Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Lesson Learned From Ted Kennedy

The year is 1982. Ronald Reagan is in the second year of his first term as President of the United States. Terrell Bell, a Utah Republican and a Mormon, is the Secretary of Education. Charles Manatt, a Los Angeles lawyer and life long Democrat is the Chairman of the DNC. The National Council of La Raza, "the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States", is in its 14th year of existence. Ted Kennedy is two years into his 4th term as a US Senator from Massachusetts. “The Sage” is married to his first wife, a naturalized US citizen born in Havana, Cuba, and the two of us are enjoying high-profile national reputations in our chosen careers; she in education and I in banking. We each make frequent trips to DC as “citizen lobbyists” on behalf of our professions.

In late summer of 1982 Terrell Bell at the urging of his Under Secretary of Education, Jesse Soriano, nominates my (then) wife to be the Vice-Chair of a prestigious national education organization. It is a White House appointment and, if confirmed, she will be sworn in at a ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House. The appointment looks like it should be a slam-dunk for a 34 year old Cuban-American woman who, along with her mother, had fled Castro’s wrath just 21 years prior. And it was “on track for confirmation” until “La Raza” got wind of the nomination and began a two pronged campaign; one to pressure Secretary Bell and the other to personally harass my wife. Her “lack of qualification” according to “La Raza” really boiled down to the fact that she was a Cuban and not a “chicana” (a person of Mexican descent). She was the “wrong kind of Hispanic” they complained. She took it personally. I knew it was politics at its nastiest and had to be dealt with politically.

I had met Charles Manatt, the founder of the prestigious LA firm of Manatt, Phelps and Phillips, several years before while doing some consulting work for a bank in which he was involved as a shareholder and Director. We worked well together and resolved the bank’s issues quickly and without regulatory intervention. A pragmatic and practical man, Chuck Manatt has always known that you need “friends in both camps” in order to play the game of politics effectively; a lesson I too had learned early on. As a result he was only too glad to see me and my spouse on short notice during a hastily arranged trip to DC. We met in his office at the DNC- -the office Howard Dean occupies today- -and told him the situation as quickly and as succinctly as possible noting the incidents of harassment and personal attacks. Manatt knew immediately who among the senior party members had the clout to rein in "La Raza". He picked up the phone and in 30 seconds Ted Kennedy was on the speakerphone.

Manatt explained the situation stating that I, "even though a Republican," was a friend he could "rely on and trust". And after some polite conversation Senator Kennedy finally asked me straight out who my “friends” were. I knew what that question meant in that town and had enough sense to name one Democrat, US Representative Les AuCoin and one Republican, Senator Bob Packwood. Both were actually friends of mine and friends with Kennedy as well. (Rumor had it that Kennedy and Packwood attended the same AA meetings in DC). Kennedy promised to help and after 15 minutes the call was over.

Two days later she got a personal apology from the Chairman of “La Raza” who was stunned that she had enough “clout” to get Senator Kennedy to intervene. Her nomination sailed through without further objection from any Hispanic organizations.

Why is "The Sage” telling you this? Because it illustrates three important points:

1. The hypocrisy of La Raza when they claim to represent the interests of all Hispanics. (The topic of a future post.)

2. The way “politics” works in the US, and

3. The uncanny ability of Ted Kennedy to know when to do a political favor and create an “I.O.U” (Which he and Manatt called in from me- - big time- - 2 years later during an Oregon gubernatorial race.)

I also tell you this to let you know that as a Conservative I was diametrically opposed to almost all of Ted Kennedy’s political beliefs. In fact, I didn't agree with his politics about 99% of the time but, I did admire his unwaivering comittment to his beliefs and to working behind the scenes to get things done. And while there were times he made me extremely angry I know- -and firmly believe- - that if a real political dichotomy is to continue to exist in our beloved nation there will always need to be a voice like Ted Kennedy’s, if for no other reason than to keep Conservatives from losing focus on our own values and becoming complacent. There is no Democrat at present who can immediately fill his shoes and be that voice. It sould be interesting to see who will "grow" into it.


3 comments: said...

Wow. What an interesting post. What can I say but, "wow" and thanks for sharing this? I guess I'll also add that I appreciate your pointing out the need for "that voice" to keep the dichotomy going. Good thought.

The Sage of Tampa said...

Tnanx, Kath. Your reactions and perspectives are ALWAYS appreciated and highly valued. Kennedy was an interesting figure to say the least. And although I am a bona-fide Conservative, I thought FOX spent too much time dealing with his short-comings and his moral lapses. I guess I subscribe to, "Let he who is without sin among you, cast the first stone." I have enough lapses of my own to deal with and sure can't chastise him for his. We Conservatives might be better off if we don't lose sight of our own shortcomings. said...

I agree. There were many things about Ted Kennedy that, while he lived, I couldn't abide. But, something about his death struck me, and I had to let go of the dislike I held for him. "The evil that men do lives after them..." and so it will be with Ted Kennedy, but on the day of his burial when so many loved ones mourned his passing, I could only feel a sense of loss. Perhaps, it was merely the realization that his death represented the end of an era in which we came of age and witnessed a nation at war with itself. Oops...waxing philosophical there. As to conservative values, I agree, but wouldn't it be gratifying if the lib's would practice a few "family values" themselves and elect people to office who at least try to live moral lives? (sigh)