Plain Words–And No Censorship–About Men Of The West Wing

Register now

Mark Meyer of the Filene Research Institute got his first taste that the speaker he had invited to address a breakfast hosted by the Institute would talk about what she darn-well pleased when he attempted to suggest some topics. The invited speaker made it clear: you won’t “censor me.”

And he didn’t. The speaker was Helen Thomas, the long-time veteran of the White House press corps known for asking the first question at presidential press conferences. Thomas may be 87 and diminutive, but she showed just how feisty and opinionated she could be in a half-hour or so of remarks on everything from today’s media to all the presidents she has known. (One piece of trivia, by the way: Thomas noted she is related to Kerry Parker, CEO of A+ FCU in Austin, Texas.)

“We’ve lost a lot in recent years, including our true selves,” Thomas told the group. “Dwight D. Enisenhower warned, ‘Every gun that’s made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies a theft in a sense from those who hunger and are not fed, from those who are cold and are not clothed.”

Obviously not one to play to her audience, Thomas observed, “We could be on the verge of a recession–although I don’t feel it in this room.”

Thomas has been an outspoken critic of the Iraq war, and wasted no time in opining on it. She pointed to one estimate the war will eventually cost the U.S. $3.3 trillion, “and there’s no end in sight.” She said President Bush wants to “run out the clock. He speaks of victory, which is impossible. He was wrong to invade a country that presented no harm to us. By one estimate there are one-million Iraqis dead, 4,000 Americans are dead, 29,000 have been injured. Every reason given for this war is wrong. This war is illegal, immoral and unconscionable. We should get out.”

Thomas said she has spent her life watching “presidents with a jaundiced eye, and I can tell you, they have to be watched.” She said she has no idea who the next president will be, suggesting that John McCain’s quip the U.S. will be in Iraq for 100 years “will cost him.”

She credited Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama for creating great excitement, calling him “Elvis to many. But he also seems to be afraid to take strong stands on the war and health insurance. That’s probably because he feels the nomination in his grasp.” As for Hillary Clinton, she said she’s in an uncomfortable position as a woman. If she shows emotion, she’s not seen as being tough.

Her greatest criticism, she said, “is reserved for Congress and the press.” “Congress signed off on many laws that restricted our freedoms. The press seemed to roll over after 9/11, although they seem to have come out of their coma after (Hurricane) Katrina,” she said. “We in the press are the only ones who can question the president on a regular basis and hold him accountable. Too many reporters are afraid to be called unpatriotic if they ask tough questions.”

Thomas then reviewed the presidents she has covered, although she observed, “I don’t waste too much time on presidents. Rarely are they the profiles in courage we hope they will be.”

* John F. Kennedy. “My favorite. Inspring. He understood statemansmanship.”

* Lyndon Baines Johnson. “Bigger than life. He moved the mountain. He made the greatest contribution to the country on the domestic side in the last half of the 20th century. The Vietnam war was his undoing. We heard, ‘Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?’”

* Richard Nixon. “He always had two roads to go down, and he always took the wrong road.”

* Gerald Ford. “He stepped into a presidency he never sought. He told us the long national nightmare was over, although his pardon of Richard Nixon did not sit well with voters.”

* Ronald Reagan. “He turned the country to the right. Although he was a six-time president of a union, he fired 13,000 air traffic controllers. He saw government as the problem, not the solution.”

* George H.W. Bush. “He had the good sense not to go on to Baghdad on the grounds that there might be a civil war there.”

* Bill Clinton. “The consumate politician. He tarnished his office with an affair with an intern. He left a surplus in the Treasury, but he never had the courage to take the big steps for peace that make for greatness.”

* George W. Bush. “He has a simple philosophy. Black and white. With us or against us. He hurt his party and this country with this mindless, pointless war. He has made end-runs around the Constitution and curbed our civil liberties.”

Thomas closed by noting that no president has ever liked the press, going back as far as George Washington. “I didn’t cover him,” she clarified.

Frank J. Diekmann is publisher of the Credit Union Journal and can be reached at fdiekmann (c) 2008 The Credit Union Journal and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.