Harry Welty

I started a column too late today on the subject of the late Tommy Smothers. After I made the mistake of bringing up Rush Limbaugh it spun out of control with a couple of kitchen sinks. It was too late to reduce it to my usual goal of 800 words.

I needed something fresh. If only I had half a dozen rough drafts like the ones I cranked out after my tour of Washington DC. They gave me a couple months grace from deadlines. Like most everything I write they were  autobiography 800 words at a time.  

It didn’t take me long to think back to the seminal year mentioned in those DC columns -1972. That was the year I thumbed my nose at self righteous “liberals” and joined the Republican Party. In no time I came up with a list of topics each worthy of its own column. Maybe they would even be the start of something more ambitious, a book perhaps. Maybe I could sell them for a congressional campaign or use them for blackmail. We writers are a desperate crowd.  

The original column was to be titled “Tommy Smothers dedicated his Emmy to me.”  Tommy (Mom always liked you best) Smothers was awarded an Emmy long after CBS television canceled his popular comedy hour for bashing, among other things, our Vietnam War policies. Tommy died convinced that President Richard Nixon had a hand in the cancellation. Considering Nixon killed the Vietnam Peace Talks so that he would win the 1968 Presidential election that’s not hard to believe.  

According to the Obit when Smother’s accepted his Emmy he dedicated the award to people “who won’t shut up.”

Hell, that could have been me. In 1972 I tried to go to the Republican National Presidential Convention so I could vote against Nixon’s renomination for President.  

When the Smother’s column didn’t work out I cast around for other ideas. I checked the word count of the speech I gave to the Republicans in 1992 before I ran for Congress as an independent candidate. At 1,300 words it was too long. So, I began writing down events from 1972 which could be reduced to 800 word columns. It was a busy year for a 21 year old kid.

Here’s what came to mind:   Snowballs at my window - “We will not have another Kent State” - My Grandfather’s death - A summer with Grandpa’s Studebaker - My Speech at the Radisson - The Pro Choice Republican State Convention - My GOP heresies - If I’d gotten to Miami - When I did not CREEP - The Wrecking of the Electomobile - Shooting wild cats and seducing Indian girls - Republican women and their hotel keys - Whose gay? - Guarding the Veep - Sticking up for Tricky Dick - Writer’s block about the GOP - Losing my trip to Europe to my to my ego.  

My 1992 speech at the Radisson was not the first speech I’d given at the Hotel to a Republican audience.  Twenty years before in 1972 I gave a memorably awful speech at the Rad after I was nominated for President of the Minnesota College Republicans. And the Radisson was only my second podium disaster .  

Among my autobiographical columns is one titled: “Book Report.”  It was published May 3rd 2005 in what was then the “Weekly Reader” in a column then called “Not Eudora.”  

It's about the junior high book report I bombed. Here’s an excerpt:   “I was so shell shocked that that very night I begged my father, MY FATHER, for advice on how to avoid embarrassing myself in public ever again. He suggested that I go out for debate the following year when I entered High School. Although this would mean having to get up and speak in front of people again I was so desperate that I took my Dad’s advice.”  

My Dad’s advice was solid. I’ve never back out of speaking to an audience since high school. I didn’t even regret my College Republican speech. It was the luckiest botched speech of my life. I described it to the Congressional Convention 20years later as follows:   “The first time I addressed a Republican convention was right here in this very hallway. That was 20years ago last April. It was not my finest hour. I was campaigning to be the President of the Minnesota State College Republicans. My only rival did not want the job. He left the Convention without even addressing the delegates to ask for their vote. It might just as well have been an uncontested election. I was certain of victory. As I addressed the convention my rival was already in his car heading home. - I lost.  

“When I got up to speak I was seized by such a violent attack of nerves that I astonished the expectant delegates. I gibbered for five nervous minutes. It was an out of body experience for me. My spirit slipped away from me, and hovered overhead watching my body blather incoherently. Today I plan to set that failure to rights. There will be no ad-libbing this time.”  

Indeed, 1,300 words later I had said just what I wanted to say to an enormous and very satisfying round of boos.  

I think I will have fun writing about 1972. I’ve been meaning to write about it for a very long time ever since not writing about it cost me a vacation to Europe.  

Welty constantly surprises himself at lincolndemocrat.com