Inside: A Public and Private Life

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9780792338680: Inside: A Public and Private Life

Now in paperback: Joseph Califano's "vivid and frank memoir of his remark life" (The New York Times)

Joseph A. Califano, Jr., grew up in a tight-knit working class family in Depression-era Brooklyn. His parents instilled in their son a work ethic and devotion to Church that stayed with him as he rose through the ranks of America's ruling class. From Jesuit undergraduate schools to Harvard Law, influential law firms, Robert McNamara's Pentagon, Lyndon Johnson's White House, Jimmy Carter's cabinet, Fortune 500 board rooms to his founding of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, Califano has been hard-charging, effective, and committed to his causes-whether that meant reforming the military, working for equal rights for all, struggling to be a committed Catholic in America, or combating addictions that ruin so many American lives.

Inside takes us inside Califano's public and private life as one of America's most dynamic and controversial public servants struggles to deal with the tensions of demanding public service, family life, and personal religious belief.

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About the Author:

Joseph A. Califano, Jr. held key positions in the Kennedy, Johnson, and Carter administrations as Defense Secretary Robert McNamara's top troubleshooter, LBJ's domestic affairs chief, and Carter's Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. As HEW Secretary in 1978 he started the first national antismoking campaign. In 1992, he founded the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University.

From The Washington Post:

Unless I overlook a figure of comparable magnitude, Joe Califano has had a finger in more, and bigger, pies in Washington than anyone else of his generation. From his days in the early Kennedy era as a thirtyish protégé of Robert McNamara and Cyrus Vance, he went on to the White House, where as a domestic policy counselor he helped design Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, then under Jimmy Carter to Health, Education and Welfare, of which he was the last secretary before Education was split off. And all this with profitable timeouts in law firms headed by such figures as Thomas E. Dewey, Paul Porter and Edward Bennett Williams. It's been a busy four decades.

But before wading through more than 500 pages, which open with fond accounts of his Italian Catholic boyhood in Brooklyn, the reader may ask what all the frantic activity amounts to. Were some of the pies mud pies? Yes, and Califano doesn't hide his failures and regrets. Indeed he seems to feel now that the world in which he maneuvered so brilliantly for so long has rotted a bit -- too much money chasing furtive influence, too many lawyers and lobbyists pulling hidden levers and invisible strings. This is a familiar refrain. Unaccountable processes have made many Americans cynical about politics and turned even some of the best public officials into mendicants. (It was, Califano writes, the prospect of having to raise a cool $8 million that prompted him to resist the urging of influential friends that he run for the U.S. Senate seat in New York vacated by the ailing Jacob Javits nearly 20 years ago.)

Nor does Califano palliate his own involvement in episodes typical of the twilit world. When the tranquilizers Valium and lithium, manufactured by Hoffmann-La Roche, were about to be listed as potentially addictive under a 1970 "dangerous substances" act, he approached House Speaker Carl Albert (D-Okla.) for help. Albert, a good man but an alcohol abuser himself, turned out also to be a regular user of one of the pills. He and Califano arranged to adjust the House version of the pending bill so as to remove the onus from the two tranquilizers, an operation worth billions to Califano's pharmaceutical client. Califano received a $500,000 bonus, above his billings. His partner, Paul Porter, more inured to such dealings, thought he should have asked for a million. The two tranquilizers are still widely abused.

Multiply the Valium-lithium deal by scores or hundreds, and you see why Washington has become the target of populist dissidents, right and left, who think the capital needs a roughing up by a latter-day Savonarola.

By no means all of Califano's private lawyering was of this secretive sort. Much of it was public-spirited. Of all his causes, the one he enjoyed most was his civil suit against the Nixon campaign's Committee to Re-elect the President after Watergate. The story includes an amusing whiff of the trickster's arts. His partner, Edward Bennett Williams, took the deposition of Nixon's former attorney general, John Mitchell, who headed CREEP. Williams confronted Mitchell with three large binders, labeled Mitchell I, II and III, and ostentatiously leafed through them as he questioned the ex-attorney general. Mitchell was naturally nervous. The notebook pages were blank.

In his intervals of private practice, Califano bought with reservations into the Edward Bennett Williams rationale that even rascals deserve lawyers, and that lawyers who do well are in a position to do good. It was the latter view that led to the monumental indiscretions, and fall, of Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas, a great figure at the Washington bar and in government. Thinking it a good joke, Fortas brassily listed the White House as his office address in Who's Who -- he had been a constant confidential adviser to Johnson even as he helped rule as a justice on a number of politically sensitive matters; and he added indiscretion to impudence by accepting a $20,000-per-year lifetime honorarium from an old friend with important business before the court. Yet Califano insists, plausibly, that the demands of public life have not eroded the Catholic values he absorbed from Jesuit teachers in Brooklyn and at Holy Cross. His ethical gyroscope weathered the temptations of money and power. In recent years, after surviving two bouts with cancer, he has withdrawn from legal practice to devote his time and energy to a center for the study of substance abuse at Columbia University. Some may view this as fitting atonement for brokering legal breaks for manufacturers of addictive drugs and (before he became a zealous crusader against tobacco) for having once smoked four packs of cigarettes a day.

Califano is one of the dwindling tribe of public men who write their own memoirs (and are capable of doing so); and this is a readable and valuable book. One of his conclusions, however, will surely invite debate. "For years," he writes, "partisan gridlock and political hustling . . . have led to failures of the Congress and White House . . . to legislate and execute laws on a variety of matters of urgent concern to our citizens. As a result, the federal courts have become increasingly powerful architects of public policy." Thus the undeniable premise. But his remedy? Califano believes that the political parties should abandon the genteel nonsense about judicial temperaments and such and select judges on the basis of political litmus tests. This seems an incautious remedy for the clogged government Califano deplores, sure to sharpen the recent nasty confrontation over judicial appointments; to give judges another incentive to indulge whatever brand of "activism" their temperaments dispose them to; and, not least, to worsen the atrophy of elective government the author deplores: a cure more hazardous than the disease.

But memoirists are entitled to an eccentric view or two, and in a personal memoir flights of fancy are to be expected. Happily, Califano's withdrawal into a quieter life has neither dulled his sense of mischief nor clouded his memory of many colorful maneuvers and manipulations whose recall makes this book memorable.

Reviewed by Edwin M. Yoder Jr.


Copyright 2004, The Washington Post Co. All Rights Reserved.

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