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More Things Change: Of Fourths Past

July 07, 1996|Bruce McCall | Bruce McCall is a regular contributor to the New Yorker

NEW YORK — Six of America's leading statesmen recall their favorite Glorious Fourths.

Bob Dole: 1983, Bob Dole thinks. In Bob Dole's office, Senate Building, going over the agricultural subsidy bill looking for cuts because the vote was coming up, gonna be a close one. On the phone to a bunch of senators trying to get 'em aboard. Twisted a lot of arms that day. Liddy calls, must have been about 9 p.m., Bob Dole'd forgot all about our big Fourth of July party. Caught hell.

Ross Perot: Just a little whippersnapper, showing my daddy how to balance his checkbook. That man was thicker than the Hoover Dam. They had this July 4 parade. I had one eye on it, out the window, and the other on the figures. Made sense to me: Real patriotism was fixing my daddy's bank business and helping the American economy. If everybody did that on July 4, now you'd have something to celebrate! Ol' daddy, he didn't like it a lick. Well, a little tongue-lashing never hurt anybody, am I right here?

Vice President Al Gore: Our scout troop was holding a Model United Nations and I was the representative from Canada, and we had a good debate about citizenship right there on the parade float. By the end of the ride, we'd hammered out a balanced statement that satisfied all parties, and I was free to go home and change into a sports jacket and tie and work on my stamp album. The day had been a meaningful reminder about participatory democracy and our ideals, adhering to the highest standards of Independence Day.

Colin L. Powell: It was about four years ago. I was under my Volvo, tinkering. And, let me tell you, it isn't easy to stand at attention lying down while phoning in coordinates for the artillery positions in a mock exercise and trying to memorize the Armed Forces preliminary budget numbers while your wife's feeding you hot dogs and all you can see of your party guests is their shoes. It was then that I had the idea for my book.

Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.): I was just a tad and a bunch of the kids from my Bible class and me, we went over there to Shantytown chasing down foreigners not fit to salute our flag. Run 'em out into the fields. Never felt more patriotic in my life--except maybe later, closing down U.S. embassies in socialistic countries.

Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y.) : I'm very pleased to be able to clear up this misunderstanding. I was just a young lawyer in Hempstead, Long Island, and I'd petitioned the local Parade Committee not to allow a float in the parade because it was oversize. The fact that it was a labor union float and the union was tied to the local Democrats was news to me, I was just doing my duty as a citizen. My brother getting their float space for the Attorneys For Star Wars Committee was just coincidence. And anyway, I was at a fund-raiser and didn't even see the parade. I understand it was wonderful.

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