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What I Did On The Summer Vacation

Shea AndersenA Guest Blog – The August Recess

A Guest Writer today – Shea Andersen – freelance writer and former newspaper editor.

Time and again, August proves to be the best month for political junkies to hit the road. With Congress in recess and the Obama family gadding about Martha’s Vineyard, there’s no better time to decamp from daily life and poke around a bit.

Just ask Tim Egan, the New York Times writer, whose unsuccessful attempt to escape the news was documented in this essay.

This year, my family took a massive van we purchased in Ketchum and pointed it west, to Oregon and California. Instead of the minivan that new parents are supposed to pilot, we found ourselves a megavan, a towering, jacked-up behemoth with a bed, sink, stove and even a shower tucked inside. So much for roughing it.

For Congress, August is for seeing the district a little bit more than usual. When I was a journalist in the Ketchum area, this might mean we’d see U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson arriving for a backpack trip into the Boulder-White Cloud mountains, dragging along a few reporters or aides. At the Idaho Mountain Express in Ketchum, we received a greeting card from Simpson, the cover of which was a drawing he’d done of the mountain ranges while on one of his trips. His bill to establish wilderness in that area, the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act, or CIEDRA, may not be advancing much in Congress, but he still made the trip, a staffer told me.

“He wouldn’t miss it,” said John Revier, a Simpson spokesman. “I don’t think we’ll ever have an August recess without him making that trip.”

For U.S. Rep. Walt Minnick, the recess period looks a little rougher. His appearance on the News Hour With Jim Lehrer had its high points, but also a few toe-curling awkward moments. Witness Minnick, trying to press the flesh at the Caldwell Night Rodeo, getting caught on camera not recognizing a major donor, who later told the reporter he was having a tough time supporting Minnick after watching his votes on the economy, the environment, and now health care reform.

Back on the road, then. Minnick’s sprawling district offers lots of opportunities to make new friends. He’ll need them when he faces the Republican challengers hoping to make his first term an anomaly in Idaho political history, as the Spokane Spokesman-Review notes.

Ultimately, I feel a longing for the fall and the pickup of news traffic. I respect Egan’s news blackout attempt, even if I didn’t try as hard. Cold turkey is a dish best left to more dangerous addicts. I say, bring on the fall.

(Shea Andersen is the former editor of the Idaho Mountain Express and the Boise Weekly. He lives in Boise.)

What is Obama Reading…

Andrew MalcolmThe L.A. Times – Top of the Ticket

Andrew Malcolm looks like a writer doesn’t he? Andy does a lot of the writing for the L.A. Times’ blog called Top of the Ticket. It’s a good daily take on politics spiced with a little of Malcolm’s ready display of good humor.

The post on the president’s Martha’s Vineyard reading list is worth a look.

Andy, by the way, once served a brief stint as Laura Bush’s press secretary and a longer stint in the same position with former Montana Governor Marc Racicot.

Andy is a Canadian by birth, a hockey fan by choice, and author of 10 books, including The Canadians and Huddle: Fathers, Sons and Football.

Good guy, good writer, good blog.

The Famous Five

TaftWhen the Senate Selected the Greatest Senators

The U.S. Senate has been graced over more than 220 years by many greats. The passing of Ted Kennedy – a great senator of the last fifty years – seems an appropriate moment to recall some of those senators of history who deserve remembering.

The Pacific Northwest has been blessed by many great ones. Jackson and Magnuson from Washington. McNary, Hatfield and Morse from Oregon. Borah, Church and McClure from Idaho. Walsh, Wheeler and Mansfield from Montana, to name but a few. Every student of the Senate has a candidate for greatness, which makes it even more impressive (or curious) that more than fifty years ago, the Senate undertook it own effort to honor the greatest who had ever served.

The Senate Reception Room is one of the spectacular spaces in the U.S. Capitol. Visit if you ever have the opportunity. In 1955, the Senate authorized an effort to select five outstanding former members whose portraits would adorn the magnificent room.

Sen. Robert A. Taft of Ohio (pictured here) was one of the five chosen, as were Henry Clay of Kentucky, Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, John C. Calhoun of South Carolina and Robert M. La Follette of Wisconsin.

Young Sen. John F. Kennedy, 38 years old and fresh off winning a Pulitzer for Profiles in Courage (the book profiled eight courageous Senators) lead the committee to select the “famous five.” The other committee members were Mike Mansfield of Montana, Richard Russell of Georgia (both great Senators), Styles Bridges of New Hampshire and John Bricker of Ohio.

In a forward to a book about the famous five, Kennedy wrote:

“The life of each of these Senators is a drama in itself. Each made a distinct historic impression during the period of his public service, and each has become a part of America’s broad constitutional heritage. Clay, Webster, Calhoun, La Follette, Taft were all men who knew the value and limits of constructive partisanship, yet each also made solitary pilgrimages at times when they differed with the prevailing mood of opinion in Congress and the country.”

The selections of Kennedy’s committee were not without controversy. A panel of 160 historians recommended the inclusion of Nebraska’s great progressive George Norris, the father of the Tennessee Valley Authority and the inventor of Nebraska’s unicameral legislature. Kennedy had included Norris in Profiles in Courage. But Bridges, a tough, New England conservative, had often clashed with the liberal Norris and he, along with Nebraska’s two Senators at the time, blackballed the Nebraskan.

Petty, personal politics, to be sure, is nothing new in the U.S. Senate, even when it comes to identifying greatness.

In 2000, another Senate committee recommended the addition of Reception Room portraits of two other greats – Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan and Robert Wagner of New York.

One suspects the U.S. Senate will soon be finding a place for Edward Moore Kennedy’s portrait.

The rich and fascinating history of the “world’s greatest deliberative body” is extremely well presented at the Senate history website. Among other things, you’ll find a page for everyone who ever served in the Senate – all the scoundrels, as well as the heroes.

The book about the original greatest Senators, by the way, is by Holmes Alexander and is called The Famous Five.

There are few institutions more American than the U.S. Senate – ennobling, frustrating, essential, constant. The next time you get frustrated with the pace of the place or the petty politics, just remember that giants have walked there and will again.

Remembering Kennedy

Teddy KennedyMy One (Brief) Encounter With Teddy

I have Bethine Church, the wife and political partner of the late Idaho senator, to thank for my one brush with the senator from Massachusetts who died last night.

It was the summer of 1979, and President Jimmy Carter had just returned from Vienna and the signing of the controversial SALT II nuclear weapons reduction treaty with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.

The President was reporting to a joint session of the Congress and this wide-eyed, young TV reporter from Idaho was going to the speech as the guest of the wife of the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I remember sitting in the gallery of the U.S. House of Representatives with Bethine to one side and Helen Jackson, the wife of the great Washington Senator Henry Jackson, to the other. (Church supported SALT II, Jackson did not and the powerful Senate wives mirrored those positions.)

After Carter’s speech, of which I confess I don’t remember much, Bethine said matter of factly, “We’ll go up to the radio/TV gallery and listen into the reaction.” OK, I thought, that is a good idea.

As we entered the very cramped gallery, high up in the U.S. Capitol, it was immediately obvious that everyone – everyone – knew and liked Bethine. She graciously introduced me, “as a friend from Idaho,” to John Tower of Texas, John Glenn of Ohio and then to Kennedy.

I’ll never forget the introduction. “Ted, you know Marc Johnson from Idaho?” Of course, he didn’t know me from a bale of fresh hay, but we stood in the noise and confusion of the Senate radio/TV gallery and talked about Sun Valley, Senator Church, the president’s speech and the treaty, which Kennedy praised as an important opening to the Soviet Union.

The next year, Kennedy challenged Carter for the Democratic nomination and lost badly even though he, somewhat surprisingly, enjoyed a good deal of support in Idaho. That support existed even though being labeled “a Kennedy-style liberal” is always a liability for any Idaho Democrat.

President Obama today praised Kennedy as “one of the greatest senators of our time.” There seems little debate about that.

Tomorrow, the story of how the Senate – lead by then-Sen. John Kennedy – selected the “famous five” – the greatest senators (up to 1957) who had ever graced the “world’s greatest deliberative body.”

Feasting on Hemingway

HemingwayThe New Edition of A Moveable Feast – A Guest Post

I’ve asked Martin L. Peterson, a member of the board of the Hemingway Society and a scholar of all things Hemingway, to guest post today regarding the controversial new edition of A Moveable Feast – The Restored Edition.

The original Feast was published 1964 after Hemingway’s death. Here’s Marty’s very interesting take:

Hemingway: Still Creating A Lot of Buzz
By Martin L. Peterson

It is the kind of thing that most authors can only dream about. A new edition of one of your earlier books comes out. Christopher Hitchens writes an extensive review in The Atlantic. Other publications, such as the Kansas City Star, do the same. In an op-ed piece in the New York Times, a friend blasts the new edition, stating that the original edition is much preferable. And the son of your publisher writes a letter-to-the-editor of the Times also supporting the original edition. But even these negative pieces help publicize that the new edition has been published.

Few authors have such experiences. And even fewer have them nearly 50 years after they die. But that is much the way with the posthumous life of Ernest Hemingway. Even though he won both the Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes and was a bestselling author in his lifetime, he has sold more books since his death in 1961 than in life. In fact, the new edition of his memoir A Moveable Feast lists him as the author of 26 books, with 12 of them published posthumously.

A Moveable Feast was first published in 1964. It was subjected to considerable editing by Harry Brague of Scribners and Hemingway’s fourth wife, Mary. Among other things, Mary cobbled together a preface from various manuscript fragments and signed Ernest’s name to it.

But, even with the edits, the book has always regarded as being Hemingway’s work, just as A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition, must also be recognized as Hemingway’s work. The new edition was edited by Hemingway’s grandson, Sean. Sean’s uncle, Patrick, provided an enthusiastic foreword to the work.

The Hemingway archives at the John F. Kennedy Library are probably the most extensive archives of any prominent author. If it was on paper, Hemingway filed it away. He wrote before the days of word processing, so his notes, drafts with deletes and edits, and correspondence are generally available to anyone with an interest in Hemingway.

Because of the existence of all of this material, there have been arguments among scholars since the initial publication of A Moveable Feast as to what Hemingway did or did not intend to have included in the book. About the only thing they fully agree on is that the title for the book was never one of the titles that Hemingway considered. It came from a conversation that A.E. Hotchner said he had with Hemingway in Paris in the 1950s.

Hotchner, a friend of Hemingway’s during his later years, wrote a scathing op-ed piece in the New York Times concerning the new edition of the book. He states, among other things, that he had delivered the original manuscript of Scribners in 1960 in exactly the format that Hemingway wanted it published. An interesting claim when you consider that Hemingway was still making changes to the manuscript as late as April 1961 and had only come up with titles for three of the book’s original twenty chapters at the time of his death.

Hotchner also states that he thinks that much of the driving force behind this new edition is to make Pauline Hemingway, Ernest’s second wife, appear in a better light than in the original edition. Pauline was Patrick’s mother and Sean’s grandmother. She may appear in a slightly better light due to the addition of some materials left out of the original addition. But the classic line about his love for his first wife, Hadley, remains – “I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her.”

It should come as no surprise that the publication of this new edition would be anything less than controversial. But, unlike the edition that Mary Hemingway edited, Sean Hemingway makes considerable effort to explain the justifications behind his editing decisions. He has reordered some pieces into a more chronological fashion than in the original edition. He has also relegated some chapters to a section in the rear of the book titled “Additional Paris Sketches.” And there are also several new pieces that apparently Hemingway had kept from the original edition in hopes of eventually publishing a second volume of memoirs.

Regardless of the content, I would have bought this new edition just for the cover. The original edition’s cover with a painting of Pont Neuf in Paris has been replaced by a classic Hemingway photo. There are an estimated 10,000 photographs of Hemingway at the Kennedy Library. My favorite of the lot is his 1923 passport photo, taken prior to his move to Paris. It disproves the old adage that there is no such thing as a good passport photo. In my mind, it is the best photo ever taken of him and having it on the cover of the new edition makes it worth the price of purchase.

The end result is yet another great Hemingway book. Scholars, friends and family members may squabble over the differences between the two editions, but The Restored Edition is 100% Hemingway at his best and a treat to read.

(Martin L. Peterson is Special Assistant to the President of the University of Idaho.)

Lessons From Obama Online

Obama“Propelled by Internet, Barack Obama Wins Presidency”Wired, November 4, 2009

A fascinating new report from two environmentally oriented foundations – Brainerd and Wilberforce – slices and dices the Obama For America online campaign of last year and offers some interesting conclusions not entirely in keeping with the media hype.

You can access the report – Online Tactics & Success – An examination of the Obama For America New Media Campaignhere.

The 42-page analysis concludes that, while the Obama team did a remarkable job utilizing email and the web in the 2008 campaign, the online success had more to do with the candidate than the technology. “The energy and enthusiasm of Obama supporters was unprecedented in modern elections,” the report says, allowing the new media team the daily – or hourly – ability to push a great “product.”

The foundations commissioned the analysis in order to learn what lessons non-profits should take away from the Obama campaign, but there is something here for everyone interested in how the Internet is remaking communication.

Like much of the rest of Obama’s historic march to the White House, the brilliance of the online campaign was in the quality of its execution. The report’s authors highlight seven key findings.

  1. Discipline: Develop best practices and stick with them. “ONLY send content that you know your supports will value.” And, have the discipline “to stay ON message.”
  2. The Right People: Obama campaign manager David Plouffe saw to it that the new media effort wasn’t organized as part of communications or finance, but as a stand alone part of the campaign. He then recruited top people from CNN, Google and Madison Avenue to staff what became an 81 person unit.
  3. Spotlight on Supporters: “The campaign made a concerted and deliberate effort to keep the spotlight on the people who supported Obama, and not just on the candidate.”
  4. Nimbleness: “The campaign was able to turn on a dime and launch a fundraising email within hours of [Sarah] Palin’s speech” criticizing “community organizers.” The email generated $11 million in contributions in a single day.
  5. Authenticity: “OFA managed to do something unique – share real, inside campaign information with its supporters, while making that information accessible and meaningful. Plouffe said: “Nothing is more important than authenticity. People have very sensitive bullshit-o-meters.”
  6. Content Matters: “From top notch emails, to 1,800 videos, to amazing graphic design, the new media team demonstrated a serious focus on content.”
  7. Data-Driven Culture: “More than any campaign in history, OFA was a data-driven operation.” The campaign created a six-person analytics team and tested and measured every aspect of the online program. “Entire projects were scrapped because the data showed they were not effective.”

The Brainerd/Wilberforce report offers this observation underscoring the essential requirement of any successful campaign – skillful execution:

“Fundamentally, the most successful elements of OFA’s new media program were not new. OFA’s new media team simply executed the same core strategies than many nonprofits have used for years – but they did so flawlessly.”

 

The Johnson Treatment

What Would Lyndon Do…

Before Vietnam defined his as “a failed presidency,” Lyndon Johnson assembled an historic record of legislative accomplishment. He got civil rights and voting rights legislation passed, created Medicare, federally guaranteed student loans and the national endowments for arts and the humanities. And that is certainly a partial list.

Of course, the bigger than life Texan – the flawed giant in biographer Robert Dallek’s words – had lots of help with all that legislation, but Johnson was the catalyst, the cajoler in chief. History records him as the nation’s greatest legislative politician.

In a great piece on the Daily Beast website, LBJ aide Tom Johnson, writes about how his old boss would have gotten a health care reform bill through the current congress. It’s worth reading to understand the full impact of the “Johnson treatment” and how effective LBJ could be in winning votes for his legislation.

Like every good politician, Johnson kept lists and he settled scores. The great Idaho Senator Frank Church was victim of Johnson’s attempt to make sure that the press and other Vietnam critics knew that the president can always have the last word.

As American involvement in Vietnam continued to divide the country with dimming prospects that the conflict could be brought to a satisfactory conclusion, Church became more and more outspoken in his opposition to the war. It was a principled and courageous stand at odds with many of his Idaho constituents and certainly at odds with President Johnson.

After a White House dinner, LBJ cornered Church to work him over for his stand on the war. According to the story, recounted in LeRoy Ashby and Rod Gramer’s fine biography of Church, the senator allegedly told the president that he had come more and more to agree with the celebrated Washington columnist Walter Lippman, who had turned sharply against LBJ’s Southeast Asia policy.

Only later did Church come to believe that Johnson himself was the source of a story making the rounds among reporters and cocktail party goers in Washington that LBJ had responded by telling the Idahoan, “Next time you need a dam out in Idaho – go talk to Walter Lippman.”

Makes you wonder what LBJ would be saying to Max Baucus or Chuck Grassley about health care reform right now.

Only two presidents in the past 50 years – Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan – have been able to consistently and effectively work the levers of presidential power to fundamentally reshape the American political landscape. We know Barack Obama is a student of history. The next few weeks may tell whether he can begin to work the levers as well as Lyndon and Ronnie did.

Books worth considering:

  • Ashby and Gramer’s Church biography is Fighting the Odds. It is the complete life and offers great insight into Idaho politics in from the 1950’s to the 1980’s.

 

  • Among the newest LBJ biographies is a fine book by Randall Woods called LBJ: Architect of American Ambition. Not exactly a favorable treatment of LBJ, but a fully nuanced take on his remarkable accomplishments and equally remarkable failures.

 

  • Bob Dallek’s two volume bio of LBJ – Lone Star Rising and Flawed Giant – helped redeem, to a degree, Johnson’s reputation as a great legislative tactician.

 

  • Robert Caro’s monumental four-volume Johnson biography is still in progress. Give Caro his due – he knows more about LBJ and had written more than anyone – but he lacks either Woods’ or Dallek’s sense of nuance or balance. Anything Caro produces is a must read for political junkies and his emphasis is always on the exercise of power, but count on heavy emphasis of the darkest of the dark side of Lyndon Johnson.

 

  • Finally, when it came out in 2005, William E. Leuchtenburg’s The White House Looks South received less – much less – attention than it deserved. Leuchtenburg focuses on FDR, Harry Truman and LBJ as he weaves a great narrative about how those three Democratic presidents had “one foot below the Mason-Dixon Line, one foot above.” His treatment of Johnson’s presidency is particularly good reading.

What would Lyndon do with a Congress coming back from an August recess all spun up about what to do with health care reform? You can bet LBJ would have had an aggressive plan and he would have worked himself into a lather trying to make it succeed.

A Giant of Western Storytelling

guthrie“Every story is the story of a man or a woman or a small group of people.”A.B. Guthrie, Jr. – A Field Guide to Writing Fiction

A.B. “Bud” Guthrie, Jr. deserves a place in the front ranks of American writers. A new biography of Guthrie, published earlier this year, should help cement the Pulitzer Prize winners place among the best who have ever written about the West. I hope, as well, that it might renew an interest in Guthrie’s amazing body of work.

The book – Under the Big Sky – A Biography of A.B. Guthrie, Jr. – by Jackson J. Benson was published by the University of Nebraska Press. Benson has also written fine biographies of Wallace Stegner and John Steinbeck.

Guthrie was a successful newspaper editor in Kentucky when he was awarded a Neiman Fellowship at Harvard and while studying there he finished his first novel – The Big Sky – published in 1947. He followed with The Way West and was awarded the Pulitzer in 1950.

There followed many other works of fiction, including some great mystery stories, two memorable screenplays – Shane in 1953 and the Kentuckian in 1955 – as well as magazine pieces and non-fiction.

After moving permanently to Montana in 1956, Guthrie became a more outspoken conservationist and, to some, a bit of a crank. I think his personality was in keeping with the western characters he created – independent, pithy and always in touch with the land.

If you are in the market for a great late summer read, go search out Benson’s fine new biography or one of the Guthrie titles. You won’t be disappointed.

Hewitt and the Prince of Darkness

HewittWhat Does This Tell Us?

Perhaps more than anyone, Don Hewitt, the CBS News executive who died this week, invented the idea of television news. Hewitt staged the Kennedy-Nixon debates, produced the early years of Walter Cronkite’s expanded 30 minute nightly broadcast, and invented “60 Minutes.”

I happened to be home nursing a nasty summer cold the day the TV news pioneer’s death was announced. I couldn’t help thinking as I watched (which I rarely do) the continuous loop of nasty health care hearings, celebrity gossip and talking head wisdom that passes for news on cable television that little of that content has much to do with the kind of television Don Hewitt pioneered at CBS.

The irony was palpable when a cable anchor, more at home presiding over a verbal slugfest than a eulogy for a television pioneer, waxed eloquently about Hewitt’s role in the development of the medium.

More irony in the nearly simultaneous passing of columnist Robert “The Prince of Darkness” Novak. With his long-time partner Roland Evans, Novak carved out an early reputation as a tough, well-sourced Washington reporter who broke big stories and stepped on big toes. The rise of cable talking head shows, the type of “news” program that places a premium on opinion (most of it blindly partisan) as opposed to real reporting, gave Novak a new audience. He seemed to relish being cast in the role of the gloomy disher of usually outraged opinion.

Still, with all his years of Washington experience, I often found myself wishing for a just little nuance, a bit of dispassionate insight from one with obviously so much depth. But, that’s hoping for too much from cable and from those who play a role on cable.

We all know the news business, and television news included, continues in a steep, deep decline. The reasons are many, no doubt, including the unbelievable rise of the “new media” thanks to the Internet. I’m from the old school, however, and still want to believe real content – not just overheated opinion in the guise of entertainment – still matters.

Don Hewitt knew something about news and also something about entertainment. With “60 Minutes” he skillfully and very lucratively combined the two. Bob Novak was a good reporter who adapted skillfully and lucratively to the strictures of cable talking head shows, but what he mostly did on the tube had little to do with news.

Both these old news hands had a role, I think, in the continuing evolution of they way we gain information, particularly political information. Stay tuned for the next chapter. I am not an optimist.

I am confident someone will become the next Novak. The “expert,” opinionated talking heads are a dime a dozen these days. I do wonder if there will ever be another Hewitt or worse, perhaps, if anyone really cares any longer about his kind of television.

Wheeler Center Plans Montana Media Conference

By the way, the good folks at the Burton K. Wheeler Center at Montana State University is planning a conference on Montana media issues this fall. “Failure to Inform:” Is There a Looming Media Crisis in Montana? is scheduled for Missoula September 30 and October 1. Sounds like a very timely gathering.

The Big Burn

The Big Burn by Tim EganTim Egan Has Another Winner

Ninety-nine years ago today – August 20, 1910 – the worst forest fire in modern times reached a climax in northern Idaho, western Montana and eastern Washington. By the time the great fire of 1910 had burned itself out, three million acres of timberland had given way to the relentless force of wildfire and 125 people had died.

Tim Egan’s new book – The Big Burn – Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America – won’t be out until October, but a read of the advanced copy has me convinced the Spokane native and long-time New York Times writer has another major winner on his hands. Egan’s book is gripping history intercut with fascinating narratives about characters like President Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot (the first chief of the Forest Service) Senators Weldon B. Heyburn of Idaho and William A. Clark of Montana, and Ed Pulaski, an Idaho forest ranger who is the hero of the fire story.

Egan makes a convincing case that the great fire saved both Roosevelt’s dream of the still new U.S. Forest Service (Heyburn was a sworn enemy of the federal agency) and gave the Forest Service a mission – controlling fire – that remains controversial to this day.

Egan’s last book – The Worst Hard Time a story of the dust bowl, was a best seller and won the National Book Award for history. The new book is every bit as good.

Egan also writes a weekly column – Outposts – for the New York Times on-line and frequently pinch hits on the Times Op-Ed pages.

Tim Egan will headline the Idaho Humanities Council’s Distinguished Lecture in the Humanities in Couer d’Alene on October 8th and you can be sure he will make a great talk.

Here is a brief except from the Prologue of The Big Burn:

“By 10 P.M., the streets of Wallace, Idaho – where President Roosevelt had walked seven years earlier – were overwhelmed by flames, and the forests he had set aside for future generations was in ruins. Hundreds of firefighters were lost, and thought to be dead.”

Near midnight on August 20, 1910, a telegraph operator in Wallace sent this message:

“Every hill around town is a mass of flames and the whole place looks like a death trap. No connections can be had with outside towns. Men, women and children are hysterical in streets and leave by every possible conveyance and route.”

The Big Burn is a great story told by a terrific writer. Look for it in book stores in mid- October.