This week I had the pleasure of doing an Urban Think! Bookstore book sale for Helen Thomas and her co-author Craig Crawford. They’ve published Listen Up Mr. President: Everything You Always Wanted Your President to Know and Do. The title speaks for itself because, after decades of intense president-watching, Helen knows the score. You’re familiar with Helen; but just in case you need a bit of help, she is the older lady who sat up front at White House press briefings, often causing the presidents to sweat by asking direct, informed, and often probing questions. It’s no small measure of the respect afforded her that she was the only member of the White House press corps to have her own chair in the press room. One might therefore conclude that she spoke ex cathedra, but she actually respected her fellow reporters as much as she respected the work she did for UPI starting in 1943. 1943– that’s the middle of World War II ! And she’s still with us, offering up pithy advice and no-nonsense observations based on how his constituency expects a president how to act.
Even at eighty-nine, you can tell that she misses nothing. Those great, big, beautiful eyes sweep a room, taking in all its nuances and assessing the realm. Though I did not sit in during her face-to-face with the Tiger Bay networking group here in Orlando, I could hear the hundreds of people in attendance roaring at her comments. And, as befits an intelligent woman of the fourth estate, her steadily professional non-partisanship occasionally tipped over into jabs at our past Republican leaders. You can thank George W. Bush for that; his snubbing disrespect of her was based, I believe, in his unwillingness and inability to address the hard questions that Thomas posed, much like that Palin person’s fetching little way of dealing with reporters. Hey, can you imagine if Helen Thomas had gotten to question Palin? The resigned Alaskan governor might have been reduced to a smoking ash heap on the carpet.
Helen and Craig graciously signed many, many books for the attendees, and then I had them sign one for me; I introduced myself as their bookseller, and I tell you– you are drawn in instantly by Thomas’ warmth and generosity of spirit. I’ve worked with Craig previously on other events, and he never loses the smile. Afterwards, when she was being escorted out and toward their next gig, they detached themselves from their posse and made a point of thanking me for vending the book. Authors at these events rarely do that. That’s class !
If you are so inclined, get yourselves a copy of this fascinating book. While presented as a series of object lessons for presidents, it’s also filled with anecdotes about all the presidents that Helen Thomas has had the opportunity of working with, and Craig’s incisive observations gleaned from working as one of the District’s most intuitive political commentators. It’s funny, yet smart and full of telling little barbs. And not once do the authors launch partisan attacks– they simply state the facts, as good reporters do. (Are you listening, FOX?) You can tell that Helen in particular is dismayed at the way the once-respectable GOP was handed over to the outermost fringes of the right wing by Ronald Reagan, and how that faction has a stranglehold on the party today, but you can also sense her urgent call for our current Democrat leaders to get to work.
Still… I’m glad she’s a Progressive. I salute you, Helen Thomas!