First off - no, The Big Dawg did not show - not that it was promised,
but I’m sure that all of us
gathered there were hoping. Despite that, the event was a rousing success. If The Dawg had shown,
I think the energy would have blown the roof off the building!
I arrived at West 24 at 7:01 PM on Saturday, April 27, 2002, having
walked the four blocks from
my hotel room, on an overcast evening in DC. There is a crowd of maybe 30 to 40 people milling
around the area where yellow handwritten signs simply saying “Bartcop” with arrows pointing out
to those who understood, where they should stand. So I joined the crowd. And the crowd quickly got bigger.
I was an “army of one”, but most people seemed to have come down
with friends, so there were many
“knots” of people engaged in talk of “this and that”. I walked around slowly, picking up bits and pieces
of conversation. As I looked around I was struck by the idea that any distant observer of this gathering
would be hard pressed to understand what could bring such a diverse group of people together. Based on
outward appearances, there was little to suggest a common thread amongst those gathered at this particular
location, on this particular evening. The group spanned all ages, and all styles of dress. I was particularly
impressed by the bear of a man wearing a kilt, a sweater, sandals and knee socks - this actually turned
out to be Ron V, who was the pivot on which Carville’s participation turned - and I must note that he
wore it with authority.
But to understand the “glue” that held this crowd together, one had to listen to their conversations. For me,
it was like hearing every thought that I’ve had since the coup, spoken out loud, and by other people!
Then another thought struck me - this is the power of the internet. The little snippets of conversation that
I was hearing were nothing different from what you can read or post at typical liberal web site, except this
was occurring not in cyber-space, but in the here and now, in flesh and blood, from “real” people.
I was grinning!
So this is “us” - the liberal internet community, a diverse cross
section of America, united in opposition
to the illegal takeover of our government. I was looking forward to meeting some of “us”.
Some people walked out of the other entrance to West 24 (the one not pointed to by the signs), and took
position behind the table in front of the Bartcop entrance. One man had the name tag, “Bart”, on his jacket.
I immediately flashed to my teenage years, and how disorienting it was to see photographs of the DJ’s that
you listened to at night, with the transistor radio under your pillow. The “face”, at first, never matched the
“face” that I imagined - the imagined “face”, I know now, was my brain’s attempt to construct a person
from only the only clue that I had - his voice. I hadn’t realized, until this moment, that I had manufactured
a “face” for Bartcop, based on his writing, and the real face didn’t match. But after I heard his voice,
I realized that my “imagined” Bartcop was a cartoon, based on even less information than the DJ’s of my youth.
Without getting too involved, I can tell you that the “real” Bartcop
is better than anyone that I could have
imagined - and that the rest of “us” owe him - and Mrs. Bartcop, for being the patient woman that she is
- a huge debt, “big time”, for all his work and efforts. As Julie said to me, “Bart is an example of how
one person CAN make a difference.” - but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Christian, Bart’s aide-de-camp, started taking the tickets, and matching them against the master list.
Photo ID was required, and if everything matched you were in. I commented to someone that you could
tell that we were Democrats, since there was no order at all to approaching the admission table. I said if this
was a republican event there would be one straight, single file line to get in. Someone else suggested that there
would be people with whips making sure that the crowd fell in line, and then there followed several other pithy
observations about republican “discipline”. Damn, this was going to be a fun night. Christian warmly welcomed
everyone by name, as if we were all just old friends that she hadn’t seen in awhile, which in a very strange,
and very real way, we were.
Inside the restaurant there were huge trays of appetizers at several
locations, and waiters came around with trays
of hot appetizers for one to sample, and although this is pretty much the standard approach to a cocktail party,
the quality of the food, the variety, and the presentation, took this to whole other level. This was classy...and tasty.
I spied a man with a very bald head at the far end of the room,
and as walked over I saw that is was
“Corporal Cueball” himself- James Carville. He was engaged in a very intense discussion with someone who
looked vaguely familiar - as it turned out it was Joe Conason, who doesn’t look much like the little cartoon
face that accompanies his pieces in the NY Observer. Carville’s body language suggested, “Don’t interrupt me.”,
so I didn’t. Carville was not as tall as I imagined him to be, but he’s larger than life, and he’s all coiled energy
- like a big cat ready to pounce. I grabbed a piece of cheese and a slice of bread, and went over to the pay bar
for a beer.
The room was filling up rapidly. I went over to the Buzzflash table, and bought some raffle tickets. Also got a
Buzz Button, and a Buzz bumper sticker. I wanted to talk to the guy manning the Buzzflash table, but he was
busy beyond belief. It was now getting hard to move around, as the press of people increased. I found myself
next to two women engaged in an animated discussion with another slight woman with long silver hair.
It was Julie Hiatt Steel.
I managed to get myself into the middle of this group, and all
I could do was simply listen. Bart’s description
of Julie as a “tornado” is simply inadequate to describe her. She looks so small, she looks so frail. But she “feels”
so strong, she and “feels” so big. And it’s more than that - she’s so real and so honest, she’s so witty, she doesn’t
take herself seriously, but then she can be dead serious. She can melt your heart with her smile, but her eyes can
flash with fire. She is the one person that Ken Starr, or anyone else for that matter, should not want to pick a fight with.
A crowd was gathering around us, and we decided that it was best
not to hog Julie all for ourselves, and so we
disengaged. The woman on my right was “Demgirl”, and as we were talking about elections, past and soon to be,
I noticed David Brock walking into the room. I pointed him out to Demgirl, and we decided to go over and say hello.
As we waded our way through the crowd, I caught myself thinking, “He looks good, he looks like he’s happy.”,
as if he were an old friend of mine who I had heard had been through some rough times recently. And, in a strange
way, he was a friend. Several weeks ago, for over three hundred pages, David Brock had told me about himself.
“Blinded by the Right”, is at it’s heart, an intensely personal, and brutally frank, story of one man’s odyssey from
RFK liberal, to the right wing hit man who gave into the “dark side” of his nature, and finally, to his own personal
redemption, finding the inner peace that had eluded him for so long, and a really amazing dog. So yeah, I know
this guy, and yeah, he’s a friend. I ended up loaning my pen to several folk who wanted David’s autograph,
and then I got my chance to talk to him.
As I introduced myself, I shook his hand and said, “Thanks for
telling the truth, and I hope that your life is
getting back together” - or words along those lines. He responded with a polite “Thank you”, and comments
suggesting that things were getting back on track for him. I then mentioned how tough I thought he was on
himself in the book, and he responded along the lines that it wouldn’t have made any sense to not acknowledge
his failings. I could see/sense that this line of conversation was making him unhappy, and who wants to make a
friend unhappy? So I added “And you kicked Tucker’s ass on TV the other night!” A megawatt smile broke
out on his face, and we all had a good laugh over that. As I moved along I was thinking how much I liked the guy,
and how happy I was to see him “get back... to where you once belonged”, back in the company of liberals and
progressives - people who are willing to forgive him. I went out for a cigarette - I know, a nasty habit, but it’s me.
And although I looked for her, I never found Demgirl again that night. As I was furtively puffing away Bart
passed by. I introduced myself, and we talked for a bit, and he said what I was to hear over and over again
this night - “I just wish the Democrats would get up and fight!” So do I Bart, so do I.
Another beer, Budweiser - I didn’t know that they had the “good
stuff” over at the main bar yet- and as I wade
towards the Buzzflash table a huge bellowing voice rings out. It’s Carville, possibly the only person in the place
that could make themselves heard over the din. Without a microphone, Carville has managed to get everyone’s
attention...the room gets quiet. (I looked my watch, it was 8:33PM.) Someone points out that there is a small
sound system and a mike along the other wall, and Carville goes to it and starts speaking.
Since I didn’t have a tape recorder, I have only my notoriously
leaky memory to rely on - a round about way
of saying that I cannot recall one word of what was said, but I can give you the gist, the feeling. First off, I must
mention that when Carville smiles, he smiles on all frequencies - he broadcasts! (A piece by M. E. Cowan,
posted at Democrats.com, has some real quotes. Here’s the link:
He had the crowd roaring - when he mentioned Ken Starr’s name the crowd booed and hissed. When he
mentioned the OIC’s threats against Julie’s adopted son, the anger on Carville’s face, and in the room,
was palpable - and loud. He mentioned, as he so often does on Crossfire, something that most Americans
want to forget, but not this crowd, that Dubya was “selected, not elected”. You have no idea how liberating
it was to be in a room with 300+ people when they roared their approval at such an obvious statement.
I was thinking, we Democrats have to get together more often. Then it was Smokin’ Joe’s turn at the mic.
Conason read from prepared remarks, and although less theatrical
than Carville’s off-the-cuff remarks,
he was no less passionate about the courage of our guest of honor. He spoke about interviewing Julie for
the documentary film he’s working on, based on the book “The Hunting of the President” - he started off
by mentioning that the co-author of the book, Gene Lyons, was with us in spirit. This quote is lifted from
M. E. Cowan’s piece, on Democrats.com - see above link - but it was the pivotal part of his remarks,
and a question that I have asked myself so often - he said he asked her “...why she didn't give in rather
than lose her job, her home, her comfortable existence. She'd said yes, she had lost a lot; but if she'd said
what they wanted her to say, knowing it was a lie, she would have lost her integrity.”
It is often said of people who sell their “soul” to the highest bidder, “How do they sleep at night?”, and,
“How can they look at themselves in the mirror?”. The current pResident comes to mind. I think that
David Brock eventually decided that he could no longer do it, and his public repentance is much to be
admired - it takes a brave man to admit mistakes, confess his faults, and ask for forgiveness from those
he has hurt. But Julie already knew that she couldn’t sleep, nor face her reflected image if she lied.
On her personal scale, material and physical comfort is out weighed
by doing what is right. This is so
much a part of the spirit of what once made this country great - it may not be “Give me Liberty, or
give me Death!”, but it is damned close!
Carville had gotten the crowd all fired up, and Conason’s speech
focused on the spirit of the woman
that we were here to honor and support. Now it was time for the lady herself.
I can’t be sure if it was the crowd that shouted, “Julie, Julie, Julie...” for several minutes, or if it was just me,
shouting in my head, but I do know that the response was thunderous, and that after awhile Julie looked
embarrassed by it all. Eventually the crowd quieted down - there’s only so long you can clap your hands
and shout, and I think we all tested it’s limits that night - and then we were all exposed to that force of
nature named Julie Hiatt Steele.
Now, public speaking is a craft barely mastered by those who have even worked hard at it. I have seen
some of the most gregarious people that I know, struck mute when placed in front of a microphone.
I have “choked” at making the wedding toast more times than I care to remember, but Julie is a natural in
front of the microphone. She spoke to the us as easily as she spoke to any individual - her charm, her wit,
and her warmth embraced all of us. She went over parts of her experience with Ken Starr and the OIC,
joking that at times she didn’t realize that the person they were talking about was her - I’m paraphrasing here
- “They said they knew that I went shopping or went on a picnic with Kathleen Willey, and I said
“Well tell me, did I have a good time?””.
She joked about her current situation as living in “reduced circumstances”.
But she got dead serious when
she said that what happened to her must never be allowed to happen to anyone in this country, ever again.
She pointed out that the attempt by the republicans to impeach President Clinton was part of a continuum
that lead directly to the stolen election of 2000. She also pointed out that although Dubya and the Xtreme
Court 5 (my description) should be by all rights impeached, she said it ain’t gonna happen. What we need
to do, she said, is to see that we elect a Democratic majority in Congress this year, and a Democratic president
in 2004. But she warned that the one thing that gives the Democratic party it’s strength, it’s diversity, often times
works to our disadvantage, by diluting our message. What the party needs to do is adopt a few simple, easy to
understand, themes, and then hammer them home to victory. She didn’t say it, but this is the Carville strategy
- remember, “It’s the economy, stupid!” - one in which I heartily agree. I think that it was around this point that
people started shouting “Senator Steele”, which just made Julie roll her eyes upward in exasperation.
Another treat was in store, as her son Adam made it to her side.
Adam is as cute a button, and their obvious
affection for each other was enough to get this sentimental old fool all misty eyed. Someone behind me shouted
“Adam for class president”, but I don’t think Julie heard it. Julie closed by thanking her attorney, and then
thanking Bartcop, and then she called him up to the mike. We still had enough energy left to shout “Bart, Bart, Bart...”
long enough to embarrass him, but Bart shied away from any speeches. Bart may have been reluctant to stand in
the spotlight, but this was his evening as much as Julie’s.
He proved that some “low IQ wannabe internet tequilaboy comedian”
with a modem, a mouth, the truth,
and a great idea - not to mention, a lot of heart - can make a profound difference. Julie finished up by
answering some questions that had been e-mailed to Bartcop - Christian was now up there with Julie,
and she read them off. The last one asked for a brief overview of her court case with the OIC - the crowd
groaned, and Julie threw up her hands and said, paraphrasing again, “I’ve never been accused of being brief!”.
And then it was over, the speeches, that is. There was still plenty
of time for tasting Cinaco Anjeho, and the
South’s Finest Chocolate - treats that I’ll be seeking out again for private enjoyment. The rest of the night was
a flurry of small conversations, here and there, with so many great people, but sieve brain that I am when it
comes to people’s names, I’ve forgotten all of them - except Max, it’s not easy to forget a woman named Max.
At the Buzzflash raffle - surprise! - I actually won something! I never win at raffles! This was a copy of
“Blinded by the Right”, autographed by David Brock. I had bought and read the book already, but the
autograph is way cool. I guess I’ll give my copy to a friend. I bought a Juliefest tee shirt - anything I can
do to make the “pie grow higher”.
And then I had another conversation with Julie. I had a few words
with Julie early in the evening, as I have
explained, but mostly I had just been a stunned listener. Now I had an opportunity to actually talk to her
- one on one. If I were a better writer, I could probably do justice to an encounter with this most remarkable
woman. I might be better able to describe the emotions that flash across her face, as she careens from topic
to topic, always ending up back where she started when she veered so stunningly off course. I might be able
to describe the meta-data that she conveys with a wave of her hand, or a toss of her head. I suddenly felt a
great wave of affection for this brave and inspiring woman. I wished that I had a magic wand to make
everything right for her again. Or barring that, I wished that I had the money or power to do the same.
I can only hope that I, in my own small way, and Juliefest in
general, was able to give her a little breathing room.
I can only hope that she can draw some comfort from outpouring of love and admiration that was displayed here
tonight. I came here tonight to see what a real hero looks like, and I discovered that one looks very much like
anyone of “us” who were here tonight. An ordinary person thrust into an extraordinary situation, but one who
had the depth and strength of character to do the right thing, and not the easy one. I also jokingly said, that I
came here to see if some of it would rub off on me. I can only hope that some of it rubbed off on everyone
who was there, because we will need all the strength, and character, and determination that we can muster,
if we ever hope to take back our country from the anti-democratic forces that tried to stage the impeachment
coup - leaving Julie’s life as collateral damage - and then went on to stage the judicial coup of 2000.
As I walked back to my hotel room that night, in a light drizzle
on a warm spring night in DC, I heard Julie’s
voice in my head, saying that “One person CAN make a difference.” Oh yes, Julie, one person CAN make
a difference, You have, Bart has, and so maybe can we - the “us” assembled here tonight. I sincerely hope so,
because we - “us” - are what this country is, or was, supposed to be about.
And based on what I saw that evening, I like “us” a whole lot.
Robert C. is an incredibly slow writer because (1) - he's not very good, and (2) - he spends a lot of time
trying to "put food on his family", and then some more time trying to cook that food! Getting these few
pages about Juliefest out in just 9 days is something of a land speed record for him!