Let me mention a fellow who used to be in the Senate. Alan Dixon is his name, but people call him Al the Pal. The Senate may never have seen a more practiced backslapper and glad-hander, and thatís saying something. Al was turfed out of office by his own Democratic Party in 1992. He spent 40 years winning elections, but he sure didnít see that one coming.
Now, Al has written a book. Never let it be said that a man is more thoughtful and articulate in print than he is in real life. And while weíre never letting things be said, never let it be said that a man late in life grasps the opportunity of hindsight to weigh the events of his younger self. But I digress. There will be time to do that later. Suffice it to say Al doesnít do introspection. Al does extroversion. He does it in person and now he does it on the page.
Alís book is ďThe Gentleman From Illinois: Stories From Forty Years of Elective Public ServiceĒ and the title isnít kidding. Heís got stories all right. Many barely have beginnings and some donít have points, but they all come to an end, or at least Al stops telling them. More importantly, the stories have characters. Good, salt-of-the-earth people, even if some of them did wind up behind bars. Al lived by the old maxim that politics is about people and he writes by the same maxim. Imagine a guy who works the Rotary Clubs and church socials of Illinois for decades. That guy keeps a trunk full of yarns, knows the value of name dropping, and calibrates the self-deprecation to keep the car salesmen and beer distributors nodding approvingly. Thatís Al.
That Al placed a lot of importance on personal connections was obvious even when he was a kid, growing up on Wabash Avenue in Belleville, Ill. Thatís St. Louis Cardinals territory. Cards great Enos Slaughter co-owned a jewelry store in the very same building where Al had an office. Iíll add only that Slaughter used to hang out at Tony Bonnelleís Italian restaurant a few blocks away and now Iíll return to the point. When Oliver Muser, Alís favorite teacher, explained that Hitler was killing the Jews in Europe, Alís at a loss because he didnít know any Jews.
Al would be the first to admit heís a people person. Events donít happen unless they arrive with a smile and a handshake and maybe a willingness to share a cold beer. Civil rights, Vietnam, the Cold War, Pearl Harbor, culture wars, inflation, unemployment? Faceless and nameless and so barely worth a mention.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.