Presidents and I

Presidents and I
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In 1940 Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran for a third term against Wendell Wilkie. My father took me, a very politically aware 14-year-old, to a political dinner at the Waldorf Astoria. At our table were Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor, and James Petrillo, head of the musicians union. I was awed. After FDR's speech, my father took me to the dias and introduced me to his friend and mentor, Herbert Lehman, Governor of New York. Lehman stood up, shook hands, and then introduced us to FDR. Franklin Roosevelt smiled at me and reached his hand across the table.

In 1952, Dwight D. Eisenhower, running against Adlai Stevenson, was president of Columbia University, where I was a student at the business school. I stood in a small crowd in the driveway of his house on campus. Ike, in a limousine, was ready to pull out. Lo and behold, the car pulled right up to where I was standing. I looked into the open window on the passenger's side at Ike editing a speech. He smiled up at me.

"Hard to leave your friends, isn't it," he said to me.

I stammered something and his car pulled away. I wish I could report a more engaging exchange, but that's what it was.

As the Vietnam War intensified in violence, I was aghast at the senseless and cruelty of this conflict. With a few friends I went to Washington to march in protest. It was a balmy day in November 1968, an unforgettable experience. Later, in Scarsdale, in the rain, I picketed outside a church where Dean Rusk, Lyndon Johnson's Secretary of State, was to receive an award. Among the invited guests were my sister and brother-in-law. I waved to them as they went inside.

I contributed to the campaign of Gene McCarthy, who was the first to oppose Johnson in the primaries. The war continued under Nixon and so did my little activities. It was discovered, during Nixon's fall from grace, that the White House had two enemy lists - an A list and a B list. Wonder of wonders, my name was on the B list. Along with Burt Lancaster.

So I never met Johnson or Nixon but I did my best to bring them tsuris.

In September 1940, I was deposited by my parents for my first year at Phillips Academy Andover. My brother, Alan, three years older than me and a senior, met us at the Andover Inn with a friend in tow - George Herbert Walker Bush. Little did I realize that, GHWB, whom I saw often on campus, would become the 41st president of the United States.

When Bill Clinton ran against GHWB, he came down to the Henry Street Settlement. I, as president of the Settlement, was there to great him, along with Iris and others. He gave me a cursory handshake but looked deep into Iris' eyes, perhaps into her iris. Luckily, she was not an intern.

Billy Boy was the last president I cavorted with. And I doubt there will be another. The country has become too damn big and I have slunk into obscurity.

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