The only son of a first-generation Italian American father and Irish American mother, Joseph A. Califano, Jr. grew up in Brooklyn during the New Deal programs of Franklin D. Roosevelt. His early sense of being a “V.I.C.” (Very Important Child) in a strong Catholic family and a strict Jesuit education provided the religious faith, values, and courage to sustain his commitment to causes he believed in throughout his life as an attorney and public servant. A Harvard Law School education equipped him with the knowledge and connections to develop his talents. In New York City he became politically involved, supporting John F. Kennedy’s run for president.
Califano became a key player in Washington politics, wielding enormous power, in three Democratic administrations. Under Kennedy, during the Cuban missile crisis, he was the top troubleshooter at the Pentagon under Robert McNamara. Under Lyndon Johnson, he oversaw the development of Great Society programs during the turbulent anti-war and civil rights demonstrations. Under Jimmy Carter, as Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, he was second only to the president, but his tough anti- smoking campaign and battles for minority rights made him a controversial figure. Between Democratic administrations, he practiced law with powerful Washington firms, and represented the Washington Post in the Nixon Watergate scandal.
Califano, in this informative and enjoyable read, presents an inside picture of the momentous events of his time, revealing the dark and dirty side of politics and the barriers to achieving real political change—the temptations of power and money, the partisanship, and the powerful special interests that control political outcomes. He also shares his personal struggles, intimate friendships, and joy at being a part of it all.