A Tribute To Country Legend Loretta Lynn, Dies At Age 90

There are many singers across the land, countless records pressed and sold, stories of kindness between the concert stage and the audience, and all are remarkable to hear and learn.  But when all those musical accounts are told and all the songs are played by artists young and old, one fact remains.  There is only one Loretta Lynn.

Today the classic country music legend died in Tennessee at the age of 90.  Her music was among the first voices I heard on our record player as a boy.  There was Jones and Haggard and Smith, of course, but there was always just one Loretta. Mom would remark that Lynn wrote songs about what she knew and the hurts she felt along the path of life. Such sentiments found their way into her penned lines again and again. Country music fans responded by requesting the music be played on country radio stations and then headed off to buy their own copy at stores like Woolworths. There was always a sense that Loretta was just like her fans, a person who made her mark by never forgetting her past.

Last year, I recorded a 17-minute podcast that in part pays tribute to Lorretta Lynn.  She is the first person treated with my thanks when I call out the best concerts I was privileged to attend. From memories of Loretta, Porter Wagoner, Dolly Parton, along with WSM radio announcer Grant Turner and others this tribute looks at how classic country music still resonates across the land.  Heartfelt memories galore! I take listeners on a journey to the stages of country music shows.  The fiddles are warming up, now.  

Loretta started her life in Kentucky’s coal fields and grew as a powerful female singer to know she resided in the hearts of millions. Simply a remarkable life, creating music that will never cease to be played.

Remembering Bill Plante With Lesson About Why Journalism Matters in America

Though several days late there was no way I could not pay tribute on this blog to a solid reporter that most of my readers watched countless times from the White House on CBS News.  Bill Plante, who died last week at the age of 84, was one of those voices and faces that our nation turned to in times of turmoil and high drama that would play out at the White House regardless of the person sitting in the Oval Office, or the political party in power. As I will demonstrate Plante’s professional moves as a journalist underscore some basic truths about reporting and politics in our nation.

The New York Times wrote of his boyhood in Chicago, attending Loyola, and being hired as the assistant news director of WISN-TV in Milwaukee. He joined CBS News in 1964 and was quickly sent to Vietnam; it was one of four times, through the fall of Saigon in 1975, that he reported from there.

Shouting questions was a necessary part of the press corps’s job, even if that behavior appeared rude, Mr. Plante told the streaming service CBSN; if reporters did not, he said, “we’d be walking away from our First Amendment role — and then we really would be the shills we’re so often accused of being.”

One of Mr. Plante’s most disquieting moments as a White House correspondent occurred in late October 1983, when he learned that the United States was about to invade the Caribbean island of Grenada. Before going on the air with his exclusive, he asked Larry Speakes, President Reagan’s acting press secretary at the time, to confirm his information.

Mr. Speakes denied it, and CBS killed the story.

“Larry said something like, ‘Preposterous — where did you get that?’” Lesley Stahl, then a fellow White House correspondent for CBS News, said in a phone interview for this obituary last year. “And the next morning there was an invasion. At the briefing the next day, Bill was furious, and justifiably so, and, in that big booming voice of his, accused Larry Speakes of misleading him.”

The reason Plante knew the story should be reported, and why he was furious with the White House Press Secretary (acting or not and one who should never outright lie to a reporter), was because the military adventure in Grenada was a “look over there’ move by the Reagan Administration to deflect from the massive loss of American lives two days earlier in Beirut.

Fundamentalist militants attacked the US Marine barracks in Beirut with a truck bomb on October 23, 1983, which killed 241 American servicemen. History recorded that as the deadliest single attack on Americans overseas since World War II. Reagan did not, however, send additional troops to Lebanon, which was the theatre of obvious attention, but rather 7,000 troops to invade Grenada, the smallest independent country in the Western Hemisphere. Reagan would claim in a national television address about “fighting communism” but Plante was well aware this was nothing more than a political face-saving moment after the loss of hundreds of American soldiers.  Plante also understood the absurdity of needlessly “rescuing” around 800 American medical students on the island for the most dubious of reasons. The matter was far more about expedient politics than foreign policy.

Our national government allows for reporters to be very close to the seat of power.  Closer than any other leader provides for reporters in any other country around the globe.  The White House Press room is located just steps from the office of the press secretary. The relationship between White House reporters and the leader of our nation, regardless of political party or decade, is often tense and difficult.  As it should be.  As it needs to be.

To provide our democracy with the information, insight, and analysis needed for citizens to be able to evaluate the direction of the nation a robust press corps needs to probe and question all our leaders.  That often makes every White House uncomfortable.  That is one price of attaining power that each president must deal with.  The fact that reporters unearth and report on issues that otherwise would never come to light such as the famed example of the Pentagon Papers in the 1970s underscores the need for an energized press as they report and help secure the foundations of our nation.  Too often the public forgets that the press in our nation is as much a part of why we are free today as the soldiers in uniform. 

Bill Plante was most aware that when the flare-ups between the people who wield power, and those who report on them seem most tense, we are actually witnessing the strength of our nation. Think of the many nations where a free working press cannot exist within their boundaries, let alone in the same building or close proximity to where the leader works and lives.  To pepper any president with tough questions, or demand accountability from the government, is the very task that these reporters should do on a daily basis. And Plante did that job with a single focus under Presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. At times these actions can royally irritate some in the seats of power and others while watching in their living rooms, but history shows we are better served by being truly informed citizens.  That can only happen with many intrepid reporters on the beat.  Especially at the White House.

Bill Plante showed America how it was done. 

Queen Elizabeth II Dies At 96: Met U.S. Presidents Since Harry Truman

It still came as shock, even though it was often talked about over the past years. Queen Elizabeth II died at the age of 96 and there is now a new monarch in Britain. Only earlier this week the Queen had continued her constitutional duty and invited Liz Truss to form a new government. Even with health problems and aging concerns, there was always Queen Elizabeth who kept the long line of history very much intact on the British throne, acting with quiet resolve for decades.

I have thought about how to best reflect her life as seen through the eyes of this American home, and have settled on a series of photos of her interactions with our top leaders. (The Queen never met President Lyndon Johnson.) President Harry Truman was her first president to meet even though Elizabeth was not yet queen when, at the age of 25, she filled in for her very ailing father.  

President Harry S. Truman and Britain’s Princess Elizabeth are shown as their motorcade got underway following the reception ceremony at Washington National Airport on October 31, 1951.
 Bettmann Archive/Getty Images
20th October 1957: Queen Elizabeth II, US president Dwight D Eisenhower (1890 – 1969) with his wife Mamie (1896 – 1979) and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh at a White House State banquet.
 Keystone/Getty Images
Buckingham Palace during a banquet held in his honor, American President John F. Kennedy and his wife, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, pose with Queen Elizabeth II London, United Kingdom, June 15, 1961.
 PhotoQuest/Getty Images
From BBC
President Gerald Ford dances with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth during a White House State Dinner honoring the Queen US Bicentennial visit, Washington DC, July 7, 1976. (Photo by Dirck Halstead/Getty Images)
6/8/1982 President Reagan riding horses with Queen Elizabeth II during visit to Windsor Castle, Daily Mail
Express UK
People magazine
Prince Phillip, Queen Elizabeth II, President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama. Photo: Jack Hill – WPA Pool/Getty Images
(Wow….just wow.)

Thank You, David McCullough

American author and historian David McCullough in his writing shed where he still used a 1941 Royal typewriter, at his home in West Tisbury, Massachusetts, USA, 4th February 2002. (Photo by Stephen Rose/Getty Images)

Several years ago, on a summer evening, as the Amtrak train pulled out of Washington D.C.’s Union Station, James and I sat in our sleeper car ready for a trip that would take us overnight to Chicago. It was 2017, and the weight of the outcome of the previous fall’s election was pressing against the contours of our national sense of norms and traditions. In our compartment, as the train trekked towards Pittsburg, over the swaths of America that were like painted vistas as the sun set, we settled back with some books we had purchased on our vacation.  Among them was The American Spirit by David McCullough.  It was subtitled Who We Are and What We Stand For.

The collection of speeches from the famed historian had been released just weeks prior and James was immersed within the pages.  (I had Thomas Fleming’s book on the Founding Fathers as my selection while drinking a cup of coffee from Amtrak’s kitchen car.) We had followed the advice from only a couple of weeks prior upon hearing McCullough, in a wide-ranging interview, and in his usual eloquent way about why people needed to see this country’s national parks and historic sites. He spoke about the need to show young people the wonders of the past. James and I were already months into the planning for such a trip that took us to Washington, D.C., and some sites in the general area. Connecting with the touchstones of the past was exactly the very thing that McCullough urged.

Tonight, America is learning of the death of David McCullough, a man so many truly respected and admired. He was 89 years old.

In 1992, as President George Herbert Walker Bush was campaigning for reelection his Truman-like train came into Plover, Wisconsin with a long blowing of the whistle. It was a cold and blustery day across Wisconsin.  Light snow flurries swirled through the air as many thousands stood for hours at the old train depot. The presidential campaign that year was winding down, and Bush was campaigning with David McCullough’s latest book Truman in his hand while reminding voters that he too could win the election as Harry did in 1948.  In spite of the polls, there were still campaign stops to be made as Bush was working overtime at trying to make his Truman moment come true.

(As a side note my mom and dad attended that rally with me. We arrived very early which allowed us to stand up front near the podium.  It needs to be noted that in 1944 this is where my mother’s family had debarked upon their arrival from Ozone, Arkansas.  It was that tidbit from history and the circle coming around again that would have made McCullough smile.)

Again, that fall in Waukesha I would attend a Bush rally where the candidate alerted the huge turnout that he had read McCullough’s book and he was going to be like the Missourian come Election Night.  That was the trip I was able to shake both George’s and Barbara’s hands.  Again, the historian would have smiled as he knew American values, as expressed by joint efforts to accomplish things, mattered in our system of government; that joint effort starts with listening and respecting each other.

In Washington, it is one thing to see the Lincoln Memorial in daylight, but to stand in the lighted wonder at night and ponder Abe is quite another.  I had found myself talking to many people day after day and asking them their impressions of sites all over the city. As such, I asked a black woman who was, I learned, age 88 what her feelings were about the memorial. It was her first time to see it and being from Jamaica she spoke as one who knew of the power Lincoln’s words gave to those outside this nation. “It is very powerful for everyone,” she said with soft words and dark knowing eyes.

On the backside of the memorial looking out across the Potomac, I spoke to a father and then told his young teenage children about the battle of First Bull Run and how many townspeople took carriages and boxed lunches to watch the battle as many felt the war would be a short term operation.  Hours later the beaten and badly wounded soldiers would be limping or being carried back over the river into Washington.  Some without shoes, others without guns, others without an eye or limb.   It was interesting to see the young look out and hear of the events and perhaps in their mind see history play out.  

I just know Dave McCullough would smile at such a conversation.  It was exactly what he hoped our nation’s citizens would do, and how we might engage with one another. Caring about history, along with our nation’s highest ideals, and the continued desire to reach them is the best way we can remember and honor this man.

Godspeed, David.

One-Time Assistant To Sen. Bill Proxmire, Columnist Mark Shields Dead At 85

There was no way not to love the look of Mark Shields, who seemed to have arrived for a television appearance donning his coat and finishing with his tie just as the camera eye blinked for the show to start. He looked very much the part of a newspaper columnist who had too many thoughts rushing about in his head to be concerned if his attire was perfectly adjusted.

When he started to opine on the issues of the day in politics, or the personalities that made for the latest headlines, whatever rumpled look he might have brought to the set was forgotten as his perspective and institutional memory held the audience at attention.

With that being said it is clear how I felt about Mark Shields who died at the age of 85 this weekend. I thought him not only a bright writer and commentator on our times but also fitting that image of an intrepid newspaper columnist and witty conversationalist who would be a perfect dinner guest.

His columns were a must-read for the way he blended current themes within the larger context of how our nation could be and should be. His political views were sharp and clear-eyed. He had, after all, worked in the political cauldron to see the process of politics up close.

His first job in the world of politics was in the office of Wisconsin Senator Bill Proxmire, where he had a desk as a legislative assistant. He branched out as a consultant for the Robert Kennedy presidential campaign, and later among other contenders for a variety of offices.

What he was not able to do with success as a political operative he made up for with a pithy knack for writing columns with verve and style and analyzing politics on television shows such as PBS’ NewsHour.

As we know with each turn Shields knew humor was the best way to connect facts with persuasion concerning the events under discussion.

Of President Donald J. Trump, Mr. Shields said dismissively that “the toughest thing he’s ever done was to ask Republicans to vote for a tax cut.” The House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy was “an invertebrate”; Senator Lindsey Graham made Tonto, the Lone Ranger’s loyal sidekick, “look like an independent spirit.” In both major parties, he said, too many are afflicted with “the Rolex gene” — making them money-hungry caterers to the wealthy.

Asked in a 2013 C-SPAN interview which presidents he admired, he cited Gerald R. Ford, a Republican who took office in 1974 in the wake of the Watergate scandal. Ford, he said, was “the most emotionally healthy.”

“Not that the others were basket cases,” he said, but “they get that bug, and as the late and very great Mo Udall, who sought that office, once put it, the only known cure for the presidential virus is embalming fluid.”

With the passing of Shields, we have lost not only someone who was bright and talented but also a link to the times when those in government actually wanted to make the trains run on time. A time when, though politics was frothy, it was not all cut and burn and curse your opponents with every term imaginable.

I know people from all points on the political compass feel a loss this weekend. But we also know it was a joy to have had him being part of our political culture.

Godspeed, Mark.

Woman Behind The Song “Still” Dies, Bill Anderson Standard

I ran across an interesting obituary that lands in the Caffeinated Politics Grand Ole Opry file. Best of all it connects with Bill Anderson, a decades-long favorite of your blogger.

Connie Ward Stewart died in Georgia on April 13, 2022.

Stewart was a lifelong educator, journalist, and campaign strategist, known as a trailblazer for women.

Connie worked at WSB-TV, married newscaster Don Stewart, and had one daughter, Sheri Lyn. She taught in Atlanta public schools and was faculty and Dir. of Orientation at UGA where she achieved racial diversity among the student Orientation Leaders. She was even the inspiration for the hit love song Still, as confirmed by country music writer/singer Bill Anderson. 

Utah Senator Orrin Hatch Dead At 88, Knew How To Work Across The Aisle

Friends Orrin Hatch And Ted Kennedy

The nation discovered late this afternoon that former Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, who became the longest-serving Republican senator in history as he represented Utah for more than four decades, died at the age of 88.

The way he governed and worked while in office gets a needed underscoring at this moment on my blog as his life is reflected upon.

There is no doubt that he was a conservative on most economic and social issues. But he also well understood that the Senate must operate and move forward, as well as the nation. So with that basic understanding, he worked with Democratic members of the body to marshall votes on topics from stem cell research, rights for people with disabilities, and expanding children’s health insurance. I recall him always being a friend to the Lion of the Senate, and my personal favorite, Edward Kennedy.

It was that bipartisan nature from Hatch, and the poisonous blowback from harsh conservatives who opposed crossing the aisle, that prompted me to write in 2012 the following.

This is more evidence of what is wrong with the Republican Party, and American politics.

The conservatives within the GOP are so ideologically driven, and so blinded by the purity test, along with the lack of ability to understand why compromise is the meat and potatoes of politics, that they willingly and recklessly drive off over the cliff.

Senator Hatch is conservative, and yet reasonable and mindful of the role elected officials must undertake to ensure that government can govern!  That is what teabaggers can not grasp, have no interest in understanding, and why they are a most destructive element in this nation today.

As a liberal, I must say I respect Hatch.  I do not always agree with him, and often chafe at his words and votes.  But I can see his larger interest in making sure government works, and that is why I could sit down with him and work out a deal if I were a member of the senate.  We need more folks who are willing to talk, and fewer that want to lob political bombs.

The Senate could use several more members who, like Hatch, knew the art of governing is partly done with the friendships and bonds of respect made off the chamber floor.

And so it goes.

Madeleine Albright Respected And Loved Worldwide

It was sad news. But not shocking. We knew over the past months we were losing Madeleine Albright. Her public moments were still filled with resolve about why democracy matters and insight into world affairs, but her frail health was obvious, too.

Today the end came for a woman who was loved and treasured worldwide. The first woman to serve as secretary of state died at the age of 84.

It is never tiring to hear about someone born in a place and time of tribulations, leaving for America, and when reaching our shores embracing democratic values and then over a lifetime working to firm up those values worldwide. I think of Henry Kissinger when writing such a statement.

And, without doubt, I know it to be true for Madeleine Albright, too.

In her case that trek to our shores was harrowing as it took 10 years. In the midst of war and cruel policies in Europe, she had been denied knowing as a child that her family was Jewish. Her parents had protectively converted to Roman Catholicism during World War II, raising their children as Catholics without telling them of their Jewish heritage. She also discovered as a woman decades later that 26 family members, including three grandparents, had been murdered in the Holocaust.

When I reflect on Albright two things stand out.

First, the ease of conversation she used to express as to the course of foreign policy. Her immediate predecessor, Warren Christopher, was seasoned and a deep reader, but at times the ponderous nature of being able to inform the nation on policy was a problem. Add in a sense of humor that she added, effortlessly, and her acceptance on the world stage was made far easier.

Second, there was always a brooch. It might seem sexist to some readers for me to add this aspect to this post, but in our home for decades when she was on the news or being interviewed James and I commented on what brooch she was wearing. She was classy and there is nothing wrong with making that point most clear.

She will be missed because her voice on the most pressing international topic grows ever direr. Over recent years Albright pointed out that fascism now presents a more virulent threat to peace and justice than at any time since the end of World War II. Illiberal democracy is a concern here at CP, and she was one of the strident proponents for not forgetting history, and not taking our freedoms for granted.

We can honor her best by each of us picking up that banner and not letting it fall.

And so it goes.