Boomers Watched Presidents Make Their “Big Ask”

When President Joe Biden addressed a joint session of Congress last week, it may have seemed like deja vu all over again for boomers. The reason for this is very simple; every president during the boomer era has addressed Congress with an ambitious agenda that amounted to a “big ask.” Indeed, suggesting legislation is a main part of the job and a good part of why we elect presidents. See if you remember this portion of our shared history, now that decades have passed and we have had the benefit of hindsight to evaluate their effect on our lives.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower — National Interstate Highways
For many people, Eisenhower’s signature legislation was the building of the interstate highway system. President Eisenhower officially introduced his proposal to Congress on February 22, 1955. A year later Congress allocated $26 billion for the construction of the 40,000 mile system of interconnected highways. Construction began in 1956, but wasn’t completed until 1992, so the budget had ultimately ballooned to more than $115 billion.

President John F. Kennedy — Man on the Moon
The Space Race began when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1 into orbit in 1957. The U.S. soon matched Soviet orbiting satellites and established a manned space program. In 1961, Kennedy upped the ante by stating the goal of sending men to the moon and back by the end of the decade. He addressed Congress on May 25, 1961. Project Mercury was already two years old, and only two weeks earlier on May 5, Alan Shepard took the first U.S. manned sub-orbital flight. In February of 1962, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. With these initial steps, the President asked Congress for $7-9 billion to be added to the Space Program over five years. On July 20, 1969, American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin set foot on the surface of the moon.

President Lyndon B. Johnson — Medicare
Presidents Roosevelt and Truman had tried to pass a form of healthcare legislation specifically for senior Americans, but failed in committees. President Kennedy was working toward being the third president to introduce legislation, but was assassinated before he could do so. President Lyndon Johnson picked up the task and in his State of the Union address on January 4, 1965, revealed his plan for Medicare. Congress dedicated $2.2 billion dollars to establish the program, and Medicare became part of the Social Security Amendments of 1965. Johnson recognized Truman as the “real daddy of Medicare,” so on July 30, 1965, he signed the bill at the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri. On hand were former President Harry Truman and his wife, Bess. President Johnson personally issued the first and second Medicare cards to them.

President Richard M. Nixon — The Environmental Protection Agency
Most people point to the publishing of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962 as the alarm that raised public awareness for environmental concerns. It had become evident that pollution of our air, water and land had become a major problem. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin accompanied then President John Kennedy on an 11-day trip in September of 1963 to raise awareness on pollution and environmental issues. (Nelson later was the founder of Earth Day.) Congress acted on the growing public sentiment for clean air, water and land management with the Clean Air Act of 1964. They passed additional bills over the next four years addressing national pollution problems.

During the 1968 Presidential campaign, Richard Nixon didn’t pay much attention to environmental issues. Then eight days after he was sworn in as President in January of 1969, there was a rupture on a Union Oil platform off the coast of California at Santa Barbara that spilled 100,000 gallons of oil into the Pacific Ocean. A 60-mile oil slick covered beaches, devasted the local fishing industry and destroyed habitat for marine animals. The American people were horrified.

Congress reacted with the Environmental Policy Act of 1969. Nixon was not on board at first, but voters were all for some environmental protections, so two months after the Union Oil disaster, he signed the bill. Prior to 1960, the Republican Party was seen as a big supporter of environmental issues, especially relating to farm land management and wildlife conservation. Now, with an increasing number of bills concerning the environment, more than 40 agencies were tasked with enforcing the new laws. After much consultation with his colleagues and aides, Nixon signed an executive order in June of 1969 establishing the Environmental Quality Council to oversee environmental issues.

Now with public sentiment behind him, and having been convinced that the environment would be a big issue in the upcoming election, on July 9, 1970, Nixon asked Congress to set up an agency that would consolidate and control all environmental issues with his Reorganization Plan No. 3. Nixon requested additional money for combating current pollution, including money to upgrade the country’s water treatment plants. His total ask was just over $10 billion. Congress passed the bill and on December 2, 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency began operations.

The moral of the story for boomers is, we’ve been here before. The presidents during the boomer decades of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s all requested large-scale legislation from Congress. As time has passed, most historians agree that the positives for the American people acquired through these boomer-era programs have outweighed the negatives.

Do you remember these historical events, boomers?

(Some) Boomers Remember Dino, Desi and Billy

Mister Boomer was listening to an oldies show last week when his ears were hit with a real blast from the past: a song by Dino, Desi and Billy. Mister B had pretty much blocked them from his memory. Sure, he did remember hearing the band’s name, and knew a little about who they were, but that was all. So he was surprised to discover a few tidbits about their time in the boomer-era spotlight. See if you remember:

Dino was Dean Paul Martin, the son of Dean Martin. He was elementary school friends with Billy Hinsche, the son of a real estate investor who owned a casino in the Philippines, where Billy was born. The two friends were in their early teens when they formed an acoustic guitar duo to cover songs by Chad & Jeremy and similar groups. When they decided to add a drummer and go electric, they heard that the brother of a classmate, Luci Arnaz, played drums. Desi Arnaz, son of Lucy and Desi, became their drummer, and Dino, Desi and Billy was formed in 1964.

The boys practiced at Lucille Ball’s house and began playing birthday parties and small events. When the band moved their practices to Dean’s house, his mother Jeanette would listen. She thought the boys were pretty good, so she called Frank Sinatra and asked him to come and hear them play. Old Blue Eyes did just that. He heard the boys play couple of songs and asked if they were interested in cutting a record. Sinatra had a major interest in Reprise Records at the time, and signed them. The boys were all under the age of 15.

Mr. Sinatra promptly told them they would not be playing their own instruments on their first record. To make a long story short, their initial single failed miserably. For their follow up single in 1965, Sinatra and company hired the Wrecking Crew to play the instruments, the super group of studio musicians who played on dozens of records in the 1960s. Then Lee Hazelwood was hired to produce the record, and Red West and Joey Cooper were enlisted to write a song. The result was, I’m a Fool, their first big hit, reaching the number 17 spot in the Top 100.

After four albums, six of their songs reached the Top 100. As time went on, they played their own instruments. The band split in 1970.

Dean Jr. went on to marry actress Olivia Hussey in 1971. She had become known for her portrayal of Juliet in Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet in 1968. They divorced in 1978, having one son. In 1982, Dino married Olympic skating champ Dorothy Hamill. The marriage lasted two years. As an active member of the California Air National Guard, Dean Martin Jr. was killed in a plane crash in 1987.

Desi Jr., like Dino, appeared in TV shows and movies during and after their stint in the band. From an early age, he was known as a ladies’ man, adopting the womanizing and drinking of his father. He became a father himself at age 15 through his relationship with model Susan Callahan-Howe. Mixing drugs and alcohol, as so many child performers did, landed him in rehab at the age of 25. After a one-year marriage to Linda Purl in 1979, he married Amy Laura Bargiel in 1987. Laura died of cancer in 2015. Currently, he owns the Boulder City Theater in Boulder City, Nevada.

Of the three, only Billy Hinsche continued on in the music industry. He had been writing songs all along, and when his sister Annie married Carl Wilson of The Beach Boys, he found a musical collaborator. Billy toured with The Beach Boys in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. He also had touring stints and studio recordings with Carl Wilson, Paul Revere & the Raiders, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs and others. He co-wrote Lady Love with Brian Wilson, Away with Dennis Wilson and Let’s Build a World with Carl Wilson. Billy is also credited as a backup singer, appearing on many recordings, including Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me by Elton John, Joan Jett’s Good Music and Hat Trick by America, among others.

Who knew? Not Mister Boomer. How about you, boomers? Do you have fond memories of listening to Dino, Desi and Billy?