A few weeks back, I wrote here about the new film Southside With You, inspired by the first date Barack Obama had with his now-wife Michelle Robinson, when they were both at the Sidley Austin law firm in Chicago. I noted there how my oft-mentioned friend Nell Minow told me that the firm's partner in the movie, who runs into the couple at a movie with his wife was based on her parents, Newton and Jo Minow.
It turns out that Newt has written a charming article about that encounter and about his years with the young Barack Obama, and young Michelle, as well. You can read it here. But first, there are a few things of particular note in the piece worth addressing.
You may recall that for years there was a running charge in the Republican Party about how Barack Obama was not really very smart and that he got into Harvard law school thanks only to Affirmative Action. (Never mind that he was voted president of the Law Review, the first-ever black student in Harvard's history.) I've written previously about the story from Nell of the early Obama, very long before he had any idea of being a public figure, in fact just a first-year law student. Her sister, Martha (now the Dean of the Harvard Law School) was at the time Barack Obama's professor, and she called her father to recommend he hire the young man to be a summer intern, because he was the smartest student she'd ever had. In has article, Newton Minow goes into that story in more detail, and once again it puts to lie the Republican charge, which is a polite word here for "scurrilous lie."
Also, when I wrote about the film, one of the few quibbles I had was that the encounter between the young couple and their law firm partner and his wife took place on the South Side of Chicago, when they cross paths at a showing of Spike Lee's movie, Do the Right Thing. I just didn't believe for a moment that a law partner would drive all the way across the city to see a movie on the South Side that was playing everywhere in wide release. As it turns out, Newt explains in more detail where the encounter actually took place, at Water Tower Place, a downtown high-rise "mall" (with a Marshall Fields department store and a Ritz Carlton hotel) which makes far-more sense.
Also, the article mentions his longtime friend, Abner Mikva. That's someone else I have fond memories of. Abner Mikvah was a highly-respected lawyer who, for a couple of terms, was the congressman for my district growing up. His election was an extreme long-shot. Mikvah was very liberal, and the district has highly conservative. (A few years before, the district's representative was a guy named Donald Rumsfeld. He was replaced by Philip Crane, a man so right-wing he made Rumsfeld look semi-moderate. But then redistricting moved Crane elsewhere, and opened the seat.) But with the disastrous Nixon Years and then resignation in disgrace, the liberal Mikva ran for the House of Representatives of that high-conservative 13th District...and actually won in a squeaker. And was so well-regarded, he even won a close re-election. Being such a conservative area, though, he was smart enough to know that it wasn't ever going to be a safe seat, so when Jimmy Carter offered to appoint him a federal judge, which is a lifetime job, he took it. It was our district's loss, and America's gain. And it's because of this that most people probably know of Abner Mikvah, even if they aren't aware of it. Here's why --
If you've seen the movie, Dave, you will no doubt recall the final scenes, that's after the real president has passed away, and look-alike Dave fakes his own death so that he can now return to his old life. And so, the admirable Vice President is sworn into office on the White House lawn by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. It's a short moment in the film -- but the Chief Justice is played by...Abner Mikvah!
By the way, to put Newton Minow himself in further perspective, in case it's slipped your mind or didn't know, he is probably the only FCC Chairman in U.S. history that anyone in the public actually knows of. Even a half-century later. That's because, after he was appointed by President John Kennedy, he gave a speech in Chicago in which he famously referred to television as a "Vast wasteland," a phrase that has been carried through the decades. Actually, it goes beyond that. A TV producer, Sherwood Schwartz, was so incensed by the phrase that he wanted to do something to get back at this brash FCC Chairman. He had a new TV series that was in development and soon to go on the air, so as a ridiculing "tweak," he named after him a little boat that crashed and caused all the problems to follow for the series. And so, when Gilligan's Island went on TV, that's the reason why we got the "U.S.S. Minnow." Given how much affection the public ultimately poured onto the forlorn vessel at the time and in the many years of reruns since, Schwartz's effort backfired, and the family wore the "honor" with pride.
My dad and Newton Minow were good friends in the years when they both lived in Glencoe, Illinois. In fact, Newt was a patient of my dad's, and they even had a weekly poker game. It's as a result of this that I still have a couple of cherished gifts from when I was a very little kid. Newt was involved in politics early on, not only with the Kennedy campaign, but that of Adlai Stevenson (at the time governor of Illinois), so in each of those election years he gave me and my older brother two 45-RPM records of campaign songs for Stevenson and Kennedy. (The latter has one of the songs performed by Frank Sinatra.) I taped them years ago, and converted them to digital, and still listen to them on occasion.
If you vote for Stevenson,
He will be
President next year.
Jack's the nation's favorite guy.
Everyone wants to back
Jack is on the right track
'Cause he's got High Hopes
He's got High Hopes...
But this all is about a different president. This is about Newton Minow's recollection of a date and the young days of Barack Obama. It's a lovely story, and you can read it all here.
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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