Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Trump Chronicles

To demonstrate that I'm the worst political prognosticator ever, I've assembled some of my Facebook posts on the 2016 election.

Trump doing thumb and finger thing
Mexico Drops Out Of Miss Universe Pageant
Entire nation of Mexico is now on the no-admit list at Trump National Doral, Miami. [June 30, 2015]

Trump Prefers Veterans "Who Weren't Captured" Over John McCain, Leading To My First Spectacularly Wrong Prediction
Fourteen minutes and counting. [July 18]

Nixon-Trump Aide Roger Stone Ostensibly Leaves Trump Campaign, Inspiring Another Spectacularly Wrong Prediction
Now ends the era of "let Trump be Trump." He really wants to be president. He'll act more discerningly from now on. Of that, we should probably be even more frightened. [Aug. 8]

Kurds, Quds, Whatever. Some Of Them, I Assume, Are Good People
A vengeful Trump called my Nixon brother Hugh Hewitt a "third-rate radio announcer" for tripping him up on foreign policy. Who assisted the candidate with the deft Watergate allusion? [Sept. 4]

Real Housewives Made The Radio Star
Civilization will survive Trump. Not so sure about SiriusXM canceling C-SPAN in favor of Andy Radio. [Sept. 5]

Smack, crack, Trumpwhacked
Even Though He Really Might Be The End Of The World As We Know It
Angry at his use at a rally of "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" -- Leonard Bernstein! --  R.E.M. tells Trump to-- Well, you'll see. When I was director of the Nixon library, we asked R.E.M.'s permission to use a video of one of their performances in a 1995 exhibit on presidents and popular music. My enterprising colleague Noah McMahon got as far as their manager, who was in a car with lead singer and songwriter Michael Stipe. The manager spoke to him for a moment and then came back on the line and told Noah no. "Nixon is antithetical to everything we believe in," he said. My reaction: "You  talked to somebody who was sitting next to Michael Stipe? Cool." We mentioned the dissing in the exhibit text. Very meta. [Sept. 18]

What Deporting People En Masse Actually Looks Like
The mass deportation that Trump promises has a harrowing Depression-era antecedent that few remember. Listen until 18:00, and you'll hear an OC angle (involving Cal State Fullerton). [Sept. 11]

The Other Way Roger Ailes Abused People
Over four in ten Republicans think the president is a Muslim, and nearly three in ten think Trump's a conservative. Confused bunch! [Sept. 17]

Tragedies Play Into Trump's Hands
NYT thinks Trump will lose ground after Paris. Wishful thinking. Watch him turn up the heat on immigration. [Nov. 16]
Trump Has A Secret Plan To End Daesh
No GOP candidate has a magic bullet for Daesh. Most (besides Trump, who promises war crimes) would probably end up with a policy like Obama's. But they want to scare people, so this. [Dec. 7]

Send Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Yearning To Breathe Free To Canada, Please
Wanted: A GOP candidate willing to take an actual conservative position on refugees. Here's your talking point:

"Knowing what I do about government, we should do a better job vetting everyone who wants to come to our country legally.

"But it's dangerous to go down the road of singling out one national and especially one religious group over another for special scrutiny -- unless, in the case of terrified Syrian Muslims, Christians, and Sikhs in our time and the German and Austrian Jews we should've done more to help in an earlier time, we want to make provisions to admit even more than would be ideal.

"Why should we do that that? Because it's what the United States does when tyrants threaten the innocent.

"Daesh wants us to make the problem worse by denying entry to refugees fleeing its homicidal actions. That's why Daesh has announced that it plans to sneak terrorists into our country. Daesh wants us to turn the refugees away. Why does my opponent Trump insist on doing exactly what Daesh wants? Maybe they want to build a casino.

"We pour hot coals on the heads of our enemies by welcoming as many refugees as we can. So let's kill Daesh with hospitality at home and on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq.

"If you're asking me to say that it's a mathematical impossibility that a terrorist will ever emigrate to the U.S., I can't. If I ventured such a claim, events last week would have proved me wrong.

"Nor can I promise that no U.S.-born person will ever join Daesh. If I ventured such a claim, I would've been proved wrong last week in San Bernardino and a thousand times over the last 18 months -- each time a misguided soul betrayed freedom to join hands with tyranny.

"The only way to stop that second, far greater peril is to incarcerate all U.S. Muslims, a proposal I anticipate Trump will soon make, seconded sotto voce by his unctuous lapdog Cruz. The world is complicated, and freedom always entails risk. But if we stop being free, and if we turn against those who want to breathe free, we've risked and lost everything."

The photo shows Syrian refugees being welcomed. By Canada. [Dec. 11]

I Got This Prediction Wrong, Too (It's Mid-August, And Still No Pivot), But I Feel Fine
I invite those who haven't yet averted their eyes from U.S. politics please not to be sanguine about Donald Trump or about Sarah Palin's endorsement. In and of itself, her move is a bit of a sideshow. She knows Trump's not a conservative. Indeed she presents as a certain kind of non-ideological Trump voter with an axe to grind. For years, through her actions and statements she has evinced bitter resentment over the way she feels she was treated in '08. 

Keep smiling, and keep being you!
What we have to worry about is that a great deal of the popular discontent these days also tends to transcend ideology. Trump now stands a fair chance of being nominated. If that happens, he'll move to the center so fast that heads will spin. He'll do so brazenly and joyously, in a manner Republicans usually dare not risk. Even now, Trump's base acquiesces in his apostasies against conservatism, so there's no reason to think they won't stay with him in the general even as he adds mad-as-hell independents and Democrats (to whom he's already appealing directly). 

Meanwhile, having made the same mistake she did in '08 -- namely underrating an insurgency -- HRC actually could lose her nomination. If you have a Sanders-Trump race, you would probably have a Trump presidency. It would amount to the GOP realignment that my colleague the Rev. Rick Whittaker predicts in another thread, though in the form of a rough beast slouching toward Bethlehem. [Jan. 19, 2016]

That Time Trump Went To Church
Interesting that Donald Trump didn't pick a politically simpatico megachurch but a parish in in his own denomination, where he heard some good social gospel teaching from the Rev. Dr. Pamela Saturnia. [Jan. 25]

One Time I Erred And Strayed From The Way Of Grace
Cruz joyously unleashes on the loser. One should argue for Christian forbearance. But karma must be fun for these candidates after months of Trump insults. [Feb. 3]

The Year Money Didn't Dominate Politics
You can't buy Bernie
When it comes to money and presidential politics, I'm afraid Sen. Sanders' rhetoric, while sometimes satisfying, points in the direction of unhelpful restrictions of a free-wheeling process where everyone from unions to the Koch brothers and their fellow billionaires can send candidates PACing. I say let everyone spend what they want but be a lot more militant about disclosing big donors' names so reporters and thoughtful voters can see who's paying for what kind of speech. 

I once toyed with the idea of doing it British-style, limiting the duration of the campaign season and commandeering TV time so everyone gets the same amount of commercial and debate exposure. But that wouldn't work here. The virtue of our system, messy and tiresome as it can be, is that candidates run a two-year gauntlet of political elites, big donors, media, small donors, more media, frequent debates, and finally caucuses and primaries, leaving us with candidates who have been tested against the stress of the process and the imperatives of the Zeitgeist.

So now we have Cruz, Rubio, Trump, Clinton, and Sanders. May we make something out of the fact that they get older as they get lefter (Cruz is five or six months older than Rubio, and Trump's a little older than HRC, but you get the idea)? Possible answers include the fresh thinking of younger people, the wisdom of older people, and the irrelevance of chronological age.

Voters have a pretty rich selection, actually. Translating that roll call back to Boomerville, you basically have Goldwater, Nixon, Rockefeller (like Trump, a rough-hewn, non-ideological billionaire libertine flipping the bird and pretending to be a conservative), Humphrey, and McGovern. Missing, as usual: A socially progressive, fiscally conservative foreign policy realist (Mayor Bloomberg?). [Feb. 6]

Speaking Up For Hillary Clinton
I spent the '90s working at the Nixon library, where I encountered GOP elites who hated the Clintons because they were the first anti-Vietnam war babyboomers to reach the White House. Several (these were otherwise serious, notable people) tried to get me to watch a video saying the couple had actually had people murdered.

Kathy's story: She saw them together
I know people hate President Obama, but I've never personally experienced the intensity of the vengefulness of those early despisers of Bill and Hillary. Only someone such as her own bete noire Richard Nixon could appreciate what it was like to be exposed to such withering fire from ideological opponents throughout one's political career. So if Hillary Clinton has a severe edge, if she still talks about the vast right-wing conspiracy, if she acquiesced in what turned out to be an unwise means of keeping her private correspondence out of the public record, I'm inclined to cut her some slack. She's by most accounts a gracious, kind person who's been a punching bag for a quarter-century. How would that make you feel? 

It's fine to oppose her policies, if you do. But most of the attacks ad hominem aren't fair. At least she has a primary opponent who treats her with respect. As a result, the Democrats by and large are having a more elevated policy conversation than the Republicans. [Feb. 9]

Trump's Still-Missing Tape Would Prove, If Found, That He Was Against The Iraq War
Trump just released a transcript of remarks he made at a golf course opening in Florida in early '03:

"I hear those radical Sunnis are really bad guys, entirely terrorists, though some, I assume, are good people. The insiders I talk to on a daily basis in Baghdad tell me -- I'm sorry, but they do, they call me, what am I supposed to do about it, right? They want to know what I'd do -- they tell me that when
Bush goes in there, the Sunnis are going to get mad, and they're going to join forces with al-Qaeda, and then they're gonna hook up with the bad guys from Syria -- because that miserable stinking place is going in the toilet, too, beginning in the spring of 2011, or so I'm told on very very good authority by my sources in Damascus. And then it's like you're going to have a whole country of these awful bad guys right in the middle of, you know, everybody else's freaking countries. Then before you know it the Russians will be in there, and they'll ruin it for everybody just like they did Atlantic City. It's just a terrible deal, a giant loser. Stay away." [Feb. 15]

Trump's Biggest Lie
The story of Trump's big Iraq lie grows more fascinating by the hour. Check out James Fallows' updates to his definitive post. He shows that there's no evidence Trump opposed the Iraq invasion before it occurred or predicted that it would destabilize the region. In response, Trump supporters have told Fallows, "He was against the war — you just didn’t ask him to find out!" If that's true, why didn't Trump care enough to speak up? [Feb. 15]

Drilling Down On Trump's Base
My Andover classmate Trip Gabriel has filed the Trump analysis of the week. His 35-40% of the GOP electorate includes cohorts who like hearing him insult people for the sheer cathartic joy of it, who are anxious about slow economic growth and dwindling opportunity for wage earners, who fear the U.S. is changing, and whose interest in what's going on in Syria and Iraq is limited to keeping terrorists (and for some, Muslims) out of the U.S. 

As long as Obama's smiling, I'm good
As Gabriel argues, typical GOP rhetoric about protecting and extending freedom and making government smaller actually goes against most of that. Much of the anxiety feeding the phenomenon, as is usually the case in politics, is about the economy and jobs. 

But the angst goes deeper. A people's humanity and good-heartedness, its capacity for continuing to live into pluralistic values such the ones we proclaim at our best, require conditions that are missing, especially a shared sense of national purpose and a reasonable degree of confidence about the future.

I sympathize with the president's frustration about not being able to promote this kind of unity. He no doubt could have done more. But virtually from the moment of his election, many GOP elites were determined to construe him as an outlier. That toxic way of thinking has delivered the Republican Party into Trump's maw. Elaborating a point my friend Thomas Bushnell made in another thread about GOP chickens coming home to roost, I'd say it's pretty clear that birtherism begot a birther frontrunner whose nomination would do damage to the party that would take years to heal. (From 2011, more reflections on birtherism.) [Feb. 17]

The Race That Might've Been, And A Prediction That's Still Hanging Fire
In 2012 as in this election cycle, I was absolutely sure about who shouldn't be elected, and for reasons that have very little to do with politics. No matter what they believe, persons as self-infatuated, reactive, and undifferentiated as Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump don't belong in the presidency, because it would be bad for us and the world.
I would've liked to see this race

I'll keep looking for my candidate: A social progressive, fiscal conservative, and cool-headed foreign policy realist. But once Trump's off the stage, I won't care (or post!) anywhere near as much. Imagine Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders as the nominees, for instance. The clarity would be almost refreshing. One abhors the federal government, the other wants to expand it. If they win primaries and elections, it's because of people who believe as they do, which is the way the system's supposed to work. By the same token, the candidate whose views on most issues align most broadly with those of most people is Hillary Clinton. For that reason alone, after all the chaotic hoo hah of these bizarre few months, I bet she wins. [Feb. 23]

Another Uncharitable Post. I Resolved To Tone It Down After This One. (But The Debates Really Could Be Like This!)
My friends, Democrat, independent, and Republican: Defeating Trump is a matter of national security. You may take a different view, and I respect that. But I for one can't abide having the country and people I love nor the world we share put at risk by a Trump presidency.

So Sen. Rubio, please endorse Sen Cruz. Gov. Kasich, it's time to withdraw and back Cruz. If you have money to donate to a politician -- whether you're Democrat, Republican, Whig, or Trotskyite -- send it to Cruz with a bag of Hershey's Kisses. All GOP PACs should target Trump, too.

Cruz almost certainly won't be nominated. Trump probably will, though ideally after a contested convention. Ending up with someone different, no matter who it was, would be an incalculably great blessing.

But if it's to be Trump, let's make him battle every step of the way so that his rage continues to mount. He'll keep storing up resentments and grudges, personalizing every criticism and defeat, and threatening reprisals against those who oppose or attack him. The bulging anthology of instances of his whining and brutality will come in handy in Democrats' ads in the fall.

Then Sec. Clinton will coolly, methodically, and surgically disassemble him. This will actually be the fun part. Trump won't be able to hold his own or control his temper in debates with a confident, non-compliant female who talks expertly about almost every issue (especially jobs, Sec. Clinton; please keep talking about jobs) while rubbing his nose in his lack of applicable experience and knowledge when it comes to the intricacies of republican government in a pluralistic society. Still smarting from his nomination battle, his epic lack of intellectual and moral standing at last fully manifest to hundreds of millions around the world, he won't be able to help aiming insults at Clinton that are so ridiculous, so adolescent, so base and vile that even his supporters may find themselves wincing with shame at their grotesque of politics.

Republicans who naturally regret that all this leads to an historic landslide for the Democrats might consider getting their act together next time. [March 6]

It's All Nixon's Fault. And Kathy's.
To my wife, former Nixon chief of staff Kathy O'Connor, who typed this letter: Please look up "Reconciliation of a Penitent" in the prayer book and make an appointment with the clergy. [March 11]

Never Forget Love
Plus we invited them here to work
This post originally appeared in the Easter issue of the Via Con Dios, the newsletter of St. John's Episcopal Church.

In April 2014, preparing to run for president, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told a Texas audience that those who came to the U.S. illegally to provide a better life for their families were committing acts of love. Before he spoke, he hesitated and revealed something else on his heart: That he was taking a big risk. “I'm going to say this,” he said, “and it'll be on tape, and so be it.”

Bush was right to worry. When the GOP campaign got underway last summer, Donald Trump mocked Bush with a video on Instagram showing three undocumented immigrants who had committed felonies.

Bush hadn’t meant those guys. He’d been talking about the vast majority of those who come north looking for work. But that was too fine a distinction for politics. “Love?” Trump said. “Forget love. It’s time to get tough.”

GOP voters have made it clear that they agree. To paraphrase Bruce Springsteen, Trump’s still here, and Bush’s all gone. Trump’s rhetoric, as well as Bernie Sanders’, appeals to those who are worried about their own families and futures in an under-performing economy. Many of their concerns are understandable. Wages have been stagnant for 40 years. According to a recent survey, nearly half of us would have trouble coming up with $400 in an emergency without selling something or borrowing the money.

Still, as a political slogan, “forget love” amounts to an emergency for Christians, especially during Easter. We may have our passionately held beliefs about issues and candidates. We may be convinced that the other party will lead the country to shame and ruin. We may be mad as all get out and determined not to take it anymore.

But Christians can never forget love. No matter what our views are on undocumented immigrants, for instance, no matter how discouraged we are about the economy, faithful citizens should at least able to appreciate Bush’s nuance. All people are beloved of God, and most people, at home and abroad, want to do the best they can for those they love. Saying so shouldn’t be an act of political suicide.

By the same token, Christians can’t forget love even when they’re talking about the candidates they oppose. I need reminders about this myself sometimes. I’ve always been interested in politics, having sat at Richard Nixon’s knee for ten years and run his library for almost 20. This year, I’m feeling more certain about the candidates I don’t admire than those I do. As a citizen and voter, I’m entitled to my opinions, which I express in Facebook posts and which, I’m sure, sometimes peek between the lines of sermons.

Did he make love a third rail?
And yet at St. John’s, each of the five remaining contenders no doubt has supporters in the pews. None comes to church to hear a favored candidate or cause condemned by someone standing before the altar of Christ. So as we head into the conventions and the general election, I resolve to stay as close as I can to the via media.

One way to keep partisanship at a minimum in church settings is to say what we’re for rather than whom we’re against. So for now, I pray that God will lead all our candidates to discerning choices based on what’s best for the largest number of people. I pray that anxious voters will look for candidates who offer solutions to our problems instead of just blaming scapegoats. And I pray that all candidates and voters, especially those who follow Christ, will remember (or perhaps receive latter-day revelations) that we can never forget love.

In which Fox News acknowledges the success of the anti-Daesh policy of the Obama administration that the candidates Fox supports insist isn't working. [April 26]

That Speech Trump Made That Time Without Creating A Huge Crisis For His Campaign
Fox News' Obama critics, 2008: He needs a TelePrompTer. Fox News' Trump boosters, 2016: Isn't he great with a TelePrompTer? [April 27]

Quite Frankly
Dude, the word is not "pundunt." [May 4]

It Turns Out That Dark Money Is Highly Overrated
Old conventional wisdom: Koch brothers will buy election. New CW: Can't the Koch brothers stop Trump? [May 10]

OK, Really. Why Trump?

Okay, campers, it looks like Clinton and Trump are neck and neck in a new poll of likely voters. Make yourself a s'more, and have a seat around the campfire so we can reason together. Wait, let's sing "Sloop John B" first, to bond a little. 

He's a liberal, she's a hawk. Take that.
First off: If you don't like Clinton's ethics, Trump's just aren't any better. You might say she's a big liberal. So is he. The public works and defense spending and tax cuts he's promised will make the the national debt clock explode. 

On social issues -- LGBTQ people, restroom equity, even abortion (if you credit what he used to say, before he was a Republican) -- he usually sounds like a centrist, which means that from a strictly conservative perspective, he'd be unreliable on SCOTUS appointments. 

Clinton's against deporting 11 million undocumented workers and their families. To the NYT, in secret, Trump evidently said he was negotiable on the question (which put him way to the left of Cruz). They both favor raising the minimum wage. 

Is national security your issue? Clinton was cozy with Putin in '09, and Trump is now. He invokes isolationist Charles Lindbergh, supports protectionism, says he was against Iraq, opposes future interventions, and yet promises to defeat Daesh. She's a globalist and hawk who thinks Obama is too cautious on Daesh. So while Clinton's position on the #1 security challenge proceeds more consistently from her record, they both sound tougher than the incumbent. 

Besides all that, she has years of experience in Washington. We good so far? Did I get anything wrong? Want another s'more? A chorus of "Wagon Wheel"? So you still like Trump? Um, why? [May 11]

The Democrats' Nixon
This historic night, as Hillary Clinton clinches her party's nomination, is a good time to read this epic profile. One great insight among many: "Everyone assumes Clinton is harboring an underlying secret. It’s a paranoiac cycle — Clinton and her team think that everyone is after her, and their behavior creates further incentive for everyone to come after her. But at some point, cause and effect cease to matter. Defensiveness, secrecy, and a bunkered combativeness (that perhaps relates to her worrying hawkishness) are her very real shortcomings. The question is whether they can be overcome by her very real strengths, especially as she prepares to take on a man whose own flaws are so outsize." [June 7]

Whom Are We Supposed To Bomb?
Getty Images
Read this profile and others like it, and ask yourself exactly how we go to war against this. Omar Mateen’s ex-wife says that he hit her, sometimes as she slept, and that he suffered from mental illness. A former colleague said he was prone to homicidal ideation. He may have learned his bigotry against LGBTQ people from his father, who is reportedly given to grandiosity himself. So Mateen found a sick ideology, a code, a cause that gave him permission to loose his demons on the innocent. Deranged murderers often do. It has ever been thus. I don’t deny that this is a problem with complex dimensions. Maybe he was incited by a tweet or a web site. Daesh is losing ground and doing all it can to spark a holy war. But whom exactly should we bomb? How are we going to make sure they’re not innocent, too? [June 13]

Jean Would've Loved This Political Year
Jean on deadline
Flag Day would've been my distinguished editor mom's 92nd birthday. It was Trump's 70th. She would've been amused. And she'd be scouring the papers every morning, rooting for her brother and sister editors, reporters, and photographers as they covered this election of elections. (I share Sec. Clinton's birthday. Go figure.) [June 14]

An Affront To Christ
Since Sept. 11, Muslims have been asked over and over again to repudiate extremists who misappropriate the faith. Many who have done so eloquently have been marked for death by Daesh. Christians have the same obligation to speak against perversions of the gospel, though we rarely run the same risks as our Muslim brothers and sisters. I repudiate Pastor Roger Jimenez's rhetoric as being antithetical, an utter affront, to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I pray that the Holy Spirit will open his heart to the truth of God's love and his responsibility as Christ's disciple to live it out in love, never hate. Always love. And I pray the same Spirit will also help me do a better job loving and serving in the way of Christ. [June 15]

The Perils Of Letting Politics Drive Foreign Policy
This article clarifies the danger and delicacy of the situation we face in confronting Daesh. The president's critics say he and our allies haven't done enough to battle it on the ground. We should do more, they say. Many have in mind either the wholesale massacre of the innocent from the air or a politically unsustainable commitment of ground forces. 

Meanwhile, it turns out that we're winning on the ground after all. Some experts think Daesh will be destroyed in Syria and Iraq within a year. The danger remains acute. Failing as nation builders, their caliphate already in mortal peril, these would-be tyrants are devolving into al-Qaeda-style gangsters of the type that the Bush and Obama administrations both have managed to degrade ruthlessly and effectively. 

Hence the delicacy. It's understandable to construe this as another world war, as a strategic challenge, and of course as a campaign issue, especially if, God forbid, there are more attacks. But you don't go war against a crime syndicate. It's a challenge for law enforcement and intelligence agencies as well as communities devoted to defeating Daesh's already stalled recruitment efforts by persuading their young people to walk in the way of light and life instead of darkness and death. 

It's too early to say that Daesh is in its death throes. It will undoubtedly strike again. But to overreact now, to let our politics drive policy, to lash out recklessly and savagely could make matters far worse and invite the loss of far more than those we mourn already. An Independence Day blessing on those who realize that sometimes playing small ball is the best way to fight for freedom. [July 4]

And The Republicans' Nixon
They say history repeats itself as farce, don't they? Nixon factotums turned Trump factotums are probably feeding him the Nixonian tropes -- silent majority, law and order. While Mr. Nixon wasn't as brazen as Trump, he understood, as Trump does, that fear is a potent political force. Mr. Nixon's '68 acceptance speech was Walt Whitman compared to tonight. Trump's dark genius is knowing exactly what certain people want to hear but are afraid to say. And then he says it with a crudeness that Mr. Nixon would never have dared. 

Here's what worries me. Those who argue that 1968 was worse than 2016 forget how terrible San Bernardino, Orlando, Dallas, and Baton Rouge must seem to people who don't remember '68. And that's the year that the Democratic candidate, Hubert Humphrey (burdened by an association with LBJ and his war) got a mere 42% of the vote. Mr. Nixon got just 43%, it's true. But he would have broken 50% if George Wallace hadn't been in the race. [July 21]

The End Of Democracy As We Know It?
I love some people who can't stand Clinton and plan to vote for Trump. I love some people who can't stand Clinton and plan to vote for her anyway because they're terrified by Trump. Remember that Ruth Bader Ginsburg risked her reputation and Ted Cruz his 2020 chances in order to warn us about a Trump presidency. You might think about how seldom those two agree on anything. Andrew Sullivan sums it up cogently. It would be interesting to hear what readers think about his concerns (as opposed hearing their views about how terrible they think Clinton is). Ready, set, go. [July 21]

Even Mr. Nixon Released His Tax Returns, Mr. Trump, And While They Were Under Audit
Mr. Nixon didn't donate all of his pre-presidential records to the government.  Using the portion he kept, we were able to open a research archive at the then-private Nixon library in the early 1990s. All the collections were reunited after we turned the library over to the National Archives in 2007. About the infamous 1970 post-dated deed, which he blamed on his accountant, he used to complain that it was considered illegal for the IRS's purposes but legal for NARA's. He lost the deduction, but the government kept the donated papers. [Aug. 6]

A New Birth Of Bipartisanship?
Yesterday in Winslow, I saw a John McCain for Senate sign and felt bad that I didn't live in Arizona anymore so I could vote for him. He's got a close race on his hands. He's more conservative than I. But he'd definitely be my guy. He's a true hero, Trump's crude insult notwithstanding. Back in my Nixon days, he was a good friend of the nonpartisan Nixon Center in Washington.

Nixon with McCain, 1973
And there's this. I realized that it would probably be better if the Republicans kept the Senate and House.

Here's why. The violence and bigotry Trump has modeled and unleashed, while reprehensible, wouldn't have gotten as much traction if it weren't for the economic anxiety so many in our country experience. Both parties’ 2016 insurgencies were fueled by legitimate worries about the shortage of dignified work at living wages and with decent benefits for less well-educated folks, especially millions who graduate from high school each year with no decent jobs in sight. While there’s no evading the necessity of free trade agreements in a global economy, Democrats and Republicans should’ve worked together to reassure, retrain, and reequip our work force.

Trump’s inexperience, protectionist policies, penchant for cruelty, and obsessive zeal to personalize every issue and conflict would, it goes without saying, make matters far worse. President Hillary Clinton will come into office focused on public works and regulatory solutions. By themselves, they won't be enough. Meanwhile, under Speaker Paul Ryan's leadership, policy wonks on the House side have churned out a whole package of market-based economic- and job-growth policies. By themselves, they won't be enough, either.

Here's my dream, born, no doubt, of my relentless optimism: A new era of bipartisan cooperation emerging from the ashes of this nightmare year. On Nov. 9, the speaker will call the president-elect, or vice versa, and say, "We each of us just dodged a bullet, politically speaking. It's in both our interests, not to mention the interests of the country, that it never happen again. Trump and Sanders actually did us a big favor. They demonstrated that neither of our parties was paying enough attention to working people. So let's focus all our energy on growth and jobs. We don't need to agree on means, just ends. We'll do some of your stuff. We'll do some of our stuff. And we'll all take credit when it works."

We've learned this year that even the greatest nation on earth can’t take the stability of its political institutions for granted if we don’t work together to promote a better life for all our people. [Aug. 11]

I Was Going To Stay Out Of Politics. But Then I Remembered That Trump Was Still Running And I Have Three Daughters
When Hillary Clinton was nominated, I was struck by the relatively scant attention that was paid to the breakthrough for women the moment represented. We now have a situation where 11 women have credibly accused her opponent of precisely the same predatory behavior he bragged about to Billy Bush. If he had acted this way with such astonishing regularity across many years toward individuals from any other demographic group -- ethnic, socio-economic, religious, cultural -- would his candidacy survive the weekend? What is it about women being the victims that seems, against all reason, to make this a debatable question for some people? Even if you like his positions on corporate and capital gains taxes, how can this possibly be okay? If it is, what behavior toward women would you find intolerable? It's ironic. A political culture that yawned when a woman was nominated has now got an epochal debate on the culture of misogyny on its hands. This is a profoundly meaningful learning moment for our country and, I'd add, for the church. God be with us all. [Oct. 14]

And Then America Got Just What It Voted For
About 200 worshiped this weekend at the church I serve in south Orange County. One said after services this morning that a family caregiver, a woman of color and a U.S. citizen, was told two days after the election by a man on the sidewalk that Trump was going to send her back where she came from. A couple told me that a family member and member of the LGBTQ community was verbally attacked twice at work. Another relative (a woman of color, a U.S. citizen, and a Christian) was in a store when a customer said that Trump was going to deport her and all the Muslims. Three such stories in one week from our small church alone! There's been plenty of passion and anger on both sides. It would behoove us all to lower our voices and remember all the ways (the infinite number of ways) we can make the world better by our own expressions of hospitality, empathy, forgiveness, acceptance, and love. But everyone knows where some folks would say they got permission to act so maliciously. It doesn't matter whom you voted for or what you think about immigration, the capital gains tax, or the Iran deal. It's not right. It's not American. Everyone knows it. The Chinese have a saying: "Whoever tied the knot on the bell is the one to untie it." Please, Mr. President-elect. In the name of Christ. In the name of love. [Nov. 13]

Monday, August 8, 2016

8/8/74: When Nixon Didn't Resign

I shall not resign the presidency.
Gordon Partington III, Richard Nixon’s speechwriter, entered the impossibly tense room and recoiled first from the cold and then the smell of someone’s gaudy perfume laced with the television technicians’ sweat. He threaded his way among colleagues and sloppily dressed, indifferent-looking strangers. Finding an empty spot between the fireplace and a sconce, he settled in to watch the annihilation of all that he loved.

Like a pastor before services, Gordie had washed his face and hands and combed his thick blond hair before coming in. Though he’d been awake for two days, his pinstriped gray suit was rumpled but serviceable, the jacket neatly buttoned.

His wash-and-wear, blue and white-striped button-down shirts and paisley ties had once set him apart from Bob Haldeman’s fraternity boys, over-groomed southern Californians in starched white dress shirts and rep stripes. What do you get if you drive a red convertible slowly through the University of Los Angeles campus? A diploma, or so went the old gag. If the car had a Nixon bumper sticker, you also got an office in the West Wing. Gordie went to Andover and Princeton and could sometimes see both sides of a question, so the frat boys never trusted him. But they were all gone now, dressing for meetings with their criminal defense attorneys instead of staff meetings at the White House.

Much as Gordie loved this room, tonight it was the last place in the world he wanted to be. He considered it to be sacred space, consecrated to the New England-bred principles of good government he cherished -- the imperfectability of man, taking care of those who really needed it, and otherwise leaving him alone. For most of the last five and a half years, they’d been high priests of enlightened pragmatism and great-power drama. Gordie and Nixon’s other writers had stood there proudly when their announcements about great issues of war and peace, all the administration’s coveted “historic firsts,” had been broadcast to tens of millions.

But Oval Office speeches required turning half the Oval Office into backstage. Gordie had always
Backstage in the Oval Office
been put off when he saw the black rubber cables snaking along the blue and gold carpet, lighting fixtures that looked like silver umbrellas mounted on music stands, and interlopers laughing at their inside jokes. His bushy eyebrows gathered into an expression of puritanical revulsion. The situation stank, and so did they.

Peering around the cameras, he saw the woman who went with the perfume in a halo of light around the president’s desk. She had curly blonde hair held back by a ponytail and wore cowboy boots and jeans stretched across what seemed to Gordie to be a comically inflated bottom.

He glared at her from the shadows. She was dabbing around the old man’s widow’s peak. He held his big head still. His lips twitched in acknowledgement of the reassurances that Gordie thought she must have been whispering to him. As the makeup was applied, he was trying to keep his small, darting eyes closed, but sometimes, when his eyelids fluttered, Gordie could see him fix curiously on the woman. He wasn’t around people such as her very often. Even tonight, he was probably trying to see down her blouse. One of the few secrets the Nixon White House had managed to keep was that he had a wandering eye, especially when the woman was smart and pretty.

Gordie was only interested in her work. Stroke by stroke, she erased some of the outward signs of weariness and worry. She stepped back and nodded encouragingly. Before she turned away, she reached across his chest and patted his hands, which he had set on the desk in front of him, his delicate fingers entwined on top of a manila folder, which contained history’s first presidential resignation address, his and Gordie’s last collaboration.

Nixon’s face looked calm and, thanks to the woman’s efforts, a lot healthier than the last time Gordie had seen him. He smiled grimly in the dark. At least he’d leave a decent corpse. If it were really going to come to that, he could have been laid out in the Oval Office for a day or two, since either Nixon or Al Haig, his chief of staff, had ordered the air conditioning as low as it would go in August.

Still standing against the wall opposite Nixon’s desk, Partington sniffed the air again. The cold stench of failure. But still the frisson of power. Gordie could think of no earthy reason why it should feel different around powerful people. But while Nixon was disgraced and broken, it was still there, like a force field, as though the effect of everything he’d done, every life enhanced or destroyed, would stick to him forever.

And what about what Nixon could still do, even in these last few hours? What if Vietnam flared up, or the Russians started something? Gordie imagined an aide rushing in and whispering in Nixon’s ear, telling him of yet another crisis demanding his attention. Nixon had always made a fetish out of crisis. He could turn ordering breakfast into an existential struggle, a clash of civilizations. I know they like eating bagels and crepes at Princeton, Gordie, but it’s just not for me. His greatest crisis was giving up power before his time. It had never been done before, not once. So while by all accounts the Nixon presidency was in its dying moments, the night was young.

“May we have a level, please, Mr. President?” someone said.

“A what?” Nixon barked the question. He knew what an audio level test was but wanted them to think he didn’t, since no serious person would, and certainly no person occupied with ending wars and undertaking great initiatives. Before the technician could answer, he continued wearily, “Oh, yes, of course. One two three four five six seven. Is that good enough? Do you need more?”

“That’s fine, sir. Thank you.”

Nixon, who usually regretted being rude, tried to compensate. “I could do it again,” he said. “I understand it’s important. We all have to do our jobs. I could’ve done mine better.”

“Thank you, sir,” the man said. “We have it.” Gordie thought the man had spoken gently enough. Still, the speechwriter was always imagining dialog for other people. The technician might have added a little something. I’m sure this is hard for you, sir; I’m sorry. But what does he care? Maybe he hates him, like everyone else in the media. Maybe he had someone die in Vietnam.

Nixon also could have said something gracious to the stranger. I never know what to do or say when I’m anxious and self-conscious, which is the case pretty much all the time, so I take it out on people such as you, my political enemies, and peasants in small Southeast Asian countries.

Gordie shifted his weight from one foot to the other and steeled his weary, wandering mind. That wasn’t fair, and he knew it. If there was one thing Nixon had agonized about for his whole first term, trying desperately to do the right thing, it was that bastard of a war. Anyway they’d spent far too much time trying to repackage America’s misanthropic geopolitical genius. As Nixon was fond of saying when shredding Partington’s more Whitmanesque exercises, sappy wasn’t his style. Tonight of all nights, let Nixon be Nixon.

Gen. Alexander M. Haig, Jr.
Haig had told Gordie to start writing over a week ago, after the Supreme Court ruled that Nixon would have to give investigators more of the tapes he’d secretly made of conversations with his aides. Gordie hated the idea. He thought they should keep fighting. But the public’s furious reaction to the tape transcripts the White House released last Monday afternoon convinced even him that Nixon would have to go.

All week he sent drafts over to the West Wing, and Nixon would send them back, crisscrossed in blue fountain pen ink. On Wednesday, Barry Goldwater led a solemn delegation of Senate and House leaders, all Republicans, to tell Nixon he was going to be impeached by the House and that he had 15 votes at most in the Senate. He’d need 34 senators to avoid being convicted. Nixon knew it already. The visit of erstwhile congressional allies was a set piece in his ritualized emasculation, like King Arthur being stabbed in the crotch with his own sword.

They’d still been working last night, Gordie in his office taking notes on his IBM Selectric, Nixon calling from his bedroom on the second floor or his hideaway office in the Old Executive Office Building. He’d been reflective, self-pitying, maudlin. Resigned. He had Gordie add a paragraph on his initiatives with China and Russia. He raged half-heartedly against his tormentors. He apologized for letting everyone down. Once Gordie thought he was crying. Nixon would mutter “thank you” or “fine” and hang up without waiting for a response, and Gordie and his secretary would get to work on another draft. She typed it ten times in five days.

Rose Mary Woods
On Thursday, Nixon gave it to his secretary, Rose Woods, who typed it once more in capital letters using a large-font ball so he wouldn’t have to wear his reading glasses. Nixon had always refused to use a TelePrompTer. He thought it looked more authentic to read from a written text, glancing up and down and turning the pages.

Woods’s typescript was the one in the folder on his desk. Before a broadcast, he would underline words for stress, maybe add a sentence or two. Sometimes he’d warn the speechwriters about a drop-in, but it usually caught them by surprise. They were his reminders that it was not theirs but his.

“Twenty seconds, sir,” said the technician. Gordie heard the door open and close and saw that Haig had slipped in. They nodded to one another. It was just as Gordie looked back at the desk that Nixon turned to his left, opened the top drawer, and removed another folder.

“I don’t suppose you have any idea what that’s all about,” Partington said to Haig in a hissing whisper.

“My purview of operational responsibility did not include preparation of tonight’s address,” Haig said. “So you tell me.”

Silent monitors facing the back of the room showed the live feed for the three networks -- an exterior shot of the White House, then the presidential seal.

“Maybe he decided to use an earlier draft,” Gordie said. “Or maybe Rose’s copy was mysteriously erased by a sinister force.” Haig watched Nixon as he put the first folder in the drawer and opened the second. When Haig had said last December that “some sinister force” may have erased eighteen and a half minutes of one of the tapes that Congress had subpoenaed, Partington and everyone else knew he meant Nixon. “Up yours, Gordon,” Haig whispered.

“Five seconds,” said the technician, who counted four with his fingers and then pointed to the president of the United States.

When Nixon began to speak, Gordie’s eyes grew wide. He’d memorized the text. This wasn’t it. Nixon was doing a drop-in? Now? Was he actually winging his goddamned resignation speech? Haig grasped at his arm. He brushed Haig’s hand away and strained to hear.

Nixon’s voice wasn’t amplified, and the sound on the monitors was turned off. Then he raised his voice and stared into the camera. The two men got every word. “As president, my principal responsibility is to ensure that our carefully balanced system of constitutional government is not shortchanged,” he said, his eyes steely and narrow, “for the sake of what is convenient for any one individual, even if he is the president.”

Four or five more aides came in, including Emily, the new girl in the counsel’s office, the one just down from Harvard at the beginning of the summer. Partington didn’t think she’d ever even met Nixon or been in the Oval Office before. She was holding yet another manila folder. Scared as he was, his rectitude was offended again. She was too new, too junior to be here.

Most of the staffers knew something was going terribly wrong and looked suspiciously at Partington and Haig, who were just standing there staring at the president, who was now nearly two minutes along without having read a single word he was supposed to have read.

Emily, a small, pretty woman with shoulder-length red hair, was fixed on the president. “Therefore,” he said, looking calmly at the camera, though it appeared his hands were shaking a little, “regardless of demands to the contrary by my critics and many well-intentioned people around the country who are understandably weary of Watergate, I shall not resign the office of president of the United States. Effective immediately, Vice President Ford will assume the duties of acting president under the provisions of Section 3 of the 25th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which govern a president’s temporary incapacity to fulfill his office.”

Haig swore to himself and stormed out. Gordie watched the thick molded door ooze shut and thought he might throw up. Was he witnessing a coup? Would tanks be circling the White House? And where the hell had Haig gone?

The president continued. “This will enable my advisors and me,” he said, “to mount the defense before the United States Senate to which, in the event of my impeachment by the House of Representatives, the president is entitled and which our Constitution wisely provides. All the work of the presidency and oversight of the executive branch will be carried out by our able and experienced acting president.”

Leonard Garment
Three or four people arrived and inched along the wall shoulder to shoulder, including Jim St. Clair, Nixon’s lawyer, and Len Garment, the White House counsel. They were glaring at Gordie, too. He shrugged and shook his head. Garment nodded with a limp smile. He and Gordie had been friends for years and recently partners in formulating the administration’s Indian affairs policy. They knew that Nixon had gone off the reservation before, although never like this.

St. Clair didn’t know his client as well as the other two men did. He spoke, and they answered, in whispers, since Nixon was still talking. “You must’ve known, Gordon. Len. For Christ’s sake.”

“I didn’t,” Partington said. “I’ve just spent three days locked in my office writing another speech. Where the hell’s Haig?”

St. Clair said, “He just came to get Len and me.”

“Where’s he now?” Gordie said. He wasn’t the only one in the White House who worried about Haig’s four-star authoritarian streak. His Pentagon buddies had been busted a few months before for spying on the White House because they thought Nixon was soft on Moscow and Beijing. He’d been for resignation before the rest of the staff. Gordie wondered if Haig was on the phone with Jim Schlesinger or maybe the Joint Chiefs at the Pentagon, telling them not to worry, he had our lunatic president under control.

“Haig said he was calling Ford,” Garment said.

“Did he know?” Gordie said.

“Haig?” St. Clair said.

“He meant did Ford know,” Garment said.

Nixon and Ford
Partington said, “I definitely meant Haig, but now that you mention it, what’s the story on Jerry? I can’t imagine that he acquiesced in this. Section 3 is for sick presidents, not scandals.” He almost never raised his voice, but panic and exhaustion had gotten the better of him. Almost yelling, he said, “Does anybody have the slightest idea what ‘acting president’ actually means in this hellish nightmare of a situation?”

“I do,” a woman said in a girlishly high voice. “It’s not especially complicated.”

The three men turned toward Nixon, whom they’d momentarily forgotten. The speech was over. Emily, the new girl, was standing at his right side, fixing them with a determined if somewhat petulant expression. In the bright TV lights, they saw that she had green eyes and freckles. The president was also watching them thoughtfully. Looking down, she opened the manila folder she’d been holding and laid it in front of Nixon. They could see it contained two sheets of paper, each bearing a few lines of typescript. Nixon took a pen out of his suit coat pocket, scanned the top page briefly, signed his name to both, and slammed the folder shut.

"Jackson Place"/Robin Rogers Cloud
He pushed his chair back. Everyone in the room – technicians, aides, and attorneys – stood stunned and silent. No one had thought to turn the room lights back on, so he still looked like an actor on a stage. In his growly baritone, he said to them all and to none, “Someone please tell Mrs. Nixon that we’re moving to Jackson Place tonight.” Then he and Emily followed his Secret Service agents out of the room.

Garment looked at Partington and St. Clair. His usually bemused face was twisted in astonishment and shame. Emily Weissman was a 25-year-old kid with skinny legs, about six minutes out of law school, who worked on his own staff. He hadn’t talked to her for a total of more than 15 minutes. He was pretty sure she was supposed to be working on the 1974 presidential pardon list.

St. Clair was seething. He said to Garment, “What the hell’s going on in your shop? Is she sleeping with him?”

“I didn’t think she was quite his type,” Gordie said with a desperate smile. “She sure [expletive deleted] us.”

The real 37th president announced his resignation 42 years ago tonight. This post originally appeared as chapter 3, "Another Historic First," in my 2014 novel, Jackson Place. Find out more here

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Always Special

Jean on vacation in Michigan, 1957
My mother was born in Detroit on the brink of the Great Depression. Her parents, Frank and Lily Sharley, met in the United States after emigrating from England. Jean and her elder brother, George, grew up in a house their father had built but couldn’t afford to finish once the darkness fell. You could see the tarpaper instead of siding. Frank found work as a hospital handyman. They had enough, but just barely.

You probably understand after hearing from Tom Johnson, my mom’s favorite boss ever, that Jean had a reporter’s ear for good stories and revealing details. She loved to tell people that her father, as a boy, once delivered a prescription to Buckingham Palace in the latter few years of Queen Victoria. Her mother’s family, from Lancashire, was about to sail for New York on the Titanic when the steamship company revoked their half-price tickets and resold them at full price to someone almost infinitely less lucky.

In her father’s case, a brush with greatness. In her mother’s, the touch of Providence. She loved her parents dearly, and their stories helped her understand, when life seemed grey, when poverty embarrassed her, that her life would always glitter in bright colors, that she would always be special.

With her mother, Lily
As a little girl, she went to church with her family and fell in love with the elegant language and cadences of the Book of Common Prayer. “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done.” It can’t really be said of Jean! She couldn’t afford to go to college, but the prayer book, her natural gifts as a writer, and her compassion and curiosity amounted to a graduate degree in journalism.

Her vocation, which is now undergoing sometimes heartbreaking change, provides its practitioners with constant brushes with greatness in the form of the events and people journalists cover. As for Providence, the church and prayer book worked their more customary magic with Jean as well. She never doubted the loving, saving grace of heaven -- not once. I have a million things to thank my mother for, none more important than an eternal if sometimes reckless optimism and an innate trust in God.

Greatness eluded her, however, at Redford Union High School in Detroit. As a freshman, she entered a contest to pick the new school fight song. The judges told her she would’ve won if she’d written the three verses they asked for instead of just two. As dementia overtook her at 89 or 90, this injustice, this outrage was one of the last things she forgot.

A 1950s fashion assignment
As a fashion writer for the Detroit Free Press, she traveled to New York for the fall shows. Audrey Hepburn, Renoir, the novelist Colette, and all beautiful people and things captivated her. Soon her editors wanted her working as a general assignment reporter. At the Free Press, the newsroom was male-only territory -- until Jean got there. One old-timer muttered that lace curtains on the windows would be next.

Her victories for women came before feminism had a name. Sometimes it was just a matter of making do. Covering a Tigers-Yankees game during 1961’s AL pennant race, she was barred from the Yankee Stadium press box. She put her portable typewriter on top of an overturned trashcan, found a chair, and made her deadline.

Jean’s writing was economical and lively, whimsical, smart, and fresh, occasionally sentimental but never mawkish – always the right word, never a word out of place. In 1965, Detroit civil rights worker Viola Liuzzo was murdered by a member of the Ku Klux Klan after the march from Selma to Montgomery. Jean visited the apartment Viola shared with her husband and children and described their small, neat bedroom and the family pictures, school books, and white-covered gold-leaf Bible that were arranged carefully on Viola’s desk. At the funeral in Detroit, Jean asked an African-American woman who didn’t know Viola why she was standing on the street in the rain, hoping to get into the church. “Because she died for me,” the woman said. These words ended Jean’s account of her city’s sad day in the next day’s paper.

She was a single working mother of a ten year old. Imagine how she felt when we received death threats after the Viola Liuzzo stories appeared. These callers deplored my mother’s sympathetic coverage of Viola’s murder and warned that they knew where I went to school. One evening, I noticed a police car by the curb outside our apartment. It came back the next night, and the next. My mother didn’t say why, because the last thing she ever wanted me or anyone to do was worry.

Harvey and Jean
But it was inevitable that I would worry, especially when my mother seemed lonely or sad. My father, Harvey, another brilliant newspaperperson, was the first love of Jean’s life. The only picture I have of them together, taken in the early 1950s, shows him in a blazer and tie, looking mischievously at the camera. Jean is sitting on the floor wearing a black cocktail dress and pearls, leaning on his knee and holding a drink, her happy face in profile, turned toward him.

While Harvey was an alcoholic, I don’t believe Jean ever uttered that word and his name in the same paragraph. The marriage essentially ended when I was two, though for the next ten years, Harvey came over for dinner almost every Saturday night. He sat at the end of the couch, drank martinis, smoked Chesterfields, laughed quietly at the conversation, and occasionally got up and went to the piano to massacre Beethoven sonatas.

In her office in Phoenix
In 1967, Jean and 12-year-old John headed to Phoenix so she could go to work on the Arizona Republic as women’s editor. Her brilliance as a journalist and her courage persisted. Her editor in Arizona was J. Edward Murray. Their publisher was Eugene Pulliam, uncle of a future vice president, Dan Quayle. One day, Mr. Pulliam told Mr. Murray that he had written an editorial in support of President Nixon’s actions in Vietnam and wanted it published on the front page. When Ed Murray told the owner of the newspaper that editorials went on the editorial page, Pulliam fired him. Learning of this during a meeting, Jean stood up and said, “A paper that has no room for Ed Murray has no room for me!” and walked out into 110 degrees of Phoenix unemployment – which didn’t last long, thanks to offers from the Timeses of New York and Los Angeles.

Tom has spoken beautifully of Jean’s years at the Los Angeles Times, Christle equally so about their adventures. Christle and my mother’s other close friends – Bobbie and Ed Justice, Bette Gillespie, George Mair, Miv and Alfred Schaaf, Frank Wylie and Judy Babcock, Sister Jenny, so many others – were all gifts to her.

In 1978, Jean married that gracious gentleman Dick Lescoe, who lent her his three daughters, Linda, Donna, and Debbie. In retirement, with Tomasa’s help, Jean helped Debbie with her children, Stephanie and Ricky, and was a devoted grandmother to my children, Valerie and Lindsay, and to my wife Kathy’s children, Dan and Meaghan.

Jean at the LA Times
The most important thing to know about my mother is that she believed she was called to reflect God’s grace, make the world better, see ways forward that others couldn’t, and never stop striving, even unto exhaustion. She took in tenants for free and took Thanksgiving turkeys and green beans to Union Station here in Pasadena. She helped build the columbarium in this beautiful church where she and Dick will cohabitate. She sacrificed her comfort and security to take care of those she loved, especially her parents and then Dick when he was afflicted with Parkinson’s disease. If you had a problem, she had an answer or an idea, and always an encouraging smile.

It made these gestures no less worthy or holy that Jean, even as she acted in love and justice, was observing and chronicling herself in the process. She was, after all, a reporter. She could have invented Facebook. I don’t know whether I’m curious or terrified about what might have happened if she had been healthy enough to establish an account. If my family and friends ever wonder why her son is a selfie junkie, now you know.

Jean could be stubborn. Tom has mentioned my time as an aide to Mr. Nixon. Jean and he were a formidable combination. They first met in Washington in 1985. She was in town to hear his talk to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, and he asked me to invite her up to his suite so he could say hello.

She told him that she had covered a stop he had made in upper Michigan during his reelection campaign in 1972. The record is abundantly clear that neither my mother nor the 37th president got anywhere near upper Michigan in 1972. But Jean held her ground. Looking around frantically, Nixon saw a large box of Godiva chocolates that the hotel had given him. Pat Nixon preferred See’s. So he had suggested I take them home to the mother of my children. In the face of Jean’s intransigence, he grabbed Marcia’s chocolates, handed them to my mother, and bolted from the room. Nixon was less flummoxed by Mao and Khrushchev.

With Elizabeth, May 2015
Jean’s willfulness and my immature frustration sometimes made our relationship difficult. But not so our last two years. Dementia is terrible. But for my mother, it was also a kind of gift. It took away her need to try so hard to help. For the first time in the 60 years I’d know her, she was content. In the home in Yorba Linda where Elizabeth and Linda took such good care of her, Jean sat in the garden with the sun on her face and arms without feeling that she should be doing something historic instead.

I told her the stories, since she’d forgotten it all. I told her about Harvey and Dick and her grandchildren and about my godfather, Louis Cook, another handsome newspaperman who had loved her desperately. Hearing it all again, brand new each time, she’d always smile, and her blue eyes would gleam. And on a sunny Saturday morning last October – because she loved Saturday mornings best of all – she slipped peacefully into glory.

A Celebration of the Life of Jean Taylor Lescoe was held on April 16, 2016 at my mother's home parish, All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena. My fellow eulogists were Jean's friends Christle Balvin and former LA Times publisher Tom Johnson.