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Andy Rooney PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 05 November 2015 19:27

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

In my time at CBS I saw a lot of Andy Rooney around the network but I didn’t know him. A nod in the hallway or street, a word in the elevator was about it, except for a chance encounter and the time he took me and a reporter to dinner.

The encounter was just outside the Broadcast Center on 57th Street. I was returning from lunch with a colleague and Andy was leaving the building.

“Say, fellers,” he stopped us. “Is your show (Sunday Morning) going to repeat yesterday’s segment by the new culture editor?” He was referring to the review of a new book or movie or TV show (I don’t remember which it was) by the intellectual John Leonard, formerly a book critic at the New York Times.

“Repeat?” we asked ourselves. “What’s he talking about?” The show never recycled reviews, certainly not so soon after a broadcast; unless in extraordinary circumstances, but we knew of none in this case.

So we shook our heads in bewilderment, and said, “Why are you asking?”

“Well,” said Andy in the manner of the national curmudgeon he was, ”if you did run it again I might understand what he was talking about.”

The second time was in San Francisco when I was editing a piece for Sunday Morning at the CBS News bureau with the correspondent Terry (Terrence) Smith. A disgruntled Andy Rooney walked in. A blizzard back east grounded his New York flight. He couldn’t get out until morning. Hungry and tired, and, I suspect, a little lonely, he invited Terry and me to join him for dinner at the trendy, now long gone Washington Square Bar and Grill in North Beach.

I learned in the obits (Andy died in 2011 at 92 in New York City “after developing ‘serious complications’ from an unspecified operation,” according to the New York Times), that he avoided autograph-seekers and the attention lit by fame. No doubt, but when we entered the North Beach establishment, people stood up, amazed and excited to find him in their midst, and eager to shake his hand. I’m not sure but he may have even signed an autograph or two.

Andy had come up to San Francisco from Bakersfield that night where he’d attended a convention of ranchers. I remember little more of that night other than his telling us he was paid $20,000 for the talk. In the same breath he said his great friend, Walter Cronkite, had addressed the same group for $40,000. But he wasn’t grumpy about it. Andy knew Walter’s was a bigger name than his, and rightly so.

This column originally appeared on November 10, 2011.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


 
A Sight for Sore Eyes PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 22 October 2015 16:57

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

In the first Democratic debate on October 13, Hillary Clinton commanded the stage. It was the performance of her life. Her strong  showing put to rest, at least for now,  calls for Vice President Biden to consider entering the race.

“If Biden’s only rationale is that Clinton is tanking, then that’s no longer an opinon,” a party strategist, told the New York Times. Biden could not “risk a backlash” from Democrats, she said.

Hillary’s concise answers to nearly every question, and an unabashed aggressiveness was impressive. This was a new Hillary. She was at home as a leader of a a great party.

I agree with Maureen Dowd who wrote in Sunday’s New York Times that Hillary’s decision to circumvent the State Department’s email system showed “bad and paranoid judgment, and left her official emails as secretary (of state) vulnerable to hacking.” She is not yet off the hook.

Clinton has said she doesn’t  know what to expect from questions coming this week from Republicans on Capitol Hill. It’s been advertised as a moment that could determine whether she can survive the campaign. (Would she be so wounded that Joe Biden would have to jump in and rescue the party?)

Hillary’s strong showing in Las Vegas came at time when her poll numbers were slipping. She needed a big win. Her cause was helped by remarks from representative Kevin McCarthy, the Republican majority leader in the House. He said in a TV interview that his Republicans were using the Banghazi investigation to cripple her prospects for the nomination.

Bernie Sanders, the only other memorable candidate in the debate, lost his footing with a shaky response to Clinton’s attacks on guns. Nonetheless he played her gallant ally when he declared, turning to Clinton, “the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails”

I don’t know how to say it except to say it. In Las Vegas  Hillary Clifton never looked better. She behaved throughout the night – well – like a President.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


 
The Bosses Were Right PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 15 October 2015 16:40

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

Buster DeBrunner, a photographer on the Humboldt Times back in Eureka, talked me into it. He had left the paper to cast his lot with KVIQ, the second TV station to start up in town. Now he urged me to do the same.

He knew of my eagerness to perform. “You’d be a natural on the tube,” he said, like Edward R. Murrow, a radio journalist I’d admired.

Murrow brought the Nazi blitz of Britain in 1940 into our living room when I was a kid. Morrow would begin, “This is London,” and then he would add the local time, “ten minutes before five in the morning,” and so on.

“Bombs have been reported from more than fifty districts. Raiders have been over Wales in the west, the Midlands, Liverpool, the southwest and northeast. So far as London is concerned, the outskirts appear to have suffered the heaviest pounding. The attack has decreased in intensity since the morning faded from the sky...”

World War Two broke out the year before in 1939 when Hitler and Stalin invaded Poland. Pearl Harbor came two years later. “Where’s Pearl Harbor,” people began asking after the news of the surprise Japanese  attack.

I was sure I would succeed in TV by imitating masters like Murrow.

By the time I’d left the paper and slipped into the anchor chair at KVIQ, I was ready. In Murrow’s grave style, I reported a stormy city council meeting, rancor at the school board, a fiery exchange at the planning commission, not to mention fires, fatalities and floods.

I was free to do it my way, in the Murrow-style. The station gave me a free hand. Too free. But the ratings rose. We were number one at times. The older station, scoffed.

They said we were putting on a show – a performance. It wasn’t for real. Their news, however, was believable. Our station manager was not unhappy. He liked the attention we were getting. We were being talked about. “Keep it up, kid,” he said.

In time, I got to New York and landed a job as a writer with NBC News. At the same time, I tried to get an on-air job. After a few tryouts, I gave it up. The bosses were right. Now, so many years later, I’m grateful.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


 
Waiting for Superman PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 08 October 2015 14:33

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

When I was a kid one of the nicest things you could say about someone was that he (it was always a “he” in those days) was smart enough to be  president. In school we were told that in America anyone could aspire to the presidency. If he worked hard, lived by the rules and wanted it badly enough – with luck – it just could happen. But after World War II, I heard professors argue that the presidency was no longer a job for the ordinary citizen. The world was too dangerous and  complicated. Only a superman could save us. Could be, but he has yet to land on the planet and reveal himself.. And so, like it or not, we are still stuck with ordinary mortals.

* * *

One day in the presidential election year of 1980, I remember watching Ronald Reagan on a TV monitor in the CBS newsroom. He was riding a handsome horse at an ambling gait along a trail at his ranch in Santa Barbara.  My boss, a worldly-wise journalist, was also drawn to the picture. “Why,” he wondered, would a fellow give up all  that peace and beauty for the White House and all the grief and stress that go with it?”

At the time I couldn’t take him seriously. Why for fame and immortality, I said, or something close to that.

My boss, who was then a man approaching seventy, scoffed.

Now that I am old myself his scoffing rings truer.

* * *

Somewhere I read of a president complaining that for all the majesty of the office, he can issue a command but it’s no guarantee it will be obeyed. Sometimes the order is poorly executed, or screwed up. Sometimes nothing happens

This column originally appeared on Sept. 21, 2011.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


 
A Day Fit for a President PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 01 October 2015 13:52

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

Some of our friends fancy sailing on cruise ships. Over time we contracted a case of cruise ship envy. Luckily, a ship was at hand, in Jack London Square. (Full disclosure, a noble friend, perhaps taking pity, made us a present of a couple of tickets ($80 apiece,  box lunch included) aboard the U.S.S. Potomac, Franklin Roosevelt’s famous yacht.

For Roosevelt, during the Depression and World War II, cruising down the Potomac into the sea  was the perfect escape from the heat of Washington and the telephone. He loved the water – an exuberant and skilled sailor since childhood. His notion of paradise was “sitting on the deck in an old hat shading his head from the sun, a fishing rod in his hands,” as Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote in “No Ordinary Time.”

Our destination aboard the president’s yacht last week was Angel Island, the largest island in San Francisco Bay. It was a day fit for a chief of state. The water was smooth, the sun strong, fanned by a welcome sea breeze.

Angel Island figures prominently in the history of California. For thirty years – from 1910 to 1940 – Angel was the major entry point for  perhaps  100,000 Asians and others from Pacific lands. Some refer to it as the West Coast’s Ellis Island. But that’s a wild stretch.

Ellis Island in New York Bay, was the principal immigration center in the U.S. from 1892 to 1943. Its history is gilded as a haven for 17 million, mostly European immigrants. Angel Island’s story is not so pretty.

Many of the immigrants – mostly Chinese – were not welcome. Exclusion laws kept them and other Asians penned up in overcrowded and filthy barracks until their cases were decided. Most gained entry into the U.S. but others were turned away and sent back to the poverty and disorder from which they’d  fled.

Some of the immigrants held captive put their rage in words carved on the barrack walls. One translated “poem” says, in part:

“Detained in this wooden house for

several tens of days

because of the exclusion laws.

It’s a pity heroes have no place

To exercise their prowess.”

Angel Island was also where detained civilians were held during World War I and World War II. It was also where prisoners of war were confined in World War II. During the Cold War, the island was the site of a Nike missile base. But today its 740 acres are a beautiful state park. I must add the views on the trip over and on the return aboard the Potomac – seascapes of San Francisco and the Marin hills are astonishing. The same goes for the sail under the new Bay Bridge under construction.

Who needs a cruise to the Riviera when you have it as good in your own backyard?

This column originally appeare on October 6, 2011.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


 
John Barrymore’s Trunk PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 30 September 2015 16:46

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

I saw an item in the paper the other day. It referred to a new book by a college professor, “Waste and Want: a Social History of Trash.”

One person’s trash is another person’s treasure is one way to sum up the theme.

Well, anyone whose ever had a yard sale or patronized flea markets knows that; knows that however humble and useless and trash-worthy something might be, there is always someone out there who will want it and pay money to have it.

The late Wallace Stegner wrote a wonderful piece some while ago that he called, “The Town Dump.” It is all about a young man discovering civilization as he rummages through the things that people throw away.

In my early years, I served for a time as a cabin and messboy on Swedish freighters. One of my duties was looking after the quarters of the chief engineer and first mate. I got to know them well simply from the contents of their wastebaskets.

Some years ago, my late wife and I happened to drop in at a dilapidated antique shop in Bodega. An elderly man was sitting in a rocker just inside the door.

With a sharp eye on his visitors, he asked us if we might be New Yorkers. When we confirmed his judgment he called our attention to a small steamer trunk coated with rust, a century old if a day.

That steamer, he went on, do you have any idea who owned it?

He paused significantly before revealing his secret.

John Barrymore, he said slowly so as to give the great actor’s name a moment to sink in.

The trunk, he went on, went everywhere with Barrymore. How that fellow traveled! An artist of his stature, he was in demand all over the world.

The Barrymore chest had come to him by way of an estate sale.

Since we obviously were people who could appreciate the value of such an antique, he’d give us a special price. The proprietor would even swear on paper that it was the real McCoy.

Of course the old boy was giving us a story, of course the trunk was useless.

But we had a witty friend who loved tall stories. The alleged antique would be the perfect gift.

I forgot what we paid for it — but it had to be a hundredfold more than it was worth — unless one factors in the pleasure it gave a friend, and the pleasure it gave us, to say nothing of the proprietor.

Our gift of trash occupies a prominent place in the living room of the friend’s Manhattan apartment. When visitors come, he never fails to point out how his friends found the treasure in a shop full of junk in California.

This column originally appeared on June 22, 2000.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 
Ailing Jimmy Carter PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 27 August 2015 14:34

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

The 39th president of the United States had been speaking about the cancer that was removed from his liver; and, more recently, the discovery of cancer in his brain. He is 90, and will be 91 in October.

Jimmy Carter’s ascension to the  presidency in 1974 had everything to do with his diabolical predecessor, Richard Nixon, the only president to resign the office under a scandalous cloud we know as Watergate. It is widely believed, fairly or not, that Gerald Ford promised to pardon Nixon in exchange for the presidency. It’s never been proven, but it’s what many people suspect to this date.

In more recent days, Jimmy Carter has spoken about the born-again Christian beliefs that some thought would be harmful when he ran for president in 1976. But he said they were helping him now, as he may face his last great contest. “I do have a deep religious faith, which I’m very grateful for.” He told reporters that he is “at ease with whatever comes.”

I’m no expert, but my recollection that when Jimmy Carter was in the White House a peaceful settlement between Israel and its Arab neighbors seemed at hand. Surely, no American president strove harder to find a way out of the tragic dilemma than Carter.

The other day, when Carter spoke at the Carter Center in Atlanta about prospects for peace, he was not optimistic. “They are more dismal than anytime I remember in the last 50 years,” he said.

He is a man of regrets – one especially that lingers –  that if he had sent more helicopters in our attempt to rescue the 52 American held hostages in Iran the mission would have succeeded, “and I would have been re-elected.”

Wishful thinking? Military commanders have said that a larger fleet of helicopters would likely have alerted Iranians to the mission.

*    *    *

There’s no doubt that the Iranian crisis contributed to the defeat of Jimmy Carter’s bid for re-election in 1980. The Republican, Ronald Reagan, won in a landslide. Unlike Jimmy Carter, Reagan was a gifted talker, cheerful, and always optimistic. According to Hedrick Smith, of the New York Times, “His aw-shucks manner and charming good looks disarm those who, from a distance, have thought of him as a far right fanatic.

*    *    *

Jimmy Carter has been out of office for many years, but he has continued to play an important role in our national dialogue. When his time comes, a lot of us will miss him.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


 
Waiting for Gore PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 19 August 2015 21:26

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

In her column in last Sunday’s New York Times, Maureen Dowd wrote again about Donald Trump.

“Donald Trump, Diplomat” was the headline. The piece made mention of his disdain for George Will, the know-it-all pundit. For once, there is a meeting of the minds between Donald Trump and myself.

In the distant past, I flew to Chicago with Bill Geist to do an interview for CBS’ “Sunday Morning” with George Will. In the Times interview with Dowd, Trump recalls a time 10 years ago when Will came to a place where Trump was staying but Trump refused to hear the speech because, as he told Dowd, Will’s “a boring person.”

Trump told Dowd that “he stayed on the patio and had dinner and that offended him.” (Will replied, according to Dowd, that he has “other and better reasons for thinking it might not be altogether wise to entrust him (Trump) with the nation’s nuclear arsenal.”

*    *    *

Ross Douthat, who is also a Times columnist, is throwing cold water on the notion that Hillary may be in real trouble. Yes, her ratings have been falling. The other shoe could drop in the investigation into her private email server. Bernie Sanders is leading in a New Hampshire poll. There are whispers of Joe Biden, and Al Gore – yes, Gore.

In the age of Trump, we must be on guard for surprises, Hillary is old news; almost any way you slice it; and yet Douthat, this fearless of columnists, states flatly, “Hillary’s going to win the nomination, and it isn’t going to be particularly close.”

“First and foremost,” he writes, “she’s going to win the nomination because she only needs Democratic votes to win it, and Democrats still like Hillary – a lot.” To take the nomination away from Hillary, an opponent “would need a candidate capable of performing the same feat as Obama in 2008, and winning not only white liberals but a large share of minority support (an overwhelming share of the black vote, in his case) as well.”

Any “Hillary Loses” narrative would have to include “some scandal beyond anything the Clintons have endured before,” Douthat says. And here he is “a bit cynical: While the email scandal is a serious business I simply do not believe that the Obama Justice Department is going to indict the former secretary of state and Democratic front-runner for mishandling classified information, even if the offenses involved would have sunk a lesser figure’s career or landed her in jail.”

As for those whispers for Al Gore in a time when concern about climate is all the rage, could he be the one we’re waiting for?

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


 
Mr. Biden’s Perplexing Situation PDF  | Print |  E-mail
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Thursday, 06 August 2015 14:49

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

While attention is focused on Republicans having it out this week in Cleveland, Hillary Clinton has her own challenges to consider for 2016.

She’s long been saying that she thought she’d have competition for the Democratic nomination but probably had not seriously considered a challenger so close to home as Vice President  Joseph R. Biden, Jr.

Biden himself has said nothing about joining the race, but as recently as June, The Wall Street Journal reported that Beau Biden had encouraged his father to run before Beau died at 46 after a long battle with brain cancer.

Maureen  Dowd, the New York Times columnist, reported last weekend that the vice president was holding meetings in his residence, “talking to friends, family and donors about jumping in” to take on Mrs. Clinton  in Iowa and New Hampshire.

If this dream is true, Joe Biden will have to find money, and plenty of it, before he can make it a horse race. Obama’s No. 2  comes across as a decent guy, perhaps too decent for a heavyweight, but wordy and  irrepressible. Hillary may be a lot of things but she’s also a brawler and Republicans will know they have been in battle when they’ve taken her on.

What’s more, she will — if she wins — be making history as central to the health and welfare of this weary republic as did Obama when he won the White House in 2008 — the first African American president in our history and  now — perhaps — the first woman president.

*      *      *

Biden, 72, has been in the public eye for many years. As a senator from Delaware 25 years ago,  he flickers in memory like an old film. But I remember how harshly he — and other senators — treated Anita Hill, a young black attorney, who had opposed  the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, alleging questionable behavior. Alas, first impressions, tend to be long lasting!

*      *      *

Mrs. Clinton is probably strong enough to resist or withstand attack, though Biden advisers and supporters reportedly have implied  that she is vulnerable for a challenge. A spokeswoman for the Clinton campaign shrugged. Hillary, she said, “ has the most money and she is beating every Republican in most of the polls. So you can’t really ask for much more than that.”

Speaking of money — the mother’s milk of politics and much else — Mrs. Clinton’s campaign  has already raised more than $45 million in the three months since she made her candidacy official. Much of the enthusiasm — if you can believe what campaigns say — stems from the excitement about the possibility of electing the first woman to make it to the Oval Office on her own.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .



 
On the Road to Nov. 8, 2016 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Friday, 31 July 2015 10:55

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

In E. J. Dionne Jr.’s column in the San Francisco Chronicle we learn where many Americans don’t want to be labeled – or painted – in “polarizing colors like  bright red or bright blues.” Among us are also “pinks and  turquoises and even purples.” Americans are polarized but ambivalent.

There is bad news by way of Dionne for Republicans from the Pew Research Center. Its survey found that only 32 percent of Americans had a favorable view of the Republican Party – down nine points since January – while 60 percent had an unfavorable view.  The numbers for Democrats did not call for a celebration – 48 percent favorable and 47 percent unfavorable.

*   *   *

We now know that the Republican debate is scheduled  for August 6, a Thursday, in Cleveland. The last time around the Republicans seesawed into farce. This time only 12 debates would be held in contrast to the 27 debates and forums from 2011 to 2012. After the Cleveland debate, one debate will follow every month until February when three are scheduled, and March, when two are scheduled. Don’t forget primaries and caucuses, not to mention conventions, on the way to the Election, Tuesday, November 8, 2016.

*   *   *

My hunch is that many countries have shorter elections than we do. I don’t know if they fare better in picking the best people. But I do know there’s something wrong about a society that calls itself democratic when it costs millions in the multiples, and even billions to win a national election. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court opened the flood gates in Citizens United on January 21, 2012 when it overturned the provision of McCain-Feingold, barring corporations and unions from paying for political ads made independently of candidate campaigns.

In a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer and Sotomayor, Justice Stevens wrote:

“At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. This is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this country would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


 
The Predictable Donald Trump PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Tuesday, 28 July 2015 14:08

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

If the New York Times is to be believed – and it very often is – Donald Trump’s campaign for president is built entirely around instincts and grievances of an unpredictable candidate. Trump does not depend on people who ponder events. He shoots his mouth off.

Last Sunday he refused to take anything back that he said about Senator John McCain; in particular, his assertion that McCain  is “not a war hero” because he was captured. Instead of apologizing, Trump said his speech was warmly received, touching off “the biggest standing ovation” of the day in Iowa.

He backed off somewhat on Monday in an interview with Bill O’Reilly of Fox News. He said he respected McCain, adding, “Certainly if there was misunderstanding, I would totally take that back.”

Veteran groups were perplexed. Paul Rieckhoff, of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, told the Times, “Donald Trump is not a leader in veterans philanthropy, unless he’d donated a lot of money that nobody knows about.”

It is too early to say whether Trump hurt his standing in public opinion surveys with his remarks about McCain. But recent opinion polls put Trump among the top-rated Republican candidates.

Trump is campaigning part-time and spending little on planning or organization. But he has an undeniable talent for attracting attention. He may not want to be president anymore than most of us. But he surely wants that attention.

“I have a pulse to the ground,” he told the Times. “I think I know what’s wrong with the country, and I think I’ve been able to portray that in a way that people agree with.”

It’s too early to predict anything in the presidential election of 2016. But I’m not putting any money on Donald Trump.

Personal note: The Lady Friend has become an honest woman. In May she became my wife.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


 
Political Dynasties PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 16 July 2015 14:41

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

The press is excited over the prospects of a clash between two dynasties led by Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. It may not happen. But the subject is marketable and news is a business. So let’s dig a little.

John Adams, who followed George Washington, was our second president and founder of the dynasty. (In my Webster’s, dynasty is defined as “a sequence of rulers from the same family, stock, or group.”) John’s son, John Quincy Adams, was president number 6. He won the presidency in 1824. Like his father, he served a single term.

As  America went on its own in 1776, Abigail Adams, the wife and mother of the gentlemen just cited, spoke up. She urged her husband to include women in the new order: “Remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors! Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.” Her husband took no heed.

The election of our 9th president, William Henry Harrison, in 1840, and his grandson, Benjamin Harrison, our 23rd, in 1889, gave us our second dynasty. The rub here is that Benjamin Harrison narrowly lost the popular vote but won the electoral votes to beat Grover Cleveland. At 68 Grandfather Bejamin was the oldest man before Ronald Reagan to become president. He is remembered not for what he did but for  what he didn’t. He didn’t know enough to come in from the cold. He insisted on delivering an inaugural address lasting one hour and 40 minutes outdoors on a stormy March day without wearing a hat, gloves or overcoat. He died a month to the day after he was sworn in on April 4, 1841.

The Bush dynasty is the only one still in business but Hillary surely will have her say before it’s over. And no doubt, Bill, too.

In our own time the media have celebrated the Roosevelts as the model of a political dynasty. In the Ken Burns’ film about Teddy and Franklin, the two distant (fifth) cousins, Theodore  Roosevelt, Republican, and Franklin Roosevelt, Democrat, were portrayed as strong leaders and reformers. Eleanor Roosevelt, Franklin’s wife and Teddy’s favorite niece, was a voice for the  dispossessed. I was on the planet in the FDR years, a young kid, it’s true, but the film recalled the headlines and radio broadcasts of a teetering world. Franklin, from an early age, idolized Teddy, his senior by some 24 years. His life-long ambition was to succeed him in the White House.

Years before he became president Franklin said in a commencement address at Milton Academy in Massachusetts, “The menace to the nation would not come from four or eight years of liberal or even radical control of government, but from too many years of conservative government which would fail to keep up with the new and startling developments of the future.” It was the sort of speech TR could have made as well. Now that’s a real family dynasty for you!

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


 
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