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Monday, July 25, 2016

Congress' loss was his readers' gain

Today is the first day of the Democratic National Convention.  Writers who write about politics are pretty common. Writers who practiced politics are rare: Disraeli, Hugo, Churchill, Havel come to mind.

One who tried, but failed, was James A. Michener, some of who neighbors suspected he was just using them to get material for another book:

James A. Michener and Politics


James A. Michener with "Win with Jim" cards. Courtesy of James A. Michener Art Museum Archives.
James A. Michener with “Win with Jim” cards. Courtesy of James A. Michener Art Museum Archives.
“In the past months, I’ve been insulted on an average of six times a day. And I’m sore about it.” This is actually James A. Michener’s opening quote for a May 5, 1962 Saturday Evening Post article explaining his reasons for “getting mixed up in politics.” Visit theJames A. Michener Art Museum Archives to read the full article.
Michener Art Museum A Living Legacy exhibit. Courtesy of James A. Michener Art Museum Archives.
Michener Art Museum A Living Legacy exhibit. Courtesy of James A. Michener Art Museum Archives.
Michener, a lifelong liberal, was involved in public affairs for over thirty years. He was a member of the U.S. State Department Advisory Committee on the Arts in 1957. In 1960, Michener served as chairman of the Bucks County committee to elect John F. Kennedy, writing Report of the County Chairman recapping his experience; the following year, he chaired President Kennedy’s Food for Peace Program.
Michener for Congress button. Courtesy of James A. Michener Art Museum Archives.
Michener for Congress button. Courtesy of James A. Michener Art Museum Archives.
In 1962, he unsuccessfully ran as a Democratic candidate for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania’s Eighth District, losing by 17,000 votes to the incumbent Republican, Morrisville lawyer Willard Curtin. Ruth Welsh, active in the Bucks County Democratic party in 1962, speculated “A lot of people thought he was doing this just to write another book.” “But he would have been a terrific congressman.”
Michener for Congress letter, November 1, 1962. Courtesy of James A. Michener Art Museum Archives.
Michener for Congress letter, November 1, 1962. Courtesy of James A. Michener Art Museum Archives.
During the James A. Michener Tribute Day in May, 1985, Michener recalled his own campaign for Congress. “Let me tell you, I have never gone into anything in my life without trying to do it well. I ran a strong campaign. I didn’t win, but I consider it to be one of the two best things I’ve done in my life. I just love politics.” In a 1991 Academy of Achievement interview, Michener added “One of the very best things because it taught you how limited you were. And it also taught you that out there were a group of people who had their own agendas, their own desires, their own concerns, and that you were just a public servant, trying to keep them in balance.“
Michener for Congress card, Michener with President Kennedy. Courtesy of James A. Michener Art Museum Archives.
Michener for Congress card, Michener with President Kennedy. Courtesy of James A. Michener Art Museum Archives.
Also one of his biggest disappointments. “I was very angry about it. It still burns in me. I should have won that election. I would hope I would have been a good congressman. I didn’t make it.” “I lost and went back to writing books.” “Later, as a result of the hard campaign I ran, I was appointed to numerous government offices: State Department and Voice of America, and the Postal Department. And I served in Washington a long time and very diligently. It was one of the best parts of my life. I love politics. I often say, ‘I wasn’t a politician because I was a good writer; I was a good writer because I was a politician.’ I love the hurly burly and the shenanigans.”
Michener for Congress Car. Courtesy of James A. Michener Art Museum Archives.
Michener for Congress Car. Courtesy of James A. Michener Art Museum Archives.
Michener went on to become secretary of the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention from 1967 to 1968, during which a new state constitution was written. In his 1985 Tribute Day remarks, Michener added that the “best thing I’ve done is to help rewrite the Pennsylvania Constitution.”
He sat on the U.S. Information Agency Advisory Committee from 1970 to 1976; the Committee to Reorganize U.S. Information Service (USIS) in 1976; the U.S. Postal Service Advisory Committee from 1978 to 1987; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Advisory Council from 1979 to 1983, with a lifelong interest in outer space, this experience lead to his novel Space; and the U.S. International Broadcasting Board, which oversees Voice of America, from 1983 to 1989. Michener also served as a correspondent for President Richard Nixon during his 1972 trips to the Soviet Union and China.
Michener in Congress poster. Photo courtesy of James A. Michener Art Museum Archives
Michener in Congress poster. Courtesy of James A. Michener Art Museum Archives

by Pam Sergey

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