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Advice for the President from Pat Conroy’s mom

By D. G. Martin
Posted Friday, November 1, 2013

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Chapel Hill, NC - What advice would author Pat Conroy's late mother give President Obama in dealing with congressional Republicans over the government shutdown and debt ceiling crises?

We get a clue in Conroy’s latest book, “The Death of Santini,” which came out recently.

Conroy describes his mother Peg’s likely reaction to a demand from Conroy’s sister, Carol, for $5,000 “or she would cut her throat.”

"From mom,” Conroy writes, “Carol wouldn't have gotten one nickel…. Peg would've laughed … and told Carol never to call her again with that line."

So, if his mother Peg thought the Republicans’ actions in refusing to end the shutdown or in not allowing the government to pay its bills were blackmail, she would tell the president to ignore the Republicans’ threats.

But Conroy felt he could not dismiss his sister’s suicide threat. She had a history of mental illness and threatened suicides. One of their brothers had killed himself by jumping off a building in Columbia, S.C.

His friend, Bernie, heard Conroy on the telephone tell his sister “that I'd send the check through FedEx when I got off the phone. Bernie was screaming at me, ‘You can't put up with that kind of blackmail! That's awful for Carol and awful for you!’"

“But I know she won't slit her throat for a while," Conroy said to his friend. “The power of suicide is enormous and Carol knows it. She understands how to manipulate all the airways of guilt. She uses her childhood as a weapon against us."

"Be like Peg," Bernie told Conroy. "You’re setting a terrible precedent for Carol.”

President Obama seems to want to follow the approach recommended by Conroy’s mother and his friend. Giving in to the congressional Republicans’ demands would similarly be a terrible precedent.

Some commentators, like Creators Syndicate columnist Froma Harrop, use stronger language. “America's leaders, Democrats and sane Republicans, must drive a stake in the heart of the idea that you can close down the government--and threaten economic meltdown by playing games with the debt ceiling--to win political concessions. Only unconditional defeat of this tactic can save the principle that you don't shut down government to get this or that concession. Obama made a serious mistake by negotiating during past trumped-up crises. He's been strong so far.”

Still, in sizing up the situation, even partisan Democrats should recognize why more than a few Republicans feel it is important for them to play their “shutdown” and “debt ceiling” cards, even if those actions are condemned as blackmail.

They believe their objectives justify the extraordinary means they are using in an attempt to achieve them, as explained by Georgia Republican Representative Jack Kingston, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee. He told The New York Times, “To the degree that going through short-term sacrifice to change the long-term spending pattern of America, it seems to be the only way to get things done in this environment.”

But, partisan Republicans, even those who sincerely think extreme means are warranted to achieve their objectives, must understand why President Obama seems to be taking the advice of Pat Conroy’s mom and his friend Bernie that giving in to such tactics would be, as Bernie told Pat, a “terrible precedent.”


D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at

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Advice for the President from Pat Conroy’s mom

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