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.
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.