Video of My Appearance on C-SPAN’s Book TV


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Filed under In Peterson's Words, Politics and Journalism, Republican Politics, The Writing Life, Women in Politics

Faces in the Crowd

I’m nearing the end of a round of appearances associated with my book. (That presumably will leave me a bit more time for blogging. ) The crowds have not always been large, but it has been gratifying nonetheless. In some cases, people have driven at least an hour, often at night, and in one case, very cold, rainy, windy weather. I recalled a time, a year before, when I decided not to venture out when it involved an hour’s drive in that kind of weather to hear another author who I did not personally know.

One of the nice things about these experiences was getting to meet more people who had known Elly Peterson: the daughter of her best friend in Charlotte, Michigan, the woman who urged her to interview for a job at the state Republican Party headquarters back in 1957; the daughter of the housekeeper who helped keep her home ship-shape when she was living and working in another city; men who had called her “Mother”; men who had worked on the staff of Gov. George Romney. And, in some cases, I got to see persons who I had interviewed for my book, and in the case of some phone interviews, meet them face-to-face.

One special case occured on a cold, rainy night in Ann Arbor, when an elderly gentleman arrived early at the Graduate Library for my talk. I recognized him as Lawrence Lindemer, the former University of Michigan regent and former Michigan State Supreme Court justice. He was the man who first hired Elly Peterson to work for the state Republican Party and the person responsible for her nickname of “Mother.” He had lived in Florida when I interviewed him by phone for my book, but had returned to Michigan following the death of his second wife. He had spotted a little blurb about my appearance and come out to listen. I think he was surprised when I recognized him, but it made the evening special for both of us. The Michigan Daily was on hand to capture the occasion, with a good story and a nice photograph.

Those are the moments that make it all worthwhile.

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Filed under Michigania, The Writing Life

Word of Mouth

I’m headed back to Michigan this week for two more appearances in connection with my book. This is what is euphemistically called a “book tour.”‘  Most of my friends think this is the glamorous part of a being a published author, but for most authors it is not. It is all part of the process of trying to get someone to buy your book, and the costs associated with doing so should provide a nice offset against any royalties that I will receive this year on my sales.

It could be worse. In the past I have done “book-signings,” where a bookstore tried to “deliver” an audience, and you sat in a chair for an hour or so and hoped that someone would wander by and want to purchase a signed copy. This time, I was grateful to be able to work with about a half-dozen organizations to plan events that produced audiences that were large enough to make it, in my mind if not my pocketbook, worth the effort.

In the end, however, it falls back on “word of mouth”–when someone reads your book, and is enthusiastic enough that they tell someone else, be it a friend, library, independent bookstore, or the rest of the population of by posting an online review.  That they recommend it to their book club. That they purchase it as a present for their grandchild.

I’ve often read articles about what NOT to say to persons who have just lost a close family member. Over the past few months, I’ve had some experience with comments from well-meaning friends, some of which caused a little twinge of pain. So herewith  are some thoughts about useful comments, and some not so useful comments.

First in the Not-So-Useful Category:

“Joan has told me such good things about your book, and she’s going to pass on her copy to me when she is done.”

Glad that “Joan” was enthusiastic, but I would be happier if this person was purchasing her own copy. Certainly two readers are better than one,  but sales are what will drive the ultimate print run.

“I just checked your book out of the library!”

Sure, I’m glad that the library has stocked it, but I would rather that it was discovered there by someone who wasn’t already a friend of mine.

At the same time, I recognize that $29.95 is a lot of money, particularly in these tough economic times.

As for the “useful” comnments, I’ve most appreciated those from people who admitted they were surprised to discover they actually liked my book. The aforementioned “Joan” wrote: “Who’d have thought I’d find someone so far from my usual circle of folks so fascinating?” 

As I’ve said before, an author’s book is like a child, and no one will ever love it as much as she does.

P.S. Hit Number 63, 249 on the Amazon best-seller list today. Pleased to see that that’s about 40,000 slots ahead of Christine O’Donnell.

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Conspiracy Theories

A number of years ago, when I was an editor on the national desk of The Washington Post, I had the privilege of spending a month as the journalist-in-residence at Duke University’s public policy institute. I remember an occasion when a professor asked me to sit in on his seminar, and respond to students’ questions, many of which were related to how The Post had covered–or not covered–important stories of that time. I remember fielding a question from a student who argued that our failure to cover a particular story adequately obviously revealed the existence of a conspiracy (whether it was a liberal media conspiracy or a fascist media conspiracy, I can no longer remember.) But I remember laughing and saying something to the effect of, “No, actually, we just screwed up.”

Two weeks ago I delivered a speech about my book that was recorded by a professional video crew at a venue where they had filmed before. If all went well, the speech was to be broadcast on a national cable channel. Last weekend, the speech was slotted on the network’s schedule on its Website. Two days later, when I prepared to share this happy news with family and friends around the country, I double-checked the listing. It had disappeared. Further inquiry brought back the word that when checked, the video turned out to be unusable.

Now, looking at the list of authors whose videos weren’t messed up, it would be easy to develop a conspiracy theory to explain this episode. I could allow myself to imagine that an over-zealous producer with a particular point of view didn’t like my message, and pulled the plug. Or that a recently divorced audio technician just decided to flip a switch in the wrong direction because on that particular night he was mad at all women. But that presumes that someone thinks I’m important enough that the plug is worth pulling.

No, I don’t think that’s the case. I think somebody screwed up. Simple as that.

But it’s easy to fall back on conspiracy theories when we are mad or frustrated or can’t understand why the world isn’t turning out the way we want it to. At her most cynical moments, Elly Peterson believed that conservative operatives in President Gerald Ford’s 1976 presidential campaign deliberately tried to throw his race because they really wanted Ronald Reagan to be elected president four years later. She saw conspiracies where the reality was more likely simply campaign chaos and incompetence. And considering that Ford came back from a 33-percentage-point deficit before the Republican National Convention to lose one of the tightest races of the 20th century, I’d argue that the “conspirators”  failed pretty miserably.

So I’m prepared to accept that my lost video was a screw-up. And I hope I will get another chance to record a speech.

But if it happens a second time. . . .

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The Author Tour

When an author publishes a book, the question that friends invariably ask is, “Are you going to have a book tour?”

It always sounds terribly exciting. But my experience is that most authors find these tours to be very draining–even those whose celebrity ensures that they will attract big crowds. It can be very depressing to show up for a book signing at a bookstore…and hope that someone will actually show up and want to buy a copy.

I just returned from a week-long trip to Michigan, with a new recipe for improving the experience. Thanks to some early networking with some key women in that state, I was privileged to make four appearances: at the annual Women’s Equality Day luncheon of MichiganERA, at a Women’s Equality Day event, sponsored by the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council at the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, and another Women’s Equality Day gathering at the Michigan Women’s History Museum and Hall of Fame in Lansing.  With the help of the marketing department at University of Michigan Press, I got some good coverage in newspapers, websites, and radio and television stations across the state.  Better yet, my sister tagged along with me, and we turned into a fun road trip, visiting a number of places that we had lived or visited when we were children.  If we happened by a bookstore that had my book on its shelves, I’d stop to sign their copies.

We ended our trip at the Eaton County Courthouse Museum in Charlotte, Michigan. There it was very special to be able to meet two of the children of one of Elly Peterson’s best friends, Gert Powers, who had served as manager of her campaign for vice chair of the Michigan Republican Party in 1961 and when she ran for U.S. Senate in 1964. Likewise, at the other stops along the way, persons turned out who had known Peterson personally, or whose mothers had worked in her campaigns. I was further touched that several old friends surprised me by driving an hour or more to be in the audience.

Authors, of course, are rarely satisfied by the attention their books attract. There is always one more review, one more appearance, one more media mention that one could get. The trip was long, and tiring, and not helped by the fact that I came down with a cold on Day 2. But, by the standards of the typical author tour, it was very satisfying indeed.

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The Political Gaffe of 1967

Will a statement made by a tired politician at the end of a long day of campaigning help define the 2012 presidential race?

 • Michele Bachmann placing the “shot heard ‘round the world” in New Hampshire instead of Massachusetts?

• Rick Perry labeling the Federal Reserve chairman’s management of the economy as “treasonous?”

• Mitt Romney’s response to a heckler that “corporations are people, too?”

Romney knows very well the consequences of making a statement that comes to be defined as a “campaign gaffe.” Forty-four years (and 11 presidential election cycles) ago this August 31, his father, Michigan Gov. George Romney, spent a day at the Michigan State Fair and then taped an interview with Lou Gordon, the host of a show called Hot Seat on WKBD-TV in Detroit.

At the time, the governor was thought to be one of the leading candidates for the 1968 Republican presidential nomination. Following his reelection as governor in 1966, a Louis Harris poll indicated Romney would beat President Johnson by a margin of 54 to 46 percent, the best showing among the Republican contenders at that time.

Gordon asked Romney about apparent inconsistencies in the governor’s positions on the Vietnam War. Romney replied, “Well, you know, when I came back from Vietnam, I had just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get. When you—“

Gordon: “By the generals?”

Romney: “Not only by the generals but also by the diplomatic corps over there. They do a very thorough job.”

In her own self-published memoir, Elly Peterson, who was then chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, recalled that neither she nor anyone else in the Romney camp realized what impact that remark would have. But when the television station shared it with the wire services, and the national media picked it up, it helped change the course of the campaign.

Editorial cartoonists, Democrats, Republican opponents and stand-up comics all jumped on the apparent “gaffe.” Within two weeks, Richard M. Nixon’s lead widened to 26 percentage points.

By the time the fall dinner of the Gridiron Club, the bastion of Washington print journalists, took place two months later, reporter Clark Mollenhoff wrote in a Romney biography, three of the six tunes in the club’s Republican skit depicted Romney in a less-than-flattering way. The songs included the “Romney Song,” set to “Did you Ever See a Dream Walking?”

“Did you ever get a brainwashing?
Well, I did.
With the plunger and the Duz sloshing?
Well, I did.
Did you ever get your foot caught in your mouth, Just like me,
And, gulping hard, find you’ve choked on your knee?. . .”

The song concluded with:
“Did the White House light stop beckoning bright,
Fading right out of your view?
Well, the thoughts that have wandered
And the brain that gets laundered,
They can make it pretty tough on you.”

The campaign did not go well. Peterson recalled:
“People were discouraged, the brainwash statement hurt, and the press, forgetting all that George had done for Michigan, portrayed him as a dum-dum. It was a tragic time for the Romneys and a bitter pill for a proud man like George to swallow.”

Romney ultimately decided to end his candidacy two weeks before the first primary of the 1968 election season, in New Hampshire. He shocked his supporters by withdrawing, but decided to do so before the Republican Governors’ Association was scheduled to meet.

One wonders how Romney’s statement would have been evaluated in our current political climate. Would it have just become the “gaffe-of-the-day” on the cable news shows and Youtube? Or would it have spread virally much more quickly, forcing the governor to withdraw even earlier?

In any case, the notion of withdrawing right before the New Hampshire primary to enable another governor to step into the race seems quaint by the standards of today’s presidential campaign timetable.

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Teens for Dad

Okay, first a confession. After driving eight hours home from a vacation on Saturday, I settled into my armchair to catch the final moments of coverage of the Republican straw poll in Ames, Iowa, surely one of the most bizarre spectacles in a presidential campaign season that promises to be full of them. As the cable news shows recounted highlights of the candidates’ pitches to their paid-for voters, Rick Santorum’s caught my attention.

Santorum was on a stage with his wife and four of his seven children–the sons, who range in age from about 18 to 10. Santorum thanked the boys for all the telephone canvassing they had done on his behalf, and joked to the crowd that there probably wasn’t a person present who had not received a phone call from one of them.

I was curious about the boys. It’s quite possible that in the tightly-knit, “family values” world of the Santorums, they are actually quite dedicated to their father’s campaign and the views he espouses. Or it’s possible that their smiles and phone calls were extracted as part of a negotiation over something else they wanted (sports car, TV in bedroom, Iphone?) Or it’s possible that the Santorums simply imposed their parental will–“you WILL go to Iowa, you WILL call potential supporters and you WILL be polite.”

No matter which scenario is closest to the truth, there’s one candidate in the pack who might identify with the Santorum boys, and that’s Mitt Romney.  George Romney, Mitt’s father, first ran for public office when Mitt was 15. In her self-published memoir, Elly Peterson recounted how Mitt would sometimes accompany Peterson and his mother, Lenore Romney, when they campaigned around the state on behalf of the Michigan gubernatorial candidate. She recalled how the religious convictions of Romney senior could be a source of amusement for the rest of the family. On one trip near Traverse City, she recounted:

“We consulted the maps which showed a road that looked like it went over the water. In talking about it, Mitt kept returning to the fact that the road had to be okay because the map showed it.

Finally, his mother, in exasperation, said, ‘Oh, Mitt, you know good and well a road will not go over water unless there is a bridge.’

‘Oh, that’s right,’  Mitt comes back, ‘Dad isn’t here!’ ”

As it turned out, Mitt missed out on his own father’s failed presidential campaign five years later because he was off in France, performing Mormon missionary service.

One wonders whether the Santorum boys think THEIR father walks on water…or whether, off camera, you could find them off in a tent at the Iowa state fair, making snarky comments over a fried butter stick.

No matter which, they are certainly not experiencing the summer of a typical American teenager….for better or for worse.

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