I guess I've said that my test for politicians is: would you rather spend 10 minutes in an elevator with this guy or commit suicide? Not many people pass: it's a profession that rewards manipulative narcissism, and so not much fun for anybody in the penumbra. I have said I can think of only two: Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Abba Eban--both by all appearances so smart, cultivated and funny that you'd just have to forgive them. Even Eban qualifies as a politician perhaps only by courtesy: virtually his first grownup job was as Israeli Ambassador to the UN--where he single handedly presented the new state to an unsympathetic world in a way that told made it a compelling story (now there is somebody Nancy Pelosi could have used...). And his attempt at "real politics" back in his "homeland" (heh!) was pretty much of a fizzle. Moynihan you could say was more interested in wonkery and perhaps th'drink than he was in politics. But he was Irish, and so he got yanked into politics virtually by force of gravity.
I suppose there are others, but I don't think many. Bill Clinton? As they say, the first ten minutes might be fun--fact is it might have been Clinton who made me think of my example in the first place. My friend Ivan, who spent more time with Kentucky pols than I, suggests the late governor Bert T. Combs. He's got a point: Combs had a lightening quick mind and a bends-inducing knack for cutting to the heart of the matter--all the more startling because he looked and talked like Snuffy smith's not-quite-right kid brother. But Combs drifted away into the world of personal wealth.
Joel asks: Nelson Mandela? Interesting, I really don't know enough to say.
Jack Kennedy? Nah, too busy with assertions of dominance, subtle or otherwise. Besides, his best lines came from Ted Sorenson. A courtier, Sorenson, sniffed Joel. Yes, but a very shrewd, funny man, probably good company. Aren't you changing the rules of the game?--asked Joel. Yes, and that's the point--you have to get away from the real politicians in order to find human beings.
But Joel did prompt me to a further insight. There are the showcase narcissists like Clinton and Kennedy. But there are the guys that make the wheels go 'round: the deal makers who really aren't all that interested in the limelight, just as long as they get to shape the performance. I always suspected Sam Rayburn might have been a really interesting guy to talk to. And Bob Dole. Yep, if I had to be stuck in an elevator with anyone, I might settle for Bob Dole. I wonder what John Boehner is like? Nah, I guess I don't.