Diamonds & Rust

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“We both know what memories can bring
They bring diamonds and rust”

—Joan Baez

The difference, it would seem, between youth and aging is that in youth we look forward and naturally see a boundless horizon and infinite deposits of time. After a certain age, we find ourselves just as naturally looking backwards with frequency, often accompanied by the feeling of “diamonds and rust,” both joy and melancholy. What triggers that feeling is often the gentlest prodding to our senses — a song popular during our first love; the pungent smell of a favorite childhood meal instantly transporting us back to our grandmother’s kitchen; sunlight reflecting the way it did at an important moment in time; hearing or even using a favorite expression of a lost loved one. Triggers all.

Whoosh, and there we are, back in time like the characters Drs. Tony Newman and Douglas Phillips of the late 1960s television show, Time Tunnel, who tumbled out of that cornucopia-shaped black and white striped tunnel during the credits. We aren’t physically back in time, but part of us is, and at that moment we wonder if time is linear after all. Maybe memories are solidly tangible, like old photographs in a drawer somewhere. If only we knew the combination, we could be back in that moment.

Last week, I had the opportunity to interview Bruce Mehlman, founder of the bipartisan lobbying firm Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas, and probably as famous for his quarterly slide decks of the pulse of Washington as he is for his access and knowledge of how Washington works. Bruce is a history buff; he deftly compares and contrasts administrations over the decades. The impact of Guttenberg’s printing press and how it led directly to Martin Luther — the first high authority blogger — and the Protestant Reformation; the collapse of the Whigs and birth of the Republican party in the 1850s; George Washington and his respect for decorum; the cycles of American history when we have experienced the rise of corporate political activism; the relationship between President Ronald Reagan, Tip O’Neill and Ted Kennedy and their shared love of single malt Scotch as it soothed both their souls and their differences. We looked backward to look forward at issues such as shareholder activism and its remarkable impact on energy companies in the past week; the responsibilities and challenges to companies engaging in corporate activism; the fate of the GOP; the successes of President Biden’s first 100 days and the trials of the next 100 — and many more. Bruce always has insightful things to say. Give it a listen; I am sure he will be back.

Two days after we recorded the show, I was reminded that it would have been former President John F. Kennedy’s 104th birthday (whoosh, there we go, only able to see him in our mind’s eye at 45 — as if time has stood still). In 1963, JFK eulogized Robert Frost in what would turn out to be one of his last major public speeches:

“When power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations.”

It seemed like the right way to end this essay on Washington.

Enjoy the listen.

Richard Levick

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