Wheeling and Dealing: Confessions of a Capitol Hill Operator
So this gentleman said a girl with brains ought to do something else with them besides think. And he said he ought to know brains when he sees them, because he is in the senate and he spends quite a great deal of time in Washington d.c. and when he comes into contract with brains he always notices it.
—Anita Loos, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Pimp to the Senate is not a title turned very readily into a boast. But somehow Larry King gives Bobby Baker just the right Lorelei Lee tone of voice. The book should be called A Guy Like I. Senators just kept shoving money into his hand. His stance is half swagger, half sulk—a blending of goniff with gofer. The affronted air of one who stood by his deals is perfectly sincere: he is shocked when people won’t stay bought. I met Mr. Baker while I was reading his book, and remarked that he is surprisingly candid about his own actions—which included special delivery of a call girl to the home of a senator in need. “You have to give value for money,” he said. It was his creed on the Hill, and it explains his success even in jail, where he was a principal ornament of Allenwood’s chapter of the Jaycees.
Senators need pampering. They have the egos of movie stars. That comes out even in Bernard Asbell’s rather fawning book, centered on Edmund Muskie. Asbell notes that Muskie uses his height theatrically—choosing a chair for TV that put his belly button up above the desk, putting none but short men on his staff. Bobby Baker’s major insight, achieved in his teen days as a Senate page, was that it is impossible to praise a senator too much. His period of service to Lyndon Johnson is perfectly captured in the fact that he seems to have begun every sentence with a verbal salute. He did not call him Senator or Mr. Johnson or Sir, but “Leader.” The senator did not stop, of course, to consider what that title is in German.
One can safely skip the childhood chapter in Baker’s book, which lacks the economy of Lorelei’s account while retaining its point: “It would be strange if I turn out to be an authoress. I mean at my home near Little Rock, Arkansas, my family all wanted me to do something about my music.” But once he hits Washington, Baker is quick to ingratiate himself. In time, avoiding Bobby Baker’s friends list would become as imperative as joining Richard Nixon’s enemies. Among friends mentioned here, the resolutely tall Senator Muskie of Asbell’s book is shown receiving emergency campaign funds from Baker’s service. Elsewhere Bobby Baker gives Bobby Kennedy an envelope with $10,000 in Murchison money from Texas for the 1960 campaign. Later, when Baker’s troubles began, he says, a German beauty named Ellen Romesch was…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Try two months of unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 a month.
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our complete 55+ year archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 a month.