Fighting the Good Fight
Somebody had to do it. A life as eventful as his all but begs for a book. Happily, Bill Press has taken on the task. In “From the Left: A Life in the Crossfire,” he charts his trajectory from the seminary through a life in politics to his current prominence in the political media. It’s quite a journey, and he gives readers the full tour, describing how “a misguided young redneck” from a small town in Delaware became the voice of progressive causes.
Press grew up in Delaware City, where his grandfather served as mayor. His own aspirations for public service initially led him toward the priesthood, a calling that ended ten years later when he realized he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life teaching. During a year off in California, he found himself drawn instead toward politics, thinking it might offer “an opportunity to improve the human condition, without all the trappings or limits of organized religion.” He became involved in Eugene McCarthy’s campaign for president, went on to work with Governor Jerry Brown, ran for office himself, and ended up chairing the California Democratic Party.
Still searching for the right mix—involvement in public policy issues plus a desire to stay in the public eye—Press landed a job doing political commentary on KABC-TV in Los Angeles. Then in 1996, he came to DC to serve as a cohost of “Crossfire.” At the same time, he was asked to chair the Democratic National Committee. Torn, he asked the advice of his friend Bob Novak, who told him he could be a journalist or a politician, but he couldn’t be both. Fortunately for his many fans, Press chose the media.
Bursting with anecdotes, “From the Left” will be political catnip to his fellow Washingtonians. But while Press candidly speaks his mind—even naming a number of people whom he’d cross the street to avoid—he remains for the most part above the fray. “[M]y approach is to look for the good in everybody and try to get along with everybody at some level,” he writes. “Life is too short to make it any more difficult than it already is.” But he also vows to continue fighting the good fight. “It’s been a great run so far—and it ain’t over yet.”
Press and his wife Carol have lived on Capitol Hill for more than 20 years. He is the host of “The Bill Press Show,” simulcast on Free Speech TV, and the former cohost of MSNBC’s “Buchanan and Press” and CNN’s “Crossfire” and “The Spin Room.” He is also host of the popular “Talk of the Town” discussions at the Hill Center. For more, visit www.billpressshow.com.
Cracking the Whip
David Bonior is also a former seminarian who was drawn to politics. Elected to Congress in 1976, he came to DC just as Jimmy Carter was moving into the White House and ended up outlasting six presidents and serving for eleven years as the House Democratic whip. In “Whip: Leading the Progressive Battle During the Rise of the Right,” he provides a candid primer on how to build a successful political career, complete with victories, defeats, and all the missteps in between.
Bonior grew up in East Detroit, a story told in the first volume of his autobiography, “Eastside Kid: A Memoir of My Youth from Detroit to Congress,” which details how his early religious and athletic training helped shape his political values. In “Whip,” he relates how he applied those principles to a host of progressive causes, leading the fight to help Vietnam veterans, opposing US support for Central American wars, and challenging trade deals such as NAFTA that he felt were harmful to American labor.
The Michigan congressman also distinguished himself as the chief antagonist of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose judgment and ethics he questioned. Despite the risk to his own political career, Bonior writes that “I’d gotten into this business to do good, progressive things for people and none of them would be possible with Gingrich at the helm.” Four years of dogged ethics investigations finally led to Gingrich being forced to resign both his speakership and his seat in the House.
A long-time Hill resident, Bonior has managed to avoid what he calls Potomac Fever, an affliction caused by exposure to the heady trappings of power. He writes of drinking beer and watching baseball at the Hawk ‘n’ Dove, gathering with colleagues for Chinese food at Hunan Dynasty, and being awed by the oak-paneled history of the Folger Shakespeare Library. He has also never lost sight of his mission: “Moving a nation—and a world—toward greater justice and more lasting peace.” His tenure may have ended when he left Congress in 2002, but he continues to be a champion for “a fight that will never end.”
All proceeds from the sale of “Whip” will go to www.mikvachallenge.org, a group dedicated to encouraging young people to participate in civic and political life.
And Justice for All?
In “The AboveGround Railroad,” author Melinda Robertson tells the story of Wanda Madison and her wrongly accused son, Henry, who becomes another victim of a judicial system that his mother believes is out to railroad young black men. A fictionalized version of Robertson’s own experience, the novel follows Henry’s battles through the half-hearted investigation of his “crime” by the police, his lackluster legal representation, and a trial whose verdict seems pre-ordained. Throughout the ordeal, Wanda maintains her faith in her son, vowing to keep fighting because “Henry’s life mattered!”
Melinda Robertson, who attended high school here on the Hill, is also the author of “Motherhood… What You Ought to Know,” “Fatherhood…What You Ought to Know!” and “Mistaken Identity.” For more, visit her at www.melindarobertson.com.
On the Hill in April
East City Bookshop features award-winning slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo (“Poet X”), Apr. 16, 7:30 p.m.; the launch of “Read by Strangers,” a collection of stories by Philip Dean Walker, Apr. 20, 6:30 p.m.; Black Ladies Brunch Collective presents poet Amanda Johnson (“Another Way to Say Enter”), Apr. 22, 11:00 a.m.; the paperback launch of “If We Were Villains” by M.L. Rio, Apr. 22, 4:00 p.m.; Gregg Easterbrook (“It’s Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear”), Apr. 24, 6:30 p.m.; novelist Jill Santopolo (“The Light We Lost”), Apr. 27, 6:30 p.m.; and Dayna Kurtz (“Mother Matters: A Holistic Guide to Being a Happy, Healthy Mom”), Apr. 29, 11:30 a.m. www.eastcitybookshop.com.
Folger Shakespeare Library presents “Poetry of Witness,” a Folger Poetry Board Reading with Carolyn Forché, April 30, 7:30 p.m. Tickets and information at 202-544-7077 or www.folger.edu.
The Hill Center hosts “The Life of a Poet: Conversations with Ron Charles,” with poet Matthew Zapruder, April 11, 7:00 p.m. Free but register at www.hillcenterdc.org.