Eyewitness to Power – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Eyewitness to Power, The Essence of Leadership, Nixon to Clinton” by David Gergen, published in 2000.

The author, who worked in various capacities in four presidential administrations, wrote about the components that comprise the best presidential leadership. He drew upon theories and comparisons of historians and political scientists in crafting his arguments.

One other kind of source he could have used more often, was numerous personal accounts such as his own, written by insiders– permanent staffers of presidential administrations– because such horse’s mouth records can provide corroboration on incidents and events from different perspectives; the least inaccurate version of the truth.

Gergen said John Keegan identified six major leaders who shaped the twentieth century: Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao Tse Tung, FDR and Churchill– only the last two of whom presided over democracies. As is well known, the last two also inspired other Western nations to help defeat Fascism, as the cliche goes. Had it not been for their leadership, arguably, the world might have seen the collapse of modern civilization.

During Nixon’s second term, Gergen supervised speech-writing, whose approximately fifty contributors included writers, researchers, administrators and correspondents. He continued working in a hostile environment, because it is human nature, especially among the young, to overlook flaws in an employer-leader in a goal-oriented group-effort, as “… Your wagon’s hitched to a star, and you resent those on the outside who tarnish the adventure.”

According to Larry Sabato, the American presidency is subjected to turmoil about every fifty years: in the 1870’s, there was the Credit Mobilier scandal under president Grant; the 1920’s saw the Teapot Dome shenanigans under Harding; and in the 1970’s, the United States suffered the consequences of a bunch of evil conspiracies under Nixon.

BUT– the author published this book BEFORE the early 2000’s, when the second Iraq War and its associated profiteering, abuse of power and other unconscionable activities became the norm under the leadership of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. The author did write, “Whether George W. Bush or Al Gore is elected president in 2000, the winner must place strict safeguards against the abuses of the Clinton years.” Good luck with that.

Gergen also opined that Gorbachev, more than Reagan, put the nail in the coffin of Communism by introducing open-minded reforms because the Soviets could no longer avoid the fact that their empire was crumbling. In November 1989, Gorbachev courageously told his country’s military to refrain from retaliating against the people dismantling the Berlin Wall.

Gergen went on to overlook the negative economic consequences of Reagan’s policies, and unfairly, oversimplify comparisons between recent American presidents through bare-bones generalizations.

Gergen felt that Bill and Hillary Clinton should have provided the Washington Post with all the documents that it was demanding, on Whitewater– a real estate investment entity (that might have committed wrongdoing in connection with Bill’s activities as Arkansas governor, but was unrelated to Bill’s presidential activities). The newspaper threatened to give the president bad press otherwise. However, the Post is neither a congressional committee nor a duly appointed federal investigator. The Clintons rightly refused.

At the time, as one of their political consultants, Gergen thought that if the Clintons had submitted the documents to clear themselves, relentless assaults on their privacy for purposes of political retaliation would have ceased. Oh, and Bill could have accomplished so much more during his presidency, absent those later distractions.

Additionally, Gergen made a comparison that was apples-to-oranges with Nixon’s refusal to reveal what he was doing. For, the Pentagon Papers were leaked to the press and showed at the very least, probable cause of crimes of the president’s activities. There was no probable cause in the Clintons’ case.

Gergen mentioned three crucial aspects to governing: mutual trust and respect between the executive and legislative branches, and long-term integrity. Major laws that have stood the test of time were passed because the president “… understood what it means to govern. A permanent campaign is its antithesis.”

A president who does nothing but seek reelection (via rallies and the like) will obviously say or do anything to get reelected, as the cliche goes. Besides, as America has seen, two factors that can get a candidate elected president– regardless of competence– are inheritance and a power vacuum at the top.

Gergen pointed out that both Truman and Reagan had street-smarts but lacked extensive academic smarts. Yet with 20/20 hindsight, historians have come to laud the political prowess of their administrations. It is interesting to note as well, that the most recent five presidents in a row have attended Ivy League schools, but have had uneven records, to say the least.

So clearly, formal education is only one of a motley group of traits that maximizes a president’s effectiveness. Gergen listed others: “… knowledge, temperament, faith in the future that leads to wise decisions and responsible leadership… core competence and emotional intelligence, courage… clear purpose that is rooted in the nation’s core values as stated in the Declaration of Independence.”

Read the book to learn a slew of details on presidential administrations’ natures and actions that Gergen contended represented good or bad leadership.

Close Encounters

“… the network executives he would be contacting were apt to regard him as a headline-seeking troublemaker who could not be trusted to behave with dignity and discretion.”

The above was written about Mike Wallace in the early 1960’s.

The Book of the Week is “Close Encounters, Mike Wallace’s Own Story” by Mike Wallace & Gary Paul Gates, published in 1984.

Born in 1918, Wallace grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts. As have countless others on the idiot box before and since, he made a career of sitting in judgment of others, so of course, it was impossible for him not to be a hypocrite. Like the folks whom he caught behaving dishonestly, he and his employer-broadcasters had their share of legal kerfuffles.

In spring 1957, Wallace hosted a hard-hitting live TV-interview show called “The Mike Wallace Interview” on ABC. Organized-crime figure Mickey Cohen– a guest on the show– slandered the then-chief of police of Los Angeles, saying he was corrupt. The chief sued ABC. As a result, during the show’s airing, the court required that an attorney hold up cue cards indicating when Wallace’s questions were becoming too controversial. Wallace commented, “Like a baby with its bib and a dog with its leash, I was judged to be in need of a legal teleprompter.”

At the end of 1957, as a result of one of Wallace’s countless minor TV-journalism scandals– involving the Kennedy family– the funding source of his show changed to the Ford Foundation. The show got a new name, “Survival and Freedom” and a more educational format. Unsurprisingly, it became boring.

In the autumn of 1962, Wallace decided to give up lucrative jobs: a) hosting entertainment-oriented radio and TV broadcasts that reported on trivial slice-of-life minutiae, b) hosting game shows, and c) acting in cigarette ads; in order to narrowly focus on serious TV journalism.

Wallace spent two months in Vietnam in spring 1967. He and a colleague ended up broadcasting a “60 Minutes” story in 1972 that was radically different from the one everyone else was narrating. Wallace said, “I responded by telling him [the colleague] what I thought of ‘knee-jerk, bleeding heart liberals’ who allow themselves to be taken in by a trendy media blitz.” With an open mind, they followed where the evidence led in connection with over-decorated Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Herbert.

Another aspect of serious TV journalism that Wallace claimed to espouse, in addition to doing the hard work of collecting evidence through best-efforts / due diligence research, was primary sources: “… an eyewitness account– ‘I was there, and here’s what happened’– is more reliable than a version that has gone through two hundred years of rewrites.”

Wallace’s method of doing said research involved a “Candid Camera” type set-up, a prelude to the hidden-camera reality shows of the early 2000’s. But– his major goal was to catch people committing crimes, rather than evoke laughter at their naivety.

The situation had to be a “national disgrace” to air on “60 Minutes.” One segment in early 1976 showed how easy it was for residents of the state of Maryland, to obtain false identity documents in order to commit financial crimes.

Other stories broadcast up until the book’s writing involved Medicaid kickbacks, corruption in health-, building-, and fire-department inspections, tax evasion in cash-oriented businesses, a shady California health resort, a California diploma mill, and an anti-poverty program in Los Angeles. Also, an entrepreneur offered classes to teach business executives how to answer questions asked by the likes of Mike Wallace.

Read the book to learn plenty of additional details on all of the above.

Cooking With Grease

The Book of the Week is “Cooking With Grease, Stirring the Pots in American Politics” by Donna Brazile, published in 2004.

The author, like any female (Barbara Boxer was another one) who has achieved prolonged success in politics while almost never compromising her principles, deserves bragging rights. On top of that, as is well known, the African American Brazile suffered additional infinite indignities due to her skin color. She recounted many of them in this book.

Born in December 1959 in New Orleans, Brazile was the third oldest of nine children. She grew up in Kenner, a neighboring small city. From there, one had to take the scenic route on more than one public bus in order to get to New Orleans.

Brazile was a bossy, precocious, entrepreneurial tomboy at an early age, but was frequently physically punished for wrongdoing as well as for ideological disagreements with her mother or grandmother. After the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. in spring 1968, she attended a Baptist church service at which blacks still sat in the back pews. So Brazile’s political awakening and education started when she was eight years old.

By 1970, she was assisting a woman in her neighborhood with a voter-registration drive with respect to elections for mayor and city council. A few area residents were afraid to vote for fear of retaliatory violence. In August 1971, the author was forced to attend an integrated school in the next town over. She wrote, “Busing was one of the worst public policy decisions ever made.”

On her first day at school there in Metairie, white parents of the local students threw eggs and tomatoes at her and other blacks, and cursed them out. The school principal saw Brazile as a peacemaker and cut her some slack in small increments in order to make the best of a bad situation. She organized protests, and rebelled in various ways, such as refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.

In 1984, Brazile worked seven days a week, upwards of eighteen hours a day for Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign. In 1988, when she worked for presidential candidate Dick Gephardt, she was forced to enlist the help of a white friend to rent an apartment in Boston.

Brazile felt that her bosses were giving insufficient attention to racial issues and thus losing the black vote. Of course, the opposing candidate would smear them if they did address taxes, crime, welfare and affirmative action. The tension was too much for her, and her mouth got her into trouble. She took heart later in her career, as “To his credit, Bill Clinton surrounded himself with African Americans, and we were always strategizing.”

George W. Bush’s presidential run started way before 2000. His camp spread lies and smears early and often. In fall 1999, when Brazile was asked to make Al Gore’s presidential campaign leaner and meaner, she used all the brains she had, and all the brains she could borrow. However, there were lots of problems. When speaking to her– unlike when it spoke to anyone else– the media focused on her skin color. By June 2000, Gore’s side felt the author had become disposable because African Americans’ votes, which the author had garnered, were pretty much assured.

The Gore team was largely comprised of highly compensated consultants who believed the conventional wisdom that spending the bulk of their limited budget on airing attack-ads just before election day was the way to go. Brazile contended that personally visiting fickle voters in swing states would be more effective.

On election day, the Bush camp pulled all sorts of dirty tricks to minimize the votes for Gore; mostly in Florida:

  • Absentee ballots were deemed disqualified because signatures weren’t “certified” even though they didn’t need be certified;
  • Ballots in the Creole language weren’t available to voters;
  • Voters were told they needed two or three (!) government-issued forms of ID in order to vote (but it’s very difficult for poor people get a driver’s license or passport, let alone both);
  • In Chicago, police targeted cab drivers for violations when the cabs were taking poor passengers to voting sites;
  • In Tallahassee, law enforcement wouldn’t let people enter a voting site;
  • Some polling places claimed to be out of ballots or claimed it was too late to vote when voters arrived shortly before the places closed;
  • Some voting venues held criminal background checks of voters, and deemed those voters supposedly ineligible to vote; and
  • of course, it was discovered that some ballots were thrown away.

Read the book to learn about a slew of triumphs, and other trials and tribulations Brazile experienced up until the book’s writing, and the kind of cuisine she and her family enjoy.

Taking in the Masses

Taking in the Masses

sung to the tune of “Grazing in the Grass” with apologies to Hugh Masekela
and The Friends of Distinction

Sure is scandalous, taking in the masses.
Taking in the masses, yes, baby can you rig it?

What a job just hushing up scandals of the past.
Taking in the masses, yes, baby can you rig it?

There are too many politicians who go free while
taking in the masses, yes, baby can you rig it?

The family members making out besides the appointees.
Taking in the masses, yes, baby can you rig it?

And the pundits’ lies and smears stinging like bees.
Taking in the masses, yes, baby can you rig it?

And the claques, flacks and sycophants always eager to please.
Taking in the masses, yes, baby can you rig it?

Everything here is so opaque you can’t see it.
And everything here is so fake but some believe it.
And it’s fake, so fake, so fake, so fake, so fake, so fake, so fake.
Can you rig it?

I can rig it, he can rig it, she can rig it, we can rig it, they can rig it,
you can rig it.
Oh, let’s rig it. Can you rig it baby?

I can rig it, he can rig it, she can rig it, we can rig it, they can rig it,
you can rig it.
Oh, let’s rig it. Can you rig it baby?

The family members making out besides the appointees.
Taking in the masses, yes, baby can you rig it?

And the pundits’ lies and smears stinging like bees.
Taking in the masses, yes, baby can you rig it?

Everything here is so opaque you can’t see it.
And everything here is so fake but some believe it.
And it’s fake, so fake, so fake, so fake, so fake, so fake, so fake.
Can you rig it?

I can rig it, he can rig it, she can rig it, we can rig it, they can rig it,
you can rig it.
Oh, let’s rig it. Can you rig it baby?
I can rig it, he can rig it, she can rig it, we can rig it, they can rig it,
you can rig it.
Oh, let’s rig it. Can you rig it baby?
I can rig it, he can rig it, she can rig it, we can rig it, they can rig it,
you can rig it.
Oh, let’s rig it. Can you rig it baby?

PLEASE NOTE: THIS IS NOT TO SAY THE DISEASE OF COVID IS FAKE. BUT POLITICS AND PROPAGANDA HAVE ALWAYS BEEN FAKE.

Pepper

The Book of the Week is “Pepper, Eyewitness to a Century” by Claude Denson Pepper With Hays Gorey, published in 1987.

Pepper, the oldest of four children, was born in September 1900 in rural Alabama to a Baptist, farming family. In 1928, he ran for the office of Florida state representative. He got permission from a competing candidate in his own Democratic party to be listed as a second choice on the ballot, and got elected.

In 1933, hankering for higher office, Pepper traveled around Florida, generating support for his party. The Kiwanis club paid half of his expenses in exchange for his urging its chapters to participate in the state convention to be held in Tallahassee. In those days, while campaigning for a U.S. Senate seat, he was also allowed to drive around the state’s public places, announcing through bullhorns attached to the car, the times and places of his speaking engagements. His opponent– an old and tired incumbent, paid the poll tax of Italian and Spanish voters who lived in West Tampa and Ibo City. The incumbent won the election through that action and other forms of foul play.

Pepper was elected to the Senate in 1936. He bragged about how he played a key role in introducing the March 1941 “Lend-Lease” legislation that provided crucial assistance to England and the U.S.S.R. during WWII, and how his national-healthcare-proposal gave rise to funding for hospital construction and cancer research. However, voters in Florida’s northern counties that bordered Georgia were less than thrilled with his pro-civil-rights stance.

In autumn 1945, seeking to gain foreign-policy experience (because in the future he hoped to become chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) Pepper met with high-level leaders in nineteen different countries; among them Stalin, Leon Blum and leaders in soon-to-be Soviet satellites. In 1946 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, the author attended a rally for vice-president Henry Wallace. Press photos were snapped of him, standing next to Paul Robeson.

The author was complacent about his 1950 Senate reelection bid, because in southern states, incumbents were traditionally returned to office as long as they avoided getting caught for financial crimes or having extramarital affairs. Unfortunately, he was gobsmacked by his political opponents’ smear campaign. A week before primary election day in May 1950, Pepper’s opponent– George Smathers– stabbed him in the back. Years before, Pepper had helped Smathers get his first job in politics.

The Smathers camp distributed a book compiled by hate-mongers and funded by the long-time vicious political operative, Ed Ball. That book contained photos of enemies of the southern Republicans, with whom Pepper had been associating; of diverse ethnicities and political views. The captions– taken out of context, of course– screamed that Pepper was a treasonous “nigger lover” and “Communist” who was going to reveal nuclear secrets and hand over America’s natural resources to the Soviets.

Pepper was blissfully unaware of this abomination until two days before voting day. Even after all that, Pepper still claimed that a democracy necessitated the allowance of all forms of free speech, including childish, negative utterances consisting of “… name-calling, questioning of motives, or assassination of character.”

General criticism against Pepper’s party included blaming FDR and Truman for meekly allowing the Soviets to march into Eastern Europe. One counter-argument to that, was that the United Stated had just been through an exhausting war, and wasn’t all that keen on launching the requisite World War Three that would stop the Soviets from committing further aggression.

Fast forward to the early 1980’s. Pepper was serving as a Democratic Congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives. His introduction of a bill was thwarted by the Chair of the Rules Committee. That outrageously powerful Chair could refuse to hold a meeting so that he could stop the passage of a law he didn’t like, even if it had the support of “…the president, leadership of the House, and a majority of the Committee.”

Read the book to learn: about a myriad of other ways American politics have hardly changed in at least the last seventy years; what Pepper did as head of the House Select Committee on Crime in the early 1970’s; how he made his political comeback, and much more about his life and times.