Monday, June 10, 2019

Robert Blaemire's "Birch Bayh: Making a Difference"

Robert Blaemire began working for Senator Birch Bayh while a freshman in college and remained on his staff for the next 13 years. After Bayh's election defeat in 1980, Blaemire formed a political action committee, the Committee for American Principles, to combat the influence of the New Right in American politics. In 1982, he began a long career providing political computer services for Democratic candidates and progressive organizations. An early participant in the rise of big data, he owned and managed Blaemire Communications for 17 years. Born in Indiana, he lives in Bethesda, Maryland, and has two sons and a daughter-in-law.

Blaemire applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Birch Bayh: Making a Difference, and reported the following:
Page 99 sums up Birch Bayh’s decision to investigate the facts about the Vietnam War instead of simply following the desires of President John, with whom he was close.
In order to better understand the war, Birch traveled to Vietnam on January 6, 1968. He wanted to glean firsthand knowledge of the war which he could communicate to his constituents. While visiting Vietnam, he recalled climbing up a very high tower in order to talk with a young soldier from Ft. Wayne. He also found that when he travelled into the countryside, away from officials trying to control the flow of information, he better learned about the hopelessness of the effort being made by the U.S. in southeast Asia.

In one instance, Birch asked to talk with the pilots and officers involved in the helicopter actions taking place in the country. He rode on a helicopter to survey the jungle where much of the war was taking place. He recalled experiencing the abject fear of an attack by the enemy.

Jay Berman advanced the trip to Vietnam, met with the American station chiefs there and devised a schedule to help inform Birch on the facts of the conflict. Senators Bayh and Ted Kennedy flew first to Hong Kong and then Vietnam, where they separated to individually assess the ravages of war. Berman recalled the unparalleled experience of flying on an F-14 to the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk, where they spent the night. They later learned nuclear weapons were aboard the Kitty Hawk. Regardless of whom they met in Saigon, they were given the official line. But in the countryside, the opposite was true. They reported hearing comments from military and intelligence officers like, “can’t win”; “gotta get out”; “it’s a mess.” The out-country experience was the accurate revelation of war for both of the senators. Birch felt instinctively that he must make up his mind about Vietnam. He knew the War was a bad policy that he would have to oppose and delicately disentangle himself from the Johnson Administration.
Looking over the decades of Birch Bayh’s career, this page may serve as a microcosm of that career. His philosophy could be summed up as, “See a problem, do something.” He examined issues without preconceived notions and while dealing expertly with his political leadership and allies, he made up his own mind. Vietnam was one issue that was dominant in his Senate career along with civil rights, women’s rights, environmental protection, efforts to improve the constitution. In many ways, his approach to making up his mind on the War and working to seek a solution was no different than the way he attacked other issues in his career, whether it was the Indiana state legislature or the United States Senate.
Learn more about Birch Bayh: Making a Difference at the Indiana University Press website.

My Book, The Movie: Birch Bayh: Making a Difference.

Writers Read: Robert Blaemire.

--Marshal Zeringue