ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION:
That holiday crisis is bearing down, again, and the impossible decision looms: What to get the political nerd in your life.
Amazon.com and I are here to help, with a quartet of new books that delve into the arcane field of Georgia politics – the good, bad and downright ugly. And you’re welcome:
“The Best President the Nation Never Had: A Memoir of Working with Sam Nunn,” by Roland McElroy. (Mercer University Press. $30.)
The title is a tonal give-away, to be sure. McElroy was Sam Nunn’s first press secretary in the U.S. Senate, and was a key campaign aide in Nunn’s go-for-broke run for the office in 1972. The author, a native of Quitman, Ga., who now lives in Virginia, has been an unabashed Nunn loyalist for ever since.
But here’s why “Best President” is worth your time: Unlike many of his contemporaries, Nunn has had no interest in documenting his own place in Georgia political history. We know of at least one other biography is in the works, but we’re told it focuses on the senator’s role in military and foreign policy of the 1980s and 1990s. (Nunn left the Senate in 1997, and remains co-chair and a founder of the D.C.-based Nuclear Threat Initiative.)
McElroy’s book documents Nunn’s beginnings with details you won’t find elsewhere, and is likely to serve as a foundation for more detailed works in the future.
The book includes tidbits like this: Nunn was a staffer on the House Armed Services Committee, chaired by his great-uncle, U.S. Rep. Carl Vinson, D-Ga., when he met the woman who became his wife in Paris in 1965. The woman whose name is now Colleen Ann O’Brien Nunn was a CIA employee at the time.
McElroy was a witness to the origin of Nunn’s breach with then-Gov. Jimmy Carter, over his Democratic primary challenge to David Gambrell, whom Carter had appointed to fill the unexpired term of U.S. Sen. Richard B. Russell. The mutual wariness would follow both men as their careers moved to Washington.
The Nunn campaign of 1972 was one of those strange hybrids that could exist only in a South still in the midst of fundamental change. One measure: He was endorsed by both Julian Bond, a Georgian then emerging as an intellectual heavyweight in the civil rights movement, and former Gov. Lester Maddox, a segregationist.
McElroy tells of blind, late-night appointment during the campaign with a “friend of a friend” who led him and Nunn deep into southwest Georgia and across the Florida border, into a pasture lit by a roaring fire that flickered on a dozen white men sipping whiskey and showing off their firearms.
Maybe it was merely a clannish event. Maybe it was a klannish event. McElroy still isn’t sure. But you’re not going to find that tale anywhere else.
NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO INTERVIEW:
Nancy’s Bookshelf, North State Public Radio – aired October 6, 2017
Full Interview (Elapsed Time 58:27)>> – Archives of North State Public Radio