Getting Started in Politics
Scripps-Howard News Service 9.18.02
Over the years, the well-known San Francisco radio station KSFO
has given me frequent opportunities to spend an hour-or-so with
their listeners and, consequently, many questions have been asked
and answered. Last week's callers included a man whose question
made me think of a more public way of answering. "I'm a middle
class American," he said, "what you say rings many bells
in my mind. But what can one person do?"
Questions about my own entry into politics have always abounded.
Many find it hard to imagine how a life spent mostly as a touring
pianist leads one to a syndicated column.
The year was 1991. Owing to my years on the faculty of Indiana
University's famed School of Music, my wife and I were living in
Bloomington, Indiana. As the year began, the "unilateral disarmament"
crowd had organized itself into the "no blood for oil"
crowd, built a mock cemetery, and a tent city in which the unwashed
and brainwashed students could live and promote resistance to the
impending Gulf War.
We started visiting them, hoping to find someone articulate for
a serious discussion. One day, we bumped into a visitor from Washington,
D.C. He informed us about his views, according to which the Soviet
Union did not hold out much more hope than the United States, and
alone the Cultural Revolution in China (Red Guards burning, maiming,
killing everything and everyone in sight) offered a valid model.
This man was advertised as the keynote speaker for a faculty conference
the next day. The tables in front of the conference hall offered
more Marx, Lenin and Trotsky than I had seen since leaving Soviet-occupied
Hungary, mixed with calls for Intifada. The speaker turned out to
be a professional anarchist by the name of C. Clark Kissinger. We
were told we were not welcome to stay.
Next day, we went to a town meeting held by the congressman of
the district, Frank McCloskey. After explaining that the United
States was about to commit the greatest mistake in history, bar
none, he led a hate session denouncing the FBI, the CIA, the president
and his cabinet. It was at this point that I found my voice to say
a few chosen words about the congressman's use of his position,
and the anti-American nature of the entire movement engulfing Bloomington.
Surprise: enthusiastic and extended applause.
More surprise: Bloomington's only newspaper, the Herald -Times,
reported the town meeting without mention of my rather lengthy remarks
and their reception. Yet more surprise: "Author urges activism"
- screamed the huge front-page headline.
The "author" was C. Clark Kissinger.
To the library first. Hours of search failed to turn up an author
by that name. Then a letter, describing the events, deposited by
hand at the newspaper and the mayor's office, copies mailed to the
governor and lieutenant governor - insurance.
The next day, I marched into the offices of the Herald-Times and
asked for the editor. He did see me but dismissed me with the staple,
"you are certainly entitled to your views." Upon this,
I asked - no: I demanded to see the owner, and waited until he arrived.
Hearing my stories, he told the editor to accommodate me. "Write
a letter, then," the editor said gnashing his teeth. Nothing
doing, I responded. It needs to be a proper article, prominently
I had made the acquaintance of the staff some weeks before. The
son of an elderly mailman had written one of those incredible letters
from the front lines that Americans of all stripes had been known
to write. You want to memorize them, frame them, teach them. I just
wanted to get it into the local paper. They buried it on an inside
page. I got through to the night editor who said to come in. I found
her surrounded by half-eaten slices of pizza, her desk the same
mess as her self.
I complained about the placement of the letter, and the general
tone of the reporting. "What's your beef? Your guy's on the
front page, too." "My guy," on this occasion, was
the president of the United States.
My column, "H-T accused of bias," ran. I didn't know
it would be the first of so many. But the story is worth recalling
just now - not only to show that even one person can do something,
but because the next Middle East conflict is around the corner,
and the very same forces are organizing on our campuses to aid and
abet the enemy.