- (Global News Net's Mark Dankof reflects on his past relationship
with George Herbert Walker Bush's smarmy chief campaign operative-and its
implications for the larger meaning of life.)
- The first call came at approximately 0300 in
the darkness of my cottage in Seattle overlooking Puget Sound on a date
in 1988. In those days, as both an occasional radio talk show personality
on a 50.000 watt Christian radio station in Seattle, and a Lutheran pastor
to boot, it was not unusual to be suddenly awakened in the night by all
manner of distress calls. But this one was most unique.
- The voice at the other end of the line said,
"Pastor, this is Lee Atwater, the chairman of the Republican National
Committee calling from Washington, D. C. How are you? I'm sorry to be
calling you at 3 a.m. your time, but I'm off to an early work start out
here at 6 a.m. EST. I'm calling for a simple reason-George Bush is coming
to Seattle for a campaign appearance at the Four Seasons Hotel-televised,
the whole works. We need a pastor for an invocation. You've been selected.
Are you available?" I hesitated in the midst of a sleepy stupor
before replying with the equivocal, "Well, I guess so." The
legendary, creepy voice at the line's other end said with finality and
satisfaction, "Good. I know you want to get that pinko Dukakis as
much as I do. My secretary will call again with the exact time, date,
and logistical details." The line went dead.
- I showed on the night in question at the Four
Seasons Hotel in downtown Seattle. There were TV camera men out on the
street waiting for the arrival of George Bush. There were also a lot of
demonstrators of various descriptions with ugly moods and placards waiting
for the arrival of his motorcade from Boeing Field. Upon reaching the
hotel parking lot, I was flagged by a Secret Service man who took over
the parking of my 1982 Pontiac 6000LE-the worst looking car in what proved
to be the Bush delegation's designated section for parking, lined with
luxury vehicles and multi-door hotel and airport limousines. Another Secret
Service agent escorted me to a special room adjacent to the hotel ballroom,
designated as the "Holding Zone" for the guests who would be
eventually seated on the stage in the ballroom to greet the man who would
eventually prove to be the electorate's choice as the 41st President of
the United States.
- I had arrived early enough that I was initially
accompanied by only one other denizen of the Holding Room honorees-the
legendary William Ruckelshaus, best remembered for his role in October
1973 in refusing Richard Nixon's direct order to fire Special Watergate
Prosecutor Archibald Cox. (It would be left to Judge Robert Bork to carry
out the Presidential directive, an act which set the stage for Bork's own
hostile grilling years later at the hands of a hostile Senate Judiciary
Committee examing the Judge's Supreme Court nomination.) Ruckelshaus was
courteous to me, but seemed slightly uncomfortable with my presence. I
found myself wondering whether there might be some lurking Freudian suspicion
of a clergyman-or more likely, inside information about where I stood on
the political spectrum in the Republican Party of 1988 that gave the ex-FBI
chief a slight case of heartburn. But both of us were trying to sustain
the conversation until reinforcements arrived.
- A Secret Service agent came to the Holding Room
and spoke to Ruckelshaus by first name. He then turned to me and said,
"Pastor, I need for you to come with me. You have a brief private
audience with Chairman Atwater." Chairmen Mao and Stalin would have
- Sure enough, Lee Atwater was waiting for me
in an adjacent room. The Secret Service agent who escorted me was told
by Atwater to produce Ruckelshaus in about 15 minutes. Despite this agent's
departure, two other agents remained in the room with Chairman Lee and
me during what proved to be a rather historic conversation.
- Atwater got directly to the point. He said
that he wanted to "hear my prayer, verbatim." I was incredulous
and said so. The beady eyes and perspiring forehead of George Herbert
Walker Bush's chief horseholder then got virtually into my own face. He
said, "Pastor, the 41st President of the United States is going to
be in this ballroom in 20 minutes. TV cameras. Musical band. Big ballroom
crowd. Everything has to be right for this first appearance in Seattle.
I want to hear the whole goddamn prayer right now. Don't ask me to Tilt
Nipple for you, OK? I want to see if this prayer will fly."
- I admittedly forgot my identity as a Lutheran
pastor wearing a black cleric, white collar, and crucifix. I looked into
Atwater's eyes as intensely as he into mine. What followed from me was,
"Mr. Atwater. The last time I checked St. Paul's admonitions to Timothy,
it said that the only Mediator I have between God the Father and myself
is Jesus Christ. You weren't mentioned. Secondly, I'm not exactly as
wild about your boss and his boys as you are. Thirdly, try not to take
the Lord's name in vain, at least when discussing intercessory prayer.
And fourthly, if you're interested in something that will fly, why don't
you take a flying leap up my ass?"
- Lee Atwater blinked. He gulped. Helplessly
he reached for a glass of water while the two Secret Service agents in
the room tried to appear unobtrusive and uninterested in the dialogue.
Upon recovery, Atwater, whose complexion was now an apoplectically beet-red,
simply said, "OK, Pastor. I guess we will trust to your judgment
and to chance." Picking up a telephone, he called for William Ruckelshaus
to enter the room. I was escorted back to the Holding Room. Upon reflection,
I couldn't believe I had retorted to Atwater's crudity with an In-Kind
response. But one can't recall a ballistic missile once launched, a lesson
that the 43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush, will hopefully
remember before it is too late.
- I waited there for a handful of minutes, but
it seemed like an eternity. Finally, it was Ruckelshaus who returned with
the Secret Service agent to the Holding Room. His countenance revealed
a thinly disguised mirth. His eyes had suddenly acquired a sparkle. His
demeanor with me had totally changed into one of extreme gregariousness.
There was no discussion or comparing of notes in regard to our respective
encounters with Atwater. Then we were joined in the Holding Room by Washington
State Attorney Ken Eikenberry (father of actress Jill Eikenberry), ex-Washington
Governor John Spellman, and a few other schmucks selected for a Stage Presence
before the cameras. At the appointed hour, yet another Secret Service
agent collected all of us, and marched us into the crowded Four Seasons
Hotel Ballroom where we were positioned at assigned seats on either side
of the speaker's podium. The TV cameras were rolling. Mr. Bush's State
Campaign Chairman, later to become the United States Ambassador to New
Zealand, came to the podium. I was introduced for the invocation. My
prayer was as follows:
- O, Almighty and Most Merciful God
- The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob--
- We ask for your blessings and your provision for all
who gather here
- As we do so for the people of this city and this nation.
- Especially do we ask for protection, discernment, and
wisdom for both men
- Running for the Presidency of the United States.
- And protection for their families and their advisors
- As we collectively seek Your Will for this Nation
- May we always seek Your Will and Your Guidance.
- Until Your Son Jesus Christ comes again.
- In His name we pray.
- The band immediately began playing. A booming
voice over the hotel PA system announced, "Ladies and Gentleman, the
Vice-President and Future 41st President of the United States, George Herbert
- And there he was, accompanied by his daughter
Dorothy, who immediately came over, kissed my cheek, and took her place
right next to me. Mr. Bush then reached me, and shook my hand as his left
hand rested on my right shoulder. Our eyes penetrated each others as two
transplanted Texans tried to look friendly for the cameras. The one destined
to be President was really an Eastern patrician from a Connecticut family
with ties to the Rockefellers and the Harrimans. He was a Yale graduate,
an Internationalist, a devotee of Globalism and the United Nations, a member
of the Trilateral Commission. The other was in both paternal and maternal
lineage from a poor rural German American farming background based in southwest
Iowa. I was Old Right, a graduate of a seminary representing the best
academic tradition of the American Evangelical Middle Western Right. I
hated the United Nations. I was an American Firster. I belonged to the
National Rifle Association and Gun Owners of America. Yet there we were
smiling in front of cameras. What a Maalox moment for all three major
network news affiliates in Seattle. . . .
- Mr. Bush's speech to the gathered faithful in
the Four Seasons ballroom was exactly 13 minutes long. After its conclusion,
he waded into the milling ballroom crowd to shake hands accompanied by
a bevy of Secret Service agents. His departure would mark the quick departure
of the media and the big crowd out the main ballroom door. By the time
they were all gone, I thought I was alone on the stage. But I was wrong.
There was a tug at my left elbow. It was Ruckelshaus. He was beaming
at me and said, "Pastor, I really enjoyed meeting you." In reply,
I said, "I am embarrassed that I did not take the opportunity to engage
you in conversation about the events of October 1973. Your place in history
is secure. God bless you." We shook hands. It was over.
- Or so I thought. A few weeks went by. There
was a second late night call at my secluded Puget Sound cottage overlooking
the Edmonds-Kingston ferry route. When I answered the phone in dread of
whatever awaited me, I was incredulous to hear Lee Atwater's voice at the
other end of the line. He said, "Pastor, I will be in Seattle on
secret business on this date. I will be at the Four Seasons Hotel at this
suite number. Will you meet with me? It involves important business before
the election." My response was equally succinct. "I don't know
why I am agreeing to this, but I will be there." My curiosity had
gotten the better of me.
- I came to the Four Seasons in civilian clothes
and approached the desk. When I asked for the designated representative
of the hotel Atwater had mentioned, he immediately appeared and summoned
me to a security elevator. We traveled upward a lot of floors. When the
elevator stopped, I got out alone and approached the indicated room number.
- Lee Atwater came to the door. He was smiling
and ushered me into a relatively palatial suite and seating arrangements
at a large table that seemed to double as both a dining room table and
an executive conference operation. I was asked to sit down.
- There was no re-hash of our previous meeting
at the Four Seasons to discuss my impending prayer for the Presidential
appearance. Atwater was quick and to the point. The 36th Legislative
District in King County/Seattle was the largest in the State of Washington.
The Republicans faced the very real prospect of internecine warfare in
the District between the Robertson (who had won the Washington State Presidential
caucus on Super Tuesday) and Bush factions. It promised to be ugly enough
that it might threaten Bush's chances in the general election against Dukakis
in the fall in Washington State. The Seattle media was poised and primed
to cover the whole impending debacle. The 36th was also home to United
States Senator Slade Gorton and ambitious Republican National Committeewoman
Jennifer Dunn, later destined to be in the House of Representatives. They
led the establishment Bush faction. On the other hand, the 36th was also
the home of an ex-Boeing executive serving as Pat Robertson's Washington
State Chairman. There were serious secret discussions between the two
constituencies as to how to pick a District Chairman "liked"
by both sides and not identified with either one. It came down to one
- I told Atwater I was as incredulous as on the
day of our first encounter to discuss his burgeoning theological understanding
of prayer. He laughed, before the beady eyes drew tight again in their
focus on my eyes and forehead. His articulation was both targeted and
clear when he said, "Pastor, if you don't help me and Dukakis gets
elected, you and a few other people here and around the country in the
conservative movement will live with the consequences for the rest of your
lives. It's that simple. And the other thing-you and I aren't so different
as people might think. We're both street fighters."
- I paused before saying to Chairman Lee, "What
is your understanding of what we're fighting for?" It was then his
turn to pause before uttering a truism that has remained with me in all
the years since. "You've got me there, Pastor. You see, I am a street
fighter who fights with a European political model in mind. I don't give
a shit about ideas, only power-mine and people's who help me achieve what
I want. You're a throwback to the American idealist movement which is
more concerned about the articulation of ideas, ideologies, and philosophies.
Our goals are completely different, except that they coincide in our mutual
desire to rid the country of Michael Dukakis."
- I decided to accept his challenge and the offer.
Years later I would leave the Republican Party in complete disgust, convinced
(correctly I believe) that the European model of power and the insidious
Statism it inevitably represents is so pervasive in both of the major political
parties in America that the two groupings and their accompanying policies
are virtually indistinguishable and mutually reprehensible. But on a dark
night in a Seattle hotel in 1988, Lee Atwater convinced me to play along
with the Republican Establishment one more time. It would be the last
time. As the years that followed brought more taxation, more UN control
over America, globalist trade treaties, and more foreign wars, I rejected
any more Faustian deals.
- Long after our second meeting at the Four Seasons
Hotel, I received a third and final call from Lee Atwater while visiting
my parents in Texas. He was beginning the short, steep descent to death
from the ravages of brain cancer. His demise was covered with regularity
in the national print and electronic media. He was confined to a wheelchair.
The brashness and self-assurance were drained from his voice. His career
as a rock music singer and guitar player had evaporated. The end was near.
- But I recognized the voice as clearly in Texas
as I had in two separate occasions in the dead of night on the Puget Sound
in Seattle. He said that I was on a list of people he wanted to make amends
with before the end of his temporal life. The poignancy over the telephone
lines was palpable. He reminded me of our verbal jousting before the Presidential
appearance at the Four Seasons Hotel. He wanted to apologize for his arrogance
and his blasphemy. I assured him that God's forgiveness in Christ was
complete-and that from what I had read, Lee Atwater had already discovered
this for himself.
- For a time I could only hear a grown man crying
on the other end of the conversation. Finally, his voice was able to permeate
the airwaves again in a temporary respite from overwhelming grief and emotion.
He said, "I can't tell you how many times my mind has gone back to
the night in my hotel suite when I told you about being a street fighter
in the interest of the acquisition and accumulation of power. I had all
of it. Now it's gone. Now all that is left is the Lord's love and the
day He takes me home. I'm just glad He found me in time. I just had to
tell you before the end."
- "Lee," I responded, "the Cross
and the Resurrection are about one ending and a new beginning. I guess
we're on the same wave length and the same page for the first time. Praise
- "Goodbye, Mark. I will see you again."
The line went dead.
- I still feel his presence lo these many years
later. The world seems to be moving closer to economic, political, and
military destruction. The current George Bush seems more hapless than
his Old Man in the maelstrom. History is perhaps reaching the end of its
linear travel since the Garden of Eden. Yet I am again renewed in the
promise of eternal life in the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ, looking
forward to a future time there where Lee Atwater and I will sit down for
another conversation. Somehow I see him looking down from above upon this
presently dreadful world with a smile and an expressive facial conveyance
of love and compassion, two concepts which largely eluded his grasp in
this life until the end, asking His Lord to spare those who seek His face
from the wrath and the unveiling of seals yet to come.
- Mark Dankof is a correspondent for Global News Net (GNN).
His interview with ex-Iranian UN Ambassador Fereydoun Hoveyda will soon
be released for GNN, along with an ongoing series of other related projects.
An ordained Lutheran pastor and theological writer, he ran for the U.
S. Senate in Delaware in 2000 on the Constitution Party line. His web
site can be found at <>www.MarkDankof.com .