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.

Colorful Louisiana Politician Dead, Edwin Edwards Was 93

While there are plenty of politicians in the nation, few can be called perfect copy for a political reporter. Former Governor Edwin W. Edwards was such an office seeker and holder. Saint and sinner. Lawmaker and lawbreaker. As I said, perfect copy.

Consider the fact he was a Pentecostal preacher, a councilman in the Louisiana town of Crowley, a state legislator, a congressman, an associate justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court, chief librarian at the Oakdale Federal Correctional Institute (where he was also an inmate (!) and even a reality-TV star. Today he died at the age of 93.

Edwin Edwards With Johnny Cash and Charlie Pride

Edwards embodied Louisiana’s populist era in the late 20th century — championing the poor and ushering Black people and women into state government but also facing repeated accusations of corruption before finally being sent to prison for taking bribes.

He died this morning just before 7 a.m. at his home in Gonzales.

A Democrat, Edwards dominated the state’s politics for 25 years and even enjoyed a brief and spectacular turn in the national spotlight during the 1991 governor’s race when he faced off against former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke.

With his bayou charm, razor-sharp mind and quick wit, Edwards personified the state’s ‘Let the Good Times Roll’ motto, proudly proclaimed himself as the first Cajun governor in the 20th century.

His political biography does read in such a way that, doubtless, a steamy and epic-sized book will need to be written about the man. After all, he served three full terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, four terms as governor, and, starting in 2000, eight years in federal prison for racketeering, extortion, and related crimes. He staged an unsuccessful political comeback in 2014, running once again for a House seat.

Louisiana has often been the staging ground for colorful personalities. Edwards filled that bill many times.

Donald Rumsfeld Dead, Memories From President George H. W. Bush

The news of the death of Donald Rumsfeld will doubtless bring back a plethora of stories and memories dating back to the time when Richard Nixon was living in the White House. The Republican power broker, highly controversial defense secretary and architect of the failed Iraq War – died Tuesday, days before his 89th birthday.

I am currently on chapter 34 of John Meacham’s terrific read about President George Herbert Walker Bush. Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush is one of the books I am juggling this summer, reading topics and subjects as the mood strikes. The death of Rumsfeld today occurs with this book providing an honest appraisal of the man which Bush noted was an “arrogant fellow.”

Speaking of Rumsfeld, who served as Secretary of Defense for President George Bush (43), the elder member of the family did not let anyone guess what he truly meant when speaking about Rumsfeld in hours of conversation with Meacham.

“I think he served the president badly,” Bush said. “I don’t like what he did, and I think it hurt the president having his iron-ass view of everything. I’ve never been that close to him anyway. There’s a lack of humility, a lack of seeing what the other guy thinks. He’s more kick ass and take names, take numbers. I think he paid a price for that.”

He was particularly critical of Rumsfeld, which stands out from the usual respectful tone that is practiced with words from Bush. He added that, “Rumsfeld was an arrogant fellow and self-assured, swagger.”

From a political perspective, the fractures in their relationship can be summed up this way.

The quick version starts with the years Gerald Ford was president. Rumsfeld was Ford’s chief of staff, and Bush was appointed envoy to China. The resignations of Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew had left the vice presidency open, and Bush was a top candidate for the post.

But then the intrigues gains steam as Rumsfeld went all out to ensure Nelson Rockefeller was named. One of the reasons long associated with the deeds of Rumsfeld was, during the VP selection process news emerging of potential campaign-finance irregularities during Bush’s unsuccessful 1970 Texas campaign for Senate. Most accounts clearly point to Rumsfeld leaking the news in an effort to hurt Bush’s VP chances. The scandal kept popping back up to hurt Bush throughout the rest of his political career.

At times like this, when less than honorable men pass away, the stories and inside accounts of the history they made, or tried to make, allows for a wider understanding of their lives, and the consequences of their actions.

Former Hancock, WI Preacher Dies, News Via France Shows How Small World Is

This shows how small the world is.

James and I moved into our Madison home in 2007, and soon thereafter I wrote a blog post about BB Clarke Beach. I wrote on my blog about Clarke, who was a formative personality of this city’s history.

A great-granddaughter living in France read my blog post about Bascom Clarke. She contacted me, and since James at the time was a French foreign language instructor struck up a friendship. In time we hosted the Clarke Family reunion (twice) and Helena arrived each time from France.

Today she sent word our way that James Gutensohn, a minister at the Congregational Church in Hancock in the early 1960s, had died. She was good friends with his wife.

Hancock is my hometown. That is how small the world is. And so it goes.

My Memories Of Walter Mondale

A brief shower failed to dampen the enthusiasm of Democratic Presidential candidate Walter Mondale and Vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro during a Merrill campaign visit. Applauding them is Congressman David Obey who represented that area in Congress.

Walter Mondale, the former vice president and champion of liberal politics, activist government, and civil rights who ran as the Democratic candidate for president in 1984, losing to President Ronald Reagan in a landslide, died on Monday at his home in Minneapolis. He was 93.

He was my type of Democrat, my type of politician. Correct on the issues with a strong moral character and manners that would be welcome in any home in the nation. He was also the first major politician I had the chance to encounter.

On Labor Day 1984 I was attending the first major political rally of my life.  It was also the first major political rally that I would report on for WDOR radio news.

I was young, eager, and so excited that I could barely contain myself.  Days before the event I had gone through a background check to gain press credentials which allowed me onto the risers with the national press.  Knowing I was going to stand alongside some of the journalists I had a deep respect for was as electrifying to me as being at a rally with a presidential nominee.

I had traveled from Sturgeon Bay to Lincoln County Fairgrounds in Merrill, Wisconsin in my light blue Chevet and still recall the feeling that life could not be better.  I was doing what I had always really wanted to do, which was get close to politics and report about it.  I knew then not everyone could say they get to live what they dream, and I recall attempts to slow down to better take in every moment, every detail.

Many broadcasters were questioning whether the traditional start of the presidential fall campaign was best done in a place like Merrill.  If memory serves me right Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro started that Labor Day in New York and encountered rainy weather.  That the sky was gray and filled with sprinkles in Merrill was not lost on those who thought it an omen for the election outcome.

But Mondale saw it far differently.  With rolled-up shirtsleeves, Mondale told the audience it did not matter whether it was rain, hail, sleet, or snow.  The Democrats would make it to the polls on Election Day!

Here is the final draft of that speech.

Once at the rally site I climbed to stand with the press and was truly pleased to be about three feet from Lynn Sherr and Brit Hume, both from ABC.  I smiled to myself when Sherr asked Hume how to pronounce “La Follette” and I then laughed out loud later than night when she mispronounced it on the national news.   Everyone has on-air slips, and it was comforting to see it play out in front of me.

To be honest being on the risers with the press could have been the culmination of the day and I would have been totally content.

When the music ramped up and Mondale and Ferraro took the simple outdoor platform and gave punchy dramatic stump speeches I knew at once that my political infection was for real.  Never before had I felt so alive.  So in the moment.

Geraldine Ferraro was loved by that crowd in Merrill.  The applause was enthusiastic, and the warmth for her was genuine.  Later I went down and recorded some interviews with voters and my thrust of the news story was how they viewed the first female nominee.  Ferraro was breaking new ground and they were glad Labor Day in Merrill was where she spent some of her time.

I shall be forever grateful to Mondale for choosing Ferraro as his running mate

I will never forget that first major rally, the sense of being young and living life. Or the strong convictions of a man who would have been a far superior choice for the nation that year in the election.

Our country has lost a great man who epitomized the meaning of public service. Mondale summed it up best with one line. “Politics is not about power. It is about doing good for the people.”

And so it goes.

In an Oct. 30, 2012, file photo, former Vice President Walter Mondale, a former Minnesota senator, gestures while speaking at a Students for Obama rally at the University of Minnesota’s McNamara Alumni Center in Minneapolis. Mondale, a liberal icon who lost the most lopsided presidential election after bluntly telling voters to expect a tax increase if he won, died Monday, April 19, 2021. He was 93. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)