Motoring to the Opinion Page

Published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette January 17, 2023

I’m a big fan of memoirs, even in shorter versions called obituaries. Many a successful writer earned their spurs in the morgue; the highs and lows of famous lives. Politicians, actors, writers, comedians, athletes, worry: “the first line of my obit will be the dumbest thing I ever did.”

Speaking of landmarks, my initial Daily Hampshire Gazette opinion column appeared on Jan. 13, 1993. Following guest articles, Gazette Editor Kay Moran offered me a monthly spot. Neither imagined that I’d be here 30 years hence. I’m grateful for feedback despite occasional errors. Thanks, Sis.

Its headline read, “Presidential heroes with feet of clay.” I wrote that FDR was my father’s political hero. Depression times and his Democratic president’s efforts to help the little people created a lifelong bond. In 20 years dad was Mayor Jim. Until I turned 12, Roosevelt was my reliable president. FDR was followed by Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Jack Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barak Obama, DJT, and Joe Biden. My prescient point was that presidents, even vice presidents, eventually find a way to let us down.

Call it beginner’s luck. A rogues gallery of political bad actors awaits your internet search. From Nixon’s V.P. Spiro Agnew resigning in disgrace for taking bribes in his White House office. GOP President Richard Nixon and his crooked cast of Watergate miscreants soon followed.

Republican Reagan’s secret “Arms for hostages” deal with Iran gave Lt. Col. Oliver North funds to buy arms for right wing “Contras,” opponents of the Sandinistas in Central America. That scandal blew up when Reagan admitted breaking with America’s stated policy. Ronnie’s follies set a low bar, unequaled until Trump’s “Big Lie” spawned an insurrection.

Americans grew old before hearing of FDR’s mistress, Lucy Mercer. Also, of JFK’s perfect pairing with Jacqueline Bouvier. Jack’s roving eye and conquests were ancient history because he was long gone. I mentioned that we’d met during his 1958 senatorial campaign. My bona fides?

Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary were topic number one. Few Democrats were anxious to take on President George H.W. Bush. His 1991 job approval ratings set a record at 88%. G.W. Bush had thrown back Iraq’s ill-advised invasion of Kuwait. Bush promised, “This will not stand.” Wisely, he decided not to pursue Saddam to Baghdad. Hussein was left to fight another day. In 2003, Bush’s son, President George W. Bush, used fake WMD evidence to invade Iraq and remove its dictator.

Clinton’s “Ragin’ Cajun” campaign manager, James Carville, posted a sign in his war room: “It’s the economy, stupid!” Carville was proved right when G.W. Bush’s voter approval on handling the economy tanked at 18%. An energetic Clinton won despite “bimbo eruptions” of women claiming affairs with the Arkansas governor. Shades of lurid tales yet unwritten.

President William Jefferson Clinton was impeached for lying about his affair with a White House intern. Adulterous Bill was impeached but acquitted. The scandal blotted both of their copybooks.

Despite his dallying, Bill was reelected to a second term.

In 2000, Al Gore ran to succeed Clinton. Bill’s scandal ruined eight years of relative peace and a balanced budget, sinking his vice president.

Gore received more votes, but lost to George W. Bush and a very conservative Supreme Court. Months before Election Day, I proposed that Clinton resign in favor of V.P. Gore to boost Al’s presidential odds. I like to compare my idea to Pope Benedict XVI retiring to pray. A progressive Pope Francis arrived to prove good things benefit from active humility.

Al Gore’s environmental film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” about climate disasters on the horizon won the 2007 Nobel Prize. Inconveniently, to his reputation, Gore divorced his first wife Tipper in 2010. Their passionate kiss on the 2000 Democratic Convention stage still rings hollow.

Politicians earn their feckless reputations with abandon.

Burned out in 1992, I took a sabbatical from the family business.

Forty-three years earlier, I bailed out of St. Anselm College to serve in the USAF. In another life, I might have graduated before walking into a busy newsroom with byline goals dancing in my head. UMass granted two credits for my Air Force years, doggedly ending hoary quests in ‘89 and ‘97G.

Daydreaming’s one thing; what happens is something else.

I squired a young lady in England. Six months after I came home, my intended arrived on the liner Queen Elizabeth. Hello, wedded bliss: Car sales, Holyoke Junior College courses and a family followed in short order.

My brothers and I had kids to raise and businesses to build. Literature took a back seat to ambition. We grew, utilizing mid-century sales tools: The Daily Hampshire Gazette, WHMP radio, TV spots, etc. Diverse interests led to good friends through sports, civic groups, and political campaigns.

Wait! Stop! Could these columns constitute a memoir?

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