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The John McLaughlin That I Knew

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Wednesday, 17 Aug 2016 09:25 AM Current | Bio | Archive

John McLaughlin, who TV viewers will remember as the venerable host of the long-running “McLaughlin Group," died yesterday at age 89. And while he may be best known for his political roundtable, there were many other sides to the John McLaughlin that I knew.

Take, as an illustration, one Sunday — April 29, 2012 — when John was hosting a cocktail party on the rooftop of Washington D.C.’s Hay-Adams Hotel. Before long, he and I were busily reminiscing about how he was once the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate, hailing from Rhode Island, in 1970, when he was still a Roman Catholic priest.

Many in audience were astounded at the mention. “You gotta be kidding!” exclaimed Rep. Billy Long, who was floored to find out his famous host was both a past office-seeker and former priest.

Other guests voiced similar surprise — but a handful did not. They recalled John as a candidate in a cassock 42 years before. Among them was Newsmax Insider Pat Buchanan, who helped the then-Jesuit make his next career move to become a speechwriter in the Nixon White House.

For John's part, he loved reveling in his past life.

When news spread that John died on Wednesday night, it was this very unique chapter in his most eclectic career that came to mind. When the Rhode Island Republican State Convention tapped him as their nominee against three-term Democratic Sen. John O. Pastore in 1970, it was news nationwide. “Father McLaughlin,” as he was always called, was one of the first two Roman Catholic priests to seek elective office in the U.S.

The other was Father Robert Drinan, a fellow Jesuit who was seeking the Democratic nomination for Congress that same year in neighboring Massachusetts.

There is an intriguing aside to the saga of the two priests in politics that has never been fully explained: where the Archdiocese of Boston under Richard Cardinal Cushing had given permission to Democrat Drinan to run, Bishop Russell J. McVinney of the Archdiocese of Providence said John “is running without his approval or endorsement,” according to The Associated Press.

That didn’t stop John McLaughlin, who accepted the GOP convention’s nomination wearing the black cassock and clerical collar that is the priestly uniform. Throughout the summer and fall of 1970, John, then 43, would wear the same garb as he vigorously blitzed the bars, beaches, shops, and service clubs of the Ocean State.

“He’s been in the Senate 20 years,” John said of Pastore, “He’s been carrying that load for a while. I’d like to carry it a while . . . the best thing you can do for him is to retire him with honor and dignity.”

To those who primarily think of John McLaughlin as a viper-tongued conservative in the mold of close friend Buchanan, it is hard to believe he was once both a liberal Catholic and liberal Republican.

The holder of two master's degrees from Boston College (philosophy and English literature) and a Ph.D. from Columbia (philosophy), Father McLaughlin was assistant editor of the Jesuit publication “America”— in the 1960s, a strong voice for the modernist reforms of Catholicism promulgated by the Second Vatican Council.

In 1970, candidate McLaughlin was a decidedly liberal Republican. He campaigned as a vigorous opponent of the Vietnam War and called for a pullout of all U.S. troops. In addition, he was a proud civil libertarian who opposed the Nixon administration’s crime bill for the District of Columbia with its controversial “no knock” provision permitting police to enter a suspect’s residence without knocking.

Under campaign manager Ann Dore (who would eventually become Mrs. John McLaughlin and secretary of labor under Ronald Reagan), the McLaughlin candidacy attracted scores of young volunteers. The candidate’s own tireless campaigning generated considerable publicity.

But Pastore, the first Italian-American to serve as governor and U.S. senator was an institution in Rhode Island. In November, he defeated Father McLaughlin by a margin of 68 to 32 percent.

But he never forgot his opponent. Five years later, as polls showed Providence’s popular GOP Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci giving Pastore a tough fight, the veteran senator told a Democratic audience: “If I could win against Father McLaughlin, and I did, then certainly Cianci doesn’t frighten me.” (Pastore retired in 1976, and Cianci never ran; the seat was won by Republican former Gov. John Chafee.)

Father McLaughlin went on to serve as a speechwriter for Richard Nixon, where he enraged fellow Jesuits by defending the embattled president’s use of profanity on the White House tapes. When Nixon resigned in 1974, John left the White House and the priesthood and soon launched his career as journalist and TV host.

I saw him for the last time earlier this year, I asked if he could still say the traditional Latin Mass, which was enjoying a revival in the Catholic Church.

“Sure,” was his quick reply. “But they took away my license to say it.”

John McLaughlin was a unique individual, to say the least. And he will be sorely missed.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

 

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John McLaughlin, who TV viewers will remember as the venerable host of the long-running “McLaughlin Report," died yesterday at age 89. And while he may be best known for his political roundtable, there were many other sides to the John McLaughlin that I knew.
John McLaughlin, McLaughlin Report
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2016-25-17
Wednesday, 17 Aug 2016 09:25 AM
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