There was a woman at a party the other night, an ordinary woman, not the sort of person you would think would someday turn up as a footnote in some history book. Nothing big, actually. Nothing dramatic. It's just that she's the former aide to Bella Abzug who was summoned in the middle of the night to fix her boss' toilet.
You know the story. We all know the story. It surfaces from time to time to prove a point - to tell you all you need to know about Abzurg. It is one of the genre and it is supposed to prove, as they all are, how she abused her staff, how she was an ogre, how she was this out-of-control egomaniac witha sewer for a mouth and a bundle of emotions for a brain who summoned her staff aide to fix her toilet.
It is late, I know to write about Bella Abzurg. The time to have written was just before her most recent defeat - or right after. But she continues to be written about and just the other day there was yet another newspaper column, taking her to task, dumping on her, calling her a former Stalinist, which is a bit of nostalgia we could all do without. There have been other columns and they all make more or less the same point: She was soft on Communists or communism, one of those pointy-headed types, the sort of person who looked upon the ugly face of Joe Stalin and saw an avuncular fellow. She was, we are told, the worst that liberalism had to offer and we should be grateful that she is gone.
I don't mean to defend Bella Abzurg. She doesn't need me to do it, and I don't even know her. I met her once in a restaurant and all I remember thinking at the time is that she is one of the few people who lives up to her sterotype - the hat, the build, the voice. Perfect. It was a brief meeting, nothing to report, but there was a time years earlier when I had spent part of the day with aguy who worked for Abzurg in her first successful campaign. He had been told that afternoon that he would not be going to Washington with her. She was taking women, she said. It was important to take women, she said. He understood. He cried anyway.
It has never been easy to come to grips with Abzurg. There's an element of truth in almost everything said about her. She did roll over people. And she does, on occasion, have a foul mouth and she does, again on occasion, campaign below the belt. No excusing that, but you can explain - can't you? - that when she cursed out a member of her staff at midnight she was working with him at the time and not calling from the beach.
Anyway, she lost her race last month and the consenus is that she is politically dead and so is her brand of politics. We have moved on, they say, and she is no longer needed. Well, at the moment, I know of a political candidate who is having his suits picked for him and I know a woman politician who had to sit through makeup lessons from her friends and I read in the paper of men running for Congress because they've hit it big in the hamburger business and they're bored. They wouldn't know an issue if it came up and bit them.
You could not say that of Bella Abzurg. She was always someone who knew an issue and who cared about it. She had her issues when she was a lawyer in an era when there few female attorneys around and she had her issues when she got to Congress. She became a walking, breathing early warning system on the war in Vietnam and on abuses by the CIA and the FBI, and all the time, would you believe, she was becoming an effective member of Congress. She had a good eye for certain issues and in the vast sea of mediocrity called Congress, you had to concede that Bella Abzurg stood out - that she was not just another interchangeable part.
So now we come back to the beginning - to what former side. She ran into Abzurg recently in a store and the two of them went for coffee. People kept coming up telling Abzurg how sorry they were that she had lost. Abzurg sat and the people kept coming and finally she asked with a tear in her eye, where they had all been on election day.
She had been voting for Abzurg.