Valenti an LBJ stalwart until the end
By Michael M. Bates
Jack Valenti's autobiography, This Time, This Place, was published last May. In terms of promoting the book, it was bad timing. He died in April.
Still, it's always interesting to see Democrats rewrite history. A few months ago I reviewed professional Clinton toady Terry McAuliffe's book.
In a feat of Herculean proportions, Mr. Valenti's volume probably outdoes McAuliffe's book for name dropping. A difference is Mr. Valenti does it much more charmingly than the insufferably boorish McAuliffe. And where Terry drops names such as Yasser Arafat and Oscar de la Renta, Jack makes do with the likes of Gina Lollobrigida, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Ann-Margaret and Juliette Binoche.
Jack Valenti served our country with distinction during World War II. The Texan had a successful career at what was later to become Exxon Mobil. Then he and a friend launched a flourishing ad agency.
What he'll most likely be remembered for, however, is working as a top assistant to President Lyndon B. Johnson and then serving nearly 40 years leading the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).
Laboring for LBJ was difficult. Known for fits of anger, the president treated subordinates harshly. Mr. Valenti writes in his book that Johnson "insisted every day on pouring spoonfuls of humility through our clenched teeth."
Although Mr. Valenti doesn't mention it, Johnson made people – male and female –accompany him to the bathroom as a way of showing who was in charge. He does concede that "LBJ had a thing about bathrooms" and that the former aide "would rather bear witness to the end of civilization than confront LBJ in a substandard bathroom."
The Washington Post's obituary for Mr. Valenti said he "was often described as Johnson's chief whipping post or ‘glorified valet' who loyally absorbed Johnson's foul-mouthed tantrums and such seemingly humiliating acts as Johnson using Valenti's lap as a footrest." Despite the abuse, the assistant unabashedly adored LBJ.
In a 1965 speech, Jack Valenti said:
"I sleep each night a little better, a little more confidently, because Lyndon Johnson is my President. For I know he lives and thinks and works to make sure that for all Americans, and indeed, the growing body of the free world, the morning shall always come."
Mr. Valenti maintained that worshipful fidelity all his life. His book asserts the civil rights act pushed by Johnson was "the most important political battle for human justice in the history of the Republic." Johnson was "an awesome engine of a man." Mr. Valenti hails "his leadership in the largest assaults ever made on the social, political, and economic ills that have infected this nation. . . " Johnson's sixth sense "was exquisitely honed."
In the Valenti book, the Great Society's failures are ignored. He doesn't question why, after trillions of dollars have been spent on welfare programs, there are more "poor" people than before it all began.
Then again, being a Democrat usually means not having to confront reality or accuracy. So he writes, naturally, of "the witch hunt in Washington conducted by the House Un-American Activities Committee, headed by Senator Joe McCarthy."
OK, Democrats, let's review. House committees are not headed by senators. No matter how many times you read it in the mainstream media. What makes the Valenti error even more egregious is that Mr. Valenti served the Sun King, as he refers to LBJ, only a few years after Joe McCarthy's departure from the national stage.
The former aide remembers Hubert Humphrey stepping up to the Conrad Hilton's "huge rostrum" to accept the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination. Not likely. The huge rostrum at which Humphrey spoke was several miles away at the International Amphitheater, site of the convention.
Mr. Valenti also recalls Humphrey kicking his campaign off in Detroit on Labor Day. News accounts at the time offered a different story. Although every Democratic presidential candidate since Franklin Roosevelt spent the holiday in Detroit's Cadillac Square, Hubert decided to go to New York instead. Detroit labor boss Walter Reuther had supported Bobby Kennedy and hadn't yet endorsed the Sun King's vice president.
The author writes of General Jimmy Doolittle's "forty seconds over Tokyo." You'd think a former MPAA chief would realize that the well-known movie, and the book on which it was based, was Thirty Seconds over Tokyo. Don't publishers use fact checkers? Or maybe they employ Democratic fact checkers, which would explain a lot.
Mr. Valenti's experience with the astonishingly coarse Johnson was solid training for his Hollywood years at the MPAA. He implemented the MPAA's rating system, which introduced more sex, drug use, violence and profanity in films than ever before. That was the way it was intended to work.
Mr. Valenti bears substantial responsibility for the raw sewage that's now pandemic in films. The film industry fends off attacks on the garbage with, "We warned you what was in it."
The former MPAA chief includes in his book a picture of him dining with director Roman Polanski in France. Polanski isn't welcome in the United States, having jumped bail in 1978 shortly before he was to be sentenced for having sex with a 13-year-old girl. He has since instructed the US that it needs to get its "Puritanism" under control.
Spoken like a true liberal. No wonder he qualified to have his picture in the book.
Jack Valenti spent decades as a high powered executive in a multibillion dollar industry. For good or ill, he had a noteworthy impact on popular culture. Not bad for a guy who once served as Lyndon Johnson's footrest. He remained true to his mentor all his long life.
There's something to be said for loyalty, even loyalty to scoundrels.
This Michael Bates column appeared in the July 12, 2007 Reporter Newspapers.