I Gave at the Office

Back in early 1976 I was running a bar on H St. NW in Washington D.C. The Class Reunion was a saloon for grown ups, a gathering place for reporters, lawyers, politicos, PR types and, after hours, other bar people and people I let stay and drink for free.

One night as I was conducting a 4 a.m. seminar on the state of American politics, a Democratic Party lawyer and friend of Oklahoma populist Sen. Fred Roy Harris shamed me into writing a $100 check to Harris' long forgotten presidential campaign. The next morning - well, the next afternoon - the lawyer called me at home and offered to give me back the check.

$100 was a fair amount of money in those days (and is again, as it turns out). But I had blathered on until sunrise so I told him to cash the check and good luck to Fred Harris and his lovely wife LaDonna.

It was the first time I had ever given money to a politician.

Fred and LaDonna didn't have much luck electorally. Jimmy Carter wound up in the White House and I went on a 24-year hiatus from giving money to the political class. It was called journalism.

Journalists don't offer up campaign contributions, as a general rule, and by my lights it's a pretty good general rule. In the 20-plus years I spent in the newspaper business, I thought my colleagues were a trifle holier-than-thou about the whole thing, but to paraphrase songwriter Rickie Lee Jones, I kept my campaign business in my pocket.

In 1996 the Chicago Tribune and I had an ugly divorce. The market for Washington-based white male political writers and columnists of a certain age was a crowded demographic and after a while it was clear my days in daily journalism were effectively at an end.

By 2000, I felt comfortable giving some dough to Al Gore for President, and no regrets except for the fact that Joe Lieberman may have benefited in some way.

We all know what happened in Florida that year and as for me it meant an avalanche of mailings from every tree-loving, affirmative-acting, union-organizing liberal interest group rained down on our house. And the rain continues to this day.

I went in again in 2004 for Sen. John Kerry. My wife Jane and I also coughed up a modest amount for the Democratic National Committee. I was miffed at the presidential outcome but felt better about my largesse as the second Bush-Cheney term began to reveal itself.

2008 was no different. Made a modest contribution to the Barack Obama campaign. Gave $50 to something called "Act Blue" in support of the Democratic House member from my old Republican hometown in western New York State. He turned out to be Eric Massa. Stop laughing.

So here we are.

President Obama is doing pretty well on the job by my lights. But it's clear that a chap like me cannot pony up enough money to make it interesting. And I didn't write the checks to support the antics of recalcitrant Senate Democrats led by the preposterous Max Baucus of Montana who made a hash of health care or the timid likes of Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Evan Bayh of Indiana.

Not looking for perfection here but I'm still waiting on the closing of Gitmo and I'm not in support of open carry of guns in our national parks, which is now the law of the land. I'm pretty sure that the Afghanistan adventure is going to wind up badly.

Mostly I'm waiting for those 68 million people who voted for Obama to make themselves heard, and for the President and his party to act as if they're proud of what they're trying to do. I believe those two phenomenon are connected.

This approach may not involve pleasing Lindsey Graham or Olympia Snowe or various editorial writers and Washington Post columnists or the tin-eared folks braying for "bipartisanship" as the culture war heats up.

Until then, however, the little check is not on the mail.