Monday, November 26, 2012

MY PENN STATE YEARS: Politics, Fame, Love


Another lesson I learned at Penn State was the emptiness of “fame.” I was the head of a conservative student political organization, Penn State Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), that was particularly active and that grew rapidly during the 1966–1968 years, partly to counter the activism of the school’s left- wingers, especially as it related to the Viet Nam War. Many people knew me on campus. Those who were merely acquaintances would strike up much the same conversation, which got to be a bore. No one asked for an autograph, mind you, but it became clear that being “known” was not all that hot. Of course, being known as a liberal might have been better.

Our YAF chapter did run a successful campaign that got me elected to be a delegate to the Republican National Convention (Miami, 1968). The effort was masterminded by Don Ernsberger, a friend who went on to become educator, book author, and the assistant chief of staff to a Member of Congress. We put posters up in almost all of the ten counties of Pennsylvania’s 23rd Congressional District. I had written weekly opinion pieces for the local paper in the neighboring town of Bellefonte, and during the campaign we issued a half-dozen position papers that also ran in a few local papers. Two out of the five who were running were to be elected. I was the second highest vote-getter, partly because my name appeared near the top among the five candidates on the ballot, the positions assigned by lot. I have the certificate on my wall, indicating I received 16,193 votes on 23 April, 1968. Not bad.

We had a party that night and listened to the election returns. We celebrated. I was so happy, I backed my car into a tree. I still dislike backing up.

As an elected delegate, I got to participate in the Republican National Nominating Convention that nominated Richard Nixon, who went on to beat Hubert Humphrey for the presidency. I personally preferred Ronald Reagan but did not think he could win, and my constituents preferred Nixon. The powers-that-were in Pennsylvania wanted our governor, Raymond P. Shafer, to get our votes, as a favorite son, to help in nominating Nelson Rockefeller eventually; but they recognized quickly that my motivation was ideological, not political, and that there was not much they could offer to give me or threaten to take from me that would move me. A handful of others in our delegation joined me in going against the governor. The other delegate from the 23rd C.D. seemed to have caved in, by the way.

I also learned that Miami in August had the climate of a steam bath, without the charm.


For much of my stay at Penn State, I generously shared my apartment with my then-girlfriend, Laura. She was perhaps even more of a political activist than I. Attractive, smart, creative, rather off-beat, a libertarian-conservative Jewish girl from Long Island, she was my partner in much that I did while there. “Off-beat”? She had a pet mink, Yang, who was tame and friendly, going against the stereotypes of the breed. Less off-beat, I had a “beautiful young cat, UFO, “Uninhibited Furry Object.” UFO became lost or stolen, alas.

One year our YAF group put together a team to compete in the Penn State College Bowl quiz competition, something like today’s Jeopardy game. Scores of teams entered, but Laura and I, along with Don Ernsberger, Anton Ness and Jay Clenny, won hands down, giving us a nice public relations boost. I still have the trophy.

I moved to Cambridge in the fall of 1969. After she moved to nearby Boston, Laura and I got together frequently, but lived apart. I don’t think we discussed marrying. We had “gone steady” but had not become engaged. By 1971, I was engaged to C, my future wife. Eventually, Laura married a physicist friend of mine, a talented and good-looking political ally, but that marriage didn’t last. I hadn’t been invited to the wedding. I think she became a lawyer thereafter.

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