When I first came to Washington, clueless as to what I was doing, I went to check out one of those 'grass roots politics' jobs. The office was on Connecticut Avenue above Dupont Circle in a large townhouse. The office was up on one of the top floors, and when I got there the space was cramped, full of boxes. A guy sat at a small desk lit by one low craned utility desk lamp, with a telephone and some papers. The roof tilted in over his space. He looked up at me, like it really made no difference, and said, 'look, here's what you do...' And he explained it quickly in a nutshell. You go out and stand on a street corner with a clipboard and try to ask people if they'd like to be a part of, whatever it was, Greenpeace. And that was about it. He handed me a mimeographed piece of paper with some lines on it, the phone rang, and he said, 'think it over,' without much hope as to the necessity of my commitment or participation. The illusions had been stripped from his own eyes, and he spoke directively to whoever was on the other end of the line. I didn't have a job, or perhaps had discovered the realities of temping in offices, and so I said I would think it over. Yup.
So I got back into the elevator when it showed up, thinking, "well, at least I tried," turned around and looked at the buttons, I look over to my right at the tall man already in, and it's George McGovern. I look up at him, and then with the softest kindest voice, just as I turned, he was holding out his hand to shake mine, and saying, in a reassuring and definitively fatherly tone, "I'm George McGovern." I can almost still hear that pleasing softness of his voice, and it was as if it were there specifically to come to my rescue, almost.
I can't remember exactly what I said. I'm sure I lit up, though you never know, when you're kind of startled like that, and I think I knew enough to address him as Senator, and said how proud I was to meet him. We might have talked a little bit, where I was from, in the short ride down four floors. And he probably said something kind, and maybe Mid-Western, like "have a nice day," when he parted, but you could tell he really meant it, and that somehow he had the power of granting just such a thing, and from my family of course I held him in reverence, as one of those 'good and decent men.'
There I was, in an elevator, with a true egoless Buddha of American politics, a true war hero, and with his characteristic warm natural sort of suntan tone. Handsome guy, maybe with a sadness of eye out of which an overriding joyful accepting twinkle came.
Nixon and the GOP found him easily to malign. His own acceptance speech at his party's convention fell at an odd hour, late, for reasons I would have to go and read Hunter S. Thompson to remember. But of course, the big Egos, the big defined selves of politics, they fall hard, just as Nixon fell for his tricks. And today the nation remembers a good guy, whose decency points to the future. And one has a thought; it is the good guys who make life worth living.