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November's Book
Short of the Glory
by Tracy Campbell
Bill:
After years of study and research, Kentucky author Tracy Campbell answers the question, Who was Ed Prichard? Campbell's book Short of the Glory: The Fall and Redemption of Edward F. Prichard, Jr. tells the story of a young Kentuckian of great promise who made a dreadful mistake 50 years ago and paid dearly for it. bookclub@ket starts now.

Jonathan:
You know, a lot of people have heard of the Prichard Committee, but I suppose people -- a lot of young people today -- don't know who Prichard was. This is a very interesting story. It's a political biography, but it's also a highly personal biography describing the pathology that really haunted him throughout his life -- not just the diabetes and the health problems that came later on, but also the psychological problems that he had.

Lynda:
And the mole.

Jonathan:
And the mole, if you like -- the mole and the sense of guilt he had resulting from that criminal act that he did in 1949.

Bill:
The complexities of the man, that go from the personal trauma that he suffered into the political arena -- all of that makes for a fascinating story.

Jonathan:
Well, I think it also encapsulates well at the end. [The author] said he's a man full of contradictions. On one hand, he was passionately devoted to democracy, but, on the other hand, he committed a crime that showed contempt for democracy. He was somebody surrounded by admirers and acquaintances and friends, and yet, at heart he was very, very lonely. And in many ways he was a very contradictory person. Sometimes you wonder what went wrong.

Dava:
Tracy Campbell describes Prichard from the very beginning, even as a boy ... He had very unique genius. I mean I never met someone of his intelligence, from the way Tracy Campbell describes him. And then also he was very passionate about politics from an early age, when he would go with his father to the Bourbon County Courthouse. He would spend the entire day listening to lawyers debate, listening to what was going on, and this stayed with him throughout his whole life. So that painted him from even -- from the very start. And he was just passionate about his own brand of politics, and he learned from an early age at the Bourbon County Courthouse a very Machiavellian sense of politics: that you could do whatever you needed to; the ends justified the means. And so this haunts him, of course, later. And he learned everything about everybody. One of my favorite parts of the story is when he is rooming with Phil Ardery in college, and Phil Ardery finds that one of his letters from home has been opened and read.

[Everyone laughs]

Jonathan:
He is a snoop.

Dava:
Yeah. Wanted to know everything about everybody.

Bill:
But again, back to the complexities and how even as a young person it sort of followed him all the way through the university life and into his life in Washington. All of those things added up to this man who was indeed larger than so many of the events that he was involved in.

Wilma:
I like one of the quotes that the author put in this book from Katharine Graham. She said that, talking about Prichard -- and of course, she was a good friend of his -- [that] he wanted the influence but not the responsibility. And I think that's what the author points out throughout this book. He wanted to influence what was happening. He liked to be in the middle of everything. But then when it came down to taking detailed responsibility for the types of ideas he had or his personal life, he was not -- either not willing to or not able to do that.

Dava:
He was also afraid of rejection. His sense of pride could be hurt very easily, and he did not take criticism very well.

Jonathan:
I think that Campbell says he was a lieutenant, not a general. He was happy to work for Bert Combs' campaign or Breathitt's campaign, but be an adviser behind the scenes. He really was not somebody who sought office.

Lynda:
That's so funny, because many people who were in his orbit said that he was going to be the next governor or the next president. Of course, he didn't fulfill that because of the crime that he committed and was punished for.

Bill:
Could he have been?

Wilma:
No. And that's what I think. I really don't think he could have, because had it not happened at that time, he had certain things in his personality that would pull him back each time. He certainly had the abilities. He certainly had the intellect. There is no question about that. But I don't think he could have finally. It's like ... They used that word, "submerged." When he got into too much difficulty, he would "submerge." He would fall back and disappear, sometimes just to read books. I mean, nothing more diabolical than that.

Lynda:
But by then his life had fallen apart in so many ways. But think about the possibility. If he had never committed the crime for which he was punished, if he had surrounded himself with people who would have been helpful to him or have kept him from the self-destructive behaviors that he had ...

Wilma:
He doesn't know, because when he was in Washington he was not able -- even when he was working for Felix Frankfurter -- he was not able to carry out some of the responsibilities that he needed in that particular position. I don't think that he actually had the ability to stick to something so completely. I find what he did with the vote fraud a minor detail. I mean, of course, it sent him to prison. It was the one specific detail that stopped him in his tracks, but had it not been that, it would have been something else.

Bill:
But looking at this from afar, there were people who knew him intimately who thought that he could be president or governor or an office holder or lead a cabinet or whatever. I think that's the third time I have said "complexities." The man was so bizarre at times. And even though, you know, he didn't finish those tasks that he was assigned after he had been in prison, didn't have a dime to his name and needed the work, and he was given work that he never completed. So ...

Wilma:
But he did try, or think about, running for office before he went to prison. And he had no backing whatsoever. He had to step back from that. But I think that is very telling, too. And that was from the people that knew him. You know this was something ...

Lynda:
Well ...

Wilma:
... from the Kentucky voters. And he had no backing at that point.

Lynda:
The reason I think that would have kept him from running for office successfully was that he didn't have the emotional stamina. I mean, he couldn't take rejection, and he really put one toe in the water, and if it didn't go well, he pulled back right away.

Wilma:
Well, that is what I'm saying. That's why I don't think he could have ever been governor or president. That's exactly what I said, because I don't think he had it within his character to carry through to that end.

Jonathan:
Also, I don't know what exactly you look for in a governor, but what this man was very good at in his youth was -- at Princeton he was an expert debater. He was very good at debates; he was very good at rhetorical flourishes. He could destroy an enemy in a debate with not only a photographic memory so he could remember social statistics, but also he had a very wonderful command of the English sentence. He was very eloquent. But I don't know, in American politics, if that was the be-all and end-all of surviving a political race: brilliance, intellectual acumen, photographic memory, and rhetorical flourishes. I don't know in the recent presidential debates whether those are the qualities that you notice in candidates and whether those are the qualities that win the votes.

Lynda:
Well ...

Jonathan:
I have my doubts.

Lynda:
Many people think likability is the, is ...

Jonathan:
Likability.

Lynda:
... the key.

Bill:
Exactly -- personality.

Jonathan:
The golden touch, perhaps, and to be able to communicate to the farmer, communicate to the average, the working, man as well as having these other people ...

Bill:
[Prichard] wasn't liked by a lot of people.

Lynda:
Exactly.

Bill:
He wasn't a real close friend, except to maybe a few. He had problems. Even though they recognized his genius and his ability to debate and write, they didn't really like him as a person. He cut quite a large swath across Washington in politics and in society for a while. Yet at times when his friends were to be married and he was left alone, it took him a while even to grasp that part and start to develop that part of his life. It's almost as if, as Tracy Campbell writes this book, in long and large chapters. In other words, through the schooling period, into the Washington period, and then the fatal flaw, which I think he calls his "moral blind spot," where he did commit the crime, and then the story afterwards. I just wonder, if he had not been such a leader and honored so as a leader in education, would he still be that sort of larger-than-life person if he hadn't made so many achievements at the very end?

Lynda:
Without the redemption?

Bill:
Uh huh.

Lynda:
We had the fall, but if he hadn't had the redemption, would we be honoring him so?

Jonathan:
Well, I think that Tracy Campbell does a good job as an author of tracing out a narrative where you have the brilliant wunderkind, as they called him, the young man, and then the fall -- the stuffing the ballot boxes in Bourbon County in a statewide election. Then the indictment, the imprisonment, the debts, and so on, and then at the end, you know, his image of the rising star. He comes up -- or you might say a phoenix coming out of the ashes -- and he really gained a new respectability. He made it possible for Kentuckians to love him or to respect him greatly and to erase the memory of the jail sentence. Because if he hadn't redeemed himself through his work in various committees afterwards, possibly he would be lost to history, or he would only be remembered as somebody who did something foolish.

Lynda:
Well, speaking of the history, one of the things I loved about the book was that you've got a sense of what was happening at the highest level in Washington during the war years and after the war years, the World War II years, at the Supreme Court and the executive and the legislative levels. So it was just a great capsule history of the country during those time periods.

Jonathan:
I sometimes felt that I couldn't see the wood for the trees.

Lynda:
Well, I loved all the detail.

Jonathan:
Well, I think that, for instance, when you think of Prichard, he was described later as a political radical. And earlier on he was described as a new liberal, a New Dealer ...

Bill:
Uh huh.

Jonathan:
... and whoever wanted to get him and whoever called him a Communist and so on. But I don't really get a very clear picture of what Prichard's politics are. I was looking for a very precise, concise summing-up of what his political values were at any given stage. We were told that he agrees with Frankfurter when he does. Then he agrees with Johnson when he says this. He didn't agree with Truman when he said this. We are told more about Prichard by who he agreed and disagreed with rather than by what he himself believed.

Lynda:
Except that Prichard was the one writing their speeches and writing what they were saying. He was putting the words ...

Jonathan:
Well, he didn't give them their ideas.

Lynda:
In some sense, he did.

Jonathan:
Johnson and Truman had values and had a vision.

Lynda:
Well, he was a New Dealer ...

Jonathan:
Through conversation with him, then the speech would come. But I don't think that it's true that Johnson's politics and Truman's politics were formed by Ed Prichard.

Lynda:
Oh, I am going back a little further, to Roosevelt and the New Deal years, and I think that's where he had his greatest impact, and that's where his thoughts and his feelings and his beliefs are drawn in sharp relief.

Bill:
Well, he was a zealot for that whole ideal and carried that all the way through, even to the times that we were talking about in the later years, when he debated and continued to talk about it. He changed and was molded in some ways during that whole period of time, and he held on tightly to that.

Lynda:
I just want to go back and talk about the amount of detail in the book. I frequently found myself going back and forth between the text and the notes to see what he brought to the book, I mean what the background was.

Jonathan:
Source.

Lynda:
Yeah, the sources. And I was amazed by the amount of detail and the amount of research that he had to do.

Wilma:
He had to do research, but it is not primary sources. In other words, he did a great deal of research on other books that other people had written and on the memoirs and so on. Something you said, Jonathan, leads into this. You're saying a lot about other people's politics, but not necessarily Ed Prichard's. Well, he never talked to Ed Prichard. And he doesn't have Ed Prichard's papers.

Jonathan:
Oh, yeah.

Wilma:
He has information from other people's papers, other people's books, other people's writings. And I think that is part of it. I think we do learn a lot about the other people. Now I do respect the author for all the research that he did.

Jonathan:
Well, he did do some primary archive research.

Wilma:
He did.

Jonathan:
With the FBI archive, he listened to transcripts of the phone tapping.

Bill:
Uh huh.

Wilma:
Yes.

Jonathan:
Listened to tapes of the phone tapping.

Wilma:
Even the people that he interviewed -- and he does have interviews of those people, including Katharine Graham -- had already written all of this in their own memoirs, their own books, or their own articles on Ed Prichard, and he was just confirming what they had already said. There was very little new information in this particular book. You know, it's a research type of thing. And there is nothing wrong with that; I'm not saying that. But I am saying that some ... and if I do have a criticism about the book, it is that sometimes he puts thoughts into Ed Prichard's head that he couldn't possibly have known. He says some things like, "At this time he wished he were going to do so and so," and it's not substantiated by anything, according to the people around him or his best friends, that he was thinking this. The author says he's "wishing" so and so or he is "thinking" so and so.

Lynda:
I disagree. Almost with very few exceptions, when he does that, he has noted it. There is a note you can go back and flip to.

Wilma:
Actually, that is not true, because I have checked all of them.

Lynda:
I checked as well.

Wilma:
And many times, I did too.

Bill:
Somebody didn't check correctly!

[Everybody laughs]

Bill:
Well, I do have to also take issue with my friend Jonathan on the detail. I got a better sense and a better picture of some of what was going on at the Supreme Court, or how decisions were made, or who was writing what and when, and some of the decisions. I really found that quite fascinating. And being a Kentuckian also, when he -- after that fatal part of, the flawed part of his life, after prison -- when he really began to work with all of the governors who are still with us today, and the details of some of those races ... Now I can understand where that's maybe not as fascinating to some, but I thought he did a good job in really, in putting together the story. We are not taught that in Kentucky history, in Kentucky schools now, unfortunately, but I think it was the narrative that to me was interesting.

Jonathan:
Yeah.

Dava:
I don't think it's such a big problem that maybe when you read this you don't specifically know what Ed Prichard thought or how his politics were in his own mind. I think from what we see from how he interacted with politicians and the people he helped so, he influenced so much, I think it's sufficient for Tracy Campbell. Near the end of the book he says that Ed Prichard was a contradiction because he staunchly believed in individual rights, yet he was a man very wary of the public, the electorate. I think that sums him up to a "T," from what I have read. Even the whole 1948 -- you know, his downfall, his scandal -- that is all about him wanting to make sure his ideas of what are right are done.

Bill:
Yeah, apparently stuffing ballot boxes and some of the things that went on were accepted.

Lynda:
And not just in Kentucky.

Bill:
Oh, no.

Lynda:
But the book makes it clear that this was a problem in America that was not given a lot of attention, for reasons that ... [It] also mentions that there were some very highly placed politicians who you couldn't dig too deeply into their background without finding some of that as well.

Jonathan:
Do you think he was a scapegoat? I mean, in a sense he was singled out for this crime.

Lynda:
I think J. Edgar Hoover had a vendetta against him.

Dava:
The book makes it clear that he did ...

Bill:
Uh huh.

Dava:
... because there were several cases brought before J. Edgar Hoover for the same thing, and I think out of all of them the case with Ed Prichard was the very, the weakest and most insignificant.

Bill:
And, of course, he had been working on finding fault with Ed Prichard long before he came to Kentucky to practice law, too.

Jonathan:
Yeah.

Bill:
Let's talk again about the good and evil of Prichard and the way Campbell puts this together. We have talked about what a wonderful writer he was, and we can mention some of the speeches that he wrote and all of that, and certainly this later part of his life -- what, maybe 15 or 25, 20 years or so -- where he did so much for education. Let's talk about the weaknesses that he displayed as a young man, as a husband, as a lawyer. The book said that at one point he really didn't know how to practice law in a small town. He had been in Washington. He had not practiced law up there on a daily basis, and he had a difficult time really carrying out the task.

Dava:
Well, a lot about the character of Ed Prichard can go back to this whole issue of what others thought of him. We were talking about how others thought he would be president. Ed Prichard was the kind of man, from what I gather, that either you really liked or you really disliked. And for people that really liked him, they were spellbound by his intelligence and his influence, and the book talks about how a lot of times they would cover for him when he didn't do his responsibilities -- when he wasn't performing his daily duties, even as a clerk to the Supreme Court. His friends would take over for him when he was in college and he was in Harvard Law [School]. He would just leave for two weeks, which you just didn't do when you were in Harvard Law. Even his friends would cover his back. How could you not think, if people had done this for you all of your life, that you couldn't just do whatever and get away with whatever, even after ...

Jonathan:
I think after his imprisonment and his very contrite stage, when he was writing to his friends to thank them for their support and so on, he then reflected on his character ...

Lynda:
Certainly did.

Jonathan:
... limitations that he had, and he recognized that he had been spoiled by friends, and they covered for him quite a bit. And he recognizes that, I think.

Lynda:
I contrast Prichard and the way he handled his struggles, both public and private, with Phil Graham, one of his very best friends, [who was] married to Katharine Graham, the heir to the Washington Post fortune and empire with all the holdings. Phil Graham faced depression very similar to Prichard's, and Phil Graham brought his own life to a very abrupt end by taking his life. And I think it took a lot of strength and resolve on Prichard's part to face this multitude of problems.

Jonathan:
That's true. I think ultimately he was very courageous.

Lynda:
I do, too.

Wilma:
The one thing he might have done ... When he was asking for money, when he did have true financial problems, there were people who offered him jobs to write for newspapers and magazines and so on, and also his friends would send him some of their legal work to work on, and he just couldn't carry that out. Now whether that was because of his depression or something else further down in his personality, you see ways where an intelligent person like this could still make money, even with the record that he had behind him.

Lynda:
A lot of the practice of law, though, is pretty mundane and tedious, and that's the way small-town law practice can be. And, of course, Prichard had been at such high levels ...

Wilma:
Well, that's what I mean, though. There were ways that, you know ...

Lynda:
I agree, I agree.

Wilma:
Enough character could have maybe overcome that. I mean, he could have made some money.

Jonathan:
He wasn't keen on the nine-to-five grind, you know. He was not able to do that, which makes me wonder what kind of governor he would have been, as you said earlier.

Wilma:
Uh huh.

Jonathan:
Which came first? Did the fact that he couldn't concentrate on the detail of the law during that time -- was that because of the depression, because of his imprisonment, or ... hard to say.

[Everyone agrees]

Bill:
So after this period of time, after the imprisonment, after this several years of near poverty, of just really looking for work, and all of this -- what do you think really began to get him out of the depth of despair and into this sort of place where he is recognized and people begin to laud him for what he was really and truly meant to be, they thought? And those were when the statements were made about whether he could have been president or governor and all of that. What was it that sort of turned his life around?

Wilma:
Well, for one thing, time does help in every way. First of all, there were new generations that didn't know him -- I mean didn't know some of the scandal that he went through. And then also the time that he had to reflect, too. It's just sometimes time will take care of that. And then he also did have some luck. He became friends with governors, or actually helped them and so on. And so that's helpful, too. They put him in positions where in his later life he could succeed, or he could come to the forefront.

Dava:
His health was also worsening.

Wilma:
Yeah.

Bill:
Uh huh.

Lynda:
I think so, too.

Dava:
He realized he had to do something.

Jonathan:
I mean, in a sense Bert Combs and Ned Breathitt, who allowed him -- in fact requested him -- to work for their campaigns ... They gave him a position [from] which he was able to do what he did best, which was to just sit in a chair and offer advice about all sorts of things. Now I was very impressed by one thing that was mentioned, and I think this speaks very precisely to where his talent lay. Was it Combs? -- or Breathitt -- asked him to give his advice about how to play a campaign in a particular county in Kentucky ...

Bill:
Uh huh.

Jonathan:
... and apparently for every single county in Kentucky, he knew the history of elections for every single county, and he knew what way people voted and why in every single county. He was able to predict the outcome in every single county that year. And for that reason [he] -- I think it was Breathitt -- called him the philosopher. He was almost like a Delphic oracle, wasn't he?

Bill:
The philosopher, yeah.

[Everyone laughs]

Bill:
Well, these fascinating stories about how in debates or just conversation with people ... At the reunion that he went to that time, everyone gathered around him, and he would recall verbatim law cases or a piece of literary work or whatever it happened to be. I mean, we all want to be sort of entertained by that, and, of course, he did more than just entertain. He turned it into something very positive and very good for the state [with] what he did through the committee. And we now make that connection, as we were talking earlier, about education reform in the state of Kentucky and what a big part that he played there.

Jonathan:
What exactly was his achievement, Bill? I mean, that really is, in a sense, the crowning achievement of his life, isn't it? What did he do for Kentucky education?

Bill:
I think Lynda can speak to that, too. He was at a place where he could lead and begin to talk about reforming education in Kentucky, which had been so very far behind so many other states.... But Lynda, you know that story.

Lynda:
He was inspirational in bringing people to the table to talk about these ideas. And once at the table, he presented the charge, the need, the necessity for finally tackling education in Kentucky after years of neglect: why the time was now, why it was important, and why everyone had to come together and put aside their differences to make it happen to benefit the state. Of course, he died before he saw it.

Narrator:
Remember to check out ket.org and learn more about this book and other bookclub selections, plus enjoy author interviews and discussion boards. You can join the club any time. The address is ket.org.

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