First: Full disclosure.
I love Bill Press.
I love him because he is a great liberal — as his new book, “Bill Press From the Left,” unapologetically reveals in its title.
I love him because he used to give me friendly elbows of support off-camera while I was on CNN’s “Crossfire” many many times defending former President Clinton, under the tough cross-examination of the “Prince of Darkness,” the late and great Bob Novak, “from the right,” or debating the tough anti-Clinton pro-impeachment conservative, then-Rep. Joe Scarborough (R-Fla.).
That secret is that Press is clearly a liberal, but his political approach and personal style is purple — meaning bipartisan respect.
The best part of his book is that he proves there is nothing inconsistent between holding deeply felt and believed ideological principles — in his case, as a progressive supporting choice, gay rights, civil rights, human rights, tough policy to stop global warming and … you get the point — while still being civil and even good friends with ardent conservatives with whom he disagrees on virtually every issue.
Yes, Press proves it is possible to disagree agreeably.
He is not so agreeable or kind to the executives at CNN who killed “Crossfire,” a show he describes as “the first — and is still the best — of all political debate shows. And no other political show today is as good or compelling.” He continues: “The emphasis was on content. Not flash. What a novel concept.”
Another novel concept Press demonstrates: He was an admirer of and friends with many Republican conservatives. He tells two anecdotes about two of his favorites: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Buchanan. He tells two great stories about each of them.
On McCain he writes, “among Republicans and Democrats, the one [‘Crossfire’ guest] I admired most was John McCain.” Then he continues:
“Coming from Arizona to Washington, McCain often quipped, he quickly learned the difference between a cactus and a caucus. ‘With a cactus,’ McCain pointed out, ‘the pricks are on the outside.’ ”
Then he describes the time his conservative counterpart, Buchanan, was interviewing the head of COYOTE, a San Francisco (where else?) — based union for prostitutes and sex workers (standing for “Cast Off Your Old Tired Ethics.”)
“Have you always been a prostitute?” Buchanan asked.
Her “quick” answer was: No.
Pat: “And what were you before you became a prostitute?”
Her: “A Los Angeles police officer.”
Pat: “And why did you change jobs?”
Her: “Because I felt I needed a more honorable profession!”
Press also relays the good advice of the late and great Tommy Boggs (my ex-law partner for 28 years):
“Despite what people may tell you,” he warned, “what counts in Washington is not what you are but who you are.”
Press’s take on Tommy’s wise advice:
“As I soon learned, that’s a mistake many people make [in Washington]. They once had a powerful job and an impressive title, they were invited everywhere, yet they treated people like shit. Then they lost their job – and suddenly, nobody would even return their phone calls. They never learned that basic lesson: It’s not what you are, but who you are.”
Here is one of the most important paragraphs in “From the Left” that should be read, and reread, by every American — Democrats, Republicans, conservatives and liberals — especially at a time when the country has the most divisive president and polarized Congress at the same time in the nation’s history.
“Each of us believed deeply in the positions we took. We argued both from the head and from the heart. But we also respected each other and actually liked each other. And that, I believe, was the secret of Crossfire’s success: the fact that, despite our differences and our deeply held and passionately expressed opinions, we Crossfire co-hosts were all good friends, on the air and off. If only that mutual respect existed in Congress.”
From the right, from the left, from the middle, we all ought to be saying to Bill Press:
And thank you for writing this great book.
Davis, a weekly columnist for The Hill newspaper, is co-founder of both the Washington law firm Davis Goldberg Galper PLLC and Trident DMG, a strategic media firm specializing in crisis management. He served as special counsel to President Clinton in 1996-98 and a member of President Bush’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, created on the recommendation of the “9/11 Commission.” Davis is the author of “The Unmaking of the President 2016: How FBI Director James Comey Cost Hillary Clinton the Presidency” (February 2018, Scribner Books).