Farewell & Adieu, MMIX

Before bidding 2009 a bon voyage, it’s worth noting two recent media commentaries. First, Francis Wilkinson has a warm and wonderful portrayal of the great Jody Powell in today’s New York Times. His portrayal brought back the usual flood of Powell memories (for more, click here and here) as well as reconfirming that while Washington hosts more than its share of phonies, it also catapults to success some truly outstanding, wonderful people.

Next up is Andy Kessler’s oped in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal. Kessler’s usually pretty sharp on technology and telecom which is why this column is so disappointing. For starters, his idea of setting up a nationwide wireless system by linking transmitters to street lights is fanciful. AT&T tried it in St. Louis and backed out in 2007 because the technology just didn’t work.

Moreover, Kessler’s comment about the telecos and employment is just plain absurd. AT&T is the nation’s largest private sector employer of union workers. While Google has a larger market cap than AT&T it employs 10 times fewer people and has a capex budget less than one-eighth as large. So which one seems more likely to start hiring?

That’s it for 2009. Thanks for reading and feel free to sign up for my RSS feed. See you in 2010!

It Was 20 Years Ago Today…

Filed under: Asides,Ronald Reagan

(Washington) The Berlin Wall fell 20 years ago today. I was a White House speechwriter for Vice President Bush when Ronald Reagan gave his famous “Tear down this wall” speech in 1987. Presidential speechwriter Peter Robinson, a fellow Dartmouth mafioso, wrote the speech that became the hallmark of the President’s second term. Ironically, though, that signature line came remarkably close to going in the ash bin of history. If anyone’s interested in the internal tong fight, here’s a good summary.

Why the Saints Went Marching In

Filed under: Asides

From the Associated Press today:

Democrats launched a drive at both ends of the Capitol on Wednesday to strip the insurance industry of its decades-old exemption from federal antitrust laws, part of an increasingly bare-knuckled struggle over landmark health care legislation sought by President Barack Obama.

(Washington) The old adage about the perils of watching laws and sausages made seems especially appropriate for antitrust law. Case in point: how the National Football League got its antitrust exemption in 1970, when the old AFL merged with the NFL. At the time, two of Congress’ most powerful leaders were Majority Whip Hale Boggs and Sen. Russell Long, both from Louisiana. With NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle desperate to get the antitrust exemption approved prior to the season opening, he agreed to make New Orleans the first city to get a franchise when the league expanded. That brought the support of Boggs and Long, who were able to attach the exemption to a foreign aid tax bill (no, really). Of course, the effort was not without bumps such as when Long called Rozelle right before the Senate’s floor action to reconfirm that New Orleans would receive the franchise. When Rozelle hesitated, Long allegedly told Rozelle that there would be plenty of time to think this over, as the exemption was no longer going to see Senate action. Sure enough, Rozelle got back to Long later that night with the message: Yes, it’s New Orleans.

There’s more information on this amusing anecdote in Robert Mann’s excellent book on Long, Legacy to Power.

Big Red on the Big Screen

Filed under: Asides,Secretariat

(Washington, DC) Anyone who had the luck to watch Secretariat’s Belmont win carries a remarkable memory. The late Chic Anderson could barely contain himself, yelling, “He is moving like a tremendous machine” at the 3/5 pole. So amid Washington’s dismaying tomfoolery and worse — don’t even get me started about the nuttiness of the FCC trying to apply Net neutrality to a EVDO cell tower which, even if it’s powered by a DS-1, would crash on a half-dozen Sling streams — it’s good to see that Disney will remind the world of Secretariat’s utterly astounding accomplishments.

Incidentally, for the record, my view is Big Red’s most amazing feat wasn’t at the Belmont. It was when he swooped the field on the first turn at the Preakness, going from almost dead last to first in a little more than a furlong.

Here’s a link to the Belmont: Enjoy!

More Thoughts About Jody

Filed under: Asides,Jody Powell

(New York) A week has passed and the outpouring of fond reminiscences about Jody Powell continues. It should. From Sam Donaldson, we learned that Jody once poured a glass of red wine over his head in response to an ABC News segment. Did Jody have malice aforethought? Knowing Jody, there’s only one possible answer.

Personally, my favorite anecdote involving Jody happened on election night 1992: It was the loudest I ever heard him laugh. The networks had made a point of declaring that they wouldn’t predict a winner in the Presidential contest until the polls had closed in California. That was 10 PM EST. But at 9:30, Ross Perot came out and declared that Bill Clinton would be the next President. I was at the Powell Tate election party at the Willard in DC. There were about a dozen of us and Jody burst into the room laughing furiously and saying (approximately), “Did you just see how Ross stuck it to the networks?!?!”

Of course, there were the memorable “Jody-isms”:

“Getting pissed off is not a strategy.”

“Sometimes what the client thinks is a PR problem isn’t.”

“Don’t tell us what to say. Tell us what happened.”

When I joined Powell Tate in 1991, shortly after its founding, there were about 30 of us, of which perhaps five were red-state types. But to Jody, we were all part of the family. No question about it. When God made Jody, He broke the mold.

Jody Powell, R.I.P.

Filed under: Asides,Jody Powell

(Washington) My friend and mentor Jody Powell has passed on. In the coming days, the press will be filled with stories about how this thirty-something from Georgia revolutionized the role of White House press secretary. But leaving that aside, the real value of Jody was his willingness to treat everyone with whom he worked as part of his extended family. I joined Powell Tate in 1991 as one of its first hires (Thank you, Sheila Tate). I’d been at the company no more than a few weeks — and had met Jody only in passing — when he stopped me on my way out of the office one Friday evening and asked me to join him and his lovely wife Nan for dinner. It was the first of many such acts, not to mention his years of wise counsel. R.I.P., my mentor.

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