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.

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