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Working with Scoop: the ups and downs of a political giant

Sen. Henry 'Scoop' Jackson was popular among Washington constituents not so much because of his political skill, but for his character and likability. Still, no matter how hard he tried, he was destined to lose the presidential elections.
Sen. Henry Jackson, right, with his fellow senator, Warren Magnuson

Sen. Henry Jackson, right, with his fellow senator, Warren Magnuson Rich Frishman/Courtesy of the Jackson Foundation

Sen. Henry M. Jackson

Sen. Henry M. Jackson

A shorter version of this article will appear over Memorial Day weekend in The Seattle Times, which has graciously agreed to publication here. 

The affection that remains for U.S. Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson 30 years after his death is remarkable. His achievements in national and international affairs were outstanding, certainly, but there were other public figures who set high standards for service as well. It is doubtful, though, that any of their memories are accompanied by the degree of fondness held by those who had the privilege of knowing Jackson, who was born 100 years ago on May 31. The devotion that persists has little to do with his political achievements, and everything to do with his personal qualities.

I first met Scoop in 1957 during a visit my wife and I made to D.C.  We had gone by his office to get tickets for the Senate gallery, and duly signed the office guest book. When we returned to the hotel there was a message: "Sen. Jackson would like you to have lunch with him tomorrow in the Senate dining room."  We were stunned. Why us? We later learned that when Scoop ate lunch in the Senate dining room he almost always invited constituents to join him. 

I was blessed to meet Scoop many more times, both as a citizen lobbyist and as a volunteer on his two presidential campaigns. Family meant much to him. He knew my parents, and was pleased that my late brother Eli also frequented his office. Eli attached himself to Dorothy Fosdick’s "bunker" that dealt with national security, the most prestigious activity in Scoop’s realm. I dealt with domestic matters, specifically Indian health, and Scoop’s political campaigns. My "handler" was Denny Miller.

One reason Jackson made me feel so welcome was because I possessed an MD degree. He was awed by doctors and loved talking about medicine. He bragged about his fitness and repeatedly bested me in arm wrestling. Once he took me on a tour of the Senate infirmary, traditionally presided over by navy doctors big on political and low on medical skills.

Having worked as a citizen lobbyist, and on many campaigns over the years, I held a high opinion of my political judgment. And like everyone else who worked on Scoop’s presidential campaigns, had strong opinions about the tactics he should employ. So when his secretary would announce, "Senator Jackson would like to speak with you," I assumed it was campaign advice that he sought. But no, every time Scoop phoned he wanted medical care or advice for someone he was trying to help. "The father of one of my staff member’s had a stroke; would you check to see that he’s getting good rehabilitation care." Or, "the baby of one of my secretaries had a convulsion. Would you talk with her and make sure she has a good pediatrician in DC." And because I was also a friend of Sen. Warren Magnuson, Scoop somehow felt I could influence his health habits. "Can’t you get Maggie to lose some weight?" He was serious!

Jackson built a reputation for being a successful politician because of his overwhelming election victories in Washington State. He did not meet every voter in Washington State, but he sure made the attempt. His biographer, Robert Kauffman, writes that his victories came about not as a result of his policies, but because of the trust and affection voters held for him.

Scoop was the quintessential son of Norwegian immigrants. He worked long hours, and married relatively late at the age of 49. He drove a ’61 Chevy, bought his clothes off the rack at a discount men’s store, didn’t drink except at cocktail parties where he would uncomfortably hold a glass just to seem sociable, and was a great husband and father. No constituent problem was too small to occupy his attention. During the '76 Wisconsin presidential primary, I remember him regularly calling his kids to hear about their days and go over their homework.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, May 24, 12:47 p.m. Inappropriate

Wasn't Magnuson famous for saying that if he knew he was going to live so long, he would have taken better care of himself?

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