Thursday, August 06, 2009


My note about Corazon Aquino brought to mind three other, somewhat parallel lists that I keep around tucked in the back of my brain. One is of people whom I’ve seen in person who went on to become president:

Ronald Reagan, whose hand I shook briefly once in Sacramento when he was still governor. I was walking down the hallway past Regan’s office in the Capitol with an aide to one of the Republican legislators with whom I sometimes collaborated on prison reform issues, and he more or less dragged me over to introduce us. “You never know when that will come in handy,” I was told later. It never did.

Barack Obama, who spoke at the Paoli train station last year (April 19 to be exact) as part of a one-day railway tour of the state. This is roughly six blocks from my house. Krishna & one of my sons got to shake his hand amidst the throng.

Nelson Mandela, when he came to speak at the Oakland Coliseum on the last day of June, 1990. This stop on his post-prison national tour was largely a way to say thank you to then-Congressman Ron Dellums, who had made Mandela’s treatment as a prisoner sufficiently an issue in US-South African relations that the old regime was constrained from murdering him. Barrett Watten & I attended that event together, along with some 58,000 others. It was your basic outdoors big leftwing party.

A somewhat longer list consists of those politicians who thought they were going to be president, starting with Nelson Rockefeller & William Scranton, who appeared at an “anybody but Goldwater” rally in San Francisco immediately prior to the 1964 GOP Convention held at the Cow Palace. Goldwater was the first wave of the Republican rightwing that was to wash over the GOP, and which runs the party now. The crowd, which had marched up Market Street to the plaza in front of City Hall, was the same lefty coalition that would be turning out in anti-war marches before too long, and had little in common with either candidate. Scranton they listened to politely, but Rockefeller was booed quite heartily.

Democrats: Jerry Brown (too many times to count), Jesse Jackson (ditto), George McGovern (during the ’72 campaign – the most boring public speaker imaginable) & Walter Mondale (sometime around 1983), who like Rockefeller was booed loudly. Dianne Feinstein, introducing him, shouted back, “Listen, this man is going to be the next president of the United States.” The crowd was unconvinced.

A couple of years ago, I was at the Philadelphia airport, catching a flight somewhere when I realized that the person in front of me, in a pale blue suit, with no entourage & carrying his own bags, was John McCain. I’ve been more conscious of McCain over the last 15 years or so since we have some mutual friends. To be honest, I thought that he represented the best the GOP had to offer last year, and was disappointed that he made such dreadful – and dangerous – decisions throughout the campaign. I still think that he would have done much better in the long run – carried Pennsylvania for certain & possibly Ohio – if he had picked Tom Ridge to be his running mate. But once the economy collapsed in September, that may have been too little to make much difference.

The third list is the quirkiest: presidents who have been in my home. Or at least my house, albeit before I owned it. The initial owner of this 1959 home was then the head of the Valley Forge Military Academy, and a close friend and former aide to Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose grandson David lives about a mile away. When we bought the house in 1995, some of the older neighbors told us of the parties that would take place after events at the Academy, and of seeing Ike and Nixon over here more than once. Some of the other notables at these events mentioned by more than one of our neighbors include Bob Hope, Al Haig & Henry Kissinger. Though we bought the home from the woman who had purchased it from the original owners, there were still some American eagle light switch plates that we removed when we painted the place before moving in.


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