Saturday, August 27, 2005

Attacks replace ideas in GOP infighting

Maybe I'm missing something, but the furor the media make over Bob Kjellander seems part of the August doldrums. I wrote two critical columns earlier this year about Kjellander's fees, suggesting that he quit as national GOP committeeman. But the media storm causes me to rethink it. Just as national media fixate on Cindy Sheehan and Natalee Holloway in Aruba, the local media focus on Illinois politics is Kjellander 24/7.

At the state fair's Republican Day, Channel 7's Andy Shaw ordered his camera slaves to pursue Kjellander wherever he went. Which they did, starting a rush of other camera slaves to run ahead of him and walk backward while filming, capturing him doing everything but his most intimate acts. They chased him from reception to reception. Then ice cream magnate Jim Oberweis spent valuable time on the speakers' stand to demand once more that Kjellander quit. He talked no state issues, but but he landed front and center on all the newscasts.

The most glittering hypocrite was Ron Gidwitz, who seemed to say that Kjellander was a discredit to the human race but hugged him when the committeeman came to Gidwitz's lavish fair party. All the other GOP gubernatorial candidates joined in to slur Kjellander but Ray LaHood. As a serious, skilled expert and authority on the legislative process who gavels the U.S. House in Denny Hastert's stead when it's beset with tumult, LaHood withdrew, maybe embarrassed with the sophomoric tirades of his colleagues.

Kjellander has done nothing illegal and is not accused of doing anything illegal. As a lobbyist, all he did was collect fees for advising clients how to bid on managing trust and pension funds. His critics are mad because he drew hefty fees but ignore the fact that the free market they extol has decided Kjellander's worth. He has made it on his own, which is more than some of them have done.

They think a national committeeman, who does not receive a salary, should live like a Cistercian monk. But none of them do. The state chairman, Andy McKenna, lives handsomely off the Schwartz Paper Co. his daddy runs as CEO. Gidwitz thumps his chest about his success as an entrepreneur, living on a Helene Curtis legacy his daddy, Jerry, built. Oberweis built a big net worth from his grandfather's dairy. In short, they don't have to work because somebody else in their family did. Once, I thought Kjellander should quit. Not now, after hearing those who inherited their pile rattling on against him instead of talking issues.

To these single-issue-fixated Republicans, Kjellander is the Great White Whale against which they pit themselves as Herman Melville's Captain Ahab. In the climactic scene, the old Nantucket seafarer who lost a leg to the whale in an earlier encounter stands alone in his dinghy with a razor-sharp lance poised as he leers at the mammal that had smote him. Ahab devotes his life to getting even with the whale. In the end, hate consumes Ahab. The whale swallows him up. Melville summarizes the cost of unrelenting bitterness by all who substitute this for reasoned thought.

I don't know Kjellander well, but let me tell you about his friend, Karl Rove. Fifty years ago this month, I began to make my living as a Republican operative and have stayed close to this work in the public and private sectors ever since. I have not seen a strategist better than Rove.

Last May, when Rove was in town, he was approached by my friend Dr. Jim Economos, who asked him to get Kjellander to quit. Those who stood by heard Rove say this: "He's doing a good job. Those who criticize him should reconsider. He's my friend and is trusted by me and the president."

Later, Kjellander was promoted to national GOP treasurer. That's good enough for me. As for some of my fellow conservatives, here's a tip: Go to the library and check out Moby Dick. Read it again and rethink the Kjellander thing. As I have done.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Blackmun's slide into the liberal cauldron

This is the story of two once fast friends who became distant and how, serving as U.S. Supreme Court justices, they affected legal policy. Warren Burger and Harry Blackmun were reared six blocks apart in the Dayton's Bluff section of St. Paul, a blue-collar neighborhood that has seen better days -- a neighborhood I used to pass often on the way to work.

They met in kindergarten, went to grade school and Sunday school together, played softball and tennis (Burger was the better athlete), double-dated (Burger was the handsomer of the two) and went to their high school proms together. Each took pleasure at the other's good fortune. Blackmun was best man at Burger's wedding.

Both got law degrees -- Burger from the University of Minnesota, Blackmun from Harvard. Burger, a liberal Republican, worked in a small St. Paul firm and dabbled in politics. Blackmun, rather introverted, rose slowly in a prestigious Minneapolis firm. In July 1952, Burger, a Harold Stassen delegate to the GOP convention, negotiated a last-minute switch to Dwight D. Eisenhower, giving the general enough votes to win the presidential nomination on the first ballot. In return, Burger got a job in the Justice Department, and later an appellate court judgeship.

Blackmun was moving ahead, too, but not in politics, becoming general counsel to the prestigious Mayo Clinic. The New York Times' Pulitzer Prize-winning Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse was given posthumous private access to Blackmun's papers. In her brilliant book, Becoming Justice Blackmun, (Times Books, 2005), they show a torturously insecure but pettily oversensitive man as he fights depression and chafes at his inability to write quickly.

Burger wangles an appellate appointment for the introverted Blackmun, and both of them dream of serving on the Supreme Court together. Then President Richard Nixon names Burger chief justice. Burger contrives to get Blackmun named to the court. Before he names him, Nixon asks Blackmun a strange (to Blackmun) question: Is your wife likely to be influenced by the Georgetown liberal crowd? Blackmun says his wife is unconcerned about Georgetown's praise. But Harry?

In the first court session, Blackmun was happy to vote with Burger 80 percent of the time. Then his law clerks told him his nickname was ''Hip-pocket Harry'' because Burger could always count on his vote. The media called them the "Minnesota Twins." Deftly, slowly, liberal Justices William O. Douglas, William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall suffused Blackmun with praise, encouraging him to dissent from his old friend. Greenhouse treats the issue gingerly, but Bob Woodward spells it out explicitly in The Brethren (Simon & Schuster, 1979). Then comes the abortion issue.

In the abortion conference, the liberals favor striking down state abortion laws, but Burger favors keeping them. Blackmun favors tinkering with them on more narrow grounds. Burger tilts toward pro choice, and by that act can give the assignment to write the decision on Roe vs. Wade to Blackmun. The Douglas-Brennan-Marshall trio is pleased, telling Blackmun that only he has the towering intellectual prowess to write it. Now it's clear that Blackmun sees Roe vs. Wade as his main chance to separate from Burger. Blackmun flies to Rochester and writes slowly in the Mayo Clinic library.

In that opinion, Blackmun writes: ''The constitution does not explicitly mention any right of privacy." But there are ''emanations'' and "penumbras" in the Bill of Rights, the Fourth, Fifth and Ninth amendments. Voila! He has composed a freshly invented right! With that decision, the break with Burger becomes complete.

Writes Greenhouse: Blackmun's ''the person American women look to -- the champion not only of abortion rights but of women's rights in general." Burger dies and Blackmun doesn't go to the funeral. Roe vs. Wade is the "law of the land" or, as scholar Mark Levin says, the methodical seduction of a chronically insecure man by flattery, of a man who desperately wanted to be loved by all those who adore the New York Times.

There's a name for it: the Greenhouse Effect.