The day hadn't yet dawned. In fact, it wouldn't for several more hours. However, I was on the road heading to Carbondale, IL. Six hours later, I had arrived for an interview with former senator from Illinois, Paul Simon. I had scheduled the interview with his administrative assistant who told me that she could give me fifteen minutes with the Senator. I replied that I needed an hour to accomplish what I wanted. I didn't tell her that my interview style was quite laid-back and sometimes rather rambling. The idea that I would have to condense sixty-minutes into fifteen seemed a journalistic impossibility. I pleaded with his understanding assistant for more time. The result of my whining was an additional fifteen precious minutes. Realizing that I was lucky to get a half hour, I thanked her and immediately started to formulate a dozen or more concise questions. As I fretted over my time constraint, I recalled the four and a half hour marathon interview with Studs Terkel. What a luxury. I wished that I could have had that much time with Paul.
As I drove to Southern Illinois University where Paul Simon directs the Public Policy Institute and teaches in the Political Science and Journalism Departments, I continued to refine the questions. Due to tail winds, I managed to arrive a half-hour before the scheduled time for the interview. The receptionist was not at the desk, but as I waited, the Senator happened to walk through the lobby. I introduced myself and explained that I was early. He said to come into his office, and we began the interview. As it turned out, the interview last more than twice my allotted time with him.
I found the Senator to be very upfront and honest. He answered my questions
straightforwardly and without mincing words. He said that a good leader leads
and doesn't concern himself with polls. He wasn't afraid of saying, "If you
want somebody that is going to lead, and maybe not do the popular thing, then
vote for me."
Looking at his very long and storied career as a state representative, senator, lieutenant governor and as a US Congressman and Senator from Illinois, he was always viewed as one of the most effective legislator. While this style made for an extremely effective leader in both houses at both the state and federal levels, it didn't lend itself to his run for the presidency in 1988. He stands and delivers, and doesn't really care whether you agree with him. He will attempt to discuss the issue with you. However, in the final analysis, he is his own man-regardless of the political cost. It was refreshing to listen to a politician who would rather be a leader even if it cuts short his career. Whether you agree or disagree with his position, pandering to the public or the polls isn't Paul's forte.
During the interview, we were interrupted by several telephone calls. It was apparent that the callers wanted to get his opinion and to be able to say, "Simon says..." I chuckled to myself that even in his private life as an educator, people still wanted to have Paul Simon on their side on some particular public policy discussion. Of course, I was doing the same thing. Several of my questions related to issues that come up in my college classes. I can hardly wait until a student questions me on one of those issues. Then I will do as his callers are already doing by replying, "Simon says...!"
My only disappointment surrounding the interview was that the Senator wasn't wearing his trademark bowtie. Perhaps, he will be wearing one the next time we meet.
For the complete interview with the Senator, click on this link: Paul Simon