Monday, September 14, 2009

Noted in Passing

Jody Powell, who died today at 65, was President Jimmy Carter's press secretary. He was a fairly laid-back professional schmoozer who doubled in campaign years as Carter's Knight Visible on the chicken-and-peas circuit.

I was not Harkin's press security those days — or I still was, but I was disqualified by contempt for the fifth estate and annoyed by the amount of spin my job entailed. So Barry Piatt was taking over reins I never realized I'd relinquished, and I was still a member emeritus of the afterhours blue smoke and mirrors staff gatherings. You'd hear things...

Like, Jody Powell briefing JF† about what to with the ton of paper a fairly safe incumbent Representative gets from constituents who want him to "Gee, pass this on to Jimmy, wouldja? Just an idea I've been working on."

Powell said, "By all means send it to the White House. But we have a system."

If the letter (package, tome, brief, white paper, etc.) was from Nobody, just FORWARD it on.

If the letter (etc.) was being passed on as a favor from Tom to Tom's contituent, mark it REFERRED TO WHITE HOUSE.

If the letter was germane, and credentialed, like from a Nobel Prize winning Iowan such as Norman Borlaug, mark it RESPECTFULLY FORWARDED.

If the letter was a pure gift from some obscure Iowa State University economics professor likely be useful to the White House, if it came with Tom's personal recommendation and/or it was a favor repaid to Jimmy Carter — mark it RESPECTFULLY REFERRED.

Powell was more succint, but that was the gist. I remembered that policy. It seemed odd to me. It had a certain quirkish oddity, like it was scratched out by leprechauns on the teak bartops of Tir na Nog. I drank me mug o' porter.

So far as I know, the loose cannons on Harkin's Congressional staff only sent one RESPECTFULLY REFERRED package to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. without Tom's knowledge. All the rest, if any, went through channels. And if some Ph.D. at Iowa State got his C.V. burnished a bit, I'd be in no position to know. It woulda bin a firing offense, did anyone ever ken the pookah. Truth is, nobody could help Carter, but he had a few friends.

Bye, Jody. You were weird. I mean that in a good sense...

John Fitzpatrick, Harkin's A.A. at the time, and/or Campaign Manager, depending on the season

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