Freedom Fighter, Part I

János Horváth


“Did you know another famous János, János Starker?” “Yes, we were good friends.”

(János Starker was a Hungarian-American cellist, who lived from 1924 to 2013. He long taught at Indiana University, in the same state where Horváth lived and taught.)

“Did you know Bálint Vázsonyi, too?” “Oh, yes, I knew him well, and I also knew some of his relatives.”

(Vázsonyi was a Hungarian-American pianist who taught at IU. Like Horváth, he was a classical liberal and a Republican. He was the Republican nominee for mayor of Bloomington — and, like Horváth, he was not elected. I met Vázsonyi one night at Bill Buckley’s, where he was a guest at a National Review editorial dinner. Vázsonyi, who was born in 1936, died in 2003.)

“Could you tell me a little about running for Congress?” “Well, the Republicans in Indiana convinced me to run — Dick Lugar, Mitch Daniels, and other ‘kingmakers.’ I didn’t apply for the job of nominee; they sought me out. I was a conservative and a patriot, and I had participated in a number of public things, so I figured I should do it.

“It was understood that I could not win. The incumbent, Andrew Jacobs, was unbeatable. He was a labor-union man, a hero of the Korean War — always elected, a shoo-in. But every two years, the Republicans had to put someone up against him, of course. They tried a lawyer, a businessman, a woman, a Jewish candidate, a black candidate — you name it. And then comes János, the freedom fighter, the hero, the professor!

“Regardless of whether I could win, I enjoyed running. It was hard work, but I enjoyed it. More important than winning is the process — to be part of the process. That’s what matters. I think I would have done well as a congressman, but the important things are the processes and the institutions. Those have to be kept going.”

Suddenly, Horváth has a memory — another memory: “Actually, I was recruited to run in Washington State, many years before Indiana. It was in the 1960s. I was teaching at Whitman College in Walla Walla, and the local Republicans wanted me to run. But I wasn’t interested in that sort of thing at that time. I was still absorbed in exile politics — even though the Soviet Union had cemented its hold over Hungary.”

Back to Indiana: “When I lost in 1992, George Bush said it was his fault. He has always said it. ‘I was at the top of the ticket, János, and I ran poorly, and I cost you the election.’ That wasn’t true, of course, but that’s what he has always said. He was in Hungary some years ago, and still remembered!”

I ask Horváth how he came to know Bush. “Mainly because of his foreign-policy involvement. He had been director of the CIA and so on. And when he was vice president, he asked me to have dinner in his residence at the Naval Observatory.”

There was a Hungarian refugee who made it to Congress: Tom Lantos, the California Democrat (who served in the House from 1981 until his death in 2008). In addition to being a refugee, he was a Holocaust survivor. And he was a consistent champion of human rights around the world.

Says Horváth, “He would always tell me, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we could serve in Congress together?’”

We then go back to the beginning — to Horváth’s childhood, between the wars. I will resume this report in tomorrow’s edition. Thanks for joining me (and us).­


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