Homage where homage is due: Charles Peters

David Ignatius of the Washington Post has a very nice column of tribute to Charles Peters, my original employer in the magazine world and, for me and a large number of other people in journalism, something like Chairman Mao without the starvation and mass terror. That is, an inspirational and consequential figure whose doctrine had its oddities and whose personal habits did too, but whose influence can't be ignored. Fortunately Charlie's influence, unlike the Chairman's, was overwhelmingly to the good.(Also fortunately, he did not emulate a practice of Mao's described in the recent controversial biography by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday: Mao's failure to bathe or brush his teeth for years at a time. )

My salary during the two years I worked with Charlie, alongside Walter Shapiro, was $8400 per year. To my just-turned-23-year-old self that seemed pretty good. It was certainly an improvement from my immediately-preceding job: a total of $500 for helping write, in a period of eight weeks, a paperback book called Who Runs Congress?, alongside Mark Green (later of New York City politics) and David Zwick.

The book reached #1 on the paperback bestseller list and, including later editions, eventually sold millions of copies. I never saw more than the $500. The proceeds went to bankroll and build the Ralph Nader organization, for which we wrote the book. Thus Mark, David, and I bear partial, indirect responsibility for electing George Bush in 2000 (though we all tried to talk Nader out of continuing his campaign). The record of Charlie Peters' influence will be more overwhelmingly positive not just than Chairman Mao's but also than Chairman Ralph's.