On June 18, 1937, a son was born to Blanchette and John D. Rockefeller III. According to family protocol, he should have been named John D. Rockefeller IV, but his parents weren't sure that was prudent. JDR III felt oppressed by the name. He didn't want his son to be part of the suffering he felt was bonded to it. On the other hand, the name carried clout and cachet. To this day Blanchette believes, "Nelson was always a little jealous that Johnny had the name; he always acted like he was the one who should have had it." Had they known then that their only son would grow to be 6-foot-6 1/2, or that he would become governor of West Virginia, or that 44 years later he would receive "The Great Mention" as a possible presidential candidate, they might not have thought twice about it. But that knowledge even Rockefeller money can't buy. And so, to hedge their bets, they named their son, simply, John Rockefeller, and began calling him by his first initial . . .
IN THE KITCHEN a cook sections oranges and sculpts butter. In the next room a butler sets a table with silver and porcelain, arranging green I linen napkins so the JDR monogram is at the lower left, visible but not intrusive. It is a few minutes before breakfast, and the winter sun is still too low in the eastern sky to climb all the way up the side of One Beekman Place to the floor where the widow of John D. Rockefeller III lives.
In the sitting room, in front of the wall of windows that overlooks the East River, Blanchette Rockefeller -- a woman accustomed to living not so much in the lap of luxury as in the very soul of it -- reclines on a couch talking about her son Jay and how he escaped what she calls, "The Rockefeller Problem."
"When I married my husband, I never thought about what it would be like for my children to be Rockefellers. But Jay accepted the whole thing from the very beginning. At Exeter, his schoolmates would tease him -- they'd give him dimes when it was his turn to serve the meals. Jay would grin, pick up the dimes and put them in his pocket."
The memory triggers a laugh, and the laugh triggers a thought.
"It's curious. Most of the others have wanted to live like church mice. Our three daughters all live quite simply. Jay enjoys luxury. He's really the only one of them who's kind of normal."
Jay Rockefeller comes to the door of the governor's office wearing a big smile and bearing a glass of Coke in one hand and a bottle of Coke in the other. Offering the bottle to his visitor, he giggles and says, "I'm the governor, so I get the glass." Passing a full-length closet secured by a combination lock, he plays Groucho: "That's where I keep all the money."
All arms and legs, loose and floppy like a scarecrow in a blue flannel suit, Rockefeller bounces through the office to his prize oil paintings, both of Civil War Harper's Ferry -- a landscape of the West Virginia town and a recreation of John Brown's arrest there in 1859. "Now come out in the hallway, because I know you're going to want to see these." Grinning: "This'll tell you something about me." There, illuminated by gallery lights: The oil is of John D. Rockefeller -- "Mr. Senior" as he was called. The photograph is of the first three John D. Rockefellers -- Mr. Senior, Mr. Junior and Jay's own father, JDR III.
Three generations of the name, out there for everyone to see.
Cards on the table.
When he was 21 years old, Jay Rockefeller wrote his grandfather asking for permission to assume the full name, the one that makes people sit up and take note.
"I was named John Rockefeller in the event that that my personality would turn out that I would recoil from John D. Rockefeller IV so to speak. . . . I have done the same thing with Jamie. When the time comes he may want to be John D. Rockefeller V." He makes a face at the sound of the fifth. "There are plenty of fours around." But the fifth? His eyebrows shrug. His color deepens. "The fifth? Hey, now wait a second, this is America. . . . But I asked for the name. I am very proud of it. I wanted it very much. I wanted the name. I wanted the responsibility. I wanted the challenge. I knew -- without probably ever writing it down -- I knew it would bring better things out of me because it would give me a sense of standards."
"He escaped the curse of being a Rockefeller," said Ray Lamontagne, who served with him in the Peace Corps. "You could really lay into Jay about the money. A bunch of us would sit around and start riding Jay about what he was doing in the Peace Corps. We'd start in on the family and the blood money, and who the hell he thought he was. And Jay would come right back at us, telling us about how many good things the family did with the money. I always came away feeling -- I don't know about the rest of them, but Jay's all right."
Democrat -- "Oh, it just wasn't even close," Rockefeller says. "The other would have been impossible. JFK, LBJ, Bobby, Sargent Shriver -- it wasn't even close."
Can this be real? Can John D. Rockefeller IV be of the JAY, From M1 people and for the people? Or is he just nearby the people?
Blanchette Rockefeller says it was just a few years ago when her son told her, "I'm never going to know what it's like to have to earn my own living and support my wife and children." She remembers his shaking his head and saying, "You know, that's a terrible deprivation."
If I never had a cent, I'd be rich as Rockefeller, gold dust at my feet. On the scale of us and them, John D. Rockefeller IV can hardly be considered one of us. He appreciates that, and he doesn't apologize for it. He isn't afraid to play The Rockefeller Card when there's something he wants. He did, after all, spend almost $12 million getting himself re-elected governor. And he didn't apologize for that either. He is so comfortable with himself that when he goes down into the mines he wears a three-piece suit. With the same ease he aims to reach across the great divide. He and Sharon send their four children to public school, and he spent years in volunteer social service instead of just drinking bloody Marys and clipping coupons. And while Jay Rockefeller often makes it easy for you to forget who he is, he won't come on like just plain folks; you won't find him in a cowboy shirt and CAT-diesel cap trying to small-time everybody. Being born a Rockefeller has defined him but it hasn't confined him.
. . . There would be three stops in the northern panhandle (Rockefeller is routinely all over the state; he'd host supermarket openings if anyone asked). First stop was an elementary school to talk to the students about American Education Week. When he got there the fourth-grade class stood on a platform waiting to sing for him, and afterward they continued to stand at attention. "Do you really want to stand like that?" he asked them. "Why don't you all gather around me? It's much less formal that way." And they ran to him, sat at his feet, smiled up at him. It was hands-on this way, and he thought of himself as a hands-on person. "What I like most about Jay," his mother says, "is that he's not awesome." Other Rockefellers may have been haughty, but Jay's way is to be accessible. To be the first governor in the state's history to open up the governor's mansion to the people. "I want you to strive to have sensitivity and compassion," he told the children. "Do you know what compassion is? That's when you care about other people. . . ."
"He's the freest of that of anyone in the family," said his cousin Lucy. "Some of the cousins don't even use the name Rockefeller. A lot of them went into psychotherapy. Jay didn't have to and didn't need to. He simply isn't burdened by the guilt."
"Zero," Rockefeller says.
Never wanted to pull a "Prince and the Pauper"?
"Is this an Inquisition, or what?" Sharon Percy Rockefeller wants to know.
"Put down your 50 bucks first, this is a real analysis," Jay says.
"Oh, pop psych," Sharon says.
Pop pysch is one of their favorite topics. Her father is a United States senator. His family is a United States commodity. In terms of a political marriage, they are up there with Julie and David, Franklin and Eleanor and Ferdinand and Isabella.
" . . . I went to Exeter. In those days kids from wealthy backgrounds went off to school without too much aforethought. So I've been away from home since I was 12. . . . It was an extraordinary ritual -- 96 kids from my class went on to Harvard; it never occurred to me that I would go anywhere else. . . . What happened was that I went through Harvard like most Exeter boys, which is to say I did well my first year because I was better prepared than the public school kids. But in my junior year my grades began to slip. All I liked were the Far Eastern courses I was taking with John Fairbank and Edwin Reischauer; my father had gone to Japan with John Foster Dulles in '51 to negotiate with the Japanese, and I got my interest from him. . . . Anyway, I knew that at Harvard I just wasn't achieiving, and I began to ask myself -- What am I here for? What am I doing here? About that time I got elected president of some club so I had an office in some elitist building, and I'd ring a bell and someone would bring me a bloody mary, and I said to myself -- Uh-uh! What is this? I went to Reischauer and I said, I want to go somewhere where I can really do it my way. That's how I got to Japan. . . ."
He was there for three years. To learn the language, he spent 15 hours a day listening to tapes. "Tapes, tapes, tapes," he says. "There was no other life." On their many trips to Japan, Mr. and Mrs. JDR III, as expected, stayed with what Blanchette called "the international set." Jay stayed with the people and came to understand the culture. His last six months there he lived with a Japanese family -- no mean feat at 6-feet-6 1/2 -- and spoke only Japanese. "Pay special attention to Jay's experience in Japan," said a family friend. "His significant personality traits -- self-discipline, tenacity, thoroughness -- he taught himself those in Japan."
At 22 he came back for his senior year at Harvard, and where he once was purposeless, he was now purposeful: Jay Rockefeller wanted to become secretary of state. Either that, or America's first ambassador to China.
"I had dead aim on Asia. That was where most of the world's people lived, where most of the world's action was at some point going to be taken."
He got his degree from Harvard but skipped his own graduation; he went straight to a Yale program to master Chinese the way he had mastered Japanese. Tapes, tapes, tapes. "But frankly," he says, "I was a little burned out on tapes -- I guess you could say I was even hostile to them. And that was when Sargent Shriver got hold of me and the whole Peace Corps thing started. . . . That was a time when America could do everything." Rockefeller leaps from his seat like a kid who's just been told he's made the team. "It was the most wonderful time this country's ever had in terms of possibilities. For yourself. The world. All that optimism, all that idealism -- it was just flowing all over town, and it turned me from a person who was academic into someone who was grabbed, activated. . . ."
He remained in the Peace Corps for two years as one of Shriver's chief assistants, then left to go to the State Department to assume what he felt was his destiny. When John F. Kennedy was assassinated, he helped coordinate arrangements for foreign VIPs who came to the funeral. Rockefeller on JFK: "He had everything to do with my life." It seems impossible to look at Rockefeller and overestimate the effect of the assassination and the introspection it provoked.
Blanchette Rockefeller says, "All of the accent had been toward foreign understanding. Jay had grass roots knowledge of Japan, but none of America. Especially with his name and his background he knew very little of what the average American has to go through." His former administrative assistant, Don McClure, remembered Rockefeller telling him, "Look, I don't know anything about my own country."
It was only going to be for one year.
One year in West Virginia in an anti-poverty program that Bobby Kennedy ("My last political idol") set up, a job Rockefeller personally asked Kennedy for. One year in Emmons working with 56 families. One year of paying his dues.
Rockefeller holds his hands out, as if they were a balance scale. "All of a sudden here was Asia, China, 1 billion people. And I could even learn to speak it if I put in the time," he says, waving his left hand. "And here was Emmons," he says, waving his right hand. "Fifty-six real families."
He drops his right hand -- his Emmons hand.
"Here, I could make a difference. Classic Kennedy New Frontier phrase, right? Make a difference. 'The ripples will go out and thou shalt change the world.' And I believed it."
". . . When I first went to Emmons I was clearly an outsider. Not only was I a Rockefeller. Not only was I living in a hotel in Charleston, because I didn't plan on staying. But I came there -- brilliantly -- in a car with Washington license plates. It took me six months to convince them I wasn't trying to sell them encyclopedias or some other phony deal. So the first time I had a community meeting and the people actually came -- I took all the slides of my life that I could gather. The Rockefeller Christmas tree; my father playing Santa Claus; all the presents under the tree; Pocantico Hills; the first car I ever owned. Whoever I was, you see. And I said, 'I want you to understand something. We're gonna be working together. I thought it was only gonna be for a short time, but it's obviously gonna be for a long time, because we've got a lot of work to do. And I want you to know exactly where I'm from and who I am.' . . . The whole meeting was a slide show. About me. About things which would be totally unachievable under average circumstances by them. And it was my way of saying -- 'This is what I am. You can accept me or reject me. But this is what I am. . . .' "
When Rockefeller first came to West Virginia it was assumed he did so simply to establish a political base. A member of the Democratic National Committee still says, "I don't know of anyone who goes there for the climes or the night life." Rockefeller's West Virginian friends from the Peace Corps like Don McClure and Charlie Peters, now editor of The Washington Monthly, projected him as a politician. Peters says he "saw Jay as the honest governor the state needed. . . . I even thought it would be possible for him to become president."
Rockefeller denies he had political ambition at that time, but was certain that his career would be in public service. Lamontagne says: "Jay considered California but ultimately chose West Virginia because he felt more at home there; he knew he'd have an important future no matter where he settled." And Rockefeller admits to be "turned on a little bit" when he "was driving to Emmons, listening to the radio, and I heard speculation as to what I was going to do politically."
Rockefeller still finds the speculation "incredible."
Jay: ". . . I was only going to stay one year . . ."
Sharon: " . . . You didn't have any master plan . . ."
Jay: ". . . A general idea of public service . . ."
Sharon: ". . . But very open as to how it was going to be done. . . . you realized a person cannot undo poverty in a coal-mining town in two years . . . at some point politics and the government can help a lot faster . . ."
Jay: " . . . There are 10,000 Emmonses . . ."
In 1966, Rockefeller won a seat in the West Virginia House of Delegates despite some feeling that he was a Yankee carpetbagger, another brick in the historic wall of exploitation. "When I made a committment to run for the House of Delegates, I made a committment to West Virginia," Rockefeller says. "I mean, what do you think I was doing -- running for a lark?" He is up on his feet again, then smiling wryly. "Which is not to say all West Virginians saw me as a West Virginian."
In 1968 Rockefeller was elected West Virginia secretary of state, an office which McClure calls, "a non-job, but a good platform to meet people and run for governor." McClure quotes Rockefeller saying at the time, "There's a conscience factor in this country as far as West Virginia is concerned. If you do a good job as governor in Wyoming or North Dakota -- who knows about it? But they know about West Virginia." Rockefeller denies both the statement and its implicit cynicism and ambition. But Sharon confirms McClure's recreation of the decision to run for governor: "The big debate was, governor or senator? The staff vote was 3-3, and we all thought Sharon would say -- Senator! Let's get the hell out of West Virginia. She said -- 'Governor.' " In 1972, after Rockefeller bade McClure get him a mining engineer and a rank-and-file-coal miner (who turned out to be subsequent president of the United Mine Workers, Arnold Miller) to teach him all about coal mining, he ran for governor against the incumbent, Arch Moore.
To explain his unexpected loss, Rockefeller offers his "4-M Theory: Me, I ran a dumb campaign; McGovern, he wasn't exactly a blessing at the top of the ticket; Moore, an extraordinarily able politician; Mining, I came out for the abolition of strip mining and it was used as a symbol that I didn't understand what was important to West Virginia." That omits the carpetbagger assumption. So great was the assumption that many, if not most, West Virginians felt they had seen the last of Jay Rockefeller -- they assumed he would pack his belongings into 30 or 40 trucks and go home. What they didn't understand was that West Virginia was home.
In 1973 he proved it by taking a job as president of West Virginia Wesleyan College. While that may have been another political decision, the effect was to defuse the carpetbagger issue. ("I always had a deep sense that nothing Jay did was not calculated, not coldly thought out -- as if he had a master plan," says a family friend.) In 1976 he ran again, against former governor Cecil Underwood, and got 66 percent of the vote, the largest majority in West Virginia gubernatorial history. "He took his whippin' and came on back," says Rep. Cleve Benedict (R-W. Va.) "You've got to respect that."
Jay Rockefeller has been in West Virginia for 17 years now.
All his children have been born there.
When he talks about West Virginians he says, "We."
West Virginians seemed convinced that Rockefeller would attract bright young people to the state, bring business, industry and jobs -- give West Virginia some diversity from the coal standard. Peter Hart, who has done polling for Rockefeller, says that in 1976 he was amazed to find so many West Virginians saying that the way to turn the state around was simply to elect Rockefeller. "He has been a very fine governor," Hart says. "But he could never have reached the levels of their expectations."
So it is not surprising when Charlie Peters evaluates the Rockefeller governorship as, "not great, but good." Or when Don McClure says, "I think he really copped out to the political hacks. . . . Since 1972 Jay seems to be seeing which way the state wants to go and then going that way. He just doesn't like to look dumb." Or when Tom Miller, a political reporter for The Huntington Herald-Dispatch, says, "Fair, nothing outstanding. Maybe we all expected too much."
One Charleston attorney says, "There is great affection for him personally, and West Virginians are proud we have him. At the same time there's a lack of enthusiasm for what he's done. Sometimes he reminds me of that cartoon, where the mob gathers at the palace and the king looks out at them and tells his regent, 'Find out where they're going so I can get on my horse and lead them.' "
Rockefeller is not at all pleased.
He jumps up into an impassioned defense of his administration: how he appropriated land for the purpose of housing, the first time that had been done in any Appalachian state. How he built roads and bridges and sewage systems, "not very sexy things, I grant you, but very, very necessary in West Virginia." How he's setting up an "infrastructure -- a system, not a personality," so that after he's gone "we West Virginians will never again have to look over our shoulders to get the 1950s out of our heads."
He gets physical.
He paces. He shakes.
All the while Sharon is waiting, until finally she can wait no more, and with a certain, cold fury she says, "The first thing is I think Jay was seen as a crusader, riding in on a white horse, who was going to come in and solve all of West Virginia's problems -- historical, current and future -- overnight. And we were aware of this perception, but what do you do with it? It's hard to undo, because it's a myth. And you can't destroy it, because it's in the air. Yet once Jay gets elected, then here comes the second problem -- that Rockefellers are held to standards that are quite unique and different from, and higher than, standards that are applied to other people. That's the double-edged sword of being a Rockefeller. I certainly see it with my children at school. We get calls that one of the boys is a little rowdy in the lunchroom. We get called down there as if no other boy has ever been rowdy before. Because they want them to be not just good kids with good grades, but excellent kids with superior grades who are going to be future governors and future leaders. Everything's at that 99th percentile. And unless you're there at all times, you're a disappointment."
Jay has watched, seated and speechless.
He shakes his head and softly begins to clap.
". . . This is some speech you wrote for me, Randy," Rockefeller says, teasing his press secretary, Randy Cline. "Usually I just perform major surgery on your prose, but this time I think I have to amputate." Cline gives it back as good as he gets. "If you think it's no good now, think how much worse it's going to sound listening to you give it." Randy Cline is of the working class; his father was a coal miner. John D. Rockefeller IV is of the ruling class. The sons should have nothing in common. Yet here they are, good friends, devoted to a state that is America's version of the Third World, and the rich one is secure enough to kid the poor one about money. As their car wanders through Oglebay, a magnificent city park in Wheeling, Rockefeller giggles, "Real nice of your father to donate all this land." Then, spotting a water tower, he cracks, "There's your Perrier, Randy. . . ."
"Initially I sensed a distance between Jay and the people," said Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W. Va.) "He'd seem to always be uptight about the money issue. He's much more at ease with himself now. He says he has a sign on his desk that says 'The Buck Starts Here.' "
In 1980, Jay Rockefeller spent $11.75 million of his own money on his reelection bid against Arch Moore.
Such spending could hardly go unnoticed, especially when so much money went into buying television time in Pittsburgh and Washington, to reach outlying sections of West Virginia. It has been widely assumed that the media strategy -- especially those commercials where Democratic governors from all over the country lauded Rockefeller's leadership in conversion to coal -- was not just geared to winning in West Virginia but to establishing Jay Rockefeller as a national political force. "It's obvious he wants to get the margin up so he can look invincible on a national level," says one national Democratic staffer. Pro-Rockefeller commercials were shown so often in the Washington area that once, when Moore was asked how the race was going, he said, "I think Jay's pulled ahead in Maryland."
Phil Friedman and Hank Morris, partners in a New York media consulting firm with David Garth, ran the 1980 Rockefeller media blitz and bought Washington against the advice of Peter Hart, who says, "In the long-term strategic view it does damage with the national press; the dollar amounts then take on a much greater magnification." Although polls consistently had Rockefeller defeating Moore, Friedman defends the spending: "The myth of Arch Moore runs very deep." In order to remain attractive for national office Jay Rockefeller couldn't afford to lose; now, as a Democrat who survived a Republican landslide, he has national credibility.
Friedman says the campaign was intended simply "to show the people of West Virginia how Jay did his job and to focus on why he was the better man for the state." One of the slogans used in many of the 57 different commercials -- "Jay Has the Clout" -- implying that Rockefeller, he of the name, fame and fortune, could open doors for West Virginia that Moore could not. Moore, whose supporters displayed bumper stickers -- "Make Him Spend It All, Arch" -- says the Rockefeller commercials "constructed a governorship that never existed. He was portrayed in a light that examination of his record would never support."
A larger issue remains.
And it is about money.
There is, in this country, a popular but questionable presumption that rich people are uniquely qualified to hold elective office because they couldn't possibly be in politics for the money. Sen. John Heinz (R-Pa.), himself a very rich man, says, "People look at a candidate with money and there is one impression they form -- that he doesn't have to steal. Many people said they admire me for going into public service because they know I'm not in it for the dollar." Surely, that is a presumption that West Virginians could make about Jay Rockefeller -- a governor who doesn't even accept a salary.
Rockefeller, when asked if he needed to spend that much money to win, smiles and says, "Who'll know?"
His justification for such spending? "I knew I had a very tough race. I knew that in the state there would not be that kind of resentment. And I didn't care about the outside."
When he and Sharon are told that the $11.75 million total "causes some discomfort" in the Democratic National Committee, Jay stretches out his arms in a classic So--sue--me pose. His tone dripping with sarcasm, he says, "I'm deeply sorry." Sharon, sharing both the moment and the manner, adds, "It worries us no end."
A brief reminder that John D. Rockefeller IV, when it suits him, can always live up to the name.
In 1981, one year after his reelection and three years before he has to run for anything, Jay Rockefeller retained the media consulting firm of Garth, Friedman and Morris. "He has a premier political strategist on retainer for more than what he should wear while walking through Appalachia," says a Democratic Senate staffer. In 1981 Jay Rockefeller made political speeches for the Democratic Party and certain Democratic candidates in New Jersey, Virginia, Utah, Iowa, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Ohio, California, Maryland and Illinois. "I don't think he's doing it just to see the country," says a member of the DNC. In 1981 Jay Rockefeller conceded that people who assume he is running for something now might even assume he is running for president. "What makes it really interesting," he said, "is that I'm doing a lot of speaking around. And you know why I'm doing it? Firstly, I'm a Democrat. Secondly, I enjoy it. And thirdly, I kind of like the speculation . . ."
Rockefeller is already a lame duck; he cannot run for a third successive term as governor. Smart money says Jennings Randolph, who will be 82 when his current term ends in 1984, will step aside and let Rockefeller run for his seat in the Senate. Smart money says even if Randolph wants to retain his seat -- and some Democratic insiders insist he does -- that Rockefeller will defeat him in a primary. Randolph says, "I have no plans beyond the fact that I'm day by day doing this job." Rockefeller appears genuinely disturbed by the prospect of a primary run against Randolph. When it is brought up, he sighs and says, "It's a delicate question for me. It's almost a father-son relationship. . . . Am I interested in the Senate? Yes. Would I run in a primary against him? I don't know."
Rockefeller had a previous chance at the Senate. In 1968, New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller offered to appoint his nephew to fill Bobby Kennedy's seat if Jay would become a Republican. Jay thought the offer was both politically and morally outrageous. "I didn't want to be the senator from New York," he says. "I wanted to be in West Virginia. When I said no, he went on about it for 10 days. For 10 days." Blanchette Rockefeller, remembering the offer, called it, "insane."
The Senate is the short shot.
There are those who see The Long Shot.
"Jay certainly hasn't discouraged the talk," says Pierre S. (Pete) duPont IV, the Republican governor of Delaware. "He's getting 'The Great Mention,' and no one is saying, 'That's ridiculous.' "
"More than likely he'll go for the Senate," says Rep. Rahall "But you can't help but think that the presidency is in his future plans. It looks like he's putting himself in a position to be drafted."
According to Peter Hart, the crucial question is -- "Do we jump a generation, or not?" If the Democrats jump a generation, then people like Teddy Kennedy and Walter Mondale and even John Glenn could be out, and people like Gary Hart and Jay Rockefeller could be in. "There is a sizable negative response to both Kennedy and Mondale," says a member of the DNC."
For the sake of argument, let's suppose Rockefeller spun the long-shot wheel and landed on 1984.
Among his assets are his name, his wealth, his integrity, his ability to win and what political consultant Matt Reese calls, "his feeling comfortable in The Big Arena." His political support has always come from Big Labor, the United Mine Workers. Conversely, the name has always stood with Big Business; surely John D. Rockefeller IV could find Republican financial support. He is a tireless, effective campaigner with a good sense of humor. He is attractive physically -- tall, lean and youthful. "Because of his great height and the remoteness of his upbringing, he tries extra hard to communicate with and be of the people," says a Charleston attorney. "And, as it is with all royalty, when he stoops, he conquers."
And, he has Sharon, who gets the highest grades possible in the Political Wife category. "I always call her 51 percent of the team," says Blanchette Rockefeller. Sharon Percy Rockefeller is attractive, personable and thoroughly of this world. Should Jay start rambling about his life history, she will yawn and say something like "Oh Jay, will you please shut up already and let me get a word in edgewise?" When Jay teasingly begins to chat himself up as "a cool intellectual," she will interrupt, "But you keep it so well hidden -- you're so subtle, Jay." She is not only schooled and skilled in campaigning, but also the chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and a member of the DNC. "Jay is inclined to be thorough and conclusive -- he goes at a pace that does not electrify," says a close family friend. "Sharon, on the other hand, is so fast and so sharp at every level. If Jay were Sharon, he'd be president today."
To see them all together, Jay and Sharon and their four children, is to sense the magical political adjective, the one that annoints -- Kennedyesque.
However, Rep. Benedict "wonders about the depth." Charlie Peters wishes "Jay would emerge with his own program -- a firm set of philosophical convictions." The Rockefeller Plan, if indeed there is one, has yet to surface. People are waiting to see what his issue is. Gary Hart has staked out defense, for example. Rockefeller's issue would likely be energy. Although a good campaigner, Rockefeller is neither dynamic nor stylish. And given his inclination to spend so much money on getting elected, he runs the risk of seeming disingenuous. Pierre S. duPont IV, who obviously has much in common with Rockefeller, points out that the same question is always asked of a wealthy candidate: "Coming from a background of independent income, how can the candidate relate to the people? Of course I think you can. But the question is always asked." Overall, political consultant Matt Reese says: "I don't know that I could answer -- I would like to vote for Jay Rockefeller because. . . . Who he is and why he should be president hasn't come about yet."
Of course this is all speculation.
Then again, it's speculation that turns him on.
Jay and Sharon have been sitting and talking for hours. The West Virginia sun has long since called it an honest day's work and gone in for the night. The network news will soon be on TV, and the lead story will be that the federal government shut down because the president declined to sign a budget bill -- a decision that Jay refers to as "Reagan's Chinese Checkers games." It seems a propitious time to bring up the subject of the presidency.
Have you ever considered being president?
"Yes." The answer is straight and fast. He may walk among the people, but he takes larger strides.
Before the next question can be asked, the next answer is offered. He is setting the tone. Rapid-fire and hands-on, the way he likes it.
"Will I do something in '84? No. And here you have to understand me. I want to do things in my own way, in my own time, in so far as that is possible."
Do you think it's your destiny to become president?
"Certainly not. . . . It is predestined that my name will be on any list that's out there. But that I'll do it or plan for it -- that's not predestined. Our children are 12, 10, 8 and 2. Can you accept that as being a larger factor with us than for most of the people on the list?"
But doesn't your age, your look, your family name recommend you now?
"That may be. That may be. I don't deny the thought. I don't deny the ambition. I do deny the plan. I do deny the immediate intent."
Do you see any circumstances under which you'd run in 1984?
Sharon: "I can't either. Jay is a very deliberate, cautious, yet extraordinarily disciplined and determined person. Once he's on the track there'll be no stopping him -- I mean, in whatever he chooses to do. But other people can't choose a track for you. Our childrens' ages are an enormous factor. Things are going very well for us now. Why change things?"
Can't you be drafted?
Rockefeller considers this ultimately naive. He leans into his answer. "You can't be drafted if you don't want to be drafted."
But you've gotten The Great Mention . . .
". . . So terrific."
And it seems logical that given who you are -- big man, big goals -- what you've done with your life already, that playing on the biggest possible stage is reasonable . . .
". . . Totally valid point. And I'm not afraid. 'Playing' isn't the right word, but I know exactly what you're saying, and I have no objection to any of it. But as far as I'm concerned -- in fact, we think identically on this -- anything of that sort would be, again, I don't know how to say it better: In my own way, on my own terms, and in my own time. Which may be never. The time might pass me by."
You're saying you might very well like to be president, that you might very well be good at being president, but you're saying '84 isn't it?
Jay: "Yeah. That's about right."
Sharon: "It's also saying you might like to control your own life."
Jay: "If I run for president -- and please don't notice that I'm getting up now and walking around like I'm excited or anything -- but your thing about '84 and The Great Mention -- so when do I have to start doing something about it?"
They say your organization can put it together in a hurry . . .
". . . But you still have to deal with me as a person . . ."
Gary Hart seems to be running already . . .
Jay: ". . . So he's made that decision . . ."
Sharon: ". . . It's a free country . . ."
Jay: ". . . That doesn't mean I have to run for president . . ."
When you were just starting out in West Virginia and Oliver Quayle was doing your polling, whenever his people came down you couldn't wait to ask about the young guys in Washington -- the ones in your peer group, like John Tunney . . .
"Checking out your peers, Jay?" Sharon asks, giggling.
"Could it possibly be credible," Jay asks, giggling himself, "that that's all kind of fun to do?"
You could have fun being president, couldn't you?
Jay is laughing now.
"I don't know, they've got a very nice house there. All that new china." He looks at Sharon and serves: "Save you a lot of money, darling."
She looks right back and volleys: "Save you a lot of money."
Nichols and May. Their laughter bounces off the walls.
"Enough already. Enough," Jay says, shining brightly. He gets up, bolts across the room and turns on the TV. "Can't we take a break for the news? Ronald Reagan's going to be on. And you wouldn't want to miss a chance to see him, would you?" Sharon sits on the floor in front of the set, her legs curled underneath her like a schoolgirl. Jay drapes his legs over a chair arm, spreads his collar and hunkers down.
Rep. Toby Moffett (D-Conn.) flashes on the screen.
Jay begins to do color commentary.
"You think he's not running?"
Then Drew Lewis, secretary of transportation.
"Oh, wouldn't he love to be governor of Pennsylvania. He's dying to run for it."
The camera cuts away to a familiar Washington scene: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
John D. Rockefeller IV, making damned sure to play his part as broadly as possible -- in his own way, in his own time -- reaches out to the set like Dracula and tries to snatch the White House from the screen, smiling and laughing and cackling, "I want it! I want it!"