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Monumental Moynihan

Can football results predict the outcome of U.S. elections?

January 1, 2001

Can football results predict the outcome of U.S. elections?

During one of the last true episodes of tension between the United States and the Soviet Union following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan — then, as now, one of the leading figures in US foreign policy — had to give a speech at a college just outside of Washington. At the behest of the college president, it had fallen on a friend and myself to be the Senator’s escorts.

Our job was simple enough: Pick the Senator up at his office and make sure that he arrived at the college on time. We had been properly briefed for the occasion — especially about having a good bottle of Scotch on hand for the Senator’s enjoyment as we drove out of Washington.

We dutifully followed our instructions and procured a bottle of a fine single malt scotch for the ride. As the protocol established for the occasion foresaw, we casually offered the good man a glass as soon as he had comfortably seated himself across from us, in the rear of the black stretch limousine. By the time we arrived about 35 minutes later, the man had finished well over half a bottle of the malt.

Next, preceding his speech, came a brief reception with parent VIP’s and others in the college president’s office. Again, we were scripted to ask, as casually as possible, whether the Senator would care for a drink. Naturally, he asked for a Scotch. “Single malt, if you have it,” he said. It goes without saying that we were well prepared.

At the bar, we picked up a tall glass and a fresh bottle of Scotch, which we carried over to the policy maker, who was holding court with enchanted parents. They may have had to pay a pretty penny to get their kids through the college, but at least now they could say charming lines, such as: “Recently, when I chatted with Senator about …” That should be worth the roughly $100,000 in tuition and board, shouldn’t it?

Well, as the script would have us do, we handed the Senator, a tall man, an empty glass and, in front of everybody else standing around admiringly, he had us fill the glass almost full, three inches or so, as if it were a Coke. Nobody seemed to notice. Soon after, following a warm introduction by the college president, the Senator took the stage to speak on “The Benefits of International Education,” a kind of pitch talk to study abroad.

While his staff had undoubtedly prepared a fine speech for the occasion, the Senator wanted to have none of it. Being a leading foreign policy authority in the country, he rather chose to occupy his vast mind with an impromptu speech on a related international matter — U.S.-Soviet relations. I must admit, the speech was given quite a while back, and, given the spirit of the times, I do not remember anything too astounding.

Other than the usual stuff, that the Russians are bad and can’t be trusted, that we must be vigilant, and that our European allies are too idealistic in their dealings with the Soviets. But then, there was one other thing, which, in my mind at least, was the true highlight — not just of the Senator’s speech, but of the entire event.

It was toward the end of his remarks, after he had exhaustively, and with remarkable mental agility considering his inspirited level of body fluids, covered all manner of arms control issues. By now, he was into addressing the innate problems of Russian society and Russia’s national character.

“To say one last thing,” the Senator finally started out, by now in increasingly lilting cadences, “there is one difference between Russia and the United States that gives me great assurance that we will never take second place in this grand struggle between our societies.”

Exhausted as he was after a full day on the Senate floor (and with the jolt of the single malt wearing off), the tall and lanky Senator had begun to flail around in a quite uncoordinated fashion with his long limbs. My friend and I feared that at any moment the Senator would topple over.

But, experienced with this physical challenge as he evidently was, he managed to hang on. But finally his voice seemed to give out. At best, he seemed to have strength enough to get out one concluding sentence.

Looking dramatically into the audience, casting a wild, slightly mad look about the room, he labored over every single word: “The rrreason why weee willll winnn against the Rrrussiansss isss….” Again he tilted dangerously forward. “Isss ttt-that the-the Rrrusssians arr drinking themselves to-to-to,” one last pause,” to death!”

It would be making too fine a point to say that the Senator had foreseen the eventual downfall of the Soviet Union that night. After all, I’m sure that the Senator’s vision must have been just a little bit blurry.

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