Say something, anything. Stall for time, for wisdom, for another sip of Jameson. "Well, if it isn't, you’re speaking to the wrong person," I said, not knowing if I had said the correct magic words.
"President Eisenhower," he responded delightedly.
"Mr. Stevenson?" I asked.
That led to a discussion of the appropriate times to start drinking (I swear I didn't bring that up) and how Churchill's notion of a morning drink was 90% ice and water and 10% scotch, which he would sip all morning. Then we got down to business.
"So, Mark, what can I tell you about young people and the vote… and declare yourself."
Okay, so interviewing Norman Lear about his program, Declare Yourself, was not going to be easy, but it sure seemed like it was going to be fun. And I’m pretty quick, except I completely forgot Declare Yourself was the name of the program, so I declared that I was a '60s liberal Democrat confused about what it meant to be liberal.
"I was at a conference for an entire day with a group of liberals who never mentioned the word once," he said. Deadpan. Damn. Was he kidding or serious? Oh well, fair heart and faint maids.
"I don’t think we should run away from the word," I said. "I just think we should define it."
"Well, you’re talking to a bleeding heart conservative," said Lear. Rats, this wasn’t the right interview.
"Excuse me," I said. "Isn't this the interview with Normal Lear?"
"Bleeding heart conservative?"
"I'm concerned about my First Amendment or my Bill of Rights or my Constitution," this person claiming to be the famed Lear said. "But socially, I want no child to be left behind, and I'll give up what I have to accomplish that. That's my bleeding heart part. But we're talking about the youth vote."
Fat chance I was going to let him off that easily. After all, he doesn’t know where I live. "I'm very interested in the youth vote, but I'm fascinated by you calling yourself a conservative."
"Those are my roots," he said. "You’re going to have to live with it, because that's what I’m saying."
Parry, thrust, feint… water in the face. End of faint.
"What are you conservative about?" I asked.
"My First Amendment, my Bill of Rights, my Constitution…"
"Excuse me, those are liberal deals."