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My Brushes with the Presidency
by William McGaughey
Here begins a story of megalomania which turns out to be more like the adventures of Forrest Gump: my personal connection with U.S. Presidents or would-be Presidents.
George Washington (1st President)
It starts with our first President, George Washington. I did not know him, of course, but some of my ancestors might have. My father’s (William McGaughey, Sr.), father’s (Samuel McGaughey), father’s (also named Samuel McGaughey), father’s (Robert Lytle McGaughey), father was David McGaughey, an immigrant from North Ireland and soldier in the Continental Army led by Washington. In the same army was my mother’s (Joan Durham McGaughey), mother’s (Aura Sawyer Durham), mother’s (Joanna Wells Sawyer), father’s (Henry B. Wells) mother’s (Anne Rockwell Wells) father who was a Revolutionary soldier named Jabez Rockwell. (See article in New York Times, Jan. 12, 1902.)
Family legend, if not historical fact, describes both of these men as personal associates, if not friends, of General Washington. Jabez Rockwell, who hailed from Ridgefield, Connecticut, was in a boat with Washington as he crossed the Schuykill river. He spent the winter at Valley Forge, guarding Washington's headquarters. Rockwell’s powderhorn, now owned by the Valley Forge Museum, was fashioned from the horn of a slaughtered bull and was given to him personally by General Washington in a contest decided by guessing a number (1776). Rockwell guessed 1750 and won the prize.
On my father’s side, David McGaughey was one of the first Irish immigrants to volunteer for the Continental army. It is said that he served as George Washington’s aide for much of the war. He was buried in the cemetery of the Presbyterian Church at Pleasant Ridge, Ohio, in an unmarked grave. The Pictorial Cincinnati Enquirer dated March 4, 1951, shows a picture of the church and cemetery on Montgomery Road and underneath is written these words. Legend says ‘George Washington’s bodyguard in there’. (Information from the History of Franklin County, Indiana.)
Zachary Taylor (12th President) , Abraham Lincoln (16th President)
In 1849, President Zachary Taylor, a Whig, appointed Edward W. McGaughey to be the first territorial governor of Minnesota. However, the U.S. Senate, controlled by Democrats, refused to confirm the appointment. The President’s third choice, Alexander Ramsey, became Minnesota’s first territorial governor. I unsuccessfully ran for Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota in the 2010 Republican primary and might have put the McGaughey name at last into the history of Minnesota politics.
Edward McGaughey served in the 29th and 31st Congresses. Abraham Lincoln served in the 30th Congress. McGaughey was the only Whig in Indiana’s ten-man Congressional delegation in the 31st Congress. Abraham Lincoln was the only Whig in Illinois’ seven-man delegation in the 30th Congress. Both were House members serving in the 7th district of their respective, neighboring states.
Like McGaughey, Abraham Lincoln was offered an appointment to become a territorial governor by Zachary Taylor. He might have been Governor of the Oregon territory, but Lincoln turned it down, he said, because of his wife’s concerns about living so far away from civilized society. Lincoln had wanted instead to be appointed Commissioner of the General Land Office. Reportedly, Lincoln did not pursue the appointment to the General Land Office because he learned that McGaughey and three other prominent Whigs were also interested in it. (See "the McGaughey who might have been Governor")
Edward W. McGaughey lived in Greencastle, Indiana, my mother’s home town. He died in San Francisco in 1852. My father’s family was from Acton (Indianapolis), Indiana. I do not know if I am directly related to Congressman McGaughey - probably not. My mother’s father, Andrew Durham, who represented Greencastle in the Indiana state senate during the 1920s, once ran unsuccessfully for Congress as a Democrat.
Family documents indicate, however, that I am related to General Robert E. Lee, President Abraham Lincoln’s chief military opponent in the Civil War. The best available information is that my father’s (William McGaughey) mother’s (Martha Elliott McGaughey) father’s (Calvin Rufus Elliott) mother (name unknown) was Lee’s first cousin. Calvin Elliott, a railroad engineer, was born in Maysville, Kentucky.
William Howard Taft (27th President)
My full name is William Howard Taft McGaughey, Jr. My father, born in Indianapolis in March 1912, is William Howard Taft McGaughey, Sr. William Howard Taft was then President. My paternal grandfather, Dr. Samuel McGaughey, was an ardent Republican who named his third son, my father, after the Republican President. President Taft, the Republican candidate, placed third, behind Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, in the 1912 election. My family once owned a photograph of William Howard Taft, with a handwritten message to my father, which my grandfather is believed to have obtained through a Republican Senator.
The Taft family continued to have influence in Republican politics. As an eleven-year-old boy, I remember eagerly watching the 1952 convention that featured a contest between Dwight Eisenhower and Sen. Robert A. Taft. Several family members, including William Howard Taft, were graduates of Yale. I also graduated from that college. Through a roommate from Ohio, I came to know Bob Taft, who was later elected Governor of Ohio. Horace Taft was a professor of physics. Maybe I was admitted to Yale on the strength of the Taft name. If that was the reason, I was an impostor.
Former President Theodore Roosevelt challenged William Howard Taft, his former protege, in the Presidential election in part because Taft had fired Gifford Pinchot, a Roosevelt confidant, as head of the U.S. Forestry Service. The incident became known as the Pinchot-Ballenger controversy. Roosevelt, Pinchot, and others then organized the Progressive or “Bull Moose” Party which ran Theodore Roosevelt for President in 1912. Roosevelt finished second to Democrat Woodrow Wilson in that year’s election.
Gifford Pinchot later became a two-term Republican governor of Pennsylvania. He served during a period when Franklin D. Roosevelt was Governor of New York. Pinchot lived in Milford, Pennsylvania. His family home, “Grey Towers”, is now owned by the U.S. Forestry Service. I also own a house in Milford, Pennsylvania. My late brother, David, worked with Peter Pinchot and Nancy Pittman, third generation Pinchot family members, in a citizens’ group, Pike Environmental defenders. My brother, Andy, lived at Woodley House in Washington D.C. with Quentin Meyer, grandson of Gifford Pinchot’s brother, Amos. They became friends.
Gifford Pinchot, his wife, and numerous other relatives are buried in a family plot in the Milford cemetery. I own a grave site in the same cemetery, less than one hundred feet from where the Pinchots are buried. My two brothers are buried there, and I expect one day to be laid to rest in the same place.
Dwight D. Eisenhower (34th President)
As I said, I became attuned to politics when General Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected President in June, 1952. Eisenhower came to Detroit for a major campaign appearance in June, 1952. As his motorcade sat in Cadillac square downtown, I had the idea of trying to get Eisenhower’s autograph. I ran up to his convertible with paper and pen in hand. As General Eisenhower took this from me, the motorcade began to move. “Hi, red”, he said waving as the car pulled away.
I expressed my disappointment to my father who had some influence in Detroit as public-relations director of the Automobile Manufacturers Association. Several weeks later, we received a signed photograph of Eisenhower in the mail. Louis C. Miriani, president of the Detroit City Council, had obtained this for my father.
Eisenhower appointed a number of people from the automobile industry in his cabinet. Best known was Charles E. Wilson, who resigned the presidency of General Motors to become Secretary of Defense. There was also Arthur E. Summerfield, a Flint auto dealer who was appointed Postmaster General. Some Washington wits said: “First came the New Dealers, then the Fair Dealers, and now the auto dealers.” When I caddied at the Bloomfield Hills Country Club in the summer of 1956, I once saw Wilson standing at the edge of the green on the 18th hole.
President Eisenhower appointed a Detroit banker, Joseph M. Dodge, to head the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Jamie Dodge, my brother’s classmate at Detroit University School, had been living with his grandparents in Grosse Pointe. When Joseph Dodge went to Washington, grandson Jamie lived with us for several months while finishing his school year.
John F. Kennedy (35th President)
I once saw John F. Kennedy in person when his campaign motorcade swung through New Haven, Connecticut, in the fall of 1960. I was then a sophomore at Yale. A loud speaker blared a Frank Sinatra song as Kennedy’s car came down Elm Street to a spot on the New Haven Green. I might also have seen Kennedy’s convertible parked that summer outside the CBS studio in New York City. A placard identified it as belonging to the Massachusetts Senator. The Senator himself was evidently inside the building, perhaps debating Nixon.
President Kennedy delivered the commencement address to my Yale graduating class in 1962. However, I was living in Germany at the time, having dropped out of college for two years. My former roommate gave me a full account of the experience in a handwritten letter. I returned to college in the early winter of 1963.
If I recall correctly, President Kennedy was planning to attend the Harvard-Yale football game at the Yale Bowl in the fall of 1963. I also had tickets and was also planning to attend. The game was scheduled for November 23, 1963. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on the previous day.
I have an odd connection to the Kennedy assassination through the Pinchot family. Mary Pinchot Meyer was a close friend of President Kennedy. An article in a tabloid newspaper claimed that she was Kennedy’s mistress. The President was reportedly planning to divorce Jackie and marry her.
In any event, President John F. Kennedy and Mary Pinchot Meyer flew together on Air Force One to attend a ceremony in Milford, Pennsylvania, on September 24, 1963, Her cousin, Gifford Bryce Pinchot, donated the family estate, “Grey Towers”, to the federal government. President Kennedy was on hand to accept the donation and preside at the dedication ceremony. This was one of the first stops on a “conservation tour” that the President was making. It was two months before Kennedy was assassinated.
While attending a book-signing event for Jesse Ventura’s “American Conspiracies” in the Mall of America, I walked with a man in line, Gary Severson, who said that he had been seated immediately in front of President Kennedy when the President delivered a speech in Grand Forks, North Dakota, which was another stop on the President’s conservation tour. This man said he had slipped into the front-row seat through an unlocked door near the stage. His theory was that Kennedy’s assassins had been looking for an opportunity to kill the President for some time. Whoever was in charge of security for the Grand Forks event and had left the door unlocked might have been on the plot.
Mary Pinchot Meyer was the former wife of Cord Meyer, a top official of the CIA. Howard Hunt made a deathbed confession to his son, identifying the people who had killed the President in Dallas. Hunt said that the assassination had been arranged by Cord Meyer on behalf of Vice President Lyndon Johnson. Meyer denied this but did indicate that he knew who had killed Kennedy - presumably CIA agents. It wasn’t Lee Harvey Oswald.
Mary Pinchot Meyer, an artist, was herself shot and killed along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath in Georgetown on October 12, 1964. The murder was pinned on an African American man named Raymond Crump who was acquitted of the charges a year later. Mary Meyer is buried in the Pinchot family plot in Milford, Pennsylvania.
Mary Pinchot Meyer had kept a personal diary in which she revealed details of her relationship with President Kennedy. Mary’s sister, Toni Bradley, and her husband, Ben Bradlee, editor of the Washington Post, looked for the diary in Mary’s apartment on the day after the murder. They found James Angleton, the CIA’s chief of counter-intelligence, already there. He gave them the diary. Then, after family members, including Mary’s son, Quentin Meyer, had a chance to look at it, the diary was destroyed.
On the single occasion when I met Quentin Meyer, he told me that Angleton had taken him fishing on the Brule river in northern Wisconsin. Angleton was evidently a family friend as well as former colleague of Quentin’s father.
I also had the occasion to meet Barr McClellan who wrote a book “Blood, Money & Power: How LBJ Killed JFK” that was a best-seller in 2003. He was the father of Scott McClellan, President George W. Bush’s press secretary at the time. McClellan was being interviewed by Jesse Ventura for Ventura’s cable-television show on MSNSC. He was a former partner in a law firm in Dallas, Texas, that had handled Lyndon Johnson’s personal affairs.
McClellan was told by other partners how the Kennedy assassination had been planned out of the law office. In this scenario, CIA agents were not involved. Thugs had been hired by the senior partner at Lyndon Johnson’s behest. I wrote a review of McClellan’s book and exchanged several email messages with him. McClellan wrote me that several top media figures were trying to stifle public discussion of his book. Foreign media were more receptive.
Richard Nixon (37th President)
I shook hands with Richard Nixon when he was campaigning for President in June 1968. He was giving a press conference in the now-demolished Sheraton hotel in downtown Minneapolis. That evening he was scheduled to address a meeting of the Young Republican League in Moorhead. I had decided against attending that event but I did wish to see Nixon. So, another Young Republican, Jan Nimis, and I went to the Sheraton to see what we could find. We watched as he answered questions from television reporters in a side room. Candidate Nixon struck me as electrically charged. He had an intense intelligence about him as he carefully answered the questions.
Jan and I were standing out in the hall; it was in a sub-basement area of the hotel. Tricia Nixon came walking by. Then Richard Nixon himself emerged from the room. A conservative Republican named Dan Slater button holed the candidate, asking him if he would contribute to the party’s campaign fund. Nixon said he had already given $20. Then Slater pointed to my friend and me who were standing near by and said something like “I’d like you to meet some young people.” Nixon gamely walked over to us. I introduced myself and Jan. Nixon just stared. He said nothing at all as we shook hands. And that was it. My companion and I had met Richard Nixon. He seemed weary.
I attended an organizing event for the Nixon campaign in Minneapolis. Two persons who would later figure in the Watergate scandal, albeit innocently, also attended. One was Kenneth Dahlberg, a campaign treasurer. He was the one to gave critical information to Carl Bernstein when he and Woodward were “following the money” to explain Watergate to Washington Post readers. The other was Congressman Clark MacGregor, who took over from John Mitchell as the head of CREEP, Nixon’s re-election committee in 1972.
I also saw Nixon at a distance at two other events. I was an usher at a campaign rally in downtown Minneapolis, perhaps at the convention center. He was not an inspired speaker, but gave an adequate performance. I was trying to figure out of the well-dressed man standing next to me was a Secret Service agent. Reluctantly, he admitted that he was. I must have breached etiquette by asking.
As President, Nixon also gave the main speech at the 1970 National Association of Manufacturers “Congress of Industry”. My father was then an NAM staff person in charge of putting on that event. He ran into Nixon several times during Nixon’s political career mostly in the capacity of inviting him to speak at an industry-sponsored event. At the NAM Congress, I saw Nixon’s brother Ed wandering through an exhibit room but did not get near the President himself on that occasion.
I had hoped to give Nixon cabinet member, Robert Finch, a paper making a proposal for a relay marathon in Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign similar to something I had once done or attempted to do in Minnesota. Finch cancelled at the last moment.
I also saw Nixon’s Democratic opponent in the 1968 election, Minnesota’s own Hubert Humphrey. Humphrey had returned home to Waverly, Minnesota, after the turbulent events of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. There is a city hall in Waverly with a WPA-style facade. Some of the local dignitaries introduced Humphrey at a podium set up in front of city hall. Maybe one or two hundred people were in the crowd. I was supporting Nixon for President at that point but did want to hear what Humphrey had to say.
There were also other times when I saw Humphrey personally. I never shook hands with him but did receive letters or view him close range. Senator Humphrey lived in the same condominium in Washington, D.C., “Harbor Square”, where my parents lived. Once I saw him walking by with his driver in the elevator lobby. My brother used to see the Senator outside or in the indoor swimming pool. However, I was in Minnesota most of the time.
I also heard a speech by Nixon’s Democratic opponent, Senator George McGovern, at a veteran’s convention in Minneapolis during the 1972 election campaign. The ultra-liberal candidate handled himself well in a crowd of Nixon supporters. He was a veteran himself, after all.
And yes, I almost forgot. Nixon, too, made a campaign stop on the New Haven green in the fall of 1960. I watched at close range as he sat in his convertible and talked with people.
Two other Presidential candidates in 1968
My father was a business associate and close friend of George Romney when they worked together at the Automobile Manufacturers Association and American Motors. In 1962, Romney was elected Governor of Michigan, a Republican in a predominantly Democratic state. There was talk that he might run for President.
I was quite excited by that prospect. As Yale student, I was alienated by the “eastern establishment” that seemed to control national politics. It seemed that the Washington crowd, including college professors, treated the rest of us like ignorant provincials. They were too full of themselves. They were appropriating too much of our national wealth. So the idea that a midwestern businessman - and my father’s close friend - might become a serious contender for the Presidency excited my imagination.
During a two-year leave of absence from Yale, I spent fourteen months living in west Germany in 1961-62. That did not stop me from paying attention to political developments in the United States, especially George Romney’s successful campaign for Governor of Michigan. I devoted at least a month of steady work producing a conservative manifesto, titled “Democracy Upside Down”, that presented some of my political ideas in the context of a possible Romney campaign for President.
Back in the United States, I had several copies printed up. I handed one of them to Governor Romney after he had delivered a “Michigan Day” speech in Flint but never heard his reaction. I suspect that the governor was not impressed by a young man who had dropped out of college pontificating about politics. In retrospect, my instincts were sound.
The problem was that George Romney was not a conservative. He was a liberal Republican, considered by some to be a stalking horse for Nelson Rockefeller in the 1968 campaign. As a candidate for President, George Romney had two special problems. First, he had been born in Mexico, which might have made him ineligible to be President. However, his parents were American refugees temporarily living south of the border. Legally, he qualified to become a Presidential candidate. Second, Romney was a Mormon, and the Mormon church did not then allow blacks to become clergy. To be a conservative Mormon candidate might have killed Romney’s chances of being elected President in the racially charged political environment of the late 1960s. Not to be a conservative, however, ruined Romney’s chances of winning the Republican nomination after Goldwater ran and sparked a conservative movement within the party.
President Kennedy considered George Romney his most challenging opponent in the prospective 1964 campaign. The fact that Romney, a Mormon, did not smoke or drink made him seem to Kennedy like an invincible, incorruptible force according to Kennedy’s close friend, Dave Powers. However, President Kennedy was assassinated and Romney did not run for President until 1968. As a Young Republican, I was set to volunteer in his Minnesota campaign. I knew his state campaign manager.
I last saw George Romney when he came to Minnesota to campaign for President in late 1967 or early 1968. The Michigan governor seemed startled to see me there as I shook hands with him in the receiving line. By then, however, his political fortunes had faded. The press had beaten up on him after Romney said he had been “brainwashed” by the Johnson administration after he first supported the Vietnam war and later opposed it. When polls showed that Romney would lose badly to Richard Nixon in the 1968 Republican presidential primary in New Hampshire, Romney abruptly abandoned his campaign for the Presidency. He later served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Nixon administration.
I was later privileged to know another man who unsuccessfully but significantly ran for President in 1968. He was Minnesota’s other Senator, Eugene McCarthy. In contrast with Romney, McCarthy’s political fortune was made when he did run in the 1968 presidential primary in New Hampshire. With the help of thousands of college students who became “clean for Gene”, he almost beat Lyndon Johnson in the Democratic primary.
That event caused President Johnson to announce in late March that he would not seek re-election. Bobby Kennedy then jumped into the race. For the next two months, Kennedy and McCarthy battled it out in the primaries until Bobby Kennedy was assassinated on the night of winning the California primary. The Democratic nomination that year ultimately went to Johnson’s vice president, Hubert Humphrey, as McCarthy supporters were roughed up in the streets of Chicago.
I was not involved in Eugene McCarthy’s 1968 Presidential campaign because I was supporting for President, first, George Romney and, then, after Romney withdrew, Richard Nixon. However, McCarthy was not a one-issue politician. Besides opposing the Vietnam war, he was an advocate of shorter working hours. By the late 1970s, that had become my primary political interest.
I attended the Congressional hearings for the Conyers shorter-workweek bill in late October 1979. On November 13, 1979, I published an Op-Ed article on the subject in the New York Times. Eugene McCarthy read this article. He said he had carried the clipping around in his pocket for awhile.
In the summer of 1982, Eugene McCarthy came back to Minnesota to run for U.S. Senate in the Democratic primary. His principal opponent was Mark Dayton, a young heir to the Dayton-Hudson retailing fortune who was also married to a Rockefeller. Money beat out fame and competent experience in that case. Dayton won the primary.
However, Eugene McCarthy’s unhappy experience in the 1982 DFL Senate primary gave me the opportunity to meet the former Senator. After reading of McCarthy’s interest in shortening work hours, I contacted his campaign and was promptly invited to have lunch with the Senator at the Northstar hotel in downtown Minneapolis. I organized one of the campaign’s more successful events: a speech by McCarthy on shorter work time at the Labor Center in St. Paul.
Because my parents then lived in Washington, D.C., I was able to keep in touch with Eugene McCarthy after the 1982 campaign. He came over to my parents’ condominium for breakfast once and, another time, I had lunch with him at a restaurant in downtown Washington. Out of those meetings came discussions that led to a book project. Together, Eugene McCarthy and I wrote a book that was titled “Nonfinancial Economics: the Case for Shorter Hours of Work.” It was published by Praeger Publishers in hardcover in 1989.
I saw Eugene McCarthy occasionally during the next several years. Twice, I think, we met at conferences held on work-time issues at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Professor Ben Hunnicutt put these conferences together. In January 1995, we both attended the “third prepcom” of the UN Social Summit at United Nations headquarters in New York City. He and I put on an informal workshop in the UN basement.
Returning home to Minneapolis, however, I found that the City of Minneapolis was planning to condemn my apartment building because of agitation from a neighborhood group. I was abruptly converted from being a shorter-workweek advocate to becoming a member of a landlord group that fought abusive city government. Eugene McCarthy died in Washington, D.C. on December 10, 2005. I last saw him at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul a year or so earlier and, for the first and only time, was photographed with my friend.
In summary, George Romney and Eugene McCarthy were two quite different candidates who ran for President in 1968, but I admired them both. I knew McCarthy after his political prime, and Romney before it. Ironically, McCarthy had contributed to Romney’s downfall relating to the “brainwashing” admission in commenting wryly that, in his case, a “brainwashing was unnecessary; a light rinse would do it.” This was unfair - George Romney was quite intelligent - but all’s fair in love, war, and politics.
I don’t think George Romney held this against McCarthy. I once wrote an article that was published in the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune which compared Walter Mondale and Eugene McCarthy. My father sent a clipping of it to Romney and received a warm reply.
My brother and I were graciously received by Lenore Romney, George’s wife, when we showed up at their home in Bloomfield Hills unannounced in the summer of 1994. The former Michigan governor was then in Massachusetts helping his son, Mitt, campaign for the U.S. Senate against Ted Kennedy. Again, my father received a kind note from his former boss several weeks later saying that his wife had enjoyed the visit and regretting that he had not been there.
Gerald Ford (38th President)
After Richard Nixon resigned the Presidency, his appointed Vice President, Gerald Ford, became President. He was the first resident of Michigan to become President. I never met him or saw him in person. Even so, I received a letter from Rep. Gerald Ford in the late 1960s in response to one I wrote. He had spoken to a group at the National Association of Manufacturers where my father worked.
Of particular interest, Ford enclosed a copy of that speech which speculated how the next President could be elected by the House of Representatives rather than the Electoral College. George Wallace was then making a strong third-party bid for President. I think the speech and its enclosure with Ford’s letter to be significant in that Gerald Ford may be the only person in history to become President who was never on a ticket elected by the Electoral College.
Jimmy Carter (39th President)
I did attend a rally at the Minneapolis Convention Center at which Jimmy Carter spoke after he became President. He was impressive.
I have also met his Vice President, Walter Mondale, or been at events attended by him. My wife and I were photographed with the former Vice President held at the Hamline University Law School on June 20, 2003. I had a brief conversation with Mondale at that time.
Ronald Reagan (40th President)
I never met or saw Ronald Reagan. However, I did receive a letter from him in 1969 while he was Governor of California. I had invented a board game roughly based on a Presidential election. It was played with cards displaying the outlines of the states and their votes in the Electoral College which were placed in spaces on a board. The player who build a solid chain of cards from one end of the board to the other won the game and received the same number of points as the Electoral College votes in the chair. Reagan’s letter stated that Reagan or his staff had played the game or intended to do so.
I sent the game to Reagan because he was a prospective candidate for President in 1968. He and other candidates were mentioned in a booklet accompanying the game. I also received a letter of acknowledgment from Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic candidate in that year’s Presidential election.
My father’s roommate at Depauw University, Stanford Smith, was the marketing director at General Electric. In that capacity, he was Ronald Reagan’s boss while Reagan was a corporate spokesman for General Electric. When I was a student at Yale, Smith and his family invited me to accompany them in attending a Broadway play, “Sunrise at Campobello”, based on the life of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
George H.W. Bush (41st President)
I also never saw or met the first George Bush, Reagan’s Vice President who became President . My brush with this President, if it is one, lies in the fact that we both attended Yale. George Bush was captain of the Yale baseball team in 1948. The coach of that team was a former Boston Red Sox pitcher named “Smokey Joe” Wood who had a summer home in the back woods eight miles north of Milford, Pennsylvania. Wood once picked me up while I was hitchhiking near Milford.
Also, I published a book, ‘Punchdrunk Man Reader”, which explored themes of politics and masculinity. I sent letters to all the Presidential campaigns in 1988 asking if they wanted free copies of this book. The only campaign that responded was George Bush’s. The book was to be sent to the attention of Lee Atwater, his campaign manager. I think the Bush campaign was then concerned with beefing up the candidate’s masculine image. The elder Bush, a war veteran, had manly courage but his preppy mannerisms put off certain voters.
I did attend a campaign event held by Bush’s Democratic opponent, Michael Dukakis, at the Ukrainian American center in Minneapolis. My brother also attended and spoke personally with Dukakis.
Curiously, it was later disclosed that Dukakis’ wife, Kitty, was suffering from depression. A reason given for this condition was trauma arising from the fact that Kitty’s mother had been adopted. The grandmother, Margaret Fielding, had given up her female baby for adoption because religious differences made it impossible to marry the father.
My brother and I had rented a room in Margaret Fielding’s Bronx apartment in the summer of 1960. She was the aunt of a man whom I had befriended at camp in 1957. I wrote a letter to Michael Dukakis stating that I had known his wife’s grandmother and that she was a kindly woman whom one would be proud to have as a relative. Governor Dukakis sent me a polite letter in return.
I also had an indirect connection to Gary Hart, the Democrats' early front runner in the 1988 presidential campaign, through a female friend of Hart's whom I had known in St. Paul. Hart was feeling down in the dumps around the time that George Bush was elected President.
Bill Clinton (42nd President)
In the early 1990s, I became interested in issues relating to world trade. I fell in with a labor group that opposed free trade, and specifically the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The result was a book, “A U.S.-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement: Do We Just Say No?”, self-published in early 1992. It may have been the first anti-NAFTA book on the market. It sold fairly well.
Presidential candidate Bill Clinton came to Minneapolis in April 1992. He gave a short speech at the Peavey Plaza on Nicollet Avenue and then shook hands with people in the crowd. When he reached me, I shook hands and then handed him a copy of my anti-NAFTA book. Clinton seemed startled. “Is this for me?”, he asked in a southern voice that sounded like Elvis Presley’s. A minute later, a female aide came back to ask who had given Clinton the book. I wrote my name and address on a pad of paper. Several weeks later, I received a letter from Clinton - actually two letters - thanking me for the book and promising to read it in the White House.
Clinton returned to Minneapolis, along with running mate Al Gore, in June 1992, to begin a journey down the Mississippi river valley in a campaign bus. Again, I had a copy of my book in my hand. This time I thought I would give it to Gore. However, Al Gore was not as gregarious a campaigner as Clinton. He did not shake hands with people, but Clinton did. So along came Clinton, once more working the crowd. Again, I held out a copy of my book. “No, thanks,” Clinton said. “I already have a copy,” I think he added that it was a good book, or, at least, an interesting one.
President Bill Clinton later became a strong supporter of NAFTA. Harper’s publisher, John MacArthur, has written that Clinton made a deal with Wall Street firms to support NAFTA in return for parity in campaign contributions between Democrats and Republicans. I as a self-publisher could not compete with that kind of incentive.
I later heard, however, from an official of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, Bill Moore, that the Clinton campaign had contacted his organization trying to get another copy of my book. Apparently, someone in Denver, Colorado, had heckled a Clinton campaigner using arguments or facts contained in my book. Clinton himself made a major policy address during the 1992 campaign promising to include “side agreements” to protect labor and the environment with any trade agreement that the United States might conclude with the Mexicans and Canadians.
I also sent a copy of my book to Ross Perot. It was before Perot came out against NAFTA saying that he sensed “a giant sucking sound” as U.S. jobs went south of the border. Another NAFTA opponent was my friend, U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone, who briefly considered running for President himself at the end of Clinton’s term.
George W. Bush (43rd President)
My wife and I attended a Bush campaign rally in Chanhassen, Minnesota, during Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign. Because we were so far back in the crowd, I did not have a good look at the President. However, I could hear the speech clearly on the public-address system and gained a sense of the younger Bush’s campaign style: “He (John Kerry) can run, but he can’t hide.” It was good sports talk.
I think I know something about this President Bush, however, because we both attended Yale in the 1960s. (Bush was actually born in New Haven when his father attended Yale after World War II.) In fact, George W. Bush and I lived in the same residential college, Davenport College. I’m sure he knew old Burns, the gruff guard at the entrance to Davenport. Burnsy would have been his kind of guy.
I was originally in the class of 1962 but, having dropped out for two years, graduated with the class of 1964. Bush graduated with the class of 1968. That meant that he entered Yale in the fall of the year when I graduated. Our paths would not have crossed. However, Bush’s Vice President, Dick Cheney, was at Yale when I was there. He would have graduated with the class of 1963 had he not dropped out after a year. George W. Bush once joked that, if you graduate from Yale, you get to be President. If you drop out of Yale, you get to be Vice President. I did both.
When George W. Bush first ran for President, I had a certain sympathy for him because I knew what he went through in being a Yale student from the provinces in the 1960s. Bush, raised in Texas, also resented the Ivy League elitism, even though his family came from the East Coast. His grandfather, Prescott Bush, had represented Connecticut in the U.S. Senate. Bush was thought to be a simpleton but certain persons of intellectual heft were advising him.
What made a particular impression on me was reading that the Yale chaplain, William Sloane Coffin, had once told the younger Bush, after his father had lost an election for U.S. Senate to Lloyd Bentsen, that “the better man won.” Bush was rightly angered by this arrogant statement. Rev. Coffin was a charismatic figure at Yale during the 1960s. He was one of the original “Freedom Riders” who contributed greatly to the Civil Rights movement. Coffin had brought Martin Luther King to Yale. Everyone knew him. But Coffin also had an arrogant side. I noted this dual nature in a letter to the editor of the Yale Alumni Magazine that was published in that magazine shortly after Coffin’s death.
After George W. Bush was into the Presidency a few years, my attitude toward him began to change. I was not in favor of the Iraq invasion. The Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and the huge unfunded prescription drug benefit under Medicare did not appeal to me even though I was about to become a senior myself. I ran in the Independence Party primary for U.S. Senate in 2002 and then, in 2003, decided to run for President myself. Eventually, I narrowed my platform down to a single issue: opposition to free trade. The nation’s manufacturing base was being decimated by this reckless policy. I developed the concept of “employer-specific tariffs” in a paper that had been published in a Green Party journal, Synthesis/Regeneration, in 1993. This would be the basis of my Presidential campaign.
I intended to run in two Democratic presidential primaries, South Carolina and Louisiana, and paid the filing fees for both. After driving to South Carolina to begin my campaign in January 2004, I learned that the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terrence McAuliffe, had declared me ineligible to receive delegates at the 2004 Democratic National Convention because I had previously run in the Independence Party primary. Therefore, the South Carolina Democratic Party removed my name from the primary ballot and refunded my filing fee.
That left Louisiana. Election officials in that state said they did not care about my previous party affiliations. I was on the ballot. So, I drove down to Louisiana from Minnesota in early February, 2004, and waged an active five-week campaign, mainly visiting newspaper offices. It was personally a rewarding experience. This was pre-Katrina Louisiana. The city of New Orleans had the most people and votes but I stayed mainly in Baton Rouge, Alexandria, and other cities throughout the state.
The problem was that John Kerry had cinched the Democratic nomination the week before Louisiana’s primary on March 9th. Therefore, the big newspapers in New Orleans and Baton Rouge did not run stories about the presidential primary, at least not ones mentioning me. I had imagined that CNN would report the election results nationally as in previous primaries but, again, there was nothing. In the primary, I finished fifth among seven candidates - behind John Kerry, John Edwards, Howard Dean, and Wesley Clark, but ahead of Dennis Kucinich and Lyndon LaRouche. I had 3,161 votes statewide or roughly 2 percent of the total in Louisiana.
Strangely enough, many of the candidates running with major parties in the 2004 presidential primaries were 1960s-era Yale graduates. They included George W. Bush, John Kerry (the Democratic nominee), Howard Dean, Joe Lieberman, and me. Lieberman, the Democrats’ Vice Presidential nominee in 2000, also graduated with the Yale class of 1964. As I said, Dick Cheney also attended Yale during that time.
Barack Obama (44th President)
I had no connection with Barack Obama during the 2008 Presidential campaign other than to put one of his lawn signs in my yard. He appeared at a fundraiser within walking distance of my home on Glenwood Avenue but I did not care to make the requested donation. I had issues with the Democrats. After Obama became President, I did, however, attend a rally at which he spoke, promoting the health care bill.
Instead, there was an exciting new development. Mitt Romney, son of George, was a major presidential contender on the Republican side. Ironically, Mitt, a former Governor of Massachusetts, was a staunch conservative at a time when my political views had become more liberal whereas his father had been a liberal at a time that I considered myself a conservative. But I was rooting for Mitt to do well because of past family connections. I attended Mitt’s only rally in the state before the Minnesota caucuses. Mitt Romney gained the most votes at this caucus.
However, Mitt’s candidacy was fatally damaged by losing the Iowa caucus to Mike Huckabee and the New Hampshire primary to John McCain. He was down to the wire as the Michigan primary approached. I decided to do a little campaigning for him in the Louisiana mode.
Knowing that Mitt probably would not have time to visit Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I decided to drive to several Upper Peninsula cities including Menomenee, Escanaba, and Marquette to see if I would scare up some favorable publicity for him in that area. For a visual prop, I brought along a clay statue of a dinosaur which I believed George Romney had once used in Disneyland commercials to call attention to the “gas-guzzling dinosaurs” that American Motors’ Big Three competitors were producing then.
It was a fun trip, but useless in promoting Mitt Romney’s candidacy. I soon learned that the newspapers and television stations were unwilling to cover my visit. Unless there was “local angle”, they considered the publicity unpaid advertising for Mitt’s campaign. Besides, the Marquette newspaper editor, told me, there weren’t many Republican votes in the Upper Peninsula. Mitt had scheduled a quick trip to Marquette but then rightly canceled when he realized his time could be better spent elsewhere. Even so, Mitt Romney won the Michigan primary.
After John McCain clinched the Republican nomination, there was speculation that Mitt Romney might be picked to be his running mate. Minnesota’s governor, Tim Pawlenty, was another name mentioned. It was not to be. McCain instead chose Sarah Palin. A political star was born when Palin made her Vice Presidential acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. I was part of the crowd demonstrating at a distance. I did get into indoor events promoting the candidacies of Ralph Nader and Ron Paul.
By that time, I had become the Independence Party’s candidate for Congress in the Fifth Congressional District (Minneapolis and suburbs). My vote total as a third-party candidate was 22,300 or almost 7 percent of the total. It was my high water mark as a political candidate.
I had a brush with two other Presidential candidates or prospective candidates in 2008. The first was Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City. Inordinately wealthy, Bloomberg could have dropped billions of dollars of his own money into a Presidential campaign if he had decided to run. The Independence Party of Minnesota had voted to affiliate with a national Independence Party organized by Bloomberg’s political associate, Frank McKay, to make that possible. But Bloomberg decided not to run. I heard him tell some people at a Minnesota Independence Party gathering that he would have run had the two major parties run extremist candidates. Obama and McCain were both moderates.
At the Independence Party gathering in Minneapolis on July 25, 2008, I summoned my nerve to break into a conversation and ask Mayor Bloomberg what he thought of free trade. Not surprisingly, he was in favor of this. It would be a shame, he said, if the United States missed out on the coming export boom. At this point, the party’s state chair indicated that he would appreciate no further questions along those lines.
Therefore, I left the Bloomberg event to drive to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to meet another Presidential candidate who was at the opposite end of the political spectrum. He was Brian Moore, the Socialist Party’s candidate for president. Moore was originally a friend of my brother Andy when they both lived in Washington, D.C. I had met Moore several times and spoken with him often on the telephone.
We had a chance to talk once more at the airport as Moore waited to take a plane to Milwaukee to gain the required number of signatures to be listed on the Presidential ballot in Wisconsin. Moore’s campaign manager had read my book, “On the Ballot in Louisiana”. I like to think that my participation in the 2004 Presidential primary partly inspired Moore to set his sights on a higher office.
Brian Moore also wanted to be included in the Minnesota Presidential ballot. However, members of the party in Minnesota had dropped the ball. The deadline for the Socialists to deliver signed petitions representing 2,000 voters at the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office was Tuesday, September 9th. Even though I was a Congressional candidate with another party, I volunteered to try to gather at least 20 signatures for Moore through my own canvassing efforts. I spent several hours downtown and fulfilled my quota.
As the September 9th deadline approached, Moore was still well short of the required 2,000 signatures. He decided to rely on paid canvassers. However, he needed someone on the ground to coordinate the effort. The official petition coordinator for the Minnesota Socialists was missing in action, so I filled in as a substitute. I began taking frantic phone calls from Moore, agreeing to put up three out-of-state canvassers in an empty apartment of mine and deliver blank forms to various persons.
The climax came late in the afternoon of September 9th in the room across the hall from the Secretary of State’s office. We quickly counted numbers of signatures on the sheets only to discover that the canvassing effort in Minnesota had fallen short. Moore arranged payment to the canvassers at a distance.
Several days before the general election on November 3, 2008, Brian Moore, the Socialist candidate for President, announced his choices for the cabinet if he were elected President. I would have been appointed Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, George Romney’s old office in the Nixon administration. However, Moore received only about 7,000 votes for President nationwide, less than one third of my vote total as a Congressional cabinet. (To show the volatility of election results, Brian Moore received nearly 300,000 votes two years later as a candidate in Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial primary.)
There was a silver lining. A man named Joe the Plumber confronted candidate Barack Obama and accused the Democratic candidate of being a “Socialist”. Republican John McCain picked up on the theme. Soon everyone political was talking about Socialists. Naturally, people at Comedy Central and elsewhere were interested in the real Socialist running for President. He was Brian Moore.
So it was that Moore, the man behind the Socialist bogeyman, had a brief run through the media. He had media exposure that third-party candidates seldom receive. However, no one interviewed me to see what I intended to do about the nation’s looming foreclosure problem once Moore occupied the White House.
The 2012 Presidential Election
At this point, it seems likely that the Republicans could give Barack Obama a run for his money in the 2012 Presidential election. My sentimental favorite, Mitt Romney, may well become the Republican nominee the next time around.
In February 2010, Mitt had a signing for his book, “No Apologies: the Case for American Greatness”, at a book store in Wayzata, Minnesota. I decided to buy a copy. After waiting in line, I finally stood in front of Mitt Romney and introduced myself. I am seven years older than he so I was not sure that Mitt would know me. His older brother, Scott, would, but I was not sure about Mitt. But he did. “I know Bill McGaughey,” he said in those words. Mitt Romney also remembered that my family once had a house in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, not far from where his parents lived. He autographed my copy of his book.
So, that’s where matters now stand - another brush with a U.S. President, or prospective president, extending into the future. Not bad to have had so many Presidential encounters for one who has lived for much of his life in the "fly-over zone" of an upper-midwestern state.
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