David Bruce: Politics Anecdotes

When Norman Mailer ran for Mayor of New York, his running mate was Jimmy Breslin. Their rallying cry was “Vote the rascals in!” Both writers were known for hard living, and when they spoke at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice to police students, they ran into a police officer who asked Mr. Mailer, “If you and Breslin go ape on the same evening, who will run the city?” Mr. Mailer, of course, was an original (as was Mr. Breslin). Mr. Mailer had a column in the Village Voice for a while, but he quit after four months because a mistake in copy-editing had changed his nuance into nuisance. Obviously, Mr. Mailer’s beliefs, whether in literature or politics, were strong. After deciding to vote for Bobby Kennedy, whom he thought had a prep-school arrogance but was capable of greatness, Mr. Mailer wrote, “To vote for a man who is neuter is to vote for the plague. I would rather vote for a man on the assumption he is a hero and have him turn into a monster than vote for a man who can never be a hero.”

Syndicated columnist Susan Estrich wonders about the effect that pollution is having on our lives; many doctors wonder the same thing. She also wonders why politicians aren’t doing more to clean up pollution; many doctors wonder the same thing. After finding a lump in her breast, she consulted a doctor—fortunately, the lump wasn’t cancer. However, she did ask her doctor if she wasn’t too young to be worried about contracting breast cancer—wasn’t that a disease for women older than herself? He asked her if she knew anything about politics. When she replied that she knew a little, he asked her to consult people who were knowledgeable about politics and ask them why he was spending more and more time treating more and more young women who were contracting a disease that used to attack mostly older women. Her doctor said to her, “We need political leadership.” Ms. Estrich agrees.

Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the Portuguese Consul-General in Bordeaux, rescued thousands of Jews from the Holocaust by directly disobeying his country’s orders and giving visas to Jews so that they could escape to freedom. A devout Roman Catholic, Mr. Mendes knew that he was risking his career, his reputation, and his own money by rescuing Jews. However, he said, “I cannot allow these people to die. Our constitution says that the religion or the politics of a foreigner shall not be used to deny refuge in Portugal. I have decided to follow this principle. Even if I am discharged, I can only act as a Christian, as my conscience tells me. If I am disobeying orders, I would rather be with God against men than with men against God.” The Jews used the Portuguese visas to escape to neutral Spain.

Populist Presidents can be extremely popular. Bill Moyers’ father, Henry Moyers, knew that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was on the side of the people. And because Henry Moyers was one of the people, he knew that President Roosevelt was on his side. Bill once asked his father why he had voted for President Roosevelt four times—only President Roosevelt’s death had kept Henry Moyers from voting for him a fifth, sixth, or even more times. Mr. Moyers—who had never met President Roosevelt—replied, “Because the President’s my friend.” Bill remembers the first time that he saw his father cry—it was the day that President Roosevelt died.

Actor Eli Wallach was born and raised in Brooklyn, but he attended the University of Texas at Austin because out-of-state tuition was only $30 for his first year. His professors often called on him in class. Why? Mr. Wallach explains, “Because they wanted to hear my Brooklyn accent.” Mr. Wallach became interested in Texas politics when he was at Austin. The governor at the time of his first year at the college was a woman, Ma Ferguson, whose husband had been Texas governor but had been impeached. Ma Ferguson ran for governor and was elected, and her husband kept on running the state just like he had before being impeached.

In 1903, union organizer Mother Jones led a group of child laborers from Philadelphia mills to New York City in a march designed to bring attention to the existence of child labor in the United States and to improve the lives of the working children. She even attempted to meet with President Theodore Roosevelt and have him see the mill children, but he resisted her attempts, saying that he believed in states’ rights and therefore child labor was the concern of states, not of the United States. Years later, Mother Jones said of President Roosevelt, “He had a lot of secret service men watching an old woman and an army of children. You fellows do elect wonderful Presidents.”

Back in 1956, a year when Yugoslavia was under the control of the dictator Josef Broz Tito, a Yugoslav consul-general confessed to theatrical guru Danny Newman that he never missed a performance at the Chicago Civic Opera by the baritone Tito Gobbi. Mr. Newman said that he understood that because Mr. Gobbi was a truly great baritone, but the consul-general replied, “Yes, but that’s not the real reason I love him so much. You see, Mr. Newman, Yugoslavia is a communist country and not very popular here. So your Civic Opera House is the only place in this country where I can publicly yell my head off with “BRAVO Tito! BRAVO Tito!”

Chuck Close took photographs of President Bill Clinton during a photo session in which he learned something about the former President that most people don’t know—that in at least one way, he is sensitive about his appearance. When Mr. Close showed up for the photo session, Mr. Clinton said, “Damn, look at those bags under my eyes. I forgot to take my water pills.” The water pills help to reduce the size of the bags under a person’s eyes, and evidently Mr. Clinton is sensitive about the bags under his eyes.

Fred W. McDarrah, long-time photographer for New York’s Village Voice, enjoyed taking photographs of the double-chinned movers and shakers of the predator class at fundraising dinners. He would take a photograph, and if the subject of the photograph angrily waved him away, he would take another photograph. Mr. McDarrah had a satiric streak; in 1960, he even started a small business known as “Rent-a-Beatnik.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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