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.

Face You Don’t Know, Name You Should: Fred Hiatt Dead at 66

This is truly sad news to learn.

The reason can be summed up with this quote from reporter Scott Pelley.

Democracies succeed or fail based on their journalism.

Fred Hiatt was doing his part, smartly and consistently, for his nation and profession.

Fred Hiatt, a onetime foreign correspondent who in 2000 became The Washington Post’s editorial page editor and greatly expanded the global reach of the newspaper’s opinion writers in the era of 9/11, the election of Barack Obama and the destabilizing presidency of Donald Trump, died Dec. 6 at a hospital in New York City. He was 66.

He had sudden cardiac arrest on Nov. 24 while visiting his daughter in Brooklyn, said his wife, Margaret “Pooh” Shapiro, and did not regain consciousness. He had been treated for heart ailments in the past.

Mr. Hiatt was one of Washington’s most authoritative and influential opinion-makers. For two decades, he either wrote or edited nearly every unsigned editorial published by The Post — more than 1,000 a year — and edited the opinion columns published on the paper’s op-ed page and website. He also wrote a column and was a three-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in editorial writing.

There is clearly a hole in the heart of many Post reporters and staffers today. But if you have read the editorials from that famed newspaper you know the story is never finished, the next layer of our history not yet reported, analyzed, and opined over. There is another edition of the paper just hours away from publication.

The high and demanding standards that Hiatt brought to his job, are the ones that newspaper readers need and our democracy requires from journalists. The best way to honor Fred Hiatt is to carry on that quality of work and sense of duty to the nation.

In the words of Walter Cronkite, “Journalism is what we need to make democracy work.”

And so it goes.

Bob Dole Recalled At Wisconsin State Capitol, Former Senator Dies At 98

Bob Dole, who overcame severe World War II wounds to lead the Senate GOP and became a party nominee for president died on Sunday at the age of 98.

(AP Photo/ Beth A. Keiser)

Dole was a consummate politician and can be correctly termed a workhorse for the GOP in the decades when politicians also knew governing, itself, must be their first calling. He could be cranky and dutiful all in the same breath.

Dole’s peak as a party elder came in 1996 when he finally achieved his goal to be party nominee, and challenged incumbent Bill Clinton for the presidency. That grand chapter on the national stage, though not victorious, was an honorable one. In politics, that last point matters.

Dole and a wide swath of elected officials came to power after WWII with a grasp of how fragile not only life can be, but also democracy. They often had strong differences about the shaping of policy and the direction of the issues that made for headlines, but they seemed most surefooted about the reason the government must work for the greater good. It is impossible to see Majority Leader Dole stride down the Senate aisle and countenance the behavior and breakdown for respect and reason that has consumed today’s Republican Party.

I was able to witness the body language of Senator Bob Dole in 1988 as he made a stop at the Wisconsin State Capitol. I noted that event in my book Walking Up The Ramp.

The other Republican who I met when he came to Madison, a city that is not fertile ground for conservatives, was Senator Bob Dole. He visited the Capitol on behalf of the state party.

I was working in the office, and a buddy on the other side of the aisle knew when the Senator’s SUV was going to wind its way up one of the circled drives of the Capitol, and drop him off. I made my way to the designated area, and stood outside with a mere handful of people as two vehicles came up the drive. With a dark suit and a rather serious exterior he exited his vehicle and with his left hand, met those who wished to say hello.

As always the pen he held in his crippled hand was meant to deflect the fact that he was an injured veteran. Dole seemed thinner in real life, but there was firmness to his footsteps and sureness to the gait of his walk as he entered the building that conveyed to me there was no doubt he was a political leader. He projected the aura of someone who needed to be reckoned with, and that is a most important first impression any politician wants to impart.

I suspect there are many in the country today who are wistful for the tone and times when Dole was using his power in Washington. They were not times free of passion over the path forward in the nation, but I do not recall ever wondering if the adults were in charge. Dole just knew his first job was to make sure the trains ran on time, and if that helped his political mission, great. But governing meant something to Dole, that reached above mere politics.

Bob Dole appeared on David Letterman’s show three days after losing in 1996 and was most gracious in defeat. If one moment shines, in retrospect, it is the four minutes below.

The following account says it all for this post.

“One of the stories Bob Dole likes to tell in speeches and interviews had to do with the events in the first two weeks of 1983 when, quite literally, the Social Security system was saved. The only part of the tale he leaves out is his own role. It could not have happened without him. To the contrary, he made it happen. I was there. I so attest.”…….Sen. Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) in a farewell tribute to Dole on June 11, 1996; Bob Dole: A Pictorial Biography of a Kansan, p. 102.

We can learn a lot about public service and even modesty if we follow the decades that Bob Dole was a fixture in American politics. His kind, sadly, seems fewer in number today.

And so it goes.

Colin Powell: His Words Still Resonate

Today Colin Powell, the first Black US secretary of state, died from complications after contracting COVID-19. The tragedy of the pandemic layered upon the loss of a most vital American of our time makes this a very sad story.

The loss of Powell’s voice on the issues of our time will be missed. They were certainly ones that resonated on this blog over the years. We have always had in our nation, through the arc of history, solid men and women who spoke with gravitas when we most needed to hear their wisdom. Think Margaret Chase Smith.

From January 2013 and his appearance on Meet The Press he reflected on the previous November election and the campaign for president.

When I see another former governor after the president’s first debate where he didn’t do very well, says that the president was lazy. He didn’t say he was slow, he was tired, he didn’t do well, he said he was lazy. Now, it may not mean anything to most Americans but to those of us who are African-Americans, the second word is shiftless and then there’s a third word that goes along with it Birther, the whole Birther Movement. Why do senior Republican leaders tolerate this kind of discussion within the Party? I think the Party has to take a look at itself.

It has to take a look at its responsibilities for health care. It has to take a look at immigration. It has to take a look at those less fortunate than us. The Party has gathered unto itself a reputation that it is the party of the rich. It is the party of lower taxes. But there are a lot of people who are lower down the food chain, the economic chain, who are also paying lots of taxes relative to their income and they need help. We need more education work being done in this country. We need a solid immigration policy. We have to look at climate change. There are a lot of things that the American people are expecting…..

I was perhaps most proud, however, of how Powell well understood the scope of history and grasped how anger and rancor is never, ever, a sound way to make national policy. That was clear with his opposition to the continued existence of the detention facility at Guantanamo.

Powell knew who we are as a nation cannot be separated from what we do as a nation. He regretted the fact repressive governments used Gitmo to deflect criticism of their own policies by charging hypocrisy. Violent extremists used it as a recruiting tool. It remains a symbol for many around the world of torture, injustice, and illegitimacy. 

The goal of terrorists is to change us, to change what we say we stand for, and to make us live in fear. As such, Powell like so many other educated people, wanted Gitmo to be shuttered.

Powell did have a stain on his career with his actions prior to the invasion of Iraq under President Bush in 2003. I do not marginalize the degree to which he aided in the lie that led to the greatest mistake created by American foreign policy in that region since 1947.

But the sum of Powell’s life can not be measured from that year and action, alone.

There are not many people in our land who can be summed up by saying they were a continuously dignified statesman and leader for truly dedicating their life to the nation. Powell was such a man.

His voice and reasoning will be missed by a nation that needs to have more adults with mature ideas speaking to the needs of our time.

And so it goes.

In Memory Of Don Berry, Former Rice Lake Pastor

Don Berry, the former pastor of Rice Lake Wesleyan Church, died this morning in Waunakee.

Over the past years, Don has been a part of the laughter and conversations at the home of (my Aunt) Lorene, his second wife. Bea, his first wife, died years ago. As did my Uncle Dale.

But if one stopped for coffee around the kitchen table it was evident that the memories of first spouses were very much a part of the conversation. Decades of funny moments and tender time were just brought forward for a new set of ears.

As it should be. No one replaces another person after a long marriage. Instead, just another comforting person to journey forward with through life.

In late July, and after well over a year due to the pandemic, James and I were able to spend a long lazy afternoon with Lorene and Don. He had slowed down since last seeing him, and yet there was that bouncy look in his eyes for a funny quip or story from yesteryear.

Earlier that day he had sat out on the porch talking at length with some passersby and at the end of the afternoon of talking with us, he was truly looking tired. I am glad for that time together with them both.

All the years I have known him we always shook hands upon meeting or ending a chat. With COVID he rightly put out his fist for bumping of our closed hands. My parting words to him were along the same corny ways I often chatted with him.

“Well, I will be like an egg and beat it.”  

Years ago I made the following video and over the past week the line about roses never fading kept coming to mind. So it seems appropriate to add it here.