Sam Smith: The Loneliest Mile In Town
The Loneliest Mile In Town
By Sam Smith
I figured that if I was going to be part of a vast right wing conspiracy, I better find out something about it. So in the best fashion of post-modern journalism, I decided to take a poll. The sample of fellow Clinton tormentors I came up with consisted of Roger Morris (author of Partners in Power), Sally Denton (longtime co-conspirator and wife of Morris), journalist Christopher Ruddy, independent investigator Hugh Sprunt, columnist Phillip Weiss, and, just to keep costs down, myself.
The first thing I discovered about these folks was that their conspiracy might be more of the vast offspring, rather than vast right-wing, variety. In fact, with the exception of Morris, all came from families ranging from four (Sprunt and Denton) to six (Weiss and Smith) to fourteen (Ruddy). And while the Clintons were each oldest children of small families, only Morris and Sprunt led their sibling pack.
Was there an inner meaning to this? Maybe. When Weiss - who, like myself, was the third of six - asked if I was bothered being mixed up with right-wingers, I told him no, because I had always lived around people who didn't agree with me. To put the matter of birth order as scientifically and objectively as possible, if you are the later born in a large family you learn early not to take any shit from those who got there first. One can imagine the vital skills the 12th born little Ruddy gained in endless battles for the window seat.
I next looked for ideological traces, only to be terribly disappointed. For example, at almost the same time Sprunt was absorbing Ayn Rand, I was being influenced by the writings of Martin Luther King Jr. Conservative journalist Ruddy went to the London School of Economics and taught American history to Bronx students from the Caribbean and later to largely black classes at Adlai Stevenson High School. At 26 he won an landslide election to become chair of the teacher's union local, from which post he led a successful battle to get rid of an incompetent principal.
Sally Denton's father ran for Congress twice as a "very progressive, liberal Democrat" favoring civil rights, welfare, Medicare, and gun control. One of her grandmothers was an early 20th century feminist. Weiss' parents were anti-Vietnam War. Mine were rabid New Dealers who started an organic beef farm even before Silent Spring. While Morris had once worked for the Nixon White House, he resigned over the invasion of Cambodia in May 1970. Besides, he had also worked for Dean Acheson, Lyndon Johnson and Walter Mondale which, in liberal circles, was pretty close to a hat trick.
More important, though, may have been the fact that among the journalists in my sample, none had worked for what might be called the prissy press -- the people who look and talk like morticians and are always prattling about excellence and editorial filtering and that sort of thing. Two (Ruddy and Weiss) had worked for lusty tabloids, Denton worked for Jack Anderson, in television, and for western papers. And I started out in radio and have been an alternative journalist most of my life.
But the most significant thing I found out was how many of us grew up in environments that encouraged both independent thinking and moral concern. Chris Ruddy's father, for example, was an police lieutenant whom he described as "a great believer in people -- a humanitarian -- which is not typical for the cynicism one finds among cops.". . .
Sally Denton's list of familial free-thinkers started with an ancestor who fled Utah in the 1850s after being "fleeced by the church" and the men who ran it. Appalled by polygamy she left the state with a Mormon assassination squad hot on her trail.
Growing up in Las Vegas, Denton was an early rebel influenced by watching her father being defeated by corruption time and again "and the routine and systematic silencing of women." She found her outlet in journalism, producing among other things, The Blue Grass Conspiracy, a riveting account of how drugs took over Kentucky.
Roger Morris was strongly influenced by his grandmother in the Kansas City of the Pendergast machine: "Her view of the inner darkness of real American politics left me an indelible sense of the shallowness and disgrace of most or our public discourse, the fundamental immorality of both old parties, and an abiding sense of reformist outrage."
Hugh Sprunt described himself as "not a complete Randite . . .and I gathered from official sources that is the only kind you can be." He went to church regularly through high school. It counted as a class. All through high school, I went to Quaker meeting each week and it, too, counted as a class.
Sprunt ended up a "respectable" tax CPA and attorney with a JD and MBA from Stanford, but along the way he drove a combine, worked as an illegal alien outside the US, taught diving, cooked 1,200 meals at week at MIT while a student there, and -- trained by crop dusters -- got his pilot's license at 16.
Philip Weiss came to the Whitewater story as an articulate agnostic and continued his search as an honest pilgrim, which is to say that as a confederate of any sort he was not to be trusted. For my part, one grandfather wouldn't have Sunday papers delivered to his house, the other wrote letters to his son using "thee" and "thou." And my mother, upon hearing me mildly slight Eleanor Roosevelt, demanded in pique, "Don't you hold anything sacred?"
At the same time, our house always seemed filled with people doing something different or for the first time such a cousin testing his weird invention, an FM car radio, or my father filing a public interest law suit before there were such things or asking dowser Henry Gross to find him some water. In my own case, loyal readers had more than enough evidence of terminal indifference to the conventional.
In short, it all added up to a pretty lousy conspiracy. It seemed more like an oxymoronic confederacy of the hopelessly independent. Just some people who somehow learned to respect certain values and certain things, one of which is that it is still possible to think for yourself. Whatever it was, it was nice to find others who felt the same way.
Sometime later, a producer for 60 Minutes called concerning a possible show on Washington's mayor. We were discussing a certain black activist and the producer asked whether he wasn't something of an anachronism. I told the producer there were times when being an anachronism was the only honorable thing to be.
Nov 20, 2003
From the Progressive Review
Edited by Sam Smith
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