The other day, I mentioned that former Secretary of Defense had been the U.S. Congressman representing the district where I grew up. We also attended the same high-school, though, no, not at the same time.
I remember a few years ago, a friend with connections to the Los Angeles Philharmonic had an extra ticket to a concert and invited me. We met up at Disney Hall for dinner, where he saw an older couple he knew, and they invited us to join them at their table. It turned out that the women and I had grown up in the same area, and had indeed both gone to the same high school, New Trier. And it turned out, as well, that she had been a classmate of Donald Rumsfeld. In fact, it was with great enthusiasm and pride that she told the tale of how her fellow classmates had gotten together and convinced their Donald to run for Congress!
My friend shot me furtive sideglances that basically said, "Oh, please, be on your best behavior, I have to work with people here sometimes..." He had nothing to fear, I was all good cheer and offered no rants. That said, neither did I offer a, "Hey, good for you all!!," that I sensed she usually got from others. But she didn't seem to mind, she was as convinced of the rightness of her actions as I'm sure her old school chum Donald was throughout his career -- even when noting to ABC News in 2011 about Iraq, "My goodness, the intelligence was certainly wrong."
Anyway, it all brought to mind an article I wrote for the Huffington Post on October 19, 2006.
Donald Rumsfeld and Me
I'm back from vacation at the Midwest Communications Ranch in Chicago. It was a good trip, cleaning up brush along Lake Shore Drive and splitting rails. The latter is a tradition here in the Land of Lincoln, though it also shows me to be a man of the people. Having bratwurst does that, too. To be clear, this was officially a working vacation, since I checked my phone messages every day.
Also, I got some reading in, and will be releasing my full list soon. But among those I did get to are "My Pet Goat II: The Goat Returns," "Gilles Goat Boy" by John Barth, and "Three Billy Goats Gruff" in the original Norwegian. I started "The Stranger" by Albert Camus, but didn't get much farther than I did back in high school.
(After grasping that it's about this guy who kills an Arab without being provoked and has no remorse, I flipped to the last page, curious how at least this ended. The back flyleaf simply said, "You might enjoy other existential French stories," and suggested 'No Exit' by Jean-Paul Sartre." Oh, God, no thanks, déjà vu. However, it was good to learn something on my vacation: who knew that neocons get their war plans from French existentialists?!)
I also read plot summaries of a couple poems by Shakespeare, and a biography of former Ambassador to Portugal, Frank Shakespeare. Also, "Dante's Inferno" (not really), "Sports Illustrated," "TV Guide," a flyer for The Corner Bakery, the Tribune sports section, and a dozen menus. And the back of a box of Cheerios.
It is also time to come clean.
When I was there, wandering through the ghosts and shadows of home and the past, recognizing that the Cubs wouldn't be winning the World Series this year, the memories swirled around me, and I knew that I had to reveal a secret from long ago.
Donald Rumsfeld and I go way back.
He may not know this. But it's true nonetheless.
When I was but a wee kidling growing up in the North Shore suburbs of Chicago, far too young to vote, Donald Rumsfeld was elected Congressman of my district. I would say he "represented me," but that's stretching things a bit. The district number? It was 13. Tell me that God doesn't have a whimsical sense of humor.
It speaks volumes when a young child not only remembers his Congressman from long ago, but was actually embarrassed by who that Congressman was. Most little children barely know who their cousins are. The only time they're really embarrassed is if their father belches in front of friends. But I was embarrassed by Donald Rumsfeld being my Congressman.
I'd apologize, but I was too young to vote.
Donald Rumsfeld was our Congressman for only eight years, and while that sounds positive, it actually started a long chain of good news/bad news.
The good news is that he resigned in 1969.
The bad news is that he was brought into the Nixon Cabinet and given national authority for the first time.
The good news. We got a new Congressman.
The bad. It was Philip Crane. A man so utterly conservative he not only was to the right of Rumsfeld, but to the right of Generalissimo Franco. (One of the prides of my life is surviving this upbringing.)
The very good news is that there was redistricting, Watergate came along, the backlash hit, and the wonderful Democrat Abner Mikvah got elected. An election so stunning, it remains legend. Let this be a sign of encouragement to all.
The bad news. He was elected by about 87 votes. (I exaggerate. But not by much.)
The good news. Remarkably, he was re-elected, even without the pull of Watergate. I believe this margin was 64 votes.
The bad. He knew he didn't have a future in this conservative district, so when President Jimmy Carter offered him a lifetime appointment as a federal judge, he took it.
(Most people actually know of Abner Mikva, but aren't aware. At the end of the movie, "Dave," when the former-VP is sworn in as President...that's Mikvah doing the honors. Check the credits. Okay, he's accomplished far more than that, but unless you want to read-up on his legal decisions, that's what you get...)
And so, it all starts with Donald Rumsfeld. And ends with a Democrat winning that same district in an election when the voters got fed up with a corrupt Republican President facing the possibility of impeachment surrounding an unpopular war.
Life is funny, and God does have that sense of whimsy.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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