Albion Monitor /Commentary

The Sonny Bono - Michael Kennedy Connection

by Alexander Cockburn

Given the thickness of Rep. Bono's head, it's surprising the tree managed to make any sort of dent -- this was a meeting of like minds.
Girls love to talk raunchy, given half a chance. Two days after Rep. Sonny Bono had his last and positively final encounter with that tree in the Tahoe basin, California newspapers were full of ominous stuff about mandatory helmets for skiers. I read this in the San Francisco Chronicle in our local store and remarked to R. and A., the two women behind the counter, that in any given 24 hours in America, there must be at least a dozen fatalities involving people falling out of bed while cavorting or bashing their heads on the floor, etc., etc., and that the way things were going, we'd soon all have to wear helmets before getting it on.

The girls lit up.

"And mandatory knee pads against carpet burn," cried A.

"And pads against tile burn in the shower," shouted R. merrily.

A couple of minutes later, they were laughing about doing it in aeroplanes. Racy stuff. I headed for the door, ears a-tingle. That night, a solemn type on the TV news described Rep. Bono as "one of America's best loved politicians." How pompous we're all getting.

Given the thickness of Rep. Bono's head, it's surprising the tree managed to make any sort of dent. This was a meeting of like minds. Bono was legendary among the California congressional delegation for his dumbness. The year he won national office in 1994, Palm Desert councilman Walt Snyder derided Bono as a "laughingstock" and Rep Al McCandless charged that Bono "took pride in not having studied the issues until just a few months ago." These, mind you, were men who supported Bono in his race against Democrat Steve Clute.

Bono served as mayor of Palm Springs between 1988 and 1992. His aides toiled loyally to conceal the meager nature of his talents. Bono's p.r. director, Marilyn Baker, later disclosed to the Los Angeles Times that she used to put the mayor's daily agenda in the form of a script, thus enabling him to focus on what was required of him. (Reagan's aides had the same idea.) "For call to order, I wrote 'sit,' "Baker reminisced. "For salute the flag, I wrote, 'stand up, face flag, mouth words.' For roll call, I wrote, 'When you hear your name, say yes." Baker quit working for Bono after three months.

Just as the conspiracy buffs now believe the tree that finished off Michael Kennedy was moved "by unknown forces" for motives not unrelated to Massachusetts gubernatorial politics, the question of motive is not irrelevant to Rep. Bono's end. Cherchez l'arbre. Trees in California had ample reason to dislike Rep. Bono, particularly in the Tahoe region where he met his end. Bono had been an eager supporter of logging plans around Lake Tahoe and viewed attempts to protect nature as unconscionable impediments to his own right to pillage.

There was a reference in the press to a "distraught" Cher hurrying through London Airport to attend Bono's funeral before he joined Michael Kennedy on that great ski slope in the sky. This implies a feeling of tender bereavement on the part of Cher that doesn't quite square with her view, expressed to a journalist the night of Bono's election to the U.S. Congress (I confess that I quote from somewhat distant memory here) that he'd always been a sleazy, two-bit car salesman and now he'd found the ideal parking lot, in the form of the House of Representatives, filled with several hundred other sleazy, two-bit car salesmen. On the other hand, Cher was tearful at the memorial, amidst a funny story of how, when they first met, Bono had told her he was descended from Napoleon and the family had shortened its name from Bonaparte when arriving in the land of the free.

And there was high pomposity at Michael Kennedy's passing, too. As with many Kennedys on the last stop before their final resting place, the eulogies at Michael's funeral gallantly outstripped reality. Michael Kennedy's nympholeptic passage with his 14-year-old baby sitter was tactfully overlooked by all, except for his stepmother-in-law Kathy Lee Gifford, who fiercely denounced the paparazzi press, insisting that Michael hadn't laid a finger on the nanny till she was 16.

Heavy emphasis was laid on Michael's selfless devotion to the common good, via his non-profit venture, Citizen Energy. The word "selfless" does need some qualification. The non-profit's tax filings disclose that St. Michael was paying himself $600,000 a year. Call it a package worth $650,000 if benefits are added in.

This is a fierce pile of moolah for any executive running a non-profit. The highest-paid executive in the environmental sector used to be Jay Hair, at the National Wildlife Federation. At the time Hair finally left in 1995, he was pulling down $298,876 in wages and benefits, scrawny in comparison to Michael's majestic self-compensation.

And what about Citizen Energy, so lavish in its yield for Michael Kennedy? At the moment, Citizen Energy is anxiously awaiting the brave new world of deregulated electric utilities, ardently pushed by Michael's brother, RFK Jr., and Junior's colleagues at the Natural Resources Defense Council. NRDC's boss, John Adams, surely gnashed his teeth at Michael's bloated pay package, since Adams was fishing his food out of trash cans on the Upper East side, unable to make ends meet on his $220,000, including benefits.

© Creators Syndicate

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Albion Monitor January 21, 1998 (

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