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Margaret Carlson -- widely read Time columnist, regular CNN panelist, political insider, and hostess of A-list but scarcely traditional Washington dinners -- has been commenting on American life for over a decade. In Anyone Can Grow Up, she expands on her writings about presidents, politics, morals, children, family life, and lessons from her own life. In the section entitled "Presidential Material," Carlson reflects on what it takes to be president by looking at those who choose to pursue the office (and by extension, those, like her, who choose to cover the pursuit). She looks at the hard facts (offices held, speeches given, money raised) and the soft, sometimes determinative, ones (how the candidates talk and look, how they perform under pressure, who they marry and divorce when no one is looking, and how they get into -- and out of -- scrapes). The best man doesn't always win. That's why those who've lost, and those who almost run but don't, are covered as well. Bush Sr. and son, and Clinton in his scandalous term, are here. Carlson also takes a look at those whom have thought of running, like Donald Trump, those who America wanted to run, like Colin Powell, and those who've run and lost, like John McCain. Carlson draws from her own life in the "Family Matters" section as well, commenting on subjects relating to children, women, and men -- from abortion to balancing work and family, from feminism to sexual harassment. Finally, in the last section, we read about what makes us who we are and what makes us do what we do. From breaking down how congressmen make money on the side to what cost Newt Gingrich his job, from days in court trying the Menendez brothers to a memorable three-hour lunch with Katharine Hepburn that didn't turn out the way she imagined, Carlson finds the strength of character, or lack of it, in Americans famous and not. Carlson gets as many as a hundred letters a week from readers who say, "That's exactly what I was thinking." In the vein of Anna Quindlen, Ellen Goodman, and Bill O'Reilly, here is a wise and witty book from a writer who knows what makes us tick.
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Margaret Carlson was named a columnist for Time magazine in 1994, making her the first woman columnist in the magazine's seventy-eight-year history. She also serves as a panelist on CNN's political programs Inside Politics and The Capital Gang. She has one daughter and lives in Washington, D.C.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Part One: Personal or Family Matters
My story doesn't begin with tales of working on The Harvard Crimson or memories of evenings gathered around the dinner table discussing the issues of the day. In the Bresnahan household, we sat around the dinner table all right. Eating was a major pastime. But the issues of our day ran more to the progress of my mother's projects for fixing up the house (a more sophisticated toolbox and she could have built us a new one), under what conditions my father would be allowed to attend the weekly poker game (my mother, whose Irish father died from drink, worried over the amount of beer consumed at these get-togethers), and trying to get Jimmy, my older brother, who was having a hard go of it, to say how school had gone that day. There were four of us back then, my stay-at-home mother, my father, who worked at the nearby military depot, Jimmy, and me. The setting was typical, the paneled station wagon in the driveway of the cookie-cutter postwar house. The chatter at dinner was incessant but rarely about the news. My parents loved John Kennedy (he was Catholic) and didn't love Richard Nixon (he wasn't, and picked on Helen Gahagan Douglas, who was). Politically, that was about it.
Yet my parents propelled me toward journalism as surely as if they'd had the Alsops over for cocktails every night. My brother had suffered serious brain damage at birth, and their struggle to give him a normal life stamped my view of the world. I learned quickly to dislike those who slight the weak or different or unlucky. I learned that when no one is looking, those who think of themselves as the best people can behave like the worst. It wasn't the pale kid with asthma who taunted my brother, it was the tall, good-looking one with the Schwinn three-speed and the Ted Williams bat. From an early age, I kept a list of "People Who Must Be Stopped." Like some tiny, pigtailed Mike Wallace, I tracked down the parents of kids who didn't play fair and squealed on them. I had a moral purpose in becoming an annoying tattletale, but that didn't make me less annoying. It was a wonder I had any playmates at all.
By the time I arrived, the two high school sweethearts, Mary Catherine McCreary and James Francis Xavier Bresnahan, already knew the life they blithely assumed would be theirs was over. Two years earlier, soon after my father returned from the war, they had brought their first child, deprived of oxygen in a difficult delivery at an army hospital, home. There was no testing then for developmental problems. Only gradually did they discover how severe the damage was. Decades later, in the blissful two weeks my parents visited after my daughter was born, my normally taciturn father told me of the morning when I was four and Jimmy was six and he'd been trying for months to get my brother to sound out the letters on the back of the cornflakes box. I'd absorbed every bit of that tutoring, at the same time it bounced off my brother. One morning I sat down and read off how many box tops were needed, how the contest was void where prohibited, and that the employees of Kellogg were not eligible to compete. He told me that that night in bed, he and my mother cried themselves to sleep, half in sorrow, half in relief.
Yet as a small child I sensed little of their grief. Jimmy was talkative and could ask a hundred questions: Where's my Davy Crockett hat? Can I make Jell-O? Did you see the Sauers got a riding mower? When's Grandma coming? Unlike families whose children know what they don't know and are filled with longing for what they cannot have, Jimmy wasn't self-aware enough to complain. That, in its way, was a gift, and it saved us.
My mother wanted our lives to orbit around Jimmy's, which turned her into a manic Martha Stewart and my already sweet-tempered father into a saint. It made me uncommonly devoted at first -- I liked being in the thick of things, my brother's protector, my parents' fallback, my own counsel -- but remote and rebellious later. I was a bookworm by nature, but "sticking my nose in a book" when I could be joining in kneading bread, banging in stakes for the tomato plants, making pottery, or holding up a piece of knotty-pine paneling for my mother to measure was discouraged.
In the morning, my mother would try to teach Jimmy practical things: how to brush his teeth (that was successful), tie a tie (that wasn't), or put a belt through his pant loops (a semisuccess: back loops, no; front loops, yes). Since she was so much more intelligent than the tasks at hand, my mother restlessly gave over her afternoons to organizing the Altar Guild, halfheartedly learning bridge and generally bending the house to her will, including the walls and pipes.
Neither of my parents was born handy with tools, yet my mother was reluctant to hire a carpenter or a plumber, so my father became bad at both. After we moved from a row house in Washington to a Cape Cod in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Harrisburg, my mother nagged my father into laying flagstone for a patio, then screening in the flagstone patio, then putting a door between the kitchen and the porch. One day I came home from school to find that my mother had knocked out the new door and wall entirely and maneuvered the table around the remaining studs onto the porch. What had once been a patio was now, apparently, a dining room. She announced we would be eating there from then on. It was summer, so my father had time to rough in windows and install insulation before the first frost.
We didn't eat on that porch for long. As soon as it was finished, it filled with equipment: a pottery wheel and a kiln for my mother's pots, a sewing machine (and a dress form), gardening tools (we grew tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, and onions), and a stack of oven bricks to make her homemade bread rise properly. Mom did not work alone. "Are you sick?" she would ask, feeling my forehead for a fever if she caught me sitting down. She lined three walls of the basement with shelves filled with enough canned goods to survive six months. She built a long sewing table with slots underneath for bolts of fabric she got wholesale. She bought a deep freezer at a garage sale, so she would no longer be constrained in her baking by what we could consume in a day. Had the nuclear catastrophe we crouched under our desks in preparation for come to pass, the neighbors would have rushed to our house.
It was the perfect childhood if I'd wanted to grow up to be a contractor, an interior decorator, or a survivalist. And I was mostly happy in it, although the only place I could read in peace was the bathtub, where, to trick my mother, I would make occasional swishing sounds in water turned icy cold so I could finish the latest Nancy Drew mystery. My friend Joanne coveted Nancy Drew's roadster. I coveted her calm household.
It felt as though we went out a lot, but we had quite a few restrictions. My father flew for his job, but my mother was phobic about flying -- loudly so -- and made Jimmy phobic, too. (When he saw the Pan Am crash in Lockerbie, Scotland, on CNN he said, "Mom was right.") We never went anywhere my brother couldn't go -- not to a movie, a museum, or a play. We went to the beaches or mountains we could reach by car (or in the RV we briefly owned). My first trip by air was to Paris for a junior year abroad. I was in college before I set foot in a museum.
Most Saturday nights we went to dinner at my dad's parents'. My stern grandfather was a butcher, and back when a steak was a steak, he brought sirloins home. What a feast! We ate well at our house, but the menu ran to stews and pot roasts, not your very own cut of meat. My father's mother, Gertie, had a braid of red hair down her back, smoked butts during Lent when she gave up cigarettes, drank Pabst Blue Ribbon, and let us kids stand on a stool to put nickels in the slot machine at the Rod 'n Reel down the street from our cottage at Chesapeake Beach.
While the rest of us had mashed potatoes and wedges of iceberg with Thousand Island dressing, my grandfather was served boiled potatoes and peas in a separate dish by my doting grandmother. This seemed an exotic form of married love to me, and I wondered if it was that tender gesture to Granddad, not my grandmother's swearing and drinking, that made her such an annoyance to my mother. After we tired of watching the adults play cards, the cousins would head down to the basement to run around like maniacs until we collapsed in a sweaty heap of sleep on the coats piled on the sofa. I slept on the lining side, my brother on the wool.
When I was little, I didn't resist my mother's urgings to "go out and play and take your brother with you." I chose Jimmy for my side ("If you want me, you have to take him"), and I tried to guide the games toward large motor skills that he could manage (hide-and-seek) and away from small ones he couldn't (marbles, pogo sticks). Because Jimmy was never to be left alone, I urged the neighborhood kids to come over to my house. They loved coming. It wasn't just the scrumptious food or the home-churned ice cream that they had never thought of coming from anywhere but the freezer section of the A&P that pulled them in. It was the messy, kid-centered chaos of it.
Although my mother always seemed to be cleaning like a madwoman, our house wasn't orderly, so if you found yourself in the middle of Parcheesi, you could put the board in the corner under the card table with the jigsaw puzzle on top and be sure it would be there when you came back -- as would the jigsaw, for years at a time. Jimmy loved jamming straight-edged pieces into the middle. Once when we at last finished a harbor scene without losing any pieces, my mother shellacked it and hung it above the piano.
My parents took care of everything inside the house. I was left to patrol the perimeter, where I administered rough justice. Twisting the training wheels on Jimmy's bike (he never learned to ride without them) was a minor sport among the bullies. Frustrated, I went to Patrick's house and told his father that his son was the ringleader of the bunch. I was met with a blank stare and the bang of the screen door as he turned to yell for his wife to come downstairs. She never came. So the next time, I threw a rock and bloodied Pat's nose. Years later, my daughter got her hands on my old report cards and was delighted to learn that I got an F in deportment -- with the note from Mother Marita Joseph that I was to leave the summary executions to her.
I still get furious when someone makes fun of Jimmy. Not long ago, a guy in a three-piece suit got in the elevator in my office building with Jimmy and me. Unfamiliar with high-rise etiquette, Jimmy made inappropriate eye contact. When Mr. Lawyer got off, he looked back and said, "Weirdo." I returned to his floor, hunted him down at his law firm, and told his secretary what had happened -- to a blank stare. I tried to bloody his nose in a letter to the senior partner at the firm what had happened. I never heard back.
Because Jimmy demanded constant attention, I grew up partly in a state of benign neglect, which is vastly underrated by today's parents as a child-rearing technique. I didn't lack for affection and approval: the simplest thing I did was a joy to my parents. But I wasn't overmanaged. The only time I remember parental intervention was in seventh grade, when my father helped me bend a plant toward the light so I would have a plausible example of photosynthesis for entry in the science fair.
This was no doubt the most unethical thing he ever did -- this man who never got so much as a parking ticket, who lifted his thumbs off the steering wheel every few miles to check the speedometer to be sure he was abiding by the posted limit -- unless you count résumé inflation. When I was going through papers to organize my brother's life after my father's sudden death, I came across Jimmy's application to work at the naval depot. Under "Previous Job Experience," Dad wrote "Dishwasher at the country club." That much was true. Under "other duties," he added: "Assisted in the bar." That was a stretch. I knew the bartender. He wanted Jimmy nowhere near the maraschino cherries, much less the glassware.
The Church of the Good Shepherd was school, country club, and social center. My father was an usher at Sunday mass, and my mother ironed the linens for the altar; they chaperoned bowling nights and knew all my classmates. Like my dad (a non-college grad who used his GI credits to land a white-collar job as a contract specialist for the navy), most of the fathers in our parish worked in low white- or high blue-collar jobs.
The nuns taught as if each of us might win a Nobel Prize, and if they gave them out for long division or diagramming sentences, I'd have one under my belt by now. Their horizons didn't stretch much beyond the Susquehanna River. While others worried about Sputnik, we took up collections for pagan babies and went to see only those movies acceptable to the Legion of Decency. Our class trip was always to Hershey Park, where, after watching chocolate being made and stuffing ourselves with free samples, we rode the roller coaster. There was no slow track: each of us had a soul to be saved, so each of us had a brain to be honed. I never saw the nuns hit a student. We feared detention, censure, disappointment, but not the ruler. Step out of line and you would be ostracized, not just by Sister Mary William, but by the whole class. We'd all be deprived of crossword puzzles and spelling bees for a week.
But even the nuns' expansive idea of who could be taught wasn't enough to encompass Jimmy. What were my parents to do? Their main point of reference was the Kennedy family, which suggests that all the money and all the experts in the world is not enough. Ashamed of his eldest daughter, Rosemary, who had been deprived of oxygen at birth, Joe Kennedy, without telling his wife, had her lobotomized. She had lived at home before but was shipped off afterward to a school in Wisconsin for "exceptional children." Our small town had no schools for exceptional children, and surely if it meant living there, my brother would not have gone. Instead he started going to a "sheltered workshop" nearby, where the production of lanyards and pot holders outstripped local demand, but which occupied him. He looked around and didn't understand why he was there at first. "I'm not handicapped," he kept saying. But soon he was engaged in the activities. At dinner, he gave a blow-by-blow of his day, which was exactly like every other day, which was why he came to like it. We were thrilled by every word.
The dynamic of our family changed when I went off to Bishop McDevitt High School. Before then, I'd been a child of limited means but endless possibilities. We had everything I could think of -- a shiny Chevrolet, a TV, summer vacations, a big lawn with a volleyball net, and Reader's Digest condensed books. We fit into our neighborhood with houses so similar that you could practically walk into someone else's kitchen and open the refrigerator before realizing it wasn't yours.
Suddenly I entered a new world. McDevitt had a modest tuition, which many of my former schoolmates' parents couldn't pay. S...
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Book Description Simon & Schuster, 2003. Hardcover. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # DADAX0684808900
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