I am now eighty-five years old, and save for a wanderjahr in Europe as a student and a number of short overseas trips, I have spent all those years in the United States. Despite my unflagging interest in politics, I have in my long life never actually met [or seen in person] a sitting Senator, although I did meet Elizabeth Warren for ninety seconds when she was still a law professor [my son, Tobias, knew her.] I met my Congressional Representative once in Western Mass, John Olver, because I bought four and a half acres from him so that Susie and I could build a house after we got married. And I met David Price once, the safely and regularly reelected Representative from Chapel Hill. I have also never met a sitting Governor, or any member of any Cabinet, and as for the media, I once shook hands with E. J. Dionne at a Harvard Social Studies reunion. And that is it!
So I often wonder what all these important people are really like, what they really think, how they describe the world in private, when they are speaking openly. This morning, as I was walking, I recalled an experience I had almost sixty years ago that might offer a clue to answering those questions.
It happened either in 1959-60 or 1960-61 at Harvard, where I was a young Instructor. Those of you old enough to recall those days may remember something called the Pugwash Conferences. These were annual unofficial international gatherings of bigwigs of various political persuasions who came together to discuss the threats to peace and survival posed by nuclear weapons. They were organized by Bertrand Russell [whom I had met], among others, and were named after the tiny shoreline town in Nova Scotia where the first conference was held.
I had gotten to know Richard Barnet, a disarmament expert who was then at the Harvard Russian Research Institute. Dick shortly afterward teamed up with Marc Raskin to form the Institute for Policy Studies, a leftwing DC think tank that still exists. When Walt Rostow got back from the Pugwash Conference that year, he appeared on TV and made a number of bellicose statements about the Soviet threat that seemed to me totally unconnected to reality. Then Dick told me that Rostow was going to give a private briefing on the Conference to the Institute regulars, and asked whether I wanted to go along as his guest.
I jumped at the chance. Now I would get to find out what Rostow really thought. So I went along and sat quietly in the back, observing. [This from my Autobiography] Everyone was there - Alex Inkeles, Adam Ulam, Zbigniev Brzeszinski, all the hotshots. I listened with dismay as Rostow used the same hackneyed jargon that had characterized his public appearances. Worse still, the responses from the experts were couched as well in cold war boilerplate. It dawned on me that this was the way they actually thought. There was no real insider story that they shared only with fellow experts. They actually believed the nonsense they shoveled out to the public.
In the immortal words of Gertrude Stein describing Oakland, CA, there was no there there. Or to invoke an even more famous line from Maya Angelou, when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.
From these two wise women and my own experience from long ago, I draw the conclusion that the Clintons and Schumers and Bidens of the world are just the bought and paid for Wall Street flacks that they seem to be.
It is going to be a long hot summer.