Wednesday, August 24, 2016

a better man for it

Keeping in touch with old friends has its rewards -- sometimes, very tangible ones.

I have known Al French for almost forty years. He was an assistant district attorney in Clackamas County when my law partner and I opened up shop in Oregon City. We had a few trials together, but not many.

Our common ground was politics and Coos County. He was raised in the big city of Coos Bay while I was chasing tadpoles in Powers.

Whether it was our joint interest in the Federalist Society or him introducing The American Spectator to me, we quickly became fellow debaters and, more often, political sympathizers.

It was a heady time with the elections of 1980 and 1984 -- along with property tax limitation initiatives that split our conservative consensus. When I ran for a seat in the Oregon legislature, he was there to assist.

So, it was no surprise when he offered to mail a Harding biography to me as part of my presidential biography project. It arrived the other day. Over $30 in U.S. postage. That is a true friend.

The book is Francis Russell's The Shadow of Blooming Grove: Warren G. Harding in His Times. When I started my project, I researched the internet for the best biography of each president. Russel's book appeared on almost everyone's list. But it was not available in a Kindle edition. Al solved that problem for me.

Re-learning how to read a hard-bound book is an interesting process. I have heard other people say the same thing. They seem to read more books -- and read them faster -- on an electronic reader.

I concur. I am only on page 52 of this 663 book, but I have the flavor of it. I am hooked.

Harding is still a teen at this point. His father has purchased a cornet for him, and he is playing in the town band.

Russel comments on the role politics and religion played in Marion, Ohio. Most of his neighbors were Democrats. Harding was a Republican. "A man was born one or the other, just as he was born a Baptist or a Presbyterian, and gave an emotional allegiance to his church and party without, however, letting either interfere with his practical life."

That description helps to explain what would otherwise have been an anomaly. Russel describes how the town band, managed by Harding, would give street concerts every Saturday night, as well as providing background music at the local roller link, and playing at political rallies of both parties.

That last item on the list struck a familiar chord. The year was 1966. Oregon had an open United States senate seat. The two favored candidates were Republican Mark Hatfield (then governor) and Democrat Bob Duncan (a congressman). But both of them had primary opposition.

Duncan had announced enthusiastic support for President Johnson's escalation of the war in Vietnam. That drew opposition from an anti-war candidate: Howard Morgan.

I do not know how it came about, but our band, from a suburban high school, was invited to play music at a Howard Morgan political rally in Portland. Most of the band members arrived by school bus. My parents took me because the rally was on Sunday and within blocks of our church.

To the best of my knowledge, no one ever questioned the use of taxpayer money for the school bus or the non-volunteer time of students on a Sunday. My mother has always been a staunch Republican. And my father was in the process that year of leaving the Democrat party. But I am not certain either of them questioned our participation in the event. Maybe it was just one of those things that seemed normal then -- and now seems like a political land mine.

I asked the band teacher if I could wear my Hatfield hat (a cardboard derivative of an Uncle Sam topper with "Hatfield" written across the front) and a Hatfield button. He told me that was what the First Amendment was all about.

It turned out to not be much of a protest. All of the Morgan people I talked with said they were going to vote for Hatfield if Duncan won the primary.

Well, he did, and a lot of Democrats did just that -- electing Hatfield in one of the tightest elections of the year.

I need to remember that the next time I witness someone having a meltdown over partisan labels. Maybe we just need to be a little more adult -- like the Marion band -- and not let the labels of church or party interfere with our practical life.

And, once again, Al -- thank you very much. You are a true pal.

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