Thursday, August 12, 2010
Saving Dan Rostenkowski
Former Congressman and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski has just died. A lot of attention was suddenly paid to a Washinton powerbroker who wound up humiliated, disgraced and imprisoned due to the hubris of politics and the DNA of Chigago politics.
My own thoughts drew to the time back in 1987 when Rostenkowski and his committee visited Rio de Janeiro when I was a US consul there. One thing you get to do in the US Foreign Service is receive CODELs, Congressional delegations, and to meet some of the great names in American politics. Of course to most diplomats CODELs are mostly a big pain, as every little detail of a visit of anything from a single Congressman to a group of 20 plus spouses can become tedious and challenging. I always welcomed them, because since Latin America is often ignored by American policy makers, a CODEL could be used to raise the US government's profile and to introduce certain issues on the official agenda. Or course, for most Congressman, the CODEL is the offical version of the boondogle. Some take them as serious work; most see them as a chance to travel abroad at the expense of the American taxpayer.
I have no idea if Rosty's visit focused on any major issues of US-Brazilian relations; I just don't remember. What I do remember was the boad ride. Any VIP visit to Rio had to include a ride on a boat around Guanabara Bay and past the famed Sugerloaf and a view of the vast beaches that ringed the Bay and that made it a major port and tourist attraction with the contrast of a big city and nature running up against the sea.
For Rostenkowski's delegation, a small boat was not in the cards. Rather, we at the consulate went after the biggest private yacht in town, the 105 foot yacht owned by the late Globo media magnate Roberto Marinho. We took a late afternoon cruise. Very nice oeres deurvs and plenty of alcohol was served by host Marinho, already about 90 but spry and his glamorous somewhat younger wife Lily. We were up on the upper deck of the yacht without any railings, standing in a tight circle, Rosty, me and a few other Congressmen and guests. Rosty had had more than a couple of drinks and was a little wobbly, when the yacht rolled a bit and I saw him tilting over towards the edge of the deck and suddenly reached out, grabbed his lapel and pulled him back towards me. It was only an instant and one that was soon forgotten, but I will never forget the time that I saved Dan Rostenkowski.