Old, faded politicians are hard to find. Meaning that politicians that become old and faded are few and far between. You hold on to the “public service” handle as long as you can. Few become old and faded. I found one.
i chased him in several states and finally caught up with him in New York City. At first, his aides would not put me through to him thinking that I was another reporter trying to interview the "old man", as they referred to him. I then used the secret word and, in no time at all, had an appointment two hours thence.
He hasn't changed since the last time we tangled in San Antonio in 1998. If anything, he has mellowed a bit and has acquired a more relaxed demeanor. Gone are the nail biting days, the incessant straightening of the necktie and the constant twirling of the Cross pen. Now, he sits so totally relaxed that it seems his anatomy is just part of the couch. He has picked up the habit of drinking sparkling water and is forever holding a tall glass of the bubbly stuff. He did not move when he said to me:
"Hombre! I thought the old hormigas had eaten you!"
In days gone by, we would have embraced and maybe even kissed each other on the cheek. But time and the harshness of the current political climate have eroded that facet of his attitude that I used to find so appealing.
"I am supposed to interview you. Your crusades of late, have revived the spiritual and religious tone in our society. You are close to being the new religious voice. My editor - a well known masochist - knows how to inflict pain to his subordinates and to himself. . ."
He smiled and pointed to the bottle of sparkling water:
"Have some. It is one of the great gifts of nature. Well, gift in a manner of speaking. The case, wholesale, goes for 100 bucks. You can get used to it easily, but in your case it might cause irreparable damage. If I remember correctly, you helped screw up our balance of payments by drinking day after day, year after year, all those bottles of French wine, Scotch Whisky by the pallet load and truck loads of cases of Tequila for those lunch seminars of yours. Not to mention the river-like currents of Cognac you consumed every evening. . ."
"I have reformed. More or less like you have, but instead of taking up some form of political sainthood like you have, I have just switched to other vices. . ."
"Well, how can I illuminate you and your following?" he asked.
"First, can you describe the process whereby you have become a conservative of a clear radical stance and have managed to throw the Republican party into a wild merry-go-round?"
"Easy. You are born naked, which makes you a social charge. You enter puberty and discover sex, which makes you a liberal. You go to college, which tangles your brain and dulls your senses. Then you go into the Army and you turn fascist. You go to work for a large corporation and you become an egotist and a conservative. Finally, marriage and fatherhood re-establish your mental balance and you realize that the country is going to seed when your kid can't do the multiplication table in the 8th grade. You react and do whatever is in order to save it. All the influences in your life - if you examine them objectively - are foreign. It stands to reason that foreign influences must be eradicated from our society if we wish to pursue the American dream. . ."
I did not know what to say. Such load of manure was enough to fill up Lake Erie. But the Old Man has always been known for his extreme positions and the almost attractive and reasonable way in which he expounds them. I smiled at him and said:
"I agree that there are a lot of things that must be addressed in our society but trying to pin the blame for our own neglect on foreign influences is going too far."
"Let me be explicit. Take education. My kid does not know how to multiply or divide but he sure as hell knows all about the Beetles, Britney Spears, French postcards, the Video Games, plus all there is to know about, tacos, enchiladas, Japanese laptops, Chinese silk underwear, Italian sauces and Brazilian nuts. Take all those influences away and that kid will multiply like a rabbit. So to speak.”
I was a bit surprised. He had never adopted extreme positions but from his words I could tell that a change in his thinking had taken place. I asked him:
“What happened to that liberal-conservative tone you paraded years ago? What happened to your crusades about education, health care, sound business practices, ethics in Government, uninhibited sexual practices, meaningless invasions and wars? Has the lunatic religious fringe and their dogma gotten to you?”
He thought for a minute and then replied:
“Not a chance. I believe in the separation of the state and the church, except in my case.”
“How is that, Sir?”
“Would you turn down an honorary Deacon position at one cool million a year, plus a chauffeured limo, a villa in Villefranche sur Mer, a Park Avenue penthouse, a Lear Jet and a small, 16 room chateau in Poughkeepsie?”
All I could answer was: