Heroes, Hacks, and Fools
Memoirs from the Political Inside
Publication Year: 2007
Published by: University of Washington Press
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An enterprising researcher explored in 2005 the backgrounds of a highly selective and well-publicized group. He found that 36 had been accused of spousal abuse; 7 had been arrested for fraud; 19 had been accused of writing bad checks; 117 had directly or indirectly bankrupted at least two businesses; 3 had done time for assault; 71 could not get a credit card because of bad credit; 14 had ...
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I postponed writing this book for many years. Beginning in 1969, at the end of the Johnson-Humphrey administration, I began to be approached by agents, publishers, colleagues, and friends suggesting I write a firsthand account about government and politics “as it really was” from the inside. I knew what they meant. Too many books and articles written by former government and campaign ...
1. Depression Kids
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I was born at 9 am, Saturday, October 6,1934, the only child of Ted and June Ellen Van Dyk, at St.Luke’s Hospital, Bellingham, Washington, then a blue-collar town of 30,000 at the north end of Puget Sound. Although I was twenty-four inches long, my birth weight was only six pounds. Few Depression babies were fat. It was unseasonably cold outside and snowing—a rarity ...
2. Caught Up in the Cold War
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Military service was obligatory in those days. You either were drafted or volunteered for reserve duty in one of the armed services. I chose the Army Reserve. After attending weekly meetings for eighteen months, I received a call to six-month active duty in 1957, after I had been at the Seattle Times for barely a year. I went through basic training at Ford Ord, California,then was ...
3. A New Generation Takes Over
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The generation that had fought World War II was about to take power from the generation that had led the war. The 1960 presidential contest between John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon was closely fought, and represented a point of departure for the country. Adlai Stevenson, the 1952 and 1956 Democratic nominee, ...
4. Helping HHH
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The next five years would prove to be the most demanding and rewarding of my life. They brought work with Hubert Humphrey through two national campaigns and his vice presidency, and during the Johnson administration’s Great Society triumph and Vietnam tragedy. As 1963 ended, I had never met Humphrey, my boyhood hero and now ...
5. The Great Society
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Now, more than forty years after the Johnson-Humphrey campaign, Medicare, Medicaid, the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, federal aid to education, efforts to stop nuclear proliferation, and consumer protections are considered “givens” in our national life. But in the early 1960s they were not. Advocates of these causes had fought for them throughout the postwar ...
6. Vietnam and Little Else
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Despite his public and private vows of restraint in Vietnam, Johnson had used an ambiguous encounter in the summer of 1964 between U.S. and North Vietnamese vessels in the Tonkin Gulf to gain passage of a Tonkin Gulf Resolution in the U.S.Senate. The resolution gave Johnson broad authority in conduct of the war. Floor manager for the resolution was Foreign Relations Committee ...
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Both public and internal pressures were driving Johnson toward a reexamination of Vietnam policy. The events we associate with 1968 really began in the middle of 1967. Johnson received word that the federal budget deficit would be $28 billion, about twice that predicted only six months earlier. Johnson could not continue to wage war and also maintain the Great Society without seeking ...
8. A Near Miss
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The Humphrey-Muskie campaign spent the first part of September 1968 pulling the Democratic Party together. On the campaign trail, almost as much time was spent in private meetings with party leaders as in public outreach. An Associated Press story, written from Houston, stated that “Vice President Humphrey spent an active day here in rooms and suites at the Rice Hotel.”...
9. In Transition
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Had we known what would happen during the Nixon presidency, I am certain that Johnson, Humphrey, McCarthy, the Kennedys, and all Democrats involved in the 1968 election would have made whatever extra effort was necessary to win the presidency for Humphrey. Nixon had campaigned with a “bring us together” slogan. Yet his “Southern Strategy”...
10. Crusade and Catastrophe
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Gary Hart, who in 1968 had been a campaign organizer in Colorado for Robert Kennedy, was serving as director of George McGovern’s presidential nominating campaign. His campaign experience, however, had been almost wholly at the local level. McGovern and his wife, Eleanor, had affection for Hart and appreciated his early commitment to the McGovern presidential candidacy. ...
11. Strange Presidents, Nixon and Carter
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To those of us active in national politics during the 1960s and 1970s, it seemed incredible that Richard Nixon had rebounded from a presidential-election loss, a humiliating California gubernatorial-election loss, Watergate, and Vietnam to be twice elected president. Yet, if Albert Camus’ remark that “character is fate” ever was to have relevance, it certainly came to apply to Nixon, whose feelings ...
12. The Counterrevolution Proceeds
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We often as not elect presidents who appear to be the opposites—in temperament, personality, approach to public policy—of immediate predecessors considered unsuccessful by the electorate. Franklin Roosevelt, in 1932, made economic-policy proposals even more conservative than President Herbert Hoover’s, as a nation looked for leadership...
13. Storm Cleanup and a New Storm
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President Bush the elder, succeeding President Reagan in January 1989, was in the difficult position of not only following a popular president but also having to clean up the debt burden his predecessor had created. Reagan had cut federal taxes but, after his bargain with House Speaker O’Neill, had not cut federal spending accordingly. As a result, in his eight-year presidential ...
14. A New Jacksonian Era, Part One
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President Jimmy Carter had started his presidency by resuming an old feud with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—an interesting exercise but hardly a worthy first priority for a presidency. President Bill Clinton began his by having to withdraw his nomination of Zoe Baird as attorney general, by becoming embroiled in a controversy over gays in the military, and by getting ...
15. A New Jacksonian Era, Part Two
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The president’s 1996 reelection campaign against Senator Bob Dole was a mismatch. Clinton was the younger and more aggressive and articulate candidate. Dole was laconic, and at times could seem downright uninterested in the audience or subject matter before him. Yet I feared that lurking political time bombs might detonate during a Clinton second term. I was depressed ...
16. Escape from the Capital
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My productive time in Washington,D.C., really ended in the months preceding Jean’s death on April 24,1996. I continued my consulting business and Washington Intelligence advisory service and otherwise attempted to proceed as usual. I turned down a meeting with associates of Russian president Boris Yeltsin to discuss my spending weeks in Moscow to advise his reelection campaign. From ...
17. A New Century
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The presidency of Bush the younger was to be one of “compassionate conservatism” and incremental domestic reform, led by a former Texas governor who had reached across party lines to govern successfully in his home state. Instead, it will forever be defined by September 11, 2001, and by the intervention in Iraq. Bush’s cornerstone Social Security reform proposal—based on the same ...
18. Not the Same Country
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Most of my career has been spent in and around public policy and politics. But I began and am finishing as a journalist. I always have revered the profession as a place where independent, objective reporting and analysis could help protect our society from the excesses and mistakes of the powerful in both the private and public sectors. Recent surveys have shown the media to ...
19. Who Will Lead?
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Anyone reading this book could easily conclude that great men and women are difficult to ﬁnd. Contrary to their often glamorized media depictions, those holding and seeking high political office often having glaring weaknesses, just like the rest of us. Those I have respected most—those who put public interests above self, and who could inspire and elevate those around ...
20. The Democratic Message
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Syndicated columnist Michael Kinsley, a Seattle resident, asked me recently if I was prepared to saddle up again for service with a presidential candidate or new national administration. I will turn seventy-four before the 2008 national election. That is too old for the intense twenty-hour days that can come with such service. But I surely will be watching and writing about everything ...
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As I age, I recognize in myself daily habits of thought and mannerisms that I once noticed in my parents and grandparents. I see the same in my four children, who reﬂect my late wife Jean’s side of the family as well as my own. They work hard, are devoted to their own children, and share the Van Dyk impatience with hypocrisy and dishonesty. I never knew my grandmothers. ...
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Publication Year: 2007