Monday, October 5, 2015

an anecdote from Denis Healey

Denis Healey, who died at 98 on Saturday, was Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer 40 years ago. That's a long time. He had his wit - he's the guy who described being attacked in debate by Geoffrey Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep," probably the line he's most remembered for, at least here over the water. No surprise, then, that I greatly enjoyed reading his memoirs - many British politicians, unlike American ones, write exquisite and delightful memoirs - and in particular for this anecdote about American politics, which oddly I've never seen reproduced anywhere else.

The setting is 1987. Healey is foreign affairs spokesman for the Labour Party, and accompanies his leader, Neil Kinnock, on a trip to Washington to meet Reagan. (It's worth noting also that this was published in 1989.)
When we entered the Oval Office, President Reagan strode immediately towards me, thrust out his hand, and said: 'Nice to meet you, Mr Ambassador!' The real Ambassador murmured plaintively: 'But I've already met him, eleven times.' I confess I was nonplussed myself, until I was told by a senator at lunch that, only a week earlier, the President had mistaken General Powell, the immensely able black Deputy to his National Security Advisor, for the janitor.

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