I decided that I needed to write a bit about some aspect of my observations and life in order to prove that I am still am around. So, this is it. I was slated for a long-awaited trip to Iowa recently, but, on Doctor’s orders, I could not go in my desired method of travel, which was a car. I have a hardening of the artery disease that keeps me from spending long periods sitting in the fear that I will have a pulmonary embolism, which kills you in 67% of the attacks. So that way was out of the picture. So, they felt, it was too dangerous to drive. Thus, here I am, attempting to sound out my frustrations in my blog, which still is jimpetersblog.com.
On my desk, I have a picture of my brother-in-law, Paul Tsongas, former U.S. Senator and part-time Democratic Presidential Democratic frontrunner in 1992, who is most famous as the first person to win the New Hampshire Democratic Primary and the first person to not win the Democratic nomination. He was a victim of Clinton’s not being conciliatory but being the « Comeback Kid. » George Stephanopoulos got his job with Clinton to offset, I believe, Paul’s having a Greek name. I may be wrong about that, but I do not believe that I am. Anyway, I have a picture of my brother-in-law Paul Tsongas on my desk. In it he is announcing his run for the presidency. His hands are outstretched and he is smiling. It was a difficult campaign but he had a number of « moments. »
This announcement was one such moment. Its memory will never be taken away from me. Another big find, or moment, was finding a detiled artistic poster labeled 1984. In that poster, Paul is shown kissing babies, scaling Mount Washington, testing the waters with an outstretched toe. They are well made cartoon characters. The year on the poster, 1984 intimates the year that he wanted to run. He was ready to run against Ronald Reagan, which unfortunately he could not do at that time becuse he was diagnosed with NonHodgekins lymphoma. Cancer, of a significant nature. He got so angry when Nick Rizzo, a puzzling man who leaked the cancer story to the press. The Boston « Herald » wrote an inflammatory headline in the newspaper the next morning, which was « Cancer Forces Tsongas Out. » The cancer was invasive. We, my wife and I and Vicki and Paul’s sister, Thaliea, met with Paul at Thaliea’s house. Vicki and Thaliea were lost in sorrow and fear for the future. Paul had to give up his plan to run for President against Ronald Reagan. I believed that Paul could defeat any Republican because he had defeated Senator Ed Brooke. When someone asked Paul how it felt to defeat the Senate’s only African American Republican Senator, Paul said something along the lines of
« I thought that we were beyond such paternalism. » Paul’s decision to run for the Senate was based on the Democrat vs. Republican struggle, not the paternalism of a racial definition. Ed Brooke ended up being in a messy divorce from his long-time wife, and his marriage disintegrated. But I don’t believe that is the reason that he lost. He just ran into a determined Paul Tsongas.
It was a mess but it, and I, had my moments. And, it had its moments. I remember my getting out of the car at my train station on the Orange Line of the Subway system, and, when I tracked down the overly loud voice at the station, I stood behind Ed Brooke bellowing his greeting and message. I asked the four Tsongas people to funnel people getting off of the buses through to me. I asked them to simply say that they could meet Jim Peters, Paul’s brother-in-law, in the new line. They did, and it worked! We grabbed the crowd and turned a catastrophe into a triumph. Brooke lost his line of people and I picked it up. Brooke left, dejectedly, I thought. It will always be my high point in the Senate campaign. I thought it was marvelous. I am fairly sure that Ed Brooke did not see it that way. I never told Paul about it.
Later, on that day, I worked the crowds at Boston Common, in the shadow of the State House. I worked very hard. the Volunteer who accompanied me marveled at my handshaking technique. I shook hands with everyone I saw, saying the mouthful, « Please vote for my brother-in-law, Paul Tsongas, for U.S. Senate. » The specter of beating the only African-American in the U.S. Senate hurt us in the presidential race. I have mentioned that our problem was the African American communities in and around Chicago. I was sent to Chicago because, I often said, I grew up in Iowa and the south side of Harvey, Illinois. I was mentioned in the newspaper. It was nice. One man, who was heavily with us one weekend, was against us the next. I asked him what had changed him. « Quite honestly, » he said, « the Clinton people hired me as an aide. » He was paid, he said, and he changed his allegiance. I was not pleased, but I was not surprised either.
I went to a Baptist minister’s meeting and started to give a speech. I was shocked to see my right hand shaking violently. I excused myself and said that I would speak off the cuff. One minister said, « Thank God, brother. » I told a story about Paul in the Peace Corps. It was well-received, and three older ministers made the 90 mile trip to the main airport the next day to thank Paul for his sacrifices made in the Peace Corps.
I do not know about the Clinton story passed on by that nameless aide. It could have been made up. But, it just showed me how determined the Clinton machine was to win.
I have a major in Political Science, and I see it as a science, not an art. When I was getting to know Paul, I repeatedly asked him about small decisions that played well in the press. His reply was always the same, ‘I was lucky.’ It was his favorite reason for his success. When he was running for President, he told me that he was a Greek American running for the office. He said, he felt, he had no chance. I just saw the man who had been in twelve primary and final elections and never lost one. That luck did not stay with us during the presidential elections. Paul called me on Super Tuesday and said,
« Well, I lost Illinois and Florida, but you won Massachusetts and Maryland. How did that happen? » I did not know. I told him I was lucky. He laughed and hung up. The Presidential run ended with a hard ball finish. Clinton called Paul and told him, while I was sitting there, that he was not going to be able to speak to his supporters at the Convention. Paul replied something like this, as I recall,
« Governor, » he said, « if I do not get a chance to speak then I will ask for a simple roll call. I will activate my delegates and you will be pushed to the second ballot on the second day. » Clinton, facing a loss of his first ballot desire, acquiesed. Paul got his chance to speak, and Vicki and I watched on television. As I said, in the beginning he asked me if he could win and I pointed to Michael Dukakis’ disappointing finish. I still told him that I felt that he could win.
« That’s because you are my brother-in-law, » he said. That was probably right. I felt, however, that he could do anything on which he set his sight.
That is my story of Paul and the election. Life with Paul Tsongas was exciting, it was brisk, and many other stories have never been told. Perhaps, some day, they will be. The life of my diminutive brother-in-law may well be told. We shall see, I guess. Paul was the most interesting man I ever met, and I cannot believe what he was able to accomplish in a short period of time. If he had been able to run against Ronald Reagan, he just might have won. I know the odds, but I would bet on it.
I do have a funny story. Paul was extremely competitive, and he asked me about places in Iowa. I told him that he should visit Dyersville (if that is the way you spell it). That is where they filmed « The Field of Dreams. » That was a movie about a kind of spiritual awakening center around Iowa and its mysticism. The main character, played by Kevin Costner, builds a baseball field in his corn field. He is laughed at. But his dreams pay off. He meets interesting baseball players, long dead. He is asked by the one of them who was his father, « Is this heaven? »
« No, it’s Iowa. » he replies.
He responds that way a few times in the movie. I told Paul that if he wanted to see the real Iowa, he had to go to that field. So, he did. He hit a homerun that split the seams of the threads on the ball he had hit. He was very pleased with the experience. So, my final point is, that if I did anything to help Paul out, it was to send him to the Field of Dreams. He came in second in the Democratic caucuses in Iowa. Maybe, just maybe, it came about because I told him that he had to go there. Playing baseball there was his desire and determination. I was just the dreamer.
Copyright by James A. Peters