Once upon a time, nearly 25 years ago, an associate White House counsel to President Reagan was asked to review a draft letter from Reagan to Michael Jackson.
The background: In 1984, Michael Jackson visited the White House and appeared with President Reagan at a "don't drink and drive" event. A few months later, someone (presumably from the "king of pop's" staff) asked that the President write a letter extolling Mr. Jackson's virtues and his voluntarism.
The President's letter was to run in Billboard magazine, in a special issue devoted exclusively to Jackson and, well, his virtues and voluntarism.
The draft letter prepared for Reagan's signature was, by nearly anyone's standards, pathetically effusive and filled with desperate attempts to appear hip. "Dear Michael," it would have read,
Your visit to the White House was a real “thriller” forThe young White House lawyer quickly torpedoed it.
all of us here in the Nation’s Capital. In fact, the White House staff are still humming “Beat It” and “Billy Jean” and wondering how they’ll get tickets to one of your concerts this summer.
Your award last month was a tribute to your accomplishments in the entertainment business, but it was especially intended to recognize your generous support for our national initiative against drunk driving. This support for a cause that deeply affects so many young people is in line with your demonstrated concern for the public interest. I want to commend you on the very effective help you are giving us in persuading young people that drinking and driving do not mix.
Nancy and I send you our very best wishes for every future success and happiness.
I recognize that I am something of a vox clamans in terris in this area, but enough is enough. The Office of Presidential Correspondence is not yet an adjunct of Michael Jackson’s PR firm. “Billboard” can quite adequately cover the event by reproducing the award citation and/or reporting the President’s remarks. (As you know, there is very little to report about Mr. Jackson’s remarks.) There is absolutely no need for an additional presidential message. A memorandum for Presidential Correspondence objecting to the letter is attached for your review and signature.This scathing pronouncement surely put the matter to rest until a few months later, when Jackson went on his "Victory Tour" and his manager asked President Reagan to attend Jackson's DC concert.
So how would the White House delicately decline Jackson's magnanimous invitation? A letter to Mr. Jackson was clearly required.
The draft said, in essence, "No, the President could not attend the concert. But, say, could Michael and his brothers stop by the White House for an informal tour and reception?"
This draft, too, the young White House lawyer was asked to review. But this one apparently sent him over the edge. No more pontificating, he had had quite enough, writing:
I hate to sound like one of Mr. Jackson’s records, constantly repeating the same refrain, but I recommend that we not approve this letter. Sometimes people need to be reminded of the obvious: whatever its status as a cultural phenomenon, the Jackson concert tour is a massive commercial undertaking. The tour will do quite well financially by coming to Washington, and there is no need for the President to applaud such enlightened self-interest. Frankly, I find the obsequious attitude of some members of the White House staff toward Mr. Jackson’s attendants, and the fawning posture they would have the President of the United States adopt, more than a little embarrassing.In other words, beat it.
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And where is that sharp-tongued young lawyer, John G. Roberts, Jr., today? He's Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
Which is my long-winded way of asking . . . is Sotomayor a Jackson fan?