Tower Tale

I have never seen John Tower drunk.
Am I the only American who can say that?
Hell, even Earl de Berge saw Tower bombed on three occasions.

De Berge wrote to Arizona's senior U.S. senator and premier real estate speculator, Dennis DeConcini, to say that he, Earl, had seen the Texan smashed in May and December 1987 and again in August 1988. As Tower waited for the vote on his nomination for secretary of defense, Senator DeConcini forwarded the De Berge letter to Senator Sam Nunn, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

I have known Earl de Berge for years. He is the most recognized opinion pollster in Phoenix. He is also a political junkie. Almost every time I wander into Durant's saloon on Central Avenue, my rush to the bar is interrupted by the necessity to say hello to De Berge. I am not suggesting that Earl has a stool at Durant's with his name carved upon it; but when I want a quick drink, I have often thought the most expedient action would be to trample De Berge on my way to a bartender.

I do not object to the prissy, bony-finger pointing of right-wing rock heads like Paul Weyrich, who on January 31 blew the whistle on Tower's wenching and boozing. What else can we expect from politically powerful fundamentalists?

But for a regular at Durant's, the premier water hole of the Valley's drinking politicos, to be a snitch is heresy.

Before De Berge started hanging out at Durant's, he was a regular at Ivanhoe's, a bar made famous by Don Bolles' murderer, John Harvey Adamson. Whether at Durant's or Ivanhoe's, I have never seen De Berge drunk. And I will damn sure see to it that in the future he never spots me in that condition either.

Although De Berge's recent behavior surprised me, I might have expected as much.

When I worked construction, an old plumber once told me never to purchase all my alcohol from the same liquor store and never drink at the same gin mill every night. When trouble hits, he warned, the other whiskey hounds, and even the people you gave your money to, will volunteer that you were a lush. Somehow, he observed, they feel that if you are the drunk, they are not.

De Berge's letter motivated the FBI to visit the pollster's Phoenix office.

You see, De Berge's allegations were important.
Tower admitted he had a drinking problem in the Seventies but he now said he drank only in moderation during the Eighties.

De Berge's three sightings of a stoned Tower in '87 and '88 in the Jefferson Hotel in Washington were troublesome.

But for the three dates reportedly given by De Berge, Tower produced records which suggested he was in Seattle, Dallas, and Pakistan.

Well . . . which is it?
Could De Berge have been confused? If he was confused, was he confused because he'd been drinking? Or was Tower lying?

FBI offices in Phoenix and Washington declined to clarify the issue.
"I have taken the position that this is a matter before the Senate," said De Berge, who declined to be interviewed about the matter. Instead, De Berge pointed out that he'd contracted an exotic virus during a recent trip to Australia and that "it needs a shot of Scotch to calm it down."

But let's assume that John Tower and Earl de Berge were both in the same Washington, D.C., tavern on the dates in question. Let's assume that De Berge held his liquor well enough to observe that Tower was tipsy.

So what?
No one claims that John Tower's job performance has ever suffered. In fact, Ken Adelman, one of Tower's earliest accusers, admitted as much. As past director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Adelman watched Tower negotiate on this country's behalf in Geneva in 1985-86. His opinion was that Tower's personal conduct merely raised questions. Tower did his job well, said Adelman, but there remained the matter of Tower's judgment when work was done and play began. And that is enough. It is enough in an age when Baptists and other Bible addicts have seized the imaginations of both political parties.

The Tower nomination was defeated in committee because of the Texan's lack of discretion. Am I the only one who laughed out loud when Ted Kennedy, the patron saint of Chappaquiddick, voted with the spirits of Pat Robertson and the abolitionist Dixiecrats who have a taste for tea?

Finally, John Tower went on television and took a pledge not to drink if he were selected. This convinced me the man is both a drunk and a coward.

It is no great tragedy to lose John Tower. I get the willies thinking that the next secretary of defense might be a man who combs his hair like Alfalfa.

The real point about Tower that has been virtually obscured in this hysteria over his drinking is that the man smells as if he were bought and paid for by the munitions industry.

This rank odor little bothers the congressmen, who are all too much like John Tower themselves in this regard.

Conflicts of interest are always secondary in Washington, D.C. Who cares if John Tower is on the dole from the defense industry? That's how the system works. We elect them, we send them to the capital, we expect the politicians to maintain a residence in Washington as well as back home, we expect them to slog back and forth cross-country, and we pay them less than any junior partner pulls down at a Phoenix law firm. The entire scheme is financed by honorariums, excessive campaign contributions, all-expense-paid junkets, lobbyists-on-the-make, and, of course, John Tower-like conflicts of interest.

We do the same thing at the Arizona statehouse. We pay our legislators $15,000 a year for a full-time job they have to campaign for every 24 months. No matter what sort of campaign-contribution restrictions we come up with, the lobbyists always find a way around the law. And then we wonder why it is that special interests always make out better at the statehouse than the rest of us.

Who but sociopaths and egomaniacs would go through the drill for $15,000 a year?

If you're curious and you want to see the system in action, stop by Durant's any weeknight. You'll see our legislators soaking up the whiskey and steaks with strangers you don't recognize. The strangers are the local lobbyists.

Have a drink. Watch the deals go down. Say hello to Earl de Berge.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey

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