Goodbye, Washington. I love you, but you've gone and done it again -- sent me packing. Yesterday, I was a sub-Cabinet member with a nice title and a sense of purpose. Sixty-five people were at my beck and call. Today, I'll be hard put to find a taxicab to take me to the airport and back to Texas.
I seem to have a penchant for getting in with the wrong crowd, the folks for social reform and human rights, like the Johnsons and the Carters. When the revolving door of politics sweeps them out, it is back to my hot tub in Texas.
I'm going to go. The newcomers don't even know how to pronounce rodeo. And I don't think Adolfo makes half-sizes.
You can see why I'm not sticking around, even though you and I are old friends. Can't it really be 38 years since I arrived in 1942, my journalism degree in hand and my virtue intact? I still have my journalism degree. I was brunette then, and so naive I though the "body politic" was a congressman's wife.
I first got to know you as a reporter covering the Capitol and the White House. I worked for editors and covered politicians who could drive you to drink, and some did. My editor at Variety once told me: "Liz, write everything as if you'd had two martinis. Better still, have two martinis!" Those were some of the happiest years of my life -- to the best of my recollection.
But the greatest time in time, of course, is being swept up in the administration of someone in whom you believe. This happened to me twice.
I can't help smiling at what the new people have in store for them this month. Working in the White House automatically signals your friends, relatives, schoolmates, bare acquaintances and complete strangers to track you down with the fervor of Sherlock Holmes. When it was announced that I was press secretary and staff director to Lady Bird Johnson in 1963, there was a constant traffic jam outside my home -- a tucked-away street where the only big event had been the day my dog bit the Good Humor man.
Florist trucks began arriving with bouquets and notes of congratulations and a "By the way, if you need an assistant . . ." My children came home from school with job applications from their schoolmates' parents. New and old friends wanted to be ambassadors. I heard from one high school buddy who only wanted out of the Bell County jail. This I did deliver, by paying his fine.
I worked out a system, and I gladly give it to the Gipper's Guys (is that what they're all going to be?). Try using three files to divide the job seekers: Talent, No Talent and a third marked STUN -- which covers the nuts, spelled backwards.
Of course, this quadrennial run-for-jobs is no new thing. When George Washington took office, he found 3,000 applicants for federal employment even before a single position was created. The spoils system reached its zenith when Honest Abe took office. He had to deal with the Civil War and to put up with job-hungry Republicans enjoying their first victory after the birth of their political party. They flocked to the Capitol demanding work as pay for party service. "I am like a man so busy letting rooms at one end of the house that I have no time to put out the fire that is blazing and destroying the other end," Lincoln said.
Actually, it is the reverse that plagues presidents today. Too many people don't want to work for the government. Before the newcomers erase all those Schedule C "bureaucrats," they might look them over. A lot of talent is here in this federal family -- hundreds of them who are ready, willing and able to stay and serve.
Strange that I should have been back here this year. Strange because I had gone home to Texas in 1976, making a bicentennial entrance, to lead a quieter, saner life. Just when I settled in to enjoy the blue skies and watch the deer nibble at my geraniums, just when my Jacuzzi had reached sensual perfection, the new secretary of the new Department of Education telephoned. With persuasion I hadn't heard since LBJ lifted me up by the ears, she insisted: "I need you; America needs you," I was about to tell her I wasn't all that valuable, when I said to myself, "Who am I to contradict a Cabinet officer?"
It wasn't just the lights, bright people and bright talk that lured me back to you, Washington, but a feeling that in a time when so few things work, education, above all things, should work. I came because we had a president who believed "education" belonged at the highest level of government right along with labor and justice. That's the part that hurts. The whole year may have been in vain.
Now, it's goodbye again. I tried to be big about it for old time's sake. I helped them sell their inaugural umbrellas, knowing that in every administration there are always rainy days. Now, on to Texas: to write, to speak, to dream a little and to laugh a lot. That's the hard part now, but laughter has always been my salvation. My mother blessed me with the admonition to keep a high heart and a sense of humor: "Just remember, child, what Martha Washington always said. "There's nothing in the world worth worrying about.'" I've often wondered where Martha said this. Valley Forge?