Monthly Archives: May 2011

Thoughts on Memorial Day

Elly Peterson served in Europe during World War II, as part of a three-woman American Red Cross complement assigned to the U.S. Army’s 280th Field Station Hospital. She was stationed first in England, and then followed the D-Day invasion to France. She was busily organizing a Christmas Eve party for the troops in December 1944, when the Germans bombed the S.S. Leopoldville outside Cherbourg Harbor, throwing the night into chaos. Some 800 American lives were lost when the ship was sunk.

The one character trait that Peterson attributed to her wartime service was her sense of patriotism. Late in her life, she recalled how her commanding officer would ask the Red Cross staff members to join him on the reviewing stand.  The patients, she wrote home at the time, “were wheeled out to the flag pole and the entire complement stood to attention. How beautiful and how thrilling to see the American flag lowered against the English sky with everyone at attention and every eye on the flag.”

“It was a great thing to be an American in those days,” she remembered years later. “You were proud of it then and proud of the way men were doing. . . .Some of [the men] seemed so young and of course there were lots of tragedies. But there were a lot of wonderful moments, too. When you saw people rise above. And when you were over there that long you weren’t homesick anymore.”


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How Much Is She Worth?

As she was about to go out on stage to accept the job as the first woman to chair a state Republican party, Elly Peterson was told that that the party could not pay her what her male predecessor had earned “because she was a woman.”  Instead, she was advised she would be paid nearly 30 percent less.

Peterson was naturally angry, and admitted later that she had considered crying. But she forged ahead and took the job–and the next year gave herself a raise.

Nearly 50 years later, the wage discrepancies between men and women still persist. The National Association of Colleges and Employers reported last week that the average starting salary of a female college graduate was 17 percent less than a male graduate. The study found that even when the numbers were adjusted for the fact that more men may choose careers with higher-paying salaries (think computer programmer versus elementary school teacher), the disparity persisted.

I can honestly say that I never knowingly accepted a salary that was less than that of an equally qualified male counterpart.  On the other hand, I know that the experience of some of my friends was quite different.

What I do know is that when I was a principal in a consulting company that I helped found, I discovered that when the time came to set our own salaries, my sense of “what I was worth” was less than the dollar amount my two male colleagues pegged for themselves. They joked that if I wanted to accept less, that was fine with them. But instead I accepted the salary they were earning.

My gut tells me there is a lot of this that goes on. And, unfortunately, in tight economic times, probably more salaries are negotiated downward–for both men and women.

Women’s salaries may never equal men’s in the aggregate–but it would be nice if they at least started out that way when they came out of college.

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The “M Word”

The front page of Thursday’s Washington Post posed the question “Can a Republican moderate survive?” (The headline on the online version of the story is slightly different, presumably to prompt more hits from a search engine.)

I smiled when I saw the headline because if one was setting out to write a book today, you would not choose to write about a moderate Republican if you were hoping to tap into established groups to help market it.  The current Republican establishment is not very interested in “moderates,” and Democrats are not very interested in things that are labeled “Republican.” And for someone like Elly Peterson who abandoned the Republican Party and eventually labeled herself an “independent,” ….well, perhaps there’s a support group somewhere on Facebook that fits the bill.

The Post story discusses the presidential prospects of Jon Huntsman Jr., the former governor of Utah who recently stepped down as U.S, ambassador to China to pursue a presidential bid. Huntsman’s aides are apparently already concerned that he might be labled a moderate–the “M-word” one called it–because that is apparently viewed as cause for immediate disqualification among the voters likely to turn out in Republican presidential primaries.

They are probably right.

On the other hand, it is thought that Huntsman might attract the kind of Main Street and Wall Street business types that Mitt Romney is going after. And because he rides a motorcycle and once played in a rock-and-roll band, I, for one, would look  foward to viewing the inevitable bio-documentary that will be shown at the 2012 Republican National Convention, should he succeed.

But I scratch my head a little when I read that the main gripe against Huntsman is that he served as Barack Obama’s ambassador to China. Personally, I like the thought of someone with that kind of experience, not to mention the intellectual chops necessary to be able to speak Chinese, in the White House. Sure prefer it to a candidate who bases her foreign policy expertise on the fact that she can see Russia from her home. And since when did responding to a presidential call to service become disqualifying. In one breath, Republican leaders were calling on Obama to build a diverse, bipartisan Cabinet and then 18 months later seem to be intent on trashing any Republican who answered the call.

In 1971, after she stepped down as assistant chairman of the Republican National Committee, Peterson was very dispirited about the prospects for moderates like herself within the party.  She believed that Richard M. Nixon had not been interested in building and broadening the party the way that she felt George Romney had in Michigan.She went on to express her disappointment that Nixon had failed “to build a strong, vital, exciting party” the way Romney had in Michigan. She wrote in the first draft of a memoir she later self-published:

“This is what I failed to realize, that time is short and men are eager for power, their own power, not that of a party or a nebulous group of leaders—some effective, some ineffective, some with it, some way out of it. The job of President, itself, makes a politician a statesman and the concerns of the party are left to advisors, who, in too many cases are not political.”

Romney, she concluded “was an ‘accident of fate.’” Moderates, she added, “fail in this regard to build strong parties with their philosophy for they are based too often on men of power, interested largely in themselves while conservatives are based on an idea, a philosophy. They therefore are ready to accept a new leader if he offers them what they want in the way of ideas—to heck with his personality or appearance.”

“This then is the bitter pill I learned to swallow—that the ideas I have dreamed and thought of for so many years, yes, and worked for, simply will not come to pass.”

Huntsman’s fate over the next 12 months will be instructive.

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Sex, Scandals and Might-Have-Beens

The airwaves and blogosphere are now filled with the latest details about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cover-up of his  illegitimate child and Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s hotel check-out procedures. The list or narcissistic male politicians seems to grow longer every day: Mark Sanford, John Edwards, John Ensign, David Vitter, Eliot Spitzer, Bill Clinton. Men whose infidelities cause jaws to drop–and usually, on some level, disappoint those who looked up to them or worked on their behalf in the political trenches.

Being of a certain age, my own list goes back a bit farther: Gary Hart onboard the “Monkey Business,” taunting the press to bring his infidelities to light. And the “scandal” that derailed another presidential campaign, that of New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller.

In 1962, Rockefeller divorced his wife of 31 years (and the mother of his four children). In May 1963, he married Margaretta “Happy” Murphy, a former aide, one month after her own divorce became final. In her divorce settlement, the new Mrs. Rockefeller gave up her custody rights to her own four children, probably the most scandalous aspect of the story at the time. Rockefeller had been viewed as the front-runner for the 1964 Republican presidential nomination, but his approval ratings went south after his divorce–and particularly the news of his remarriage.

From that fount of all 1960s historical wisdom, the “Mad Men” blog, I found this typical quote from  U.S. Senator Prescott Bush of Connecticut, the father of George H.W. and grandfather of George W.:  “Have we come to the point in our life as a nation where the governor of a great state — one who perhaps aspires to the nomination for president of the United States — can desert a good wife, mother of his grown children, divorce her, then persuade a young mother of four youngsters to abandon her husband and their four children and marry the governor?”

Elly Peterson was a big fan of Nelson Rockefeller–and remained so throughout her life. In fall of 1963, as Peterson was about to become assistant chairman of the RNC, she traveled with her predecessor, Clare Williams Shank, to New York for “tea” with Happy Rockefeller. In her memoir, she wrote: “I could not believe this shy, attractive, but simply-dressed lady could be the one about which so much had been written, when Nelson married her after their mutual divorces. Surely those who had written about her had never taken the time to meet her. She was far from the ‘femme fatale’ I expected.” 

Later, in 1976, Peterson was touched when Rockefeller invited her to join him on Air Force Two, when as Gerald R. Ford’s vice president, he made a final campaign swing through Minnesota and Michigan, her home state. Later she observed to her sister, “We had a ball. . . . He will always be the greatest in my mind for being natural . . . .”  (Peterson did not record her reactions to the news of Rockefeller’s death, which prompted another round of headlines when he suffered a heart attack in the presence of a young female aide. )

Rockefeller struggled in the early Republican presidential primaries in 1964, but doggedly continued in the race and scored some important victories. But his fate was sealed when his new wife had the bad timing to deliver their first child a few days before the California primary, reminding voters why they no longer liked him. Rockefeller returned to New York to be by his wife’s side, and Barry Goldwater came from behind to win California’s large pot of delegates–and the Republican nomination.

It’s tantalizing to wonder how history might have been different if Rockefeller had stay married.

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Filed under Politics and Journalism, Republican Politics

Lies and Name Calling

The 2012 election season is just getting under way, and already it’s a pretty sorry mess. What I find so dispiriting is when otherwise intelligent people lie with a straight face–and no one in their party feels compelled to call them on it.

I’m not talking about name-calling, or looking at a set of economic data and interpreting it differently than I might, or interpreting legislative votes in ways that a reasonable person might consider unfair. No, I’m talking about lies.

But first my usual digression back to the past. . . .

Elly Peterson was not a rabid partisan–certainly not by today’s standards. But there were at least four periods in her life when she was called on to stir up her audiences with negative images of her opponents. The first was in 1964, when Lyndon Johnson was in the White House, and she was assistant chairman of the Republican National Committee. The second was the same year, when she ran for the U.S. Senate against Democratic Sen. Phil Hart of Michigan. Although she had a great deal of respect for Hart, she managed to find some points on which to challenge him, including his ties to Johnson. The third was when she served as co-chair of ERAmerica, and was called on to counter Phyllis Schlafly and other opponents of the Equal Rights Amendment. The fourth was in 1982, when she opposed her party’s nominee for governor of Michigan, Richard Headlee.

I began my research of Peterson’s life in 2005, and reviewed her first stint at the RNC relatively early in my research. I found that during that period she had directed the preparation of what she called “Mabel cards,” postcards that Republican women could send to their friends, with bullet points that criticized Johnson administration policies.  In my first draft, I wrote that one version suggested Johnson’s “economic policies amounted to socialism. ”

Rereading what I had written a few years, and a new president later, I thought, “Whoa, did she call Johnson ‘a socialist’?”  The context had changed quite a bit in the ensuing years. So I dug out my notes, and decided to include a fuller quote, namely that one card had likened a Johnson quotation—“We are going to take all the money that we think is unnecessarily being spent and take from the ‘haves’ and give to the ‘have nots’ that need it so much”–to the words of Karl Marx. At least in this case, the recipient of the card could judge for herself, even if the context for the Johnson quotation was not made explicitly clear.

But that’s different, say, from asserting  that Lyndon Johnson was born in the Mexican Territory, and thus not eligible to be president.

Last month, Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl said on the floor of the Senate that abortion was “well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does. After fact-checkers set the record straight, Kyl’s staff said that th speech “was not intended to be a factual statement.” 

A few days ago, Newt Gingrich announced he was running for president and then sat for an interview with Sean Hannity of Fox. Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post subsequently dissected all of the lies and half-truths the one-time history professor shared with his audience, ultimating awarding him four “Pinnochios” for his performance.  What I found most appalling was the effort to turn Attorney General Eric Holder into a boogeyman for alleged ties to terrorists, including “writing papers for them.” The lies were so breathtaking that Kessler had to guess at what tenuous connection Gingrich was trying to make. At best, it appeared that Holder might have worked for a law firm whose lawyers had provided representation for defendants charged with terrorist crimes.

Last time I checked, the right to representation was one of the principles embodied in our form of democratic government.

We can count on outlets like PolitiFacts, and fact-checkers with mainstream media and late-night comedy news hosts to shine a spotlight on this kind of stuff. But sure would be nice if some of the Defenders of Freedom spoke up about it occasionally.

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A Statue for Gerald Ford

On May 3, the state of Michigan did what only three other states have done–installed a new statue in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall collection to replace an original one. In this case, the statue of Zechariah Chandler, onetime mayor of Detroit, four-time U.S. senator, one-time secretary of the Interior, anti-slavery activist–was replaced by Gerald R. Ford, U.S. president and, I’ll proudly note, according to Wikipedia, the only  president to have tackled a future Heisman Trophy winner when he played college football (for the University of Michigan). 

A few years ago Congress passed a law that permitted states to replace their original statues, often obscure 19th century political figures, with new statues. Thus, Alabama has added Helen Keller, Kansas has added Dwight Eisenhower, and California has added Ronald Reagan. And now Michigan has added Gerald R. Ford to join Lewis Cass. Here’s the complete list of the original statues. (From the vantage point of a come-lately Virginian,  I suspect my current state will have little interest in replacing George Washington or Robert E. Lee.)

Since I moved to Washington 36 years ago, I have traveled to the U.S. Capitol on three occasions to pay respects to persons whose remains were lying in state there: Hubert Humphrey, Rosa Parks and Gerald Ford. Now the last name will probably surprise some of my friends, and certainly my Michigan and University of Michigan pride was involved. But I basically respected President Ford for trying to be a good, honest president and serving the nation in difficult times. I will confess that part of my motivation was that I could not understand the adulation that was showered on Ronald Reagan at the time of his death, and felt that Gerald Ford deserved a similar show of respect, even though I knew it would not be forthcoming–at least with similarly-sized crowds of tourists. (Note to file:  Crowds in Washington are likely to be larger if you die in June rather than in late December, as Ford did.)

Elly Peterson was among the Michigan residents who traveled to Washington in December 1973 to see Gerald Ford sworn in as vice president after Vice President Spiro Agnew was forced to resign. It was a rare occasion on which she felt moved to immediately record her emotions. She wrote:

“It was more than a ceremony to me. I was watching an old friend and co-worker being [sworn] into the No. 2 spot in the nation. I was looking at a man who had undergone more investigation, more examination, than any previous Vice President (or President for that matter)—and I was watching a man who had come through all these investigations as a symbol of integrity.

“As old friends greeted each other—there was a feeling of confidence and inspiration—Here was a man from Michigan—the first from our state ever to be in the Executive Office—but more important than the historic first, was the belief by all those there, that it was a beginning—for a return to confidence in government.”

 At a party that night, she predicted to a Washington Post reporter that if Ford became president before the end of Nixon’s term, he would “make a great President.” She added, “And there could be a chance that he will get to be President.”

In eight months, that prophecy was fulfilled.

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Birth Pangs

As Mother’s Day came and went, I was reminded of another Mother’s Day, 31 years ago, when I was eight months pregnant and spending my weekend on the maternity ward of a women’s hospital–without a baby. It was not a pleasant experience, as the television was filled with everything from Rosemary’s Baby to the Bugs Bunny Mother’s Day Special and I was awaiting test results to determine whether there were problems with my pregnancy. (It turned out there weren’t.)

It has also reminded me that I’m now entering the final weeks of a gestation period that has stretched for six years rather than merely nine months. And I’m struck by the similarities between publishing a book and giving birth. I’ve had the latter experience once and the former experience twice. I’ve decided that one tends to repress the pains associated with both–or there might never be a second child or a second book.

There is, of course, a great sense of expectation associated with both, and joy when the baby or the book is finally delivered and can be held in your hands. A birth may have been easy, or it may have followed years of miscarriages, stillbirths or fertility treatments. Similarly, a book may have seemed to have “written itself,” or it may have been preceded by years of staring at a blank screen and dozens of rejection letters.

“No one,” a mother thinks as she holds her newborn, “will ever love you the same way I do.”  And no one, it occurs to me, will ever love a book the same way its author does. But looking back more than three decades after giving birth–and nearly that long after first getting published, I know that the joys will naturally be mixed with disappointments, and dreams and fantasies replaced by a somewhat different reality.

But for now, at least, a girl can dream. . . .

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