Some things might surprise folks about McLaughlin Group host John McLaughlin. He is 86 years old. He used to be a priest. And he was once a candidate for a U.S. Senate seat from the state of Rhode Island. The year was 1970 and McLaughlin was aiming in a futile — kamikaze is even appropriate, quest to unseat the venerable John Pastore.
In the words of McLaughlin, “Issue One.”
Pastore was no rookie in Rhode Island politics. He was seeking his fourth full term, having been elected in a 1950 special. He had been Governor before that. Pastore had been the first Italian American to win both the Governorship and Senate seat in Rhode Island.
At 5’4, Pastore was a small man but his vote getting abilities were huge, which Short Person Support attributed to his “honesty, oratory, good relations with the press, and his ability to keep his finger on the political pulse of the voter.”
‘Rhode Island is the smallest state in the union, ” he said,”and I am the smallest governor in the United States.’ And he was distinctly Rhode Island. As he announced his retirement frfrom the Senate in 1976, he turned to his wife and with his distinct Rhode Island dialect said, “”I think the time has come that John Pastore had a little fun; Don’t you think lo, Mummy?” He was Rhode island.
And eloquent. Pastore gave 1964 keynote address and delegates was so enthralled that his name was briefly mentioned for VP.
Pastore also may have been one of the unsung heroes on Civil Rights, for he authored much of the complicated languages. In one of the most solidly Democratic state in the union, and one in which reverence is a guide, that made his task tough enough. Which would’ve meant a tough hurdle for McLaughlin by itself. But he faced another resistance the church.
McLaughlin’s superiors not to run. He didn’t listen. The Reverend Russel J. McVinney told the Providence Visitor that, “Father McLaughlin announced his candidacy and is now conducting his campaign for public office without permission from me and without endorsement of any kind from the Diocesae of Providence.” McLaughlin told the New York Times that the diocese doesn’t have the authority to restrict him — only to deny him the ability to “preach and hear confessions.” McLaughlin also noted that Canon Law was being revised and that he took advantage of the fact that the changes were not yet made.
Another priest, Father Robert Drinan, was elected in a district just north in Massachusetts (and would retire a decade later when an issue was made), but his was solidly Democratic.
If he was an unconventional candidate by his profession, the same might be said of his politics. McLaughlin voted for Kennedy and Johnson. McLaughlin campaigned as a solid supporter of Nixon on domestic affairs. Foreign policy was different. McLaughlin called for a 30 day pullout from Vietnam. Pastore by contrast was more hawkish.
At the time of his Senate run, McLaughlin, who had a Master’s in Philosophy and English Literature, and a Ph.d in philosophy from Columbia, had been writing “America,” a jesuit magazine. His expressive nature was such that he was often called “Father GOD.” Indeed, anyone who has seen McLaughlin in action, even once, knows that his style is more that of a sports announcer rather than man of the pulpit.
In that vein, McLaughlin would later compare politics to sex, calling, “power as an experience experience is as intense as sex. Power is more pervasive and unremiiting. Sex has periods of remission.”
Pastore reacted with incredulity that he was being challenged by a priest. “How can I debate with a man my religion teaches me to call Father.” McLaughlin replied that his collar is a”one-inch piece of plastic.”
Some might say the dynamics of the race made the issue moot. Pastore took 68%, slightly lower than previous races, but still impressive even in a Democratic state.
After the election, Nixon hired McLaughlin as a speechwriter. The church again told him not to do it. This time, McLaughlin got out altogether. He left the priesthood and eventually married the woman who served as his campaign manager. They since divorced and McLaughlin remarried. And he had another conversion of sorts: the Vietnam War, which he began supporting. His friendship with Pat Buchanan, who to this day shares the dais of the “McLaughlin Group,” can be a credit. He also staunchly defended the President during Watergate.
McLaughlin took on editor of National Review. But any one who knows his “Fighting Irish” style know that he likes to be out in front and he found “Meet the Press” to be “formalized and bloodless.”. McLaughlin himself said “Politics and the priesthood are both rooted in the same thing – assertiveness training.”After all, Ronald Reagan said of McLaughlin, “The United States needs a tax increase like John McLaughlin needs assertiveness training.”
And so, John McLaughlin got his own Sunday morning show, with four panelists typically trying to provide a liberal/conservative balance and debate the issues.Jack Germond and Bob Novak were there in the original days. 31 years later, the panelists have changed but John McLaughlin is as feisty as ever.
Pastore meanwhile, returned to Rhode Island following the completion of the term he beat McLaughlin to win and lived to 93. It worked out for both men.
And now, as McLaughlin’s trademark has come to be known, “Bye-bye.” Cue music please: