My Big Moment
As I mentioned earlier, the Republican convention was being held that year in Miami Beach and it was being run by Gerald Ford, then Speaker of the House.
Previously in this series: “Lugar for Veep”
Ford had the nifty idea of having a woman give the keynote address. It turned out that in the history of political conventions in America, no woman had ever given a keynote. But when Ford broached this idea with Nixon, Nixon told Ford he’d already promised the job to Richard Lugar.
“That’s okay,” said Ford, “we’ll have Lugar deliver the speech in drag.”
Ha, ha, ha, just my little joke. What Ford actually did was to convince Nixon to have two keynote addresses. Lugar would speak first, followed by a woman. Ford had in mind Anne Armstrong, a lively lady from Texas who would later serve in the Nixon, Ford, and Carter Administrations.
The convention was held near the end of August that year, starting on a Monday, and on the previous Friday Lugar and his top aides, including the Pol, headed for Florida. I, needless to say, was left behind. Those of us left behind were told to work over the weekend, in case the Mayor needed something.
Sure enough, on Saturday morning one of Lugar’s aides called me and had me look up some phone numbers and call him back. When I did, I asked how things were going.
“You know,” he said, sounding a bit surprised, “I think it’s going to be okay. The President made only two small changes to the keynote and the Mayor’s been working hard on his delivery.”
But late Saturday afternoon the Pol called me and said, “We got trouble down here – big trouble.”
It turned out someone in Nixon’s office had sent Lugar’s speech to Agnew, and the VP wasn’t happy – he called Lugar and demanded many changes in the keynote. Instead of telling Agnew where he could stick his changes, Good Soldier Lugar promised he would incorporate as many of them as possible.
“It was a lousy speech before and it’s a dog’s breakfast now,” the Pol told me. “And I don’t trust the people down here to fix it. How about if you give it a try and if it’s any good I’ll take it to His Honor? But you need to work fast – the keynote’s Monday evening, so we’re running out of time.”
This was wildly exciting – Lugar’s rawest, youngest staff member, drafting (well, redrafting) the keynote address that would make him Vice President of the United States! (In fact, Nixon would resign two years later and Lugar would have moved up to President – thanks to me!)
“You bet!” I shouted into the phone. “You going to dictate it to me?”
“Dictate? Hell, no! I’m going to send you the markup by facsimile.”
“It’s a machine that sends documents over the phone lines.”
“No kidding? What’ll they think of next?”
The facsimile machine was located down at the far end of the hall, past the ladies room, and was a weird-looking, boxy, white machine sitting on a table in the corner. I stood there staring at it practically forever, but eventually the machine burped a few times and then a piece of paper came v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y out of one side of it.
Eventually I had all the pages of the markup, a little blurry but legible, and went right to work. Although I was initially outraged by Agnew’s silly changes, I gradually realized that virtually none of them were substantive. The changes were designed to cobble-up the speech, to make it seem disorganized and uninspiring. In other words, to preserve Agnew’s job.
What was much worse than Agnew’s changes was the speech itself, a high-minded but soporific lecture about America’s place in the world. Lugar liked to give speeches that might be right at home in a conference room at the Brookings Institution, but that at a political convention would fall as flat as an Indiana cornfield.
Conventions, after all, aren’t the venue for sober, complicated lectures. No, conventions are the venue where you rip the other party to shreds, summon the faithful to battle, bring home the bacon! That’s the part of the speech that needed to be fixed, and I was just the fellow to fix it.
It was then a bit after five p.m., and in a mere ten hours I had “fixed” the draft. But now it was three-fifteen on Sunday morning, so I stumbled down to the Mayor’s office and went to sleep on his couch.
I woke up just before eight a.m., not sure at first where I was. But I splashed some water on my face, picked up my draft, and headed down the hall to get the revision to the Pol ASAP. But if I’d thought revising the speech had been a challenge, that was nothing compared to the challenge of getting it back to the Pol.
There was an early morning secretary called, for some reason, “Eth” (her actual name was Beatrice), who was supposed to be in her office by eight. But when I got there she hadn’t arrived. I was bending over her desk leaving her a note when I heard a sound behind me. Turning, I saw Eth – and she looked terrible. Her skin was pale and clammy, her eyes were bloodshot, and her hair was all matted down on one side of her head.
“Bad night?” I asked.
“Don’t talk so loud,” she said.
Eth didn’t head for her desk, but went straight to the percolator – I’d already started the coffee – and poured herself a large cup.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” I said, “but the Mayor needs to have this document sent to him by facsimile right away.”
“So…, could you send it to him?”
“I have no idea how to work that machine.”
“I see. Who does?”
“That would be Mary.”
“And where would I find Mary?”
Eth glanced at her watch and said, “Right now I’d say she’s still asleep in her tent up at the Dunes. She’s on a camping trip. It’s only, oh, about an eight-hour round trip from here.”
Next up: Richard Lugar, Part X