A former U.S. Democratic senator for Maine and Presidential Medal of Freedom winner revisits significant moments in his long public and private life.
Mitchell was Senate majority leader (1989-1995) and left that now-costive body in 1995 to see more of his family and to pursue some other challenges, from baseball to Northern Ireland. He begins with family background (money was tight; everyone worked hard), telling a few childhood anecdotes that seem well-polished by campaign repetition. He had an influential high school English teacher who gave him Steinbeck to read. He worked his way through Bowdoin College, joined ROTC and entered the pre-Vietnam–era military, working in Berlin for the Office of Security. Then came law school and politics, where he fell under the sway of Sen. Ed Muskie, who subsequently became an ardent supporter of Mitchell’s career. The author’s segments on his political doings veer back and forth between detailed accounts of various legislative activities (the Clean Air Act) and lines that seem lifted from his stump speeches (“My father had told me that hard work could solve any problem”). Mitchell blasts Oliver North for lying during the Iran-Contra controversy, skims over the details of his divorce and remarriage, crows a bit about the benefits he was able to gain for Maine, and rails about the demands of fundraising. Following his Senate career, he took on numerous assignments—ranging from the thankless to the intractable—including Northern Ireland, Disney (where he served on the board of directors), the Salt Lake City Olympics (he does not mention Mitt Romney), the baseball drug scandals, and the Middle East, where he—like everyone else—failed to negotiate a deal for a Palestinian state. He ends with a saccharine self-help chapter about negotiating.
A sometimes-sludgy gumbo of a memoir that could use more salt.