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 placed.
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.