Read My Lips
“Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others.”
--- Groucho Marx
George Bush 43’s “Read my lips, no new taxes” promise became a metaphor for one of the sadder chapters in Republican presidential history.
When you are asked what you remember about George H.W.Bush, his promise impose no new taxes on the American people is often brought back to mind. Callers and talk hosts hotly debated the promise. “It’s just a political promise he won’t keep” to “George would never be dumb enough to break that type of promise”.
Well, I was in the “believe George” group. It was a bold appeal to conservatives who were never trusting of George even though he had been selected by conservative icon Ronald Reagan for vice president. The Gipper did so with the understanding George probably would again seek the presidency and the office of vice president virtually guaranteed him the GOP nomination.
Conservatives in 1988 really had little choice. The alternative was Michael Dukakis, Massachusetts governor who was the prototypical liberal.
Dukakis won the Democrat’s nomination after a rough and tumble primary. It was a campaign full of dirty tricks.
First, however, a brief look at the man who campaigned for president for six years.
Michael Dukakis was elected governor in Massachusetts by defeating old Yankee patrician Republican Governor Frank Sargent. Sargent had been the Lieutenant Governor in the administration of John Volpe, moving into the governor’s office when Volpe had been appointed Secretary of Transportation (and later Ambassador to Italy) by Richard Nixon in 1969. Sargent was elected in his own right a year later (1970).
Frank Sargent had his hands full in the 1974 GOP primary. He was softened up by the spirited campaign by his former Director of Finance. Though his campaign was outspent by a margin of more than ten to one by the sitting governor, Carroll Sheehan got about forty percent of the Republican primary vote. The conservatives were angry and refused to help Sargent in the final against the upstart Dukakis. The general election was fairly close with Sargent not doing nearly as well as a Republican must in the more conservative areas of the state.
State Representative Michael Dukakis was a “reformer” in the state house of representatives which was mainly a coalition of very liberal politicians who favored gun control, opposed the death penalty, pro abortion, worked for a graduated income tax in Massachusetts and reform in the legislature.
When first elected governor over Sargent in 1974, Dukakis rode a backlash against Republicans in general because of Watergate. That wave nationally was actually a tidal wave.
The first Dukakis administration came to a crashing halt at the hands of a conservative throwback to an earlier day in Democratic politics in the Commonwealth. Edward J. King crushed Dukakis in the Democrat primary in 1978. King then went on to defeat another patrician Yankee, Frank Hatch, who had been the longtime minority leader in the state house of representatives.
The four years of Ed King as governor saw some changes in the attitude of public servants where office hours of many agencies were made to reflect the needs of the state’s citizens. The State Police force was increased, aid to cities and towns increased, and taxes kept stable.
King, however had some public relations problems. He never showed his “soft side”, the same failure Bruce Sundlun had in Rhode Island more than a decade later. It cost both men their jobs at the hands of the most liberal politicians either state had ever nominated for governor to that point. Eddie King was soundly defeated by Michael Dukakis in The Duke’s return to politics in 1982.
Friends of Dukakis said many times the former governor was personally humbled in his 1978 defeat. At the time many feared it would affect his health. It did just the opposite. Michael Dukakis resolved to return and set out on his quest shortly after leaving office in January of 1983.
In the following years former governor Dukakis met with virtually every Democrat Party operative in Massachusetts. Day after day, meeting after meeting, big time fund raising, and, something he had never done, he made promises for different things in exchange for support. The idealist had become a pragmatist.
The pragmatist became machine politician soon after he was returned to office. The ends suddenly justified the means. Nothing was sacred.
A classic example of that was the use of a man appointed by King to in a lowly position in the revenue department, the state’s tax collector.
Stanley Barczak served in World War II. After the war he managed to get a job with the Internal Revenue Service in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Barczak soon became a shakedown artist, asking for kickbacks in exchange for him altering a taxpayers files. He was caught and about to face a prison term when he told investigators that sort of corruption was rampant in the Pittsburgh office of the IRS.
The investigators soon learned the only thing that was “rampant” was Barczak’s imagination.
The government and Barczak reached an agreement on a plea in which he served no time.
Barczak next appeared in Lowell, Massachusetts where he was active in some of the servicemen’s organizations. There he was said to have campaigned for Eddie King in 1978. Upon reflection, no one recalled his involvement in the King campaign. More Barczak creative memory.
Once governor, King had a policy of showing up at his office in the State House on Saturday mornings. For a few hours he would meet with constituents on a first come first see basis. I was told his security man (a Massachusetts State Police Trooper) would list each person’s name in the order in which they arrived. One at a time the governor would meet privately with as many as possible.
One Saturday morning Stanley Barczak appeared and met with the governor. There he explained he was a WW II veteran and had worked very hard among veterans in the King campaign of 1978. He explained he had fallen on hard times and was in need of a job. After telling the governor he had experience in bookkeeping the governor wrote a memo to Joyce Hampers, then his Director of Revenue. He asked that she find “something” for Barczak since he was a loyal campaigner and a bookkeeper.
Massachusetts has a CORI (criminal offender record information) law. The law was the brainchild of the Duke and enacted when Dukakis was a state representative. It was created to allow felons who had served their time to not have to reveal their criminal past. For that reason no criminal background check was conducted on Stanley Barczak.
Barczak was assigned to the Lowell district office of the Department of Revenue (DOR).
He had worked there only a short time when he was arrested on June 24, 1982. Stanley J. Barczak, 62, of Lawrence, a tax examiner working in the Revenue Department's Lowell office, was arrested as he left the Parker House in Boston after accepting a bribe from the accountant of a delinquent taxpayer.
A Billerica company which was delinquent in its taxes was being held up for a $10,000 bribe. Rather than give in to Barczak’s shenanigans they contacted the State Police.
From the moment of his capture Barczak became a political football. Month after month charges of collusion and cover-up came from the office of Attorney General Francis X. Bellotti.
The timing of the revelations could not have been worse for Ed King. Half truths are often more difficult to deal with than whole lies. Yes, Ed King had recommended Barczak for his job. Was there something nefarious in the governor’s act of kindness? Of course not, but the way it was played by Dukakis’ operatives you’d have thought King was a partner in Barczak’s crimes.
Barczak’s charges of wide spread corruption in the DOR was played regularly in the news. By the time the primary election finally arrived Ed King was so far down in the polls the race had been over a month before election day. Without Barczak the race may have been tight but the criminal revelations coupled with Barczak’s lies and King’s poor public image he was cooked politically.
Another blow to King’s candidacy came on July 26th 1982, weeks before the primary. It was revealed Barczak had been convicted of tax fraud and imprisoned 29 years earlier, while on the job at the Internal Revenue Service, in Pittsburgh.
A high ranking individual in the DOR took his own life on Friday, July 30th. John F. Coady, a deputy commissioner of the Massachusetts DOR, according to the medical examiner Coady committed suicide by hanging himself on a Friday night in his North Andover home. Rumors spun that Coady was at the center of the Attorney General’s investigation into DOR corruption. Barczak continued to repeat his canard that corruption in DOR reached the highest levels.
Much was written at the time that he had killed himself in order to protect his old friend Ed King.
Michael Dukakis waltzed back into office in 1982, but the Barczak scandal had long legs. Attorney General Bellotti kept the investigation going seemingly endlessly. Not only had it tainted a basically honest man but stretched into the 1986 campaigns of then former DOR head Joyce Hampers for State Treasurer against an old crony type politician, incumbent treasurer Robert Crane.
Former US Attorney Edward F. Harrington fashioned a career in public law. His family had a strong tradition of public service and involvement. His dad J.J. Harrington, a long time high school teacher changed the direction of many young men in his time, including me.
From the Democratic roots that spring naturally from his Irish heritage, the Fall River, Massachusetts native’s upbringing and connections with the Kennedy family, spawned his entrance into politics. During his tenure as US Attorney for the Massachusetts District, Ted Harrington managed to conduct many investigations into government fraud and corruption cases.
He had a reputation of cooperating with local district attorneys (DAs). He turned over nearly complete investigations to the state prosecutors if there were state laws broken as well as federal.
One such case was one of corruption concerning the installation of a security fence at the high school in his hometown of Fall River. The contractor had improperly installed the fence. He later was later asked for a bribe by a member of the school committee and the assistant superintendent of the school system there. The school committeeman was a very wealthy individual yet the two asked for a $2000 contribution to the committeeman’s campaign fund in exchange for their not pressing for him to correct the improper installation.
Corruption by trusted elected and appointed officials is a serious matter. The U.S. Attorney treated it just that way.
The DA was able to gain a conviction with little difficulty. The case was appealed to the state supreme court but the conviction was upheld.
Both men served time.
U.S. Attorney Harrington not only could easily have turned a blind eye in the case since he knew the individuals involved. His sense of duty compelled him to treat the case as any other. That’s an unusual treat in Massachusetts politics.
Around 1985, the basically conservative Edward Harrington decided the party of Truman and JFK had abandoned people like himself. The Dukakis types and what he saw in the AG’s handling of the Barczak case compelled him to not only make the change to Republican, but to run for Attorney General in 1986.
After Harrington announced his intentions Francis Bellotti decided to call it a career and not run in 1986. Congressman Jim (Lumpy) Shannon announced he would run for the Democrat nomination. He wound up unopposed.
For the first time since the early 1970s the Republicans had a couple of legitimate candidates in Hampers and Harrington with a chance to win a constitutional office other than governor.
The Dukakis machine made mileage out of the Barczak fiasco. He ran into a couple more strokes of luck just as he had in 1982. That year businessman John Lakian claimed, in his literature, to have a battlefield commission and some decorations from the Vietnam War.
His claim to a battlefield promotion caught the eye of some astute reporters who then did some digging on some of his other military awards claims. The fatal error was “battlefield commissions and promotions” were not issued in Vietnam. He had also said his Dad had died in World War II when in fact he had died in Worcester in a truck accident a few years after the war.
The first Republican candidate who announced for governor in 1986 was the former house minority leader. Royal Switzler, a glib and affable character was a constant gadfly always in the face of the house speaker.
Switzler had a small problem. He was a liar. And he got caught in a whopper.
The state representative from Wellesley was an army sergeant who served in Korea. However, he said he was a Green Beret Captain who served in combat Vietnam. Not good. The papers and talk shows croaked him and he withdrew his candidacy.
“Captain” Switzler had been recruited to run against conservative activist Greg Hyatt of Methuen. The effort to recruit the “Captain” was led by his good friend, Republican Senator Argeo Paul Cellucci of Hudson.
Hyatt had gotten himself in deep political doo-doo when a secretary to his campaign walked into his office and discovered he wasn’t wearing pants. Hyatt later said he was changing his clothes to make a campaign appearance and had overlooked locking the door. Talk about being caught with your pants down.
That event turned out to be the Hyatt campaign’s high point.
Switzler then defeated Hyatt in the GOP convention. The party was in such disarray it could not raise sufficient signatures to even field the candidate they nominated at their state convention.
A sacrificial lamb for governor was tossed in by the Republican Party leading to another Massachusetts lost opportunity for the state‘s GOP.
Harrington and Hampers both waged spirited campaigns but the foolishness in the Republican effort for governor detracted from their efforts. Add to that the Dukakis juggernaut heading for a presidential run and they were doomed.
Despite only token opposition the Dukakis campaign pulled out all the stops to establish themselves as real players in the presidential primaries only a year away.
With the Republicans in disarray and Dukakis building a steam roller the Democrats were swept back into office. Hampers and Harrington made solid efforts and drew a better than usual vote that Republicans traditionally do in the race for those offices. If the party had any type of candidate for governor the race may have been competitive and Harrington and Hampers would have fared much better.
Ted Harrington and Joyce Hampers were guests of mine on WRKO. They acknowledged the Barczak affair and Republican disarray sealed their fate.
Harrington later was appointed a judge in Federal District Court in Massachusetts. Hampers dropped out of Massachusetts politics and now resides in New Hampshire. In 1993 she was appointed Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development by President Bush.
Michael Dukakis got his run for President.
What happened to Barczak?
Stanley J. Barczak lived for a few years in virtual obscurity in a quiet town in Maine. Brownfield is on the New Hampshire border. The man whose criminal activity made many headlines for several years wasn’t even known to his closest neighbors among the town's 800 or so residents. He lived with his wife, Charlotte, in a comfortable log cabin in the wilderness. You’ll be pleased to know you paid for his declining years as a protected witness.
Stanley Barczak died in October of 1987 at the Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine. He was 67.
The Dukakis train was leaving the station. Next stop Washington.
Well, not quite. There were some small things like Democrat presidential primaries, starting with the Iowa caucuses. Then it was off to neighboring New Hampshire for the first of the popular vote primaries.
George Bush had Bob Dole Senator from Kansas, Pete DuPont, former Governor from Delaware, Alexander Haig, President Reagan's former Secretary of State, Jack Kemp, Congressman from New York, Pat Robertson, evangelical preacher and Donald Rumsfeld, ex-Secretary of Defense under President Ford and later with George W. Bush.
Pat Robertson and Kansas Senator Bob Dole became the most serious primary opponents. Nevertheless, the issue of the Republican presidential nomination in 1988 was never in doubt.
With of the power of the White House behind him and an air of incumbency as well, his position was pretty well assured. The Reagan years were fast coming to an end and Dutch was leaving on a very high note. We had undergone many solid years of economic growth, the Soviets were caving in under the pressure of their own foolishness, and things were generally good in the country.
While George H.W. Bush was not perceived as a strong personality, things were breaking his way politically.
Dukakis on the other hand had to deal with Jesse Jackson, house majority leader Representative Richard Gephardt of Missouri, former Colorado Senator Gary Hart, Tennessee Senator Albert Gore, Delaware Senator Joseph Biden ,and Illinois Senator Paul Simon.
I had the pleasure of interviewing all the candidates at one time or another when they visited WRKO on their way to campaign in New Hampshire. The candidates generally flew into Boston’s Logan Airport so we had good access to all of them. Add to that the fact the WRKO signal is the stronger than local New Hampshire stations. None of their local stations have the penetration of the WRKO 50,000 watt signal which emanated only a few miles south of the Massachusetts/New Hampshire border.
A couple of the interviews I had with presidential candidates were conducted with former WRKO morning co-host Ted O’Brien, who is as liberal as I am conservative. We interviewed Richard Gephardt and Albert Gore as a team. I later interviewed Gephardt alone on my Saturday show.
As is often the case in radio interviews, the host learns more about the man off air, during news and commercial breaks, than on air.
I had interviewed Jesse Jackson by phone many times and never had the opportunity to see another side of him. During the presidential campaign it was no different. It seemed no matter what question I asked he had a pat answer. Many times it was not an answer to my question. For example when I asked him if he would endorse whichever Democrat won the nomination, a question I asked all candidates during contested primaries, he answered something about his strategy of getting out the disenfranchised voters. You get the idea.
I caused great discomfort for Ted when I asked both Gore and Gephardt when was it they saw the “light” and abandoned their strong pro-life views? They were once a house and senate leader of the pro-lifers in the congress. They had each flipped one-hundred-eighty degrees on the issue.
Both had obviously been briefed that they were in friendly territory. I guess I blind sided them. After a short period of stammering about “growing” into their current positions, I pushed them harder on the issue because both had used pro-life dollars and used the issue to get reelected in their home districts.
Goleee! They both saw the light at about the time they decided to run for president and knew they didn’t have a prayer in their quest for the Democrat nomination for president if they hadn’t flipped. The Democrat primary voter is way out there on the issue.
Gary Hart crashed and burned just prior to being a guest of mine on WRKO. There was this Monkey Business and a beautiful babe as I recall.
There had always been questions of Gary Hart’s fidelity. His birth name had been Heartpence but he changed it when he got into politics. Finally one day he challenged reporters to, “Catch me if you can.”
A reporter from the Miami Herald (who originally hailed from the Boston suburb of Quincy) received a tip a young woman was to visit Hart in his Washington town house. The reporter followed the woman from Miami to Washington, D.C. and directly to Hart’s pad. I always thought there may have been something to the fact the reporter was familiar with Dukakis’ staffers from Massachusetts and the tip may have originated there.
Exit stage left, Gary Hart.
Strange things happened to a lot of candidates in that primary, including Dukakis.
Paul Simon’s campaign had been infiltrated by a Dukakis operative. Simon was a bit of an anachronism in style, demeanor and appearance. His bow tie was his signature and only tended to highlite his personality. On air he was relaxed and answered all questions, mine included, directly and to the point. He had been a reporter who understood the value of the “sound bite”, a newsman’s expression for a short, concise, yet thorough answer to a question or comment.
Had I been a liberal Democrat, I could have easily voted for Paul Simon.
Al Gore was a pompous ass on and off air. A nervous one at that. During breaks he quizzed Ted about whether his dad was remembered in Boston. Also, for some strange reason he asked about his appearance. That I never heard before or since from a candidate. No cameras in our studios.
Joe Biden was a friendly sort, not yet the self absorbed boob he has become.
His campaign was scuttled after John Sasso, a Dukakis hatchet-man circulated information surreptitiously in the press that Biden had plagiarized a speech from British Labor party leader Neil Kinnock in one of his speeches and that he had the same problem of plagiarism in law school.
One more bites the dust.
Sasso and an aid of his circulated a video tape of Biden’s foibles and then tried to place the onus on the Gephardt campaign. Frugal, those Dukes of Hazard. Knock out two campaigns for the price of one.
Enter Willie Horton. He became a “This is your life” character for Michael Dukakis. It’s was time for the Duke to have his Barczak moment. Twice.
On October 26, 1974, in Lawrence, Massachusetts, Horton and two accomplices robbed Joseph Fournier, a 17 year old gas station attendant, stabbed him 19 times, and left him in a trash can. Fournier died from blood loss. Horton was convicted of murder, sentenced to life imprisonment, and incarcerated at the Concord Correctional Facility in Massachusetts. On June 6, 1986, he was released as part of a weekend furlough program but did not return.
Massachusetts Republicans to their credit had made Dukakis’ weakness on punishing serious criminals a regular complaint.
Al Gore got into the act. In what would become a heated bone of contention in the general election campaign, Gore ran the first Willie Horton revolving door to Massachusetts prisons commercial. Gore only had the funding to run the ad in a few states. George Bush made it a national issue.
In the general election the Dukakis forces charged the Bush campaign with racism for running a spot showing a Willie Horton look-alike walking through a revolving door and leaving prison. They briefly mentioned his molesting the Maryland couple.
Was there racial intent on the part of the Bush people for putting a black man in the place of Horton? I don’t know. Horton was in fact black. It was however, a very effective way to demonstrate Dukakis’ softness on crime.
In the first debate with George Bush, Dukakis was asked what he would do if his wife was raped. The purpose of the question was to get at his sentiment of prison being more for reform than punishment. He responded like the policy wonk he was and went into a diatribe of how the system would need to help the culprit see the errors of his ways.
He should have shown some emotion as most normal men would. He could then have pointed our his emotions should have nothing to do with proper government policy. He came off as a real stiff. I think it revealed the real cold fish Dukakis in reality was.
Michael Dukakis was always stiff, almost humorless, except in the famous picture of him in a tank wearing an oversized helmet. That did more harm to the Duke’s image than anything the Bush folks could do. It was an image right out of Mad Magazine when the desired effect was a Rockwell painting. Alfred E. Newman was more like it.
Bush went on to destroy Dukakis in the election. When he returned to Massachusetts, the luster was off the Miracle in Massachusetts. He had taken all the credit for the burgeoning economy led by the high tech industry. The US economy was booming and Massachusetts was swept up in the rising economic tide.
The thinking in Massachusetts was Dukakis would have been swamped if he had attempted another run for governor. The train ride and burgeoning economy had slowed and with it the state’s revenues. All those fat contracts and the del in payments of state bills were coming due. Everything had been done to create the appearance of a Massachusetts Miracle. There never really was a miracle except in the fertile imaginations of the Dukakis supporters.
He is now on the board of Amtrak. That too has gone downhill loosing millions each year as well. A fitting metaphor for the Dukakis years as governor.
George H.W. Bush fast became a regular topic of discussion. Starting with his selection of Dan Quayle, then a senator from Indiana, there was always a cloud surrounding his campaign and later his presidency. It was an incredible twist that George Bush, war hero would spend days and weeks discussing Quayle’s record as a National Guardsman from Indiana as a way of avoiding the draft and almost certain deployment to Vietnam. The arguments and charges against Quayle were similar to those levied against his own son, George W. just twelve years later and again in sixteen years.
It is interesting to note the mainstream media chose to ignore gaffs by Michael Dukakis. I recall the story of Dukakis telling a group of disabled veterans in a hospital in Georgia that he shared their feelings and how he recalled being in Korean rice patties. He talked about the fear and discomfort he had there. Of course what went unsaid was more revealing than what he said. Dukakis did not serve there in war time. He served in Korea in 1955, two full years after the truce was reached at the talks held in Kaesong, Korea. When asked when he served in Korea by a disabled Korean War vet, Dukakis excused himself saying he was behind schedule. He never answered the old soldier’s question.
Imagine the uproar if Quayle had done something that stupid. Not quite Royal Switzleresque, but dumb nevertheless.
During his acceptance speech for the presidential nomination of the Republican Party, George H.W. Bush said emphatically, when they talk of raising taxes I will tell them, “Read my lips - no new taxes”.
The “No New Taxes” speech was written by presidential speech writer Peggy Noonan who had been a reporter on the old WEEI AM 590 in Boston when it was an all news station. Something we have in common is we were both given our first break in major market radio by the same man. Mel Miller, who hired me at WRKO was program director at WEEI when Peggy was hired there.
Mel told me after he retired he thought there was something special about Noonan when she worked for him. She was always prepared for work.
The Democrats had been pushing hard for new taxes since the economy was robust and they claimed a sudden sensitivity for fiscal sobriety. They thought we just had to do “something about the deficit”. Bush took the bait. It would come back to politically destroy him later.
By 1990, the economy was slowing down relative to the hyper growth of the Reagan years. George Bush entered into an agreement with the Democrats they had no intention of keeping. If he would agree to tax hikes they would cut spending by a similar amount. Big surprise, the Democrats lied. But judging from the response of talk show callers, Bush’s political goose was cooked. The dirty trick worked.
During the Bush administration things happened at a dizzying pace. A few months into his term the crisis at Tiananmen Square began. In April, students from all over China converged on Beijing to demonstrate for more freedom. For a bout a dozen weeks the Communist leadership in China was undecided on how to handle the student’s demands, which included an ability to redress what they perceived as wrongs. They wanted, in essence, what we have, a say in the direction in their government.
Chinese strongman Deng Xiaoping gave a speech in which he accused the students of plotting the violent overthrow of the government. The suggestion would have been humorous had it not led to such tragedy. Deng used the fabricated threat as an excuse to order his army and its tanks to attack the students.
Deng’s tactic was not unlike the Hitlerarian habit of blaming his victims before he crushed them. For example: The Polish are tormenting Germans in Poland, Jews were responsible for Germany’s defeat in World War I.
While the Communist Chinese government said about 400 student protestors were killed, the students claim that over 7,000 were killed. Following the attacks on the students, the government arrested tens of thousands of protesters.
We thought Kent State was an abomination. It was. What adjective does the job for Tiananmen Square?
The international press which covered most of the events in the square for weeks was suppressed and very limited in their coverage of events thereafter.
I split my time between WHJJ and WRKO during that period.
One of the deeds I was proud to be associated with was an idea of a Chinese student at Brown University. I choose not to use the names of any of the Chinese students for their own safety. Oppressive governments like the People’s Republic of China have long memories and would think nothing of exacting a price on any “agitators” who were here during the incidents of the Spring of 1989.
My student friend came up with the idea of faxing Chinese businesses inside China. They had the fax numbers for businesses outside of Beijing so we sent articles from American newspapers. The Providence Journal articles were faxed in great numbers.
WHJJ general manager Jim Corwin and program director John Carpillio were very supportive and Jim allowed the students to use WHJJ’s fax machines and phone lines for a couple of hours each day.
The idea caught on nationwide wherever there were Chinese students in American colleges. I went on air to solicit support from the Rhode Island business community. They responded in a big way. Those businesses allowed the Chinese students to come into their offices and use their long distance phone service and fax machines. The Projo’s Bob Kerr wrote a couple of excellent stories describing what the students were doing and published the station’s phone number to help the students coordinate their effort.
That was one of many number of moments I felt proud to be in talk radio. We were able to help people help themselves.
In 1987, Ronald Reagan gave a famous speech at the Brandenburg Gate, at which he challenged Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall".
On October 18, 1989, the wall came tumbling down. The end came not with a thud but a whimper. The Soviet Union was now just one more exhibit in the dustbin of history. And George Bush was at the helm when it finally occurred.
The beginning of the end to the tyranny of the old USSR had already begun. In the summer, immediately after the Tiananmen Square events, Hungary ended its border restrictions with Austria, signaling the end of the Soviet block tyrannies. Thousands of East Germans fled the brutal dictatorship of Erich Honniker.
Following all the things happening throughout the world we invaded Panama. The president listed four reasons for going in:
Panamanian president Manuel Noriega had declared that a state of war existed between the United States and Panama. According to President Bush that threatened the lives of the approximately 35,000 Americans living there. There had been numerous clashes between U.S. and Panamanian forces; one American had been killed a few days earlier and several incidents of harassment of Americans had taken place.
Earlier in 1989 Noriega had nullified the election that had been won by candidates from opposition parties. Also, a report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concluded that numerous human rights violations occurred in Panama during Noriega's governance.
Panama had become a center for drug money laundering. Besides that, Panama had become the transfer point for drugs heading for the U.S. Noriega had been singled out for direct involvement in drug trafficking operations.
The president wanted to protect the integrity of the Torrijos-Carter Treaties. Those were the treaties which turned control of the Panama Canal to Panama. President Bush said Noriega threatened the neutrality of the Panama Canal and that the United States had the right under the treaties to intervene militarily to protect the canal.
Response to the invasion at first was positive. Noriega ran at the first sound of gun fire and took refuge in the Vatican diplomatic mission in Panama City. That created a near comic opera standoff. The military's psychological pressure on Noriega and diplomatic pressure on the Vatican mission was relentless, including the playing of loud rock-and-roll music day and night in a densely populated area. The concept of “blast him out with music” opened the whole operation to derision and ridicule.
Noriega relented and was flown to Miami and eventually tried on drug trafficking charges where he was found guilty. He is still in prison, probably never to see the light of day outside of prison.
In 1989, a presidential commission proposed that Congress should get a whopping 52% pay increase, which would raise a Congressman’s salary from $89,000 a year to $135,000 a year.
As could be expected, the measure was not popular with the home folks.
The mere notion Congress should give itself such a raise despite its gross failure to responsibly manage the nation’s finances was more than most people could stomach.
This led to one of talk radio’s finest and most famous moments.
The Republicans and Democrats had decided a non-election year was the best time to do the big pay raise. After all, the voters, in their eyes, are stupid and have short memories.
The whole thing was the orchestration of the old boy network in Washington. The Democrats and Republicans collaborated in the whole scheme.
The Republican and Democrat Congressional election committees agreed not to fund any candidates who attempted to make the pay hike an issue in the November 1990 election.
I was on in both Boston and Providence at the time. Colleague Jerry Williams began to call hosts all over the country and encouraged them to give out the phone numbers for their congressmen. The assault began. Congressional phone lines were jammed with complaints.
I played the role of Tim Collins, a flunkey of Senator Billboard Rawkins in the stage musical Finian’s Rainbow many years before. In the play old segregationist Rawkins was struck by lightening and turned black. He disappeared from the scene and when asked where the senator had gone Collins replied, White Sulphur Springs.
White Sulphur Springs is the location of one of the most luxurious resorts in the country, The Greenbrier, in West Virginia.
It was likely a coincidence, then again it may not have been. When the pressure was really getting fierce, the Democrat members of congress wound up on a retreat at The Greenbrier.
We learned the fax number at the resort and literally jammed the machine with angry faxes to the representatives. The lightening rod for the raise was Jim Wright, speaker of the house. One of our Saturday morning callers, a nurse about to leave home for work, called the resort at about five thirty. The overnight clerk was not aware of the firestorm our men of honor were up against.
Our caller asked for Speaker Wright and she got through. Old Jim answered the call and asked what the lady wanted. She said he was really grumpy. “I’m calling about the pay raise”. No sooner had the words passed her lips Wright flew into a rage.
He screamed at her for a few seconds and hung up the phone. She called the show at about at about five-forty-five to report to us. We were inspired by her effort.
We also learned that a special train was returning the congressmen to Washington so our producer managed to get the phone number of the receptionist at the train station. In this day before cell phones, congressmen by the dozen were being paged as the stepped off the train.
The following Monday the pay raise was rescinded.
Meanwhile in Massachusetts, Democrats were gearing up for the 1990 governors race. They held the office since 1974 when Michael Dukakis had defeated Frank Sargent resoundingly. That year conservative Republicans sat out the race because they felt they had been taken for granted by the establishment Republicans. The Duke won by a vast margin.
Conservative Republicans were gearing up behind William Weld, who had endeared himself to them by acting as Chairman of Citizens for Crane in 1980. Many of the activist type conservative Republicans were involved in the Illinois congressman’s presidential campaign, especially former state party chairman Gordon Nelson. The purpose of the Crane campaign was to keep conservatives active and in position to shift to Ronald Reagan when his nomination became clear. If Reagan faltered or his health didn’t hold up there was a conservative alternative to George Bush.
Weld was involved with the campaign to the end and moved over to Reagan late in the Spring of 1980. He later served the Reagan Administration in the capacity of Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Criminal Division. He resigned at the end of the second Reagan term citing ethical lapses on the part of Attorney General Edwin Meese. Some of us never forgave Weld for that.
The Democratic primary was a wild one pitting the hard talking president of Boston University, John Silber, who was presented as a conservative (he opposed the death penalty and described himself as “pro-choice however). Silber’s primary opponent was incumbent Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Murphy, considered the liberal in the campaign. Silber won by a comfortable margin garnering the support of the old Ed King Democrats.
Massachusetts is a bit of an oddity. The candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run independent of one another in the primary, then as a combined ticket, a team, in the general election.
Weld ran against the fiscal and social conservative Massachusetts House of Representatives minority leader Steven Pierce of the western (less populated) part of the state. It was revealed Pierce had failed to file his income tax returns in a timely fashion for a number of years and the race was over.
Weld (a solid fiscal conservative and conservative on all issues except abortion) chose a state senator who was familiar with the inner workings of state government to run with him. Weld and Paul Cellucci (the man who gave us “Capt. Switzler) later became friends and ran well together.
John Silber had no choice in his running mate. The flamboyant and energetic very liberal state representative and future talk host, Marjorie Claprood.
Some have speculated Silber and Claprood rarely communicated during the campaign. A question raised after the election was whether voters inclined to vote for Silber didn’t do so because of Claprood on the ticket or did she attract votes Silber could not have hoped for.
Silber held an early double figure lead in the polls that vanished by election day. It was close, but close counts only in horseshoes.
An interesting aside to the race is Claprood was teamed up with long time talk host Pat Whitley at WHDH in Boston by station general manager Dan Griffin. He was the same manager who paired up another odd couple in radio at WRKO, Janet Jaghelian and Ted O’Brien.
O’Brien had jumped ship to WHDH a few months earlier and Griffin sensed a weakness in the pairing of a fellow from Washington, D.C. public radio at WRKO. Mike Cuthbert was a very bright and cerebral broadcaster teamed up with Janet Jaghelian. Cuthbert would have been better off at WGBH, the local public broadcasting station.
I worked with Mike a few times. He was an amiable sort but was not very quick to respond to comments by his partner or callers. He would pause to think through what he was planning to say. That’s fine in a personal conservation but it’s deadly on radio.
Eventually WHDH was purchased by the owners of WRKO and the Claprood and Whitley team was brought there.
It continued to work for a while but things apparently occurred off air that I was not privy to and the end finally came to the show in the late 1990s. WRKO has had a succession of only marginal broadcasting and ratings. Some of the hosts may have tried too hard to impress.
Quite likely G.H.W. Bush’s peak hour as president occurred thanks to an action taken by Saddam Hussein.
In late July, April Glaspie, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq in 1990, was called in to meet with Saddam Hussein.
Hussein complained Kuwait was slant drilling to tap into the oil reserves under Iraqi land. He supposedly asked Glaspie what the U.S. position on such drilling was. She replied the U.S. took no position on the issue. It was up to Kuwait and Iraq to resolve the issue themselves.
We were later told that answer was our signal that Hussein could do whatever he wanted concerning Kuwait and we would do nothing in response.
On the morning of August 2nd Iraq invaded Kuwait. It was done with overwhelming force against a poorly defended country. It was reminiscent of Germany’s invasion of Poland at the beginning of World War II.
Within days the U.S. and the government of Kuwait went to the U.N. Security Council. A long series of UN Security Council and Arab League resolutions were passed regarding the conflict.
The most important was Resolution 678 which passed on November 29th which gave Iraq a withdrawal deadline of January 15, 1991. It authorized “all necessary means to uphold and implement Resolution 660”. In layman’s terms, get out or else.
In the meantime Secretary of State James Baker and Defense Secretary and later vice-president, Dick Cheney, worked long and hard to put together a coaalition of forces to oppose Hussein militarily.
The morning of January 17, 1991, the “allies” began what would be a thousand sorties per day against Iraq forces assembled along the Iraq/Kuwait border. We literally pounded them into submission. The bombing went on day and night while the Iraq forces were “hunkered” down in the dessert.
The reason for the overwhelming force was the fear Iraq might attack Saudi Arabia. About the only response Iraq could muster was to fire a few Scud missles at Israel and a few more at our installations in Saudi Arabia.
By February 24th we began our ground operations. There was no resistance. The feared Republican Guard posed no threat to U.S. led forces and were in full retreat.
The war eneded almost as fast as it started.
Callers to the talk show were beaming at the relative ease in which we repelled the Iraqi army, the fourth largest in the world at the time. Only the U.S., China and the USSR had larger armies.
If the election had been held in the Spring of 1991, George H.W.Bush would have won in a landslide of epic proportions.
His approval ratings were in the area of 90%. They held for a few months and then began to deteriorate as rapidly as the economy. The “R” word (recession) reared its ugly head and George Bush was on his way to a stunning defeat in the 1992 elections.
Then he moved his lips.
President George H.W.Bush had one more quill in his pouch. NAFTA. The North American Free Trade Agrement.
Though it was President Bush’s baby, NAFTA was finally implementerd in 1993 by President Bill Clinton. There is more in a later chapter on NAFTA.