THEY COULD NOT have come from more vastly different places or ended up more closely allied. He, the son of a West Virginia prizefighter who turned barber after losing a leg in the coal mines. She, the middle-class child of an architect. He, who grew up a Baptist and was ordained as a minister of the United Church of Christ. She, the nice Jewish girl from New York who ended up marrying a doctor and living in Westport, Conn.
But that was the first time around.
This time around, the second time for both, it is "they," for on a surface level what unites them both, after about three years of marriage, is that old, contented settled-in look. From time to time she, the former campaign manager, pats the knee of the former senatorial aspirant, an unconscious gesture, accompanied by a bright, intense but abstract smile.
From time to time he, the former national chairman of Americans for Democratic Action, moves closer to the former head of Common Cause's voter registration project -- a barely perceptible gesture accompanied by a faraway look.
From the depths of the 1960s come Anne Wexler and Joseph Duffey, brought to you by Jimmy Carter. She is Deputy Undersecretary of Commerce for Regional Affairs and Economic Coordination. He is Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs. The two ardent anti-Vietnam war advocates, the old outsiders, the woman who until recently was associate publisher of Rolling Stone and the man who once backed Eugene McCarthy for President, have gone . . . Establishment.
And the upshot of all this is that the Establishment has altered them at least as much as they have changed it. And so, perhaps in that sense the Wexler-Duffey team's evolution is representative of what has happened to so many of us. What has happened to the Democratic Party, for that matter. They are middle aged now (he,44; she, 47); they are on the inside now; they are, like the country they live in, no longer fighting, and there is a hint of complacency in their peace.
"I'll tell you a story," says Joseph Rauh, a lawyer and a longtime friend of Wexler/Duffey. "I had when I was helping Gene McCarthy my best assistant -- a boy just under 10. Absolutely magnificent. When I helped George McGovern, this boy -- who was then just under 14 -- was again wonderful. And so when I saw him again at a rally where I was speaking for Mo Udall --he was just under 18 -- I said, 'My God! Am I glad to see you!'
"And he said, 'Oh no. This time I have to be with the winner."
Rauh laughs long and easily. "That's basically what happened to some of my best friends. There are two kinds of people in this town. The ones that believe in ideology and issues. And the ones who say 'I have to be with the winner this time.' And let's face it, this town is dominated by the second. And some of the first group have gone over to the second."
But if you're looking for a symbol of the old Wexler-Duffey life, you can find it. Duffey shows it to you with some reluctance, for he is a cautious man. But he also makes sure to mention it.
Framed on their bathroom wall is a copy of a letter from J. Edgar Hoover to John Ehrlichman transferring a copy of the file Ehrlichman had requested on the old Joe Duffey who was launching a (losing) campaign for senator from Connecticut.
Baptism by fire, to be sure. But is there any other way?"
"We were at a party the other night for Hubert Humphrey," Duffey muses. "And he kept talking about when he was Vice President and also about the agony of '68. And he kept reminding me that then I was on the outside. And that I was impatient." He smiles ruefully. Joe Duffey is, as his friends keep saying, a thoughtful man, a quiet man. He is also a man open not so much to criticism as to self-criticism, and so he says:
"Well, I've mellowed a bit. I'm chastened."
Anne Wexler says, "We were all very sure of everything we did. Especially when it came to the war. But I don't know if you can call it totally self-righteous . . . We're all a little less sure."
You have the feeling, with Wexler at least, that she's been mellow for quite some time. "She is a much better politician (than Duffey) no doubt about it," says a friend. And another calls her "a tough inside fighter. I like her in the way I like politicians. Joe you like in the way you like thoughtful people."
So she is shrewd. How else could she have endured as associate publisher of Rolling Stone under the temperamental direction of Citizen Kane-let Jan Wenner?
"Every corporation needs a Jewish mother," her husband says fondly.And she says, "Everybody in publishing is a little unusual to say the least."
Everybody? You look at Anne Wexler in her A-line skirt and sensible pumps, her wide steady smile beaming a frankness she does not always verbalize -- and the one thing she does not look is unusual. "No, I suppose I'm not particularly unusual," she agrees. But there is in her husband something that is decidedly so, for all that he tries to hide it under the protective cover of silence or the occasional evasion. For all that he smiles and says, "I just learned I can deduct blue suits as uniforms."
There is a lot of conflict in Joe Duffey and it comes out when he talks of himself by way of Jimmy Carter.
"I guess I'd met Carter before, but I didn't know him very well," he says. "And then we had this long evening in Georgetown when Liz Stevens had a dinner party and Pat Caddell wanted to introduce Carter to a lot of liberals and secularists." He smiles drily.
"And I think I said to Carter last January at dinner. 'Knowing what it's like to be a hillbilly at Harvard and Yale, at least I know what it's like to be an outsider in the Deep South."
And Wexler nods. "I know how he feels -- looking at the world from the outside of a pane of glass."
"And so Anne and I came away -- "
"And our car broke down --"
"And we had this big long discussion and I tried to explain to her what Southern Baptists were like. Our friends were making snide remarks and Anne kept saying she couldn't tell where conviction ends and stubbornness begins. And I also said (to our friends), 'You're for separation of church and state because you're afraid of religion. But Baptists are more sensible. They're for separation of church and state because they're afraid of the state."
In the spring of '76 the couple went out for a long walk and made a decision. It was to work for Carter. She had worked for McGovern on the rules committee in '72; Duffey had worked on the platform committee -- and they ended up doing the same for Carter. Only this time, they had picked the winner.
Which had not always been the case, by any means. In '67 they had both worked for Eugene McCarthy, which was how they met, and also how they ended up getting gassed in Chicago.
In the '70s Wexler became Duffey's campaign manager in his unsuccessful bid for the Senate. In '71 -- before they went over to McGovern -- they were both for Muskie; in fact Wexler was director of Citizens for Muskie.
Not exactly a background of steady triumph. "But we were fairly sure Carter was going to win," says Wexler. Duffey became director of issues for Carter; Wexler went on the transition team. Then -- last Christmas -- the two went skiing up in Vermont, and thought about the jobs they might want in this administration.
"But it isn't a case of naming what you want, but of working with the Carter people," he says. "You try to bear ambition with some grace."
That is not an uncommon way for him to express himself, for the years at theology schools (Andover-Newton and Hartford Seminary where he got a doctorate in the history of technology) have left their mark on Duffey.
With The New York Times he had an ongoing battle over the use of the word "Reverend" before his name -- a usage he doesn't care for since he hasn't been a practicing minister in a very long time. And yet -- he can't help it -- a lot of what he says sounds like an extract from a sermon.
"My theology," he once told Time magazine, "to my great delight, reminds me that life is more than politics."
"When I was a child," says Duffey, "the first man I saw read in another language was a great big strapping man. He used to pull out the New Testament in Greek. He was a pacifist, and while I am not now, and wasn't then, I was intrigued by his putting it so eloquently. He ran an interracial commune, and his name was Clarence Jordan.
"I watched Ham (Jordan) a year ago, and I said, 'Z-a-apa-p! You're related to Clarence Jordan!' And he was -- Clarence was his uncle. Anyway, I think going to seminary was a natural continuation of this . . . the Baptist Church was the most liberal institution in the city . . . and religion provided a cheap education."
But Joe Duffey no longer goes to church.
"Oh gosh, I don't know how to answer that," he says when asked why. He shifts uncomfortably on the couch, and demands sharply, "I think that's an irrelevant question, don't you?"
No. Not for someone with his background. "Well, I wouldn't say I'm not a believer. I'm sure I'm a believer. I'm a Christian. It's just that it isn't the same experience for me it was once. I suppose it's a part of my life that's awkward to deal with."
The evolution of Anne Wexler was along entirely different lines. She went to Skidmore, got engaged with a big diamond ring. "The whole bit," she says with a grin. "You'd walk into a room and everyone would sing. Two weeks after graduation I got married." And she went to work because her husband was, after all, an intern.
"But almost immediately, I started working in politics," she says. Her divorce from her husband after 20 years and two children, his divorce from his wife after two children, and their subsequent remarriage to each other may have surprised some of their friends.
But looking at them now, one finds the union so obvious as to be almost inevitable. They are first of all -- and it is an initial and overwhelming impression -- manifestly crazy about each other, so much so that the interviewer feels more like an interloper. Their very differences unite them, and nowhere is this more apparent than when they discuss politics. Politics is her passion, but it is his dilemma.
"I don't know," says the husband, "Politics is a heady -- how to describe it --On the other hand it's a deceptive kind of vacation because you forget where things are."
"I feel differently," says Wexler. "Politics is the glue that holds our life together in a lot of ways . . . For me it's the excitement of people and principles and a program. And Joe is right. It's very exciting and so totally consuming that it tends to make your life one-dimensional. But there's a level of interest about politics that makes it endlessly fascinating."
And later Duffey says, when discussing his early support for Muskie, "Politics is not a game of purity, talk and abstraction. That's for a philosopher -- "
"Which doesn't exclude commitment," adds Wexler.
"It is absolutely constructive to the political system" says David Cohen, head of Common Cause who knows and likes the couple, "to show that people who come out of the movement, early critics of the war, can make it. In the process of making it, it's important to be able to adapt to new responsibilities and inevitable disagreements between those on the outside and those on the inside . . . What Joe Duffey and Anne need to know is that the critics have a very, very important role to play." There is a meaningful pause.
"I'm saying this as an old friend," he concludes. "They're good people . . ."
No, they are not everything they used to be, even four years back. "I have a lot of affection for the ADA," says its former chairman. He chuckles, shifts again when asked why he's chuckling.
"Well it's a liberal organization. And in a government of fiscal austerity --not all my friends appreciate that."
"It was hard to make the adjustment from '68 and '72," says Anne Wexler. "Because you did have preconceptions. Walking into the Democratic Party was like walking into a wedding. You know. There was the bride's side and the groom's side. Either you were for the war or against it."
The husband says, "There are great dramatic moments when one knows what is right and wrong. But life is not like that. Life is struggling for a bit of gain and a bit of truth."
"And a bit of justice," says the wife.
Joe Duffey spoke against the war on the steps of the Capitol. They demonstrated for Martin Luther King. In '63 Duffey was part of an anti-Vietnam teach-in.
"We were debating some of the people in that administration." He smiles gently.
Yes, he is reminded, but some of the people in that administration are now in this one. Carter picked them.
"Yes," says Anne Wexler, "But he also picked us."