Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Hey, Bill

In the summer of 1972, I was 15 years old and working in the office of Congressman Philip M. Crane of Illinois. It sounds grander than it was – I basically spent all my time in the congressman’s hot, stuffy attic storage area in the Longworth Building running an AB Dick 360 printing press for various campaign-related materials. But I was down in the office quite a bit, as they also let me draft some letters, play around with their Ur-word processor (called a MagCard), and make lunch runs.

For those of you kids for whom 1972 is basically the Dark Ages, a little history lesson. That summer, the Democrats had nominated George McGovern to be their presidential candidate, and he had chosen a Missouri senator named Thomas Eagleton to be his running mate. But only a week or two into the campaign, it came out that Eagleton has spent some time in a mental hospital and had been subjected to repeated bouts of electroshock therapy. (Think Jack Nicholson in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”) After a lot of press buzz, McGovern was forced to dump Eagleton and chose as his replacement Sargent Shriver, the former head of the Peace Corps and (hey, it couldn’t hurt) Jack Kennedy’s brother-in-law.

About a week after all this transpired, one of Crane’s earnest young office workers came running into the office with big news. “Some jerk intern” (as he put it) in Senator Scoop Jackson’s office was offering to buy up any McGovern/Eagleton buttons, sticker or signs for $1 each. We were flabbergasted. Who in their right mind would want to blow their money on useless campaign materials? (The notion that this stuff might be collectable never occurred to us; in fact, back then most people treated all kinds of stuff we would cherish today as disposable.)

So we gathered up all the stuff we could find. I had a few buttons, and one of the secretaries had a stack of bumper stickers. (All the congressional offices did; McGovern’s folks had sent this stuff around to everybody, Republicans and Democrats alike.) Somebody took it all over to Jackson’s office, and I got $3 back, which I immediately spent on a Philly cheesesteak at one of the little food caverns under the Capitol.

Years later, I was reading a biography of Bill Gates, and there it was: he was the “jerk intern” in Scoop Jackson’s office. Even at 17, his little entrepreneurial mind was churning away. I hope he eventually made a decent profit on my McGovern/Eagleton buttons. I like to think that my little seed germinated into the $38 billion Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. And if I have any other stuff laying around that he might want – make me an offer, Bill.

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