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March 24, 2005

IN THE MAIL: Lance Morrow's The Best Year of their Lives: Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon in 1948. None of them, as best as I can tell from a quick look-through, come across as especially appealing. But I liked the "Interlude" that sets the stage of Washington in 1948. Here's a bit:

When John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and Lyndon Johnson were young men in Washington, there were no nightclubs (except the forlorn Blue Mirror downtown), and only a handful of decent restaurants . . . . The tinny National Symphony played in Constitution Hall. The National Theater on Pennsylvania Avenue (around the corner from the Treasury Department, the theater an island of lonely festivity in the surrounding darkness of deserted downtown Washington) offered shows that (if one was lucky) were trying out for Broadway or (if one was not lucky) for earnest cultural exchange companies. . . . Congressman Kennedy fled town when he could.

I remember practicing law in Washington in the late eighties, and having someone tell me that twenty years earlier a senior civil servant could afford to eat anywhere in town. But with the flood of lobbyists that started in the 1970s, things got posher, and now senior civil servants feel poor. That's a real change.

I like this anecdote, too:

Nicholas Longworth, the former Speaker of the House . . . . who had gone almost totally bald at an early age, was lounging in a leather chair in the Capitol when another member ran his hand over Longworth's bare scalp and said, "Nice and smooth. Feels just like my wife's bottom."

Longworth ran his own hand over his head and said, "Yes, so it does."

Hard to imagine that line from Dennis Hastert, isn't it? Or a host of others, these days.

UPDATE: Legions of readers inform me that the bald-head anecdote is an old chestnut dating back to Ramses II if not earlier. Strangely, I'd never heard it before. Live and learn.