Ken Starr and a Gracious Call Home

Fear, by Bob Woodward, was not the only major book about a special-counsel-challenged president released on Tuesday.  So was Contempt, by Ken Starr.  Woodward’s book is about Donald Trump now.  Starr’s is about Bill Clinton two decades ago.  Largely because I got to know Starr a bit and came to admire him greatly when he spoke at American Experiment’s first Fall Briefing, in 1999, I started reading his book first, Tuesday night.  A smart choice if the first 50 pages are any indication, and I trust they are.

As you may recall, Starr was frequently vilified back then for, among other sins, supposedly not being a particularly judicious or even nice person.  I’ll refrain, at least for now, from saying anything about the non-presidential/presidential activities Starr was charged with investigating, how he did so, or anything more about his book itself.  Permit me to stay away from all that legal and political stuff and focus instead on my main takeaway from his visit 19 years ago: how Ken Starr was one of the most gracious people I had ever met.  Quick stories.

Starr and his wife Alice flew into Holman Field in St. Paul on a private plane, accompanied by one of the plane’s owners and a couple of her young children.  She and her kids got off first, followed by the Starrs, at which point Mom joyously exclaimed, “You’re like Mr. Mom!”  Not exactly maternal, I’m guessing he was warmly paternal aboard.

A moment later in the terminal I spent a few minutes briefing the Starrs on the day’s schedule, adding that my mother would be at his speech but had to stay home with my father who was ill.  I also noted it was her birthday right around then.  “Well, Starr said in a burst, “we’ve got to call mom.”

We agreed on a time and I called my mother in Florida asking and/or telling her to be near her phone at a certain time but wouldn’t tell her why.   She was just a few feet away when both Ken and Alice Starr called later that afternoon.  From my mother’s retelling they had a wonderful conversation for about 15 minutes.  What a kind and generous gesture, which was in perfect keeping with their graciousness throughout their time in Minnesota.

Both my parents are gone but not memories of the Center’s first Fall Briefing and its first star.  Recollections remain strong in substantial part because Ken Starr’s remarks, as expected, were brilliant that night.  But, also because never have I seen, up close and personal, how the public persona of an often-ridiculed public figure can be so wildly different from his true and decent self.