Stories From A Life

Been there. Done that. Writing about it.

Sally Swift

Sally Swift
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
June 14
VP, Repartee
Swift Retorts
sally: a journey, a venture, an expression of feeling, an outburst, a quip, a wisecrack ... me


AUGUST 8, 2011 2:49PM

Quitting Politics and Sausage

Rate: 30 Flag

Praticing with a fake seal for the US Bicentennial Celebration, 1976

There was a time in my life I was a player. A 'political operative,' as they say. Made my way from local to mid level to the big leagues in record time. From the DNC boiler room to the campaign trail to the halls of Congress. From City Hall to the State House to the White House.

I've met every president since Richard Nixon (yes, he was graceless and icky). Worked for some, against others. I was active in Civil Rights and feminism; though too young to know Dr. King, I worked with Coretta Scott King, Jesse Jackson, Gloria Steinem, many others.  

There was a time in my life I was protected by the Secret Service. Rode in bullet-proof limos. Had a code name. Knew celebrities. Traveled the country on private campaign trains, Air Force One, Air Force Two and the sometimes infamous "Zoo Plane" -- insider name for the plane carrying the White House press corps and campaign reporters.

I've known and worked with most of journalism's legends, from Walter Cronkite to Peter Jennings to Tom Brokaw to Dan Rather to Tim Russert to Johnny Apple, David Broder and many others living and gone who helped shape my career. And me.

There was a time in my life I was a fixture in front offices and back rooms. Had a voice in crafting policy, devising strategies, negotiating compromises. Participated in creating actual laws. Used my brains, my balls, my backbone, and yes, even my breasts to corral, cajole and convince the opposition --and the media-- to accept, join and report Our Side.

I was one of the elite cadre of aides who help politicians get elected, keep their campaigns and administrations running, their agendas moving forward and their images bright. It was exciting, inspiring, sometimes downright wonderous.

In the process I saw how the sausage is made. I helped make some of it. It's not pretty. Or the least bit inspiring.

We've all caught disturbing glimpses of political sausage-making lately. The reality, even on Our Side, is uglier than you can possibly imagine.

There was a time in my life I began to feel ugly, deep in my soul.
My hands felt Lady Macbeth dirty, my heart Hamlet heavy and my brain laden with King Lear guilt. Yes, I had done good work for serious men and women, but I'd done bad things too. Supported and consorted with unprincipled people. Colleagues, mayors, congressmen, senators, presidential candidates and ... let's leave it at that.

I won't name names. I was young and adventurous and unattached, but most of them weren't. It was the 70's, part of the lifestyle, we lived full out in the fast lane with zealous top dogs. I never used sex to get ahead. I never broke the law. Still, I was too smart to be so stupid. Yet I made a solid name for myself.

There was a time in my life I was well known in political circles, mostly behind the scenes. Think of it in a "West Wing" way ... I was variously Donna, Sam, CJ, Toby. Josh. And briefly, Leo (though not in the White House). I'd watch that show and see myself and many people I knew. Portrayed correctly, less dramatic license than you'd think.

Maybe you're wondering why you never heard of me if I was such a big shot. Partly because not much exists on the Internet about political life in the 1970's. Partly because I was single then, using my maiden name. And partly because it was mostly my job to stay in the background.

Staffing a fundraiser for The Man, 1972. I'm on the left.

There was a time in my life I could have grabbed an ultimate political brass ring, stepped right to the foreground. When Jimmy Carter became president, I was approached about two jobs: Special Assistant to the President/Deputy White House Press Secretary and Special Counsel/Press Secretary to the Vice President.

I backed away. Though I liked Walter Mondale, the VP's office was a political graveyard. And Carter's team was too inbred. I believed Carter had some anti-Semitic feelings. Plus, I was just plain exhausted. Burned out. Disillusioned.

There was a time in my life politics seemed like heaven. Until I realized it was Hell.

So I quit. Just like that. Well, okay, I had an interesting job offer back home in Philly at a familiar ad agency, which started my "Mad Men" days. And
I'd met a man who would become my husband.

Still. Air Force One. Limos with private phones. Power to the Nth power. Incredibly seductive. Addictive. You're breathing the most rarified air of your life. You help run the city, the state, the country. You work hard but you party hard too, all at taxpayer expense.

There was a time in my life I became a private citizen. Jane Doe. Going to work, doing my job, anonymously standing in line like everybody else. In a way it was a relief, less pressure, more free time. It was also a body blow. To my ego, to my self worth, to my sense of purpose, and value. 

I missed the power, the perks, the insanely entitled lifestyle. I still felt that entitlement, and it showed. I expected to be admired and respected just for being me. That worked with my soon-to-be husband, but not with anybody else. I began to realize most of my power had been reflected, referred, second hand. Not really mine at all.

Sure, I'd earned respect, cooperation, attention for my abilities, talent, hard work. But then I discovered the hard way that in the real world, life doesn't hand out those coveted 'total access' Secret Service buttons unless you're actually With The Man (now, With The Woman too).

I was a young woman in the 1970's, the glass ceiling had barely been cracked. We were making progress, but I wasn't accorded nearly the level of gravitas I am today. Have been since. Looking at my accomplishments back then, I also realize it was amazing I'd gotten so far.

There was a time in my life I put the past behind me. I thought. I had a fun job and a loving fiance who only cared about our future. Yet I felt guilty. Yin and yang. Partly about what I'd done wrong, but also (it seems unbelievable now) because I sometimes longed for the 24/7 hyper-life of politics, the power high, and yes, the sense of a Higher Calling.

Here's the truth about that. No matter how pure your intentions, or your Party's intentions, it's still sausage-making. Which hasn't gotten any less ugly in the 21st century.

There is a time in my life --now-- I look at politics and I want to scream at the Good Guys, "Get a clue! Get some spine!" In fact I still have contacts, I consulted in the last three presidential primaries and elections, but few of my suggestions were followed. Why? Because I'm not in The Club any more. And I couldn't bring myself to join up again.

The fact that my ideas and more --my concerns-- were proven correct doesn't help. Nothing is changing. It looks like "change" but the same mistakes and bad practices are still going on.

I know only too well what's happening in that background today. The Bad Guys love to make sausage. They view clean hands, personal integrity, public accountability as weakness. And frankly, the Good Guys still haven't learned that in politics it often is weakness when not backed up with the full force --not of shining idealism-- but of shiny brass knuckles. Often dirty hands. And the guts to take the hits.

There was a time in my life I took the hits, had the brass knuckles of power and the guts to use them. I appeared to have it all. It bothers me that so much of political power is an illusion. The reality is all about money and lobbying and making sausage.

I had a lot of fun, and I played a part in making some major history. I have regrets, and interesting for me, I have little to show you ... I tossed most memorabilia from those days. No reminders, I guess. I have plenty of memories, good and bad, and I learned a valuable personal lesson. I'm not cut out to make sausage. I like feeling clean.

The time in my life after quitting politics has been far better and more rewarding than my life inside politics. I still contribute, I always vote, I sometimes send suggestions. But I am relieved I no longer have to make the sausage.

For our anniversary my husband bought us the complete DVD series of "The West Wing." That's the very best way to live my life without quitting politics altogether.

What's next?






Photos owned by me. Many of you read this last year. Thank you. I hope more in this generation will have a chance to learn a little about the opportunities, the realities and the dangers if we don't get --and STAY-- involved in the process of making "organic," healthy sausage. 


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I have so many stories I had to leave them all out. Really glad I quit. Really.
What a fascinating story! And I kind of like you behind that Presidential podium. ;-)
I am pretty happy you played for the right team. :)
I am pretty happy you played for the right team. :) Rather, the correct time. Right isn't probably the word I want to use.
I can see how seductive it would be, and it's great that you got to be a part of the Big Game, but I also think you did the right thing getting out of it. It's a dirty business. I recall something that Margaret Mitchell said a year or two before the 1972 election: "They're all a bunch of crooks." And that was BEFORE Watergate.
You are a fascinating woman.
This is a fascinating piece, Sally. I've always believed it must be really hard for anyone with scruples to participate in high levels of government. When there's that much at stake, and so much to gain -- power and money -- that can't bring out the best in people. (I tried to rate and couldn't get it to stick. I hope it finally sticks!)
I wouldn't have liked you then. I like you now.
Very, very, very cool. In the picture of you with the center part and wavy hair, we look like we could have been sisters. What a life you've lived, Sally! ~r
loved the piece and *loved* the comment, my friend. i was never up in the rarified air that you were but did enough things that i know what your ultimate conclusions mean. know too much, am not sorry, don't miss it. well, a twinge now and then but not really. great photos, sally.
Loved this, Sally! You are the quintessential boomer girl, living a full and interesting life up to the second, and being in the right places at the right times. (And don't worry --my lips are sealed about what you told me in Boca.)
great, great story, and i especially loved "my hands felt Lady Macbeth dirty, my heart Hamlet heavy and my brain laden with King Lear guilt"...i'm happy for you, finding your way out of that morass...rated
Jeanette, they used a "stand-in" seal to help the press line up angles. Standing behind both, that and the real seal (just touching it), was amazing.

Bea, I understood. There's nobody who knows me would think I'd play for the Right. heh

Steve, you're so right (so to speak;), power is seductive but Incredibly dirty in the end.

Bob, wow, thank you!

Bellwether, you used just the correct word... "scruples." Had them, lost some, got them back. Although the ad biz doesn't exactly invite them either.

Ben, I feel the same way about me then and now. But you knew that.

Joan, both a center part but second pic is outside in humidity, plus younger and less "put together." We are sisters for sure.

Candy, you said everything I think all the time. No surprise.

Lea, I think you nailed it, "the quintessential boomer girl." I sure was all that. (And thanks for keeping my secrets).

mistercomedy, thank you. Really. It just came from brain to fingers and then I wondered if too much, but it was the truth so I let it stand.
Your life always so fascinating and glamorous. Then again, I guess it was. Glad you're off the fast track now that the world has gone to hell. -R-
This should be required reading in civics classes across the country. Am passing this on to a friend who does that. That being said?

That woman in the first picture is ---as we used to say on OS---hawt!
I made a jump into the political waters in 1996 and it was too cold, I'd rather drink expressos with ex-Mafia pit bosses than deal with a Senator's temper tantrum any day of the week!!! God, those politicians are like 'Waaaa!!! He stole my sippy cup!!"

"Bob Dole, give Al Gore back his sippy cup!! You have the Superman cup!!"

"Bob Dole doesn't give back sippy cups! Bob Dole takes sippy cups!!"

"Bob, don't make me turn this bus around and go back home!!!!"

"Bob Dole will give back Al Gore's sippy cup!! Bob Dole wants to see the Grand Canyon!!!"


"I've met every president since Richard Nixon (yes, he was graceless and icky)."

Did Bill Clinton pat you on the ass while calling you 'His Sugar Bums'?

Yeah, me neither. :D

Rated and Tink Pick!!!! WOOOO!!!!!!
I would Tink Pick ya but the damn button won't come up(unless I hit Flag---and be like HEY ED I TOR, PICK THIS CAUSE I CAN'T TP IT!!! ;D)
What a fascinating life you've led so far, Sally. So well-written too.
Well, I tried to post a comment, but it disappeared. It was something like:

Wow. Compelling story, admirable sentiments, revealing insights. A truly outstanding post.
Wonderful piece. I think I know some people who knew you, Mondale people. As one who worked for a cabinet secretary during the Clinton administration, I could relate (just a bit) to that highly addictive life. Potomac Fever does not quinine easily but when it does, the results can be quite sublime. Thanks for writing this story.
I can empthize - being a big activist 2000-2008 - wanted to tone down the debates with friends and innocent bypassers. But how sad to learn that ethics, for some, maybe for most, is a non-starter and to collaborate with them, because they have a lot of power is to cheapen the best of the best. It's like the detective who doesn't want to get into the head of the serial killer, but is compelled to in order to protect the next victim. I love the reference to Lear,and MacBeth - how do some of these SOB's ever sleep at night ? "He was on private land when I shot him, so no big deal. " "Oh, yeah, sure."
I think that someone should write a book about your experiences, hey, what about you??? You could do factual or historical fiction, like a young girl goes from idealist to operative....What a fascinating life, really, I would strongly encourage you to share your knowledge and help educate people who are curious or interested in political activities. Great stuff, and thanks for sharing with us! Loved the pictures too!
Fascinating Sally. glad your not making sausage in this ugly environment today.
Sally, as I become more involved with this 'adult stuff', I think that it is all politics. There are so many damaged, disturbed people in positions of responsibility. It is more than a bit frightening. Somehow their compassion and humanity became subverted.
What an amazing life story. I think the West Wing was such a magnificent look at being there, they did not always paint it rosy
but I sure it was a lot rosier than reality.
It sounds like your life has been pretty good since then.
rated with love
Yeah I gave up hope and feel a lot better.
Christine, even my memories are fascinating. If a bit faded.

Roger, I didn't even add the details that would make civics class interesting... And yeah, from a distance of 30 years, I was kinda hawt, thanks.

Tink, you nailed it. And thanks for the bitchin Pick!

Erica, that was just the beginning of fascinating.

Cranky, praise from you, hubba hubba.

Mary, great, provocative comment. Now I wonder who they are.

DC9, I often felt I was living in a Shakespeare play.
I lived in DC during the Carter administration and, frankly, you look familiar in the old photos. However, even though I lived there, my occupation had nothing to do with politics. I got inside the White House twice during his administration but as a musician (not for a living), not that my presence there had anything to do with the quality of my playing, which it didn't.

Funny thing: When I first read your writing a few times, I asked you what you were doing here. The question is probably still on one of your posts. Though a lot of us are reasonably articulate, most of us don't write as professionally as you do. You don't write like you have to aspire. You don't post constantly like you have to meet a deadline or like you want to develop the ability to produce that kind of output. Your writing is also extremely consistent.

(I don't aspire, but that's just because I'm here for the conversations as opposed to because I have dreams of writing for a living. The conversations here are worth coming for.)
I'm in a deep funk now. Never watched The West Wing. No fair!
Sheila, the book's in the works but as I've said before, people have to die first...

Trilogy, you have no idea how glad I am to have given up sausage-making.

Catherine, another whole post needed on the kind of personality issues and foibles needed to take on these roles. Some sick puppies.

Poetess, the West Wing nailed almost everything right on the money.
Let me second Cranky--outstanding.
Algis, just please at least vote.

ksal, very posibble we met, stranger things have happened. I did a lot of speech writing back in the day, plus journalism background helps too. Thank you for your compliments. Still appreciated after all these years.

Cathy, your assignment is to rent the West Wing. You won't be sorry and you'll learn a lot about how it really works. Plus, Rob Lowe never looked better... :)
After recent events in the Congress, I love your analogy but think that watching sausage made would be preferable...less nauseating, more intelligent and enlightened, better educated. Thanks for telling your story (please write that book)...WOW, just wow.
So it can't be fixed, then? That's the part I want to hear. Maybe you could start an anonymous blog and start spilling ...

Meanwhile, I keep the torch and the pitchfork handy in the garage and am learning to knit so I have something to do at the guillotine. (Do I have to build the damn guillotine, too?)

And this was really good and interesting, beautifully written and all but how much praise and adoration can one woman stand, really?
I just knew you were some kind of muckety-muck, Sally! Wow, what a resumé you have. The sausage-making analogy works for my background, too. I have been lured back into it for a brief contract assignment and I frankly feel like I need a shower in Purel most of the time.
This post is wonderfully written and so affirming to how I feel about politics.

sophieh, so sorry I missed you and thank you!!

Liberal, making sausage probably is less nauseating. And definitely more productive. Something people can use... or choose to pass up.

nerd cred, the most frustrating fact is that it could be fixed. We haven't had a democratic president or candidate with balls (no jokes please) since the Clintons. Thanks for your kind words and, well, no, there's not a limit on how much praise and adoration I can stand. heh

Lezlie, thank you and I so agree with the picture you paint of needing to shower in Purel. Some days I'd want to climb inside a washing machine. OTOH, when it was good, it was spectacular. Wish we'd see more of that today.
Well, Sal. As you said, it is ironic that I should check back in just when you did.... especially since I seem to have clocked in and out of the sausage factory about the same time too. Tho I never rose anywhere near your heights, we have a lot of sausage to discuss one of these days. Maybe I can even help jog your memory for your book. (Oh, the stories....) Meanwhile I just wanted to show some love here before I crash. xxxx
Cindy Lou, we have stories out the wazoo. And you rose plenty. Perhaps a collaboration on the book... "Monica Blew It, We Got It Right" (ahem).. Or best left unsaid? Feeling the love, loving it and sending right back atcha, thanks, my BestGalPal.
You could write a very interesting book about, ah, sausages. Do you have any plans to do so?
Myriad, all the notes are in order, the outline's pretty much complete, some of it's written... it's just that (as I've said in the past), first some people have to die (or go to prison). ;)
Thanks for an expanded world view. I read with fascinated attention. Unfortunately, the sausage seems lately to include more nasty bits than in the past.
You had me going from the title.