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Dan Glickman: In Congress, On The Farm, And At The Movies

Steve Johnson
Dan Glickman, author of 'Laughing at Myself: My Education in Congress, on the Farm, and at the Movies'

Longtime Wichitans will remember Dan Glickman. He was the U.S. Representative for Kansas' 4th District for nearly 20 years and later Secretary of Agriculture under President Bill Clinton. He also had a stint as head of the Motion Picture Association of America. Glickman has written a memoir, Laughing at Myself: My Education in Congress, on the Farm, and at the Movies. And as he tells KMUW's Tom Shine and Beth Golay, his 'dad joke' humor is from his dad, Milton.

Interview Highlights

Dan Glickman: I use a lot of jokes of his: "The other day I had a nightmare. I sold a muffler and the next morning I woke up exhausted." I mean, he had, he had all of these one line jokes. "I proposed to your mother in a garage and then I couldn't back out." He was a, kind of a, like a Rodney Dangerfield with jokes. So he'd write them all down. And when he died, we found, I think eight or ten legal pads filled with jokes, hundreds and hundreds of jokes.

Tom Shine: You mentioned in the book that during Rubbergate, which was the house banking mess, you sought counseling because of the anxiety and embarrassment caused by the episode. Why did that upset you so much?

Dan Glickman: I think it was because I'd always been told that, you know, like the Bible says a good name is worth more than all the gold in the world. And so a lot of people saw me as "bouncing checks." And of course they weren't, none of these checks were bounced. They were all paid, but it was, uh, the, uh, the House of Representatives had a cooperative where everybody would put their money into a co-op and they'd take the money out to pay checks. And sometimes there wasn't enough money in your account, so they take it out of somebody else's account. But to the public, it was, uh, "bouncing checks." It was one of the worst moments I certainly ever had in public life. But I was able to, I think, get out of the jam a little bit because of the Gridiron club in Wichita had, had me sing a couple of songs about it. My voice isn't very good, but it, I think the song was... songs got me out of trouble in that particular case.

Beth Golay: You wrote about the lessons learned from a political life, summarizing it into what you call your one guiding principle: "Life is about building bridges between rivals not making permanent enemies. This principle must exist if we are ever going to achieve fairness and equality."

Dan Glickman: Yeah. You know, I have felt for some time that, well, I'm strongly in favor bi-partisanship. It's sometimes a theme that doesn't have a lot of substance until you try to figure out how to be bi-partisan. Our politics has gotten to the point where Republicans and Democrats do not cross over very much, a little bit, but not very much. And I don't think that's what the founding fathers had in mind. In fact, in the Constitution, there's nothing said about political parties at all.

Tom Shine: You talk about your experiences a little bit about growing up Jewish in Wichita, but you found that helped you a little bit because it made you see people and understand people who are maybe not in the majority.

Dan Glickman: People always ask me, 'Well, wasn't that a problem in getting elected and being in politics because there were so few Jewish people in Wichita?' And I said, 'no, I thought it actually helped me because it also allowed me to kind of build bridges.'

Beth Golay: You know, there were some mentions in your book that will make Wichitans smile, but this book wasn't written only for us. What do you hope readers will take away from it?

Dan Glickman: Well, I, you know, I guess there are several things. Number one, I just hope they enjoy it. You know, the jokes my dad told and my mother too, was just as funny as my dad, just in a, she wasn't a joke teller, but she had this kind of natural, authentic sense of humor. Uh, I think that, um, importance of family, I think that's another thing. And then, you know, a little bit, the fact that how my ancestors came here two or three generations ago and the American dream and, you know, all of the talk today about borders closing and keeping people out and how America is really a strong because of this, this role that immigration played in developing our country and making it stronger. And so those are certainly some of the themes that I think can come through in this book.

Tom Shine: I know you're a really good golfer. You played at Southeast high school. Did you really tank your match with the President?

Dan Glickman: Let's put it like this. When the President Clinton asked me to play with him, and only happened once, so my dad said, "Whatever you do lose. I don't care how bad he is. You lose." So I went out and I first hole, I got a par. Then the second hole I got an eagle; I hilled it from about 165 yards. And that never happens. It was over a hill and who knows. On the third hole, I got a birdie. So I was par, eagle, birdie. And when the eagle happened, the President said, "Well, let's make sure it's your ball in the hole." So then after that, my normal double bogey, double bogey, triple bogeys happened. And I managed to end up losing to him, which I think was probably the smartest thing I did.

Beth Golay is KMUW's Director of Marketing and Digital Content. She is the host of the KMUW podcast Marginalia and co-host with Suzanne Perez of the Books & Whatnot podcast. You can find her on Wichita Transit in conversation with other riders for En Route, a monthly segment on KMUW's weekly news program The Range.
Tom joined KMUW in 2017 after spending 37 years with The Wichita Eagle where he held a variety of reporting and editing roles. He also is host of The Range, KMUW’s weekly show about where we live and the people who live here. Tom is an adjunct instructor in the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University.