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Robert A. Mills

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SOL
4/14/2012 5:06:37 AM    [ Flag as Inappropriate ]

Gerry Lester Watson’s win at the Masters (the very first time a former bulldog won a major golf tournament) was surprise enough (who roots for an UGA alumnus with a silly redneck nickname—actually adopted by Watson from legendary MSU great Bubba Smith—and who’s never had a golf lesson yet can hit a ball over 400 yards with a driver painted pink?) but it’s always gratifying when a bulldog other than dysfunctional football players do anything note-worthy.

After seventeen tournaments and four PGA wins (three by playoffs) Watson came into his own on Easter Sunday, 2012, at the Augusta National course’s Masters by defeating Louis Oosthuizen on the 2nd extra hole. . . . I have had my own not-so-glorious adventures at Augusta National (I wrote an op-ed column on that years ago; perhaps I’ll reprise it someday.)

Anyway, the Saturday before Easter my wife and I met for lunch with certain Atlanta people who suffer from PLS, HPS and SPF. As there is neither treatment nor cure for this frustrating neurological malfunction, the best medicine seems to be the company and camaraderie of similarly afflicted victims. I was drawn to one gentleman who reminded me of a young Sol Linowitz—perhaps it was his wit and general demeanor, certainly not a physical resemblance. He looked no more like the Sol Linowitz I remember than I look like Daniel Radcliffe.

Linowitz, a recipient of our highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom, was instrumental as an ambassador-at-large during the Carter Administration for his role in establishing the Middle East Peace Accords—but more importantly for his role in returning the Panama Canal to the Panamanians.

I say more importantly because had that not happened, it is arguably possible Ronald Reagan would not have become our 40th president. (He probably would have anyway, but that’s beside the point.)

When the former actor was governor of California, he summoned Linowitz to Sacramento for a detailed explanation why Jimmy Carter had so willingly given the Canal Zone back to its original owners. In broadest terms possible, Linowitz explained that retention of the Great Ditch would further foment, among Panamanians as well as other Central American interests, dissatisfaction with America’s perceived imperialism—dissatisfaction that was already causing political revolt and civil unrest, and could even lead to possible war.

So, Linowitz, working in tandem with Ellsworth Bunker, orchestrated a treaty whereby the Canal Zone would be handed over to Panama, while the U.S. would retain all shipping rights in perpetuity. And we would keep control of the passageway as far as trans-oceanic commerce was concerned, which was all we really wanted in the first place, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars and over 5,000 lives the canal had cost. Jimmy Carter heartily endorsed the plan.

Reagan, with obvious presidential desires, kept saying, “Doggone it, we built it, we paid for it, and so we should keep it!”

Later, when Reagan was actually in the White House, he again summoned Linowitz and again asked him to tell why Carter had wanted to relinquish the Canal Zone. (Congress had finally approved the treaty in 1979—it passed by the narrowest of margins—and the supposed U.S. imperialism was thwarted, thanks to Jimmy Carter.)

But for the second time, Linowitz found it necessary to spell out Carter’s perceived necessity of giving the Canal Zone back to Panama. When Reagan offered no further comment, the former chairman of Xerox bluntly asked, “Why is it so important to you even now?”

“Because,” Reagan groused, “doggone it, we built it, we paid for it, and so we should keep it! So there!” Ironically, it was over that one issue, it seemed to me, more than any other that Ronald Reagan wanted to be re-elected president. If not that, God only knows what his true intentions might have been.

Sol Linowitz lived in Rochester, NY as well as Washington, DC, and he was a friend and advisor to Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. In fact, after graduating from Hamilton College and the Cornell Law School, he began his career in the offices of President Roosevelt’s OPA, where he met and befriended a youngster of the same age, Richard Nixon, then also a struggling lawyer with no apparent political ambitions.

A mere twenty-eight on the very day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Linowitz tried, without success, to enlist, and it was much later that both he and Nixon received naval commissions that enabled them to serve with distinction.

When the war ended, Linowitz returned to Rochester and eventually became chairman of Xerox and a board member of the radio and TV station I worked for. I recall meeting him only once during the forty-four years I was at WVET/WROC. I suggested that he run against his former co-worker Richard Nixon in 1971 (I didn’t know at the time Nixon would resign in disgrace in 1974. I reckoned Linowitz would go down in history as our first Jewish president.)

We were at a black-tie Christmas party at the home of Ervin F. Lyke, the CEO of Veterans Broadcasting, and even though I was being deliberately serious, my employers often considered me the “company clown” who had a penchant for matters completely alien to his position.

“I don’t think I’d make a good presidential candidate, Robert,” Linowitz laughed (he was only one of three people who ever called me ‘Robert’). “We had a very difficult time getting a Catholic in the White House. I don’t think America is ready quite yet for a Jew.”

“But . . .” I started to protest, but host Lyke cut me off, his apparent interest in the future of our country somewhat limited. “Have another drink, Bobby, and leave poor Sol alone. Besides, he’s a Democrat and we’ve certainly had enough of them! He’d probably give away the Erie Canal!”

Who to? I wondered, handing my glass to a waiter. The Canadians?

When my drink was replenished, I raised it in tribute. “Here’s to Bubba,” I said, prophetically, early-evening dreaming.

“Who?”

“Never mind. He’s not even born yet.”



Copyright©2012 by Robert A. Mills, all rights reserved


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