Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny: Book Review: "Where the Evidence Leads"

Is this where I put in key words such as sex, lesbians, vampires, Christopher Lloyd and others things to which this blog do not pertain, but by putting them here, I may get hits from all the Christoper Lloyd lesbian vampire fans (and you know who you are)? This is the primarily humorous and occasionally rambling writings of Leon Tchaikovsky, humor writer. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Book Review: "Where the Evidence Leads"

Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny

As the title of the autobiography suggests, "Where the Evidence Leads" is the story of a person, Richard Thornburgh, who had a strong and lasting legal career. That this legal career was interrupted by eight years of service as Governor almost would appear a diversion from someone who rose from the Board of Directors of his local ACLU to be a United States Attorney and ultimately Attorney General of the United States. Yet, as this book informs, Dick Thornburgh was definitely a politician who successfully balanced switching between political and legal careers.

It was Dick Thornburgh's political work that caught the attention of Republican Party leader Elsie Hillman that led her to successfully push the political buttons to get Thornburgh the position of United States Attorney. Thornburgh had earlier worked in 1964 for Hugh Scott's successful reelection to the U. S. Senate, even admitting that he helped provide negative research on a Democratic candidate to assist in winning the Democratic Primary for the politically weaker of the two candidates. Thornburgh then ran as a Republican nominee for Congress, although he makes a rare and honest admission that his failed candidacy was not driven by any real issues.

The following year brought Thornburgh his first success when he was elected to the Constitutional Convention. Here, Dick Thornburgh found some issues that he advocated and continued to advance through his career, such as favoring merit selection of Judges. Thornburgh describes working with Delegate (and future House Speaker) Leroy Irvis to create a Constitutional guarantee that every county have a Public Defender's office.

By his own admission, Thornburgh's own legal career was suffering as he was unable to produce the workload his firm desired. Fortunately, public service called with a surprise appointment to as United States Attorney for Western Pennsylvania. Although his preparation for the job was lacking, as Thornburgh admits his initial reaction was "What does a U.S. Attorney do"?, Thornburgh had a distinguished career as a federal prosecutor. He went after organized crime figures and public corruption, indicted the District Attorney of Allegheny County, and was promoted to Assistant U.S. Attorney General.

By Thornbugh's admission, his zeal for prosecuting public corruption faded when targets shifted to Republican suspects. He states "I was reluctant to pursue allegations that Senator Scott has accepted illegal payments from Gulf Oil Corporation...(U.S. Rep. John) Heinz was also alleged to have accepted payments from Gulf and (Arlen) Specter called upon me to probe those as well. My response in both cases was to point out that the Gulf matter was under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Watergate special prosecutor's office."

Thornburgh reentered politics to be successfully elected Governor. In a move he admits "it was not my finest hour", his election was helped by producing a brochure "Why Pennsylvania Sportsmen Support Dick Thornburgh for Governor" that hid his support for tougher gun control.

Much of the book’s descriptions of Thornburgh's actions as Governor have the appearance of little more than rehash of press releases. A weakness of this book is it lacks depth of analysis or explanations of how Governor Thornburgh chose the policies he created. Some insight is provided, though, when the book recalls his key staff member, Jay Waldman, announcing to Cabinet members at the first Cabinet meeting to "fire all the incompetent staff in your department and most of the competent ones as well." Under Thornburgh, Pennsylvania became the state with the fewest per capita state employees, a distinction we have continued to hold ever since.

The book allows some of Thornburgh's thoughts on key legislative figures, as when he describes that Matt Ryan "had nearly perfect pitch in counting the votes within his caucus" and how Jim Manderino was "a bear of a man with a fine legislative mind and a fierce partisan instinct. We circled each other in mutual respect during more of my tenure."

The book excels in describing the Three Mile Island crisis. Here the book is descriptive and reflective. Thornburgh leaves readers with useful advice on crisis management, such as being prepared for unexpected circumstances and learning how to find and analyze which information is useful and correct and which isn't. He advises against doing anything just to show something is being done during a crisis without first considering whether it a something that needs to be done and whether it can be done safely and properly.

President Reagan appointed Dick Thornburgh U.S. Attorney General, where he led a 93% conviction rate against people engaged in savings and loans scams, except for Neil Bush, the President's son, against whom Thornburgh felt there was not enough evidence to bring charges. He also describes how he believed the Iran Contra affair was not a matter that warranted Justice Department action.

While Thornburgh displays a long history of inactivity regarding suspected Republican corruption, he was more enthusiastic when the allegations were against Democrats. At least he is able to admit mistakes, as he calls the leaking of allegations against Democratic Rep. Bill Gray "my single greatest blunder as Attorney General". He admitted that Rep. Gray was never a target of investigation.

Dick Thornburgh had a great career as an administrator and legal activist. He admits he was not really interested in being a Senator, which helps explain his poor, losing campaign for the U.S. Senate. He remains a sought-after legal expert in media interviews. Most recently, he was examiner of the World Com bankruptcy, our nation's largest bankruptcy ever. He continues a legal career, and leaves readers with important observations from his life. He states he has found it useful to learn what the law represents, to discover the importance of having strong values and integrity, to see that discrimination is fought at all times, to avoid improper government interference in the economy, to realize that the Federal government is part of a governing system that includes state and local governments, and to realize we are all part of a system connecting each of us. While this book fails in providing needed details, it does leave us with some useful history and lessons. Readers of Pennsylvania politics will find it an important book to examine.


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