rounded the corner of the broad corridor in the Dirksen Senate Office
Building on June 25, 1993, approaching Room 430 where my confirmation
hearing was to be held. Suddenly we were aware of a crowd and the
loud buzz of conversation. People were standing two abreast in a
long line stretching almost the length of that mammoth hallway.
Martha Chowning, who had worked as an advance-person in the Clinton
campaign and was now the liaison to the White House for the National
Endowment for the Humanities, had met me as my taxi pulled up outside,
and she was trying to prepare me for the scene I was about to encounter.
The hearing room was jammed, she said, and the news media were there
My anxiety level, already high, began to soar. Martha added that
some of the crowd had just come from a hostile press conference
staged by my opposition. Presiding at that counter-hearing were
Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalitionwho had dubbed me The Pope
of Political Correctnessand Floyd Brown of the Family Research
Council, the creator of the infamous Willie Horton advertisement
for George Bushs 1988 presidential campaign. Fresh from a successful
Borking of my friend, Lani Guinier, the Penn law professor
whose nomination to be assistant attorney general for civil rights
they had forced President Clinton to withdraw, they were determined
to make my confirmation another major battle in the Culture War.
Though a reluctant combatant, I was by then the most visible gargoyle
decorating the battlements of the Ivory Tower.
I had been mocked on national radio by Rush Limbaugh, denounced
in hundreds of newspapers and Newsweek by syndicated columnist
George Will, excoriated in The Washington Post by Charles
Krauthammer, flayed alive for television by Pat Buchanan on Firing
Line, and otherwise held up for scorn and derision. The Wall
Street Journal editorial page, the house organ of movement conservatives,
had written sevencount em, seven!unflattering editorials about
me and the University over the span of a few weeks in April, May,
and June, while I stood blindfolded and lashed to the stake. John
Leo of U.S. News and World Report created a Sheldon Award,
which he annually bestows on the college president who most closely
approximates my profile in cowardice. I know there are people who
think it is worse to be ignored than to be criticized, but I am
not among them.
Thinking back on that spring-from-hell, I recall it not only as
the worst time of my life, but as an out-of-body experience. I followed
the story in the press of some idiot named Hackney, who was either
a left-wing tyrant or a namby-pamby liberal with a noodle for a
spine. My critics couldnt decide which. Not only did I not recognize
him, I didnt much like him either. I remember laughing at the headline
of a story in the New York Post that trumpeted Loony Lani
and Crackpot Prez. I did not think that Lani was loony, of course,
but it was even harder for me to realize that I was the crackpot
How could a mild-mannered, unassuming Ivy League president get into
such a mess? Even more interesting, how could he get out?
The story that follows answers those questions. It is an odyssey
of sorts, an account of my journey, both geographical and intellectual,
from Philadelphia to Washington.