The Corner

Life with Van

A great story from Larry Di Rita, who worked closely with Van at the Pentagon when Galbraith was Rumsfeld’s NATO envoy, from earlier days:

On the day of the 1996 Iowa caucuses, Van came out to Iowa to help get Phil Gramm elected. We worked telephone banks the day of the caucuses to help get out the vote. No task was unimportant to him; he dialed and dialed all afternoon and in his unassuming but persuasive fashion encouraged people to be sure to get over to their caucus site and support Phil Gramm.

We then decamped to a gymnasium at a school about 45 minutes from Des Moines to meet with the caucus-goers. Here was a gym with about 200 people in it, casually and warmly dressed on a cold night. Van (wearing his NR-logo sweater) worked the room one on one for quite a while, chatting with people about issues and about Phil Gramm and why Van thought they should support Gramm (who NR had endorsed).

Before the votes were cast, representatives of the candidates were permitted to make remarks. Van took the floor on Gramm’s behalf and, after a self-effacing self-introduction about why they should want to listen to a former Ambassador to FRANCE, Van told the attendees why he thought that, if Ronald Reagan were there that night, he would himself be supporting Phil Gramm.

It was a beautiful, understated, politically deft performance. The votes were cast and we carried our caucus site. We left for the drive back to campaign headquarters just certain it was the tip of the iceberg, and that we would soon be learning of similar results across Iowa. Van was justifiably pleased with having delivered on behalf of his candidate.

On the long-ride back to Des Moines, the local radio stations were starting to report and it became pretty clear pretty quickly that there were too few Van Galbraiths and too many caucus sites that night. Gramm placed pretty deep in the pack, and withdrew from the race shortly thereafter.

Van had more involved jobs in his life than speaking to caucus-goers in Iowa, but he approached the task with his customary decency, insight, and respect for people. As the others in your symposium noted, Van’s great weapon as a public figure was that he knew what the source of America’s greatness was…the people themselves. He was a son of the midwest who embodied its optimism and sense of possibility. I was blessed with his friendship, and America was blessed with his life and service.

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