The last time impeachment fever hit Washington, I was a bureau chief there.
Actually, I was the entire bureau, the Washington correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. NCR was and remains a feisty, aggressive weekly founded by lay Catholic journalists in the enthusiastic wake of the reform-oriented Second Vatican Council.
The paper reached beyond the Church, both in perspective and personnel. Investigative super-reporter Seymour Hersh, who is Jewish, wrote for the paper, as he noted in his recent autobiography. One of my editors, a young Protestant woman, was told by the editor that if she converted he would fire her.
I covered Roe vs. Wade, the landmark abortion decision, for the paper, as well as the effort by a group of priests to form a union. I also covered the civil rights and anti-war movements, including separate interviews with the Berrigan brothers, two priests who went to prison for raiding a draft board office.
I got to know Jesuit Father Robert Drinan, a Boston College Law School professor who was elected to Congress and in 1973 made news by filing the first resolution to impeach Richard Nixon – for the secret bombing of Cambodia, not for Watergate.
What I didn’t cover was Watergate. I did meet Hugh Sloan at a party. He told me he had just quit his job as treasurer of the Committee to Re-elect the President. I asked why and he said he had just become a father and wanted to spend more time on that job. I naively took him at his word and thought he must be a trust-fund baby. Later I saw him on TV testifying about the huge amount of unreported cash that was going in and out of the committee’s safe, and would learn that he had been a key source for Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporters who uncovered the Watergate scandal.
Washington was an exciting place for a young reporter, but over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend I was thinking about how grateful I am that I escaped that city after two years. It was in many ways a toxic place even then. At parties, people would constantly look over your shoulder to spot someone more useful to talk to. At 25 and working for a national weekly with a circulation of 40,000, I was low on that list.
Looking at Washington now greatly intensifies my gratitude. But as thankful as I am for not being in Washington, I am even more grateful, for so many reasons, that I found my way back (several times) to San Antonio.
It is a beautiful city, if marred by many commercial strips and much suburban generic blandness that afflicts all U.S. cities. Its charms include the River Walk, neighborhoods such as King William, River Road, Dignowity Hill, Prospect Hill, and more, plus spectacular new additions such as the north and south extensions of the River Walk and the Pearl development.
I also have always been fascinated and charmed by the city’s strong Mexican culture. It gives San Antonio an ambience no other U.S. city of this scale has. It plays a huge role in our great skill and enthusiasm for celebrations. It’s no accident the swells who started Fiesta gave it a Mexican theme. The strength of the Mexican family also has given us a city with a small underclass, if a large cadre of working poor.