It is 6:30 IN THE MORNING and already the black limos of Washington are on the move. One has gone for Griffin Bell and another just like it, a Ford LTD, is parked before the hotel where Joseph Califano, fired the day before, is coming out. Up and down the street, the blue-collared workers of the city are reporting to work. So are the fired members of the cabinet. They are off to do their television shows. Good Morning. This is Washington.
Califano is dressed in a blue suit, blue shirt and striped tie. He looks awful. His face is puffy and he is tired. He was up late the night before, eating with friends, and he has been up early this day and of course, yesterday he cried. He came down from his office to talk to his people at HEW, and when they applauded it all came out. For the first time in his adult life, he cried.
The former secretary of almost everything gets into the car and reaches for his newspapers. He has lots of them - The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The New York Daily News. He asks about the Washington Star: "You have the Star, Charlie?" The driver shakes his head no. Too early in the morning.
Next to Califano sits Susanna McBee, his press secretary. She feeds him bits from the paper. She tells him that Ralph Nader said theat firing Califano to appease Hamilton Jordan is like firing Mickey Mantle to please the bat boy. Califano laughs. He likes that.
We are off to do television. We are off to do first the Today Show and then the CBS Morning News. Good Morning America was taped the night before. Later will come Italian Television (a commitment made some time ago) and interviews with the two news magazines - Time and Newsweek. Griffin Bell is doing more or less the same thing, only his story is different because he was a Carter loyalist leaving office of his own free will.
In the control room of NBC's Washington studio, 24 monitors are lit up. They show all the networks, all the local stations, the feeds and what's happening in the studio. Judy Woodruff is on the White House lawn. Others are in studios. Griffin Bell pops up on some monitors, Califano on others. Califano is a range of colors. Tom Brokaw takes his seat. We are almost ready. The time is called out. Brokaw looks up. He begins.
Brokaw is a pro, but there is nothing new disclosed. Califano relates how he was fired, how the president called him to the White House and told him he was the best HEW secretary ever - the most innovative and the best administrator and the best leader. But he was fired. He could not get along with the White House staff. So he was fired. The president was sorry because Joe Califano, after all, was the best. Station Break.
Son Califano is back in his car. He talks of his days with Lyndon Johnson - days of the Great Society. He talks of being called in to see Johnson and being told of a vision. They would feed the elderly poor. They would feed them in a place and soon the place would be like a clubhouse. There would be television and card tables and that sort of thing. This was Lyndon Johnson's vision.
"Last year," Califano says, "when I was campaigning, when I was campaigning for a congressman, I must have seen 20 of those centers."
Califano is an old-fashioned liberal. He believes, still, in the Great Society and in government taking a role - speaking for the poor. He believes that a government that does not come down on the side of the poor and the powerless in effect comes down on the side of the rich and the powerful.
To do nothing is to help the rich. That is what he believes and that is why he wanted his job so much. It was a chance for him to put into action some of the ideas he had thought up years ago. There were things yet to be done.
"I loved the job," he says simply.
Now, in the back of the car, Joe Califano is hurting. He has been fired. He comes form a place called Brooklyn, where the nuns taught that hard work paid off. He worked hard. God knows, no one worked harder than Califano, and now he sits looking as if he has lost all faith in the work ethic - told he was a good, intelligent, bright, innovative, and yet still out. All A's and he flunks. "How do you feel?" he is asked.
"I . . . I can't. I can't." He gives up: "I don't know how I feel."
We are on our way to CBS. The car goes down the long NBC driveway. It pauses at the street. Turning into the driveway is the car of Griffin Bell. It stops, too. The two cars are almost nose to nose, like horses in a field. Griffin Bell leans forward. He waves. He smiles. Now Califano leans forward. He waves. He smiles. The cars move on - one to CBS, one to NBC.
In Washington, in the mornings, there is always television and if you watch it all, maybe you could figure out why a good man got fired for doing a good job. Where I was, no one knew the answer to that.
Good Morning. This is Washington.