One of the virtues of living a long time is that you have seen everything, or almost everything, and it is hard for a politician to put something over on you. And one of the best ways to gauge a politician is to meet him (or her) face to face, look into his (or her) eyes, and engage in conversation, one on one.
Barack Obama.I met him in 2008 during his first Presidential campaign, and discussed with him the importance of his Supreme Court appointments, and that I had gone to the University of Chicago Law School, where he taught. My impression of him: a very smart, nice guy, but a lot tougher than he appears (and likes to appear) on television. And I liked that, in a President.
Bernie Sanders. I met him last year, as he was beginning his Presidential campaign. He was taller than I thought, and seemed fit, even athletic, for an old guy (he is a year younger than I am, but looks older). I told him that we were students at the University of Chicago at the same time in the 1960s, and he commented, in a self-deprecating manner, "I bet you got better grades than I did". I recalled that he was an agitator, an activist even then, staging a sit-in at University of Chicago housing that excluded blacks. He has never stopped.
I recalled that Bernie Sanders was an agitator, an activist even then, staging a sit-in at University of Chicago housing that excluded blacks. He has never stopped.
The current crop of Republican candidates for President. Never met any of them; don't want to, especially the smarmy Ted Cruz (who dishonors my name, and we both have the given name "Edward").
The Clintons.Never met any of them (costs too much money, and they only come to California to vacuum up campaign contributions, since our state is a lock to vote for the Democratic candidate for President.) I am told that, unlike other candidates who always seem to be looking beyond you when they are talking to you, searching for someone more important to talk to, Bill Clinton always gives the person he is talking to his undivided attention for the ten seconds you are face to face, making you feel like the most important person in the world to him for that brief moment. Nice.
Jerry Brown.Before he was Governor, I met him in Sacramento, and remarked to him that I used to be very jealous of him. He asked "How so?", and I replied "Because you used to date Linda Ronstadt". He responded, "Well, you should be", and walked away. Vintage Jerry.
Arnold Schwarzenegger. I met him at the building he owned in Santa Monica, seated at a table, smoking a cigar. I told him that when he first ran for Governor, at the time of the recall election involving Governor Gray Davis, I voted for him over the porn star and the midget who were his opposition, and the Lt. Governor at the time, Cruz Bustamente, who seemed to me to be the caricature of a career politician. Arnold blew cigar smoke in my face.
Henry Kissinger. I met him in New York City when he was at a restaurant with his wife on First Avenue where I was also eating. I came up to him and started talking. He visibly flinched, because in recent years he has been heavily criticized for some of his recent political positions, and his pandering to Richard Nixon during the later stages of his doomed Presidency. But i was there not to criticize him but to praise him, commenting that his secret trip to China in 1971 and meetings with Mao and Chou En-lai paved the way for the visit of Richard Nixon the next year, I told him that his secret trip was one of the most significant events of the last century: It led to the opening up of China to the world, and as a result, I have made 20 trips to China over the years.
Dianne Feinstein. When she was Mayor of San Francisco in the 1980s, I was asked to help a Nepalese Sherpa who was an invited visitor to the U.S. but became unwittingly ensnared in a totally unnecessary nightmare trying to enter Los Angeles from Nepal. I knew little about immigration procedures, but since he had been a guide for Dianne and her husband Dick Blum in Nepal, I called her to see if she could help. She told me to stay by the pay phone in the downtown Federal Building for ten minutes, and someone would call. I waited and answered the phone soon after. The voice on the other end of the line said "I am the Director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. How can I help you?" Problem solved, and Dianne gave our Nepalese friend the keys to the City of San Francisco when he later visited her there.
Barbara Boxer. During the early years of the Obama Presidency, many of us were frustrated by the Republican filibusters that prevented important legislation from being passed in the Senate. I complained to her that the filibuster should be done away with, but she responded "Can't do that; we may need it in the future". And was she so right about that, after the Republicans took control of the Senate in 2014.
Politicians No Longer Living
In the early 1960s, I was an intern for a New Jersey Congressman while in college, and after graduating from law school, I became his first Legislative Assistant. Life was different then, and direct access to major political figures was easier, from JFK on down.
JFK. I briefly met him while he was President, and watched him handle the media masterfully at press conferences, and marveled at his wit and quickness of response. He had my vote in 1964 if he had lived, the first Presidential election where I could vote (the minimum age was not lowered to 18 until the late i960s ("if you are old enough to be drafted and sent to Vietnam, you should be old enough to vote").
LBJ.When I met him in 1962, I got the impression that he was the unhappiest man I had ever met. Drafted as JFK's Vice President from his position as the powerful Majority Leader of the Senate, he was given nothing to do by JFK. He was made VP to get the Texas vote, and JFK was killed in 1963 in Texas while assessing whether he should dump Lyndon as his VP in 1964. So Lyndon was not crying crocodile tears when JFK was assassinated and he became President. Did he have something to do with it?
Barry Goldwater. Barry was a very engaging guy, but was not that smart. When he was the GOP candidate for President in 1964, I crafted a "Goldwater sticker" for my car, which read "AuH2OSO4", the chemical symbols for "Fool's Gold + Water". It seemed that somehow these crazy people from The John Birch Society had suddenly captured the Republican Party and ousted the mainstream leadership. Moderate and liberal Republicans like Nelson Rockefeller, John Lindsay and Jacob Javits were relegated to the back rows at the convention. But Goldwater was crushed by LBJ and the Birchers were thrown out of the leadership of the GOP, to be resurrected in recent years as the crazies who are the Tea Party and the Freedom Caucus in Congress. The inmates are running the asylum again.
Nelson Rockefeller. As the New York governor when I was in college at Colgate, I met him in Albany and later on campus. He was perhaps the last wealthy, patrician politician who was not interested in advancing his own interests as President (think Romney, Trump). He was a powerful, engaging man, with a deep voice and someone who got what he wanted by force of will. He was totally trashed by the Birchers at the 1964 Republican convention, but got the last laugh years later when Jerry Ford appointed him to be his Vice President after he succeeded Nixon. In those days, he was my political role model.
Hubert Humphrey. "The Happy Warrior" from Minnesota was the cheeriest person I ever met, and was LBJ's Vice President in his second term, as the cancer of the Vietnam War metastasized. He lost to Richard Nixon in 1968 because of that; as LBJ's VP, he could not break with him over Vietnam, and Nixon's false promise to end that war swept him into office. Hubert never got over this defeat…
Bobby Kennedy. I met him in my last year of law school at the University of Chicago, when he was LBJ's Attorney General, and visited the law school. I was very impressed by him, and would have voted for him if he had not been assassinated like his brother. How the world (and my life) would have been different if both of them had not been taken from us…
Teddy Kennedy. Many years later, in 1980, he was running for President, and I was representing a company that was engaged in work of such interest to him that he subpoenaed competitively sensitive documents from the company (and other similar companies) as Chair of the Antitrust Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee. I met with him and his staff to discuss providing the documents sought, but only if strict confidentiality provisions were implemented to prevent the documents from being leaked. The guidelines were put in place, the documents were provided, and the other companies whose documents were sought also followed our lead and provided their documents under the guidelines. Teddy lost the party's nomination to President Carter, who lost to Ronald Reagan, and Teddy lost his chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee and his subcommittee when the Republicans took control of the Senate. I got a call from him thereafter, informing me that I could pick up my client's documents, but that unfortunately they could not find all of them. (They ultimately did, after some tense meetings in Washington.)
Jerry Ford.He was the long time Minority Leader of the House before he was picked by Richard Nixon to be his Vice President after Spiro Agnew resigned in disgrace. He became President when Nixon resigned, and lost reelection to Jimmy Carter in 1976. He was a really nice guy, and was smarter than some people think, and was perhaps the most athletic person ever to be President. ( LBJ was quoted as saying Jerry got hit in the head too much as a football lineman for Michigan in his college days; Lyndon, by the way, was probably the grossest guy ever to serve as President - the stories of his grossities are legion.)
Many more names of politicians I have met come to mind, such as Speaker John McCormack, Speaker Tip O'Neill, Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, Minority Leader Everett Dirksen, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, White House Historian Arthur Schlesinger, and colorful Congressmen Dante Fascell and Adam Clayton Powell, but that will have to wait for a later article.