I was invited to introduce him for his speech (and later book signing). It was the first time that John and I have seen each other since we both left Congress in 2001.

 

The gavel we are holding is from my collection. It was the gavel used by me to preside over the House of Representatives (as Speaker Pro Tem) on May 21, 1997 during debate and vote on the 1997 Balanced Budget Act. Speaker Newt Gingrich later signed and presented the gavel to me.

 

As chairman of the House Budget Committee in 1997, John was the author of that historic bill, which gave America's her first balanced federal budget in thirty years. I feared that I might have to pry it loose from John's hand to get it back! I would not have faulted him if he had thought--correctly--that the gavel rightfully should have belonged to him. 

 

Photos courtesy of Christine Rogan's iphone....

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It's a Wonderful Life--70 Years Later

Since I seem to be attracted to various enterprises for which I have no innate talent (e.g., writing best-selling books), I decided last year to try my chops at acting—something for which I have no training at all (unless one counts elective office). Anyway, last month I was honored to rejoin a troupe of great professional actors at the Pantages Theater of the Long Beach Veterans Hospital to recreate (on the seventieth anniversary of the original broadcast) the original 1947 Lux Radio Theater old time radio production of "It's a Wonderful Life." The theater, by the way, hosted many of the great old radio shows during the World War II era, such as Jack Benny and Bob Hope.

 

In this picture, I am looking at the director waiting for my cue to read my part of Nick the Bartender—the mean guy who tosses George Bailey and Clarence the Angel out onto the snow-covered sidewalk. Looking at me—and not needing any cue from anyone—is one of the great voice actors in America today, Bryan Hendrickson, who played the soon-to-be manhandled Clarence.

 

Starring in the Jimmy Stewart role of our production was the fantastic (and friend of many decades) Paul Petersen, who is best remembered for playing son Jeff Stone on the long-running iconic TV program, The Donna Reed Show. As a movie star, Paul played opposite such legends as Cary Grant and Sophia Loren. Now Paul plays opposite me, which proves the old Hollywood maxim—when you fall in this town, you fall hard! Also in the cast were fabulous actors from OTR's (old time radio's) heyday—Stuffy Singer, Ivan Cury, Tommy Cook, Gloria McMillan, and a host of other fine talents such as Camden Singer ("Mary"--our female lead--tremendous!), Bobb Lynes, Barbara Watkins, the mighty Gassman brothers (John Gassman and Larry Gassman), and an up-and-coming kid—Jeff Ferguson (aka Judge Jeff Ferguson, Superior Court of California). I brought Jeff along so that I wouldn't be the only actor who stank. In that regard, Jeff (who was good) let me down.

 

As they say in the biz, there are no small parts, only small actors. In my case, they might amend the phrase: there are no small parts, only lousy actors—no matter what size the part.

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In Memory of John Glenn

In memory of one of America's great space heroes, John Glenn, who died today at age 95.

 

When I first met him over forty years ago as a teenage fan, I never dreamed one day I would come to know him when we served together in Congress, and in later years.

 

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 Newly-elected Senator John Glenn and me, 1975

 

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John and Annie Glenn with Dana and Claire Rogan, along with their dad, 2003

 

This photo of us in tuxedos and at dinner shows me beginning to tell him that President Bush wanted me to collect the control stick from John's 1962 spacecraft Friendship 7 (John told me earlier he kept as a souvenir). I told him that the attorney general wanted it back, or else they'd swear out a warrant for him removing government property! I thought he was going to choke on his rubber chicken dinner before he realized I was just kidding him...

 

Rest in peace.

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Cribbing My Homework

As it turns out, in 1999 President-elect Trump wrote this book in anticipation of running for president in 2000. This was on pp. 200-201:

  

I just saw this for the first time after the recent election when someone sent it to me. Until then, I didn't know it existed.

 

The lesson for all of you: if you want to win the presidency, you need to crib from my homework…

 

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In Memory of Arnold Palmer

In memory of one of the great sports legends of my youth, Arnold Palmer, who died today at age 87. Here we are almost twenty years ago when I first met him during my time in Washington, D.C. The golf ball he signed for me that day is still on display in a cabinet in my office.

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In Memory of Muhammad Ali

The Champ Sparring with the Congressman, 1997

Remembering a truly lovely man and great sports icon, Muhammad Ali, the three-time world heavyweight boxing champion, who died today at age 74.

 

When my daughters were little, they adored The Champ--and as you can see from these photos of them with him, the affection was reciprocated. 

 

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With (from left) Claire, Christine (partially hidden) and Dana Rogan

 

 

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With Dana Rogan

 

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Rest in peace. 

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The World-Famous Palomino Club

Imagine a beat-up bar in North Hollywood, California, that looked like an old barn dumped in the middle of a crummy neighborhood. Now imagine that in the decades it was opened, it was considered the Mecca of Country-Western music, second only to the Grand Ole Opry. Imagine being a college kid working in a bar like that, where, among the people who played there over the years, were George Harrison, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams SENIOR, Patsy Cline, Linda Ronstadt, Waylon Jennings, Marty Robbins, Johnny Paycheck, George Jones, Elton John, Fats Domino, Carl Perkins, and too many thousands more to mention.

 

Such a place once existed. Welcome to the world famous Palomino Club, closed forever about twenty-five years ago. Among my most fond memories were the years I bartended there while a law student at UCLA. I never saw a more wild and exciting place in my life.

 

On a Palomino Club fan page, someone posted this youtube documentary on that iconic showplace, now lost to the ages except in the memories of those of us who worked there, drank there, fought there, sang there, romanced there, broke up there, laughed and cried there, and had one hell of a time--all while listening to some of the greatest musical talent on the planet.

 

Here's to the Pal. I'm honored to have been a small part of its history.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&feature=share&v=1jvE5QEnxZg&fbclid=IwAR1Wm8jghl8f_5d7C41tQesPP8rp7OeNAShn3NKg4LA5px6ekc2ryrxGrFY

 

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In Memory of Filthy McNasty

The Legendary Filthy McNasty

In the heyday of Hollywood's Sunset Strip, Filthy McNasty's was one of the premiere hangouts. Filthy and his brother Wolfgang hired me as a bartender at both their Sunset Strip and North Hollywood nightclubs almost forty years ago, and I worked there (and at another iconic landmark, the Palomino Club) during my UCLA Law School days. There were so many wild stories of my adventures at Filthy's and the Pal that they comprised my favorite chapters in my first book, "Rough Edges." After rocking Hollywood for a quarter-century, Filthy sold the Sunset Strip club in the early 1990s, and it reopened as the now also-famous Viper Room.

 

Filthy McNasty, died of cancer this month at age 73. RIP boss--those of us who were part of the history of Filthy's (on the Strip) and FM Station (in North Hollywood) will never forget those times.

 

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Reagan Library Book Signing

Many thanks to all my friends at the Reagan Library and Foundation, and the Reagan Library docents for all their hospitality during my book signing and speech there on May 11th. I look forward to a return visit soon.

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How Many People Can Say That President Harry S Truman Helped Them With Their Homework?

When I was in seventh grade in 1969, I spent untold hours at the Daly City Public Library, looking up the addresses of retired government leaders so I could write them for both autographs and advice on entering politics. Getting former president Harry Truman's address came in handy for one particular middle-school project, although not without causing some indigestion along the way.

 

That year my history teacher, Mr. Puhr, assigned us to write a biography of a historic person. This was my first long-term homework assignment: our paper had to be typed, researched, and at least seven pages long. In the pre-personal computer era, few twelve-year-olds were keyboard literate, so Mr. Puhr gave us three months to complete this monumental task. "But you'd better have it ready to turn in on the due date," he warned us ominously, "or there will be consequences."

 

For my subject, I picked the eighty-six-year old Truman, who was then two decades removed from his White House service. I approached my task in earnest, and instead of spending three months on the project, I finished it in three days. With so much time to spare, and having learned during my research that Truman once said his only obligation in retirement was to answer personally the letters he received from young people, I decided to mail my report to Truman and ask him to look it over. Long before readily available copy machines (and the invention of hard drives), I had no duplicate of my homework. It never dawned on me that Truman wouldn't return it.

 

Months passed; when the paper came due, I was empty-handed. Mr. Puhr rejected my explanation: he called me a liar in front of the class, accused me of never doing the report, and gave me an F. "Besides," he announced to everyone, "Truman's dead – I watched his funeral on television twenty years ago!"

 

More months went by, and I forgot about the incident. Then one afternoon, I returned home from school and found a large envelope postmarked from Independence, Missouri. Inside I found my report returned, an autographed picture of the great man, and this letter:

 

The next day in class, I walked up to Mr. Puhr's desk and placed on it silently my proof. His face reddened as he looked over the documents.

 

"Take your seat," he said sternly.

 

"Is that all you have to say to me, Mr. Puhr?" I asked in surprise. "I said, 'take your seat'."

 

After humiliating me earlier, Mr. Puhr now refused to acknowledge his mistake. I fumed over this injustice for the rest of class. When the recess bell rang, I exacted my own vindication: jumping from my desk, I rushed to the door and blocked the exit. Holding aloft my treasures, I called to my classmates, "Hey, if anybody wants to see the letter and autographed picture I got yesterday from the late President Harry Truman, I'll show it to you on the playground!"

 

Despite my protests, Mr. Puhr refused to accept my paper. I went to the principal, Mrs. Zenovich, and presented my case. Marching me back to class, Mrs. Zenovich confronted Mr. Puhr and ordered him to accept it.

 

Later, Mr. Puhr handed back my paper in front of the entire class and announced that he marked me down for "repeated punctuation errors" because I kept failing to put a period after Truman's middle initial "S." I told him the omission was intentional, because the S didn't get a period – S was his middle name. Mr. Puhr grabbed volume T of the Encyclopedia Britannica, turned to Truman's entry, and cackled aloud, "The encyclopedia lists him as Harry S-with-a-period Truman! What do you say to that, Mr. Rogan?"

 

"The encyclopedia's wrong."

 

Mr. Puhr chortled, "So! The encyclopedia is wrong and Mr. Rogan is right! My, aren't we lucky to have such a brilliant student in our midst!" Students laughed as Mr. Puhr mocked me for the rest of class. For days afterward, he called on me to "confirm" facts, like our first president was George Washington, or that Columbus discovered America in 1492 ("Or was it in 1493, Mr. Rogan?"). Growing tired of the abuse, I took matters into my own hands:

 

"Dear President Truman," my new letter began, "You won't believe this teacher of mine . . . ." I asked Truman to settle the issue.

 

Sadly, the school year ended without any reply, and again I forgot about it. Then one day, as my 1970 summer vacation ended, another letter from Missouri arrived.

 

Now, for the first time, I noticed Truman's engraved letterhead: sure enough, it bore the name "Harry S Truman" with no period after the middle initial.

 

On the first day of the new school year, I tracked down my former teacher. Mr. Puhr looked baffled when I entered his classroom, as if I had made another mistake. I walked to his desk and showed him the second Truman letter. Again he refused to re-grade my report, but changed his mind when I threatened him with more Mrs. Zenovich therapy.

 

As I walked away, Mr. Puhr called to me sharply: "Rogan," he said, "I'm very glad you won't be in my class this year."

 

*****

 

Former president Harry S Truman died at age eighty-eight on December 26, 1972. In the early 1990s, American Heritage magazine first published my story about Harry Truman helping me with my homework. A few years later, I gave Reader's Digest permission to republish it in its April 1995 issue, which coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of Truman's presidency.

 

A couple of weeks later, while on a trip to Missouri, I toured Truman's house in Independence (now a national historic site). The guide led about twenty of us to the rear porch and said, "Here's where Mr. Truman sat each morning, answering his mail. In fact, in this month's Reader's Digest, there is a story of how he helped a young boy with his homework. This porch is where he would have read the boy's letter and wrote his reply."

 

When the tour ended, I mentioned to the guide that I was the author. He asked me to wait while he called his wife (who worked at the nearby Truman Presidential Library). A few minutes later, a couple of cars arrived with staff and docents from the library. They led me back to the porch and asked me to recount the entire story for them, and it pleased me greatly to do so.

 

Some years later, I attended a weekend legislative retreat with fellow members of Congress. The guest speaker was one of my generation's preeminent historians, David McCullough, who wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography on Truman. When I asked McCullough to autograph my copy of his book, I mentioned with a grin that I was pleased to meet a fellow Truman "scholar." He asked me in seriousness what Truman work I penned; I laughed and told him about my little story of Truman helping me with my homework when I was a boy. McCullough's eyes brightened. "The 'homework' story in American Heritage!" he said. "Truman wrote you back about the S in his middle name! I not only read it – it helped me win a bet on that S issue!"

 

It seems that when Harry Truman took the time to help a young admirer long ago, both David McCullough and I came out winners.

 

(This story is a sample from my second book, "And Then I Met … Stories of Growing Up, Meeting Famous People, and Annoying the Hell Out of Them.)

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One of Abraham Lincoln's Last Autographs--150 Years Ago Today

This autograph in my political memorabilia collection is worth a look, especially today. Of all the memorabilia in my collection, one of my favorites is this clipped document signed by President Abraham Lincoln three days before his assassination on April 11, 1865. Today is the 150th anniversary of Lincoln signing this precious clip, which granted yet another pardon for a young Confederate soldier.

 

I took this photograph under fading daylight this evening, so sorry for the less-than-professional shots.

 

By the way, this autograph has more authentication "pedigrees" from world-renowned auction houses, experts, and national archivists than you possess for your AKC dog!

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A Dog's Noble Shame

My pound rescue dog Sparky just got in trouble: she growled at our cat Tootsie and chased her out of the kitchen. She knew she was in immediate trouble when I approached and grabbed her by the collar. I scolded her; she skulked away into the family room. After a few minutes, it was time to go make up. When I walked in the room I found her on the couch with her head propped on a pillow. When I walked over to pet her, she buried her head under the pillow and wouldn't come out despite my coaxing her repeatedly

 

I wish other wrongdoers shared a dog's noble sense of shame when caught in the act.

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Happy 90th Birthday President Jimmy Carter

With former President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter,

Plains, Georgia, September 30, 2014

I was invited by the Carter Political Items Collectors to address their annual banquet this last weekend in Plains, Georgia. The guests of honor were former President and Mrs. Jimmy Carter, with whom I had dinner before my speech.

 

After I mildly roasted our 39th president during my banquet speech on Saturday night, he invited us to join him for the Sunday School class he taught the next morning at Maranatha Baptist Church. The smile on his face in the picture of the Carters with me (taken after the service) shows he got even! When I heard him open his class with, "Is Jim Rogan here this morning?" I knew it was going to go downhill for me! He then proceeded to explain to everyone that not only was I a famous congressman and judge, but that I was also a recognized Biblical scholar - - and then he invited me to come up and teach his 45 minute class on the Book of Hezekiah!

 

Touche, Mr. President! You gave as good as you got, and it was all in good fun on both sides. Regardless of party, I trust all my friends join me in wishing a very happy 90th birthday to President Carter today.

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"And Then I Met... Stories of Growing Up, Meeting Famous People, and Annoying the Hell Out of Them"

Here is the new 90-second video trailer for my new book, "And Then I Met... Stories of Growing Up, Meeting Famous People, and Annoying the Hell Out of Them."

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IuCH2ALW940

 

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Twentieth Anniversary: California State Assembly

This photograph of California Assembly Speaker Willie Brown swearing me in as a new member of the legislature was taken 20 years ago today. It's hard to believe that two decades have passed since that momentous day in Christine's and my life.

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