Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Classic Quiz: The American Poets—and Remember: No Cheating!

No Computer Tricks or Looking Up (I’m Trusting You!)

1. Who wrote the classic first line of the poem: This is the forest primeval.? And the name of the poem?
3. This is an American politician who was nevertheless a literary master. Tell me who he was and what was the circumstances of this speech?

My Friends: No one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place and the kindness of these people, I owe everything.

4. Here is not the beginning but the middle of a world-famous poem. What is its title? And author?

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil—prophet still, if bird or devil!— By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—Tell this soul with sorrow laden, if, within the distant Aidenn,

It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name “Lenore”!

Flashback Again: And So 1956 Dawns and with It Elections for President and Governor of Minnesota as Well as the Attempt to Kick Richard Nixon Off the National Ticket…Proving Only the Stunning Stupidity of Harold Stassen

[More reading for my children and grandchildren, the latter of which probably won’t get around to it until long after I’m gone.]

As a one man combination public relations director and speech-writer for the Republican party in a heavily Democratic state, I resolved that I would strive to meet every journalist covering politics in the state of Minnesota, starting with me personally making the rounds of the media in the Twin Cities, delivering news releases daily like a newspaper delivery boy to people in the two major newspapers, the AP, the UPI, the four television newsrooms, the major radio newsrooms and those who sat on the rim of the desks in the city rooms of the papers at night when the political editors were home. I wrote a story a day and made the rounds, having coffee, stopping and chatting and collecting names. One was an African American new guy in the Minneapolis Tribune named Carl Rowan…one was the one-man news bureau at television station KMSP named Harry Reasoner, who as a young high school student from International Falls way up north won an essay contest on “Why I am a Republican” and with it the opportunity to read it to the Republican National convention in 1944, for which he was joshed by his colleagues unceasingly.

I would begin to make my rounds at about 2 p.m., drop by newsrooms and have coffee, swap stories, develop names for future contacts, finishing sometime after 10 p.m. This went on for the three straight years I held the job. I was insistent on meeting newsroom interns, staff secretaries on the copy desks—anyone who could help me later places stories. I would take some time off for dinner and resume the visits in the early evening, when the radio and television newscasts were being prepared. I was interested in making reporters my personal friends rather than political allies. To me it was far more important to develop lasting contacts in the print media than television or radio because I saw early that electronic news piggy-backed on what was in print.

I made it a rule never to complain about inaccuracy or slant, believing—as I do now—that objectivity is impossible. Reporters were interested in the fact that I seemed to know every word they wrote about politics. I made the observation then which remains with me now—that the source of left-leaning orientation in journalism is not endemic in the profession but comes from college majors in the liberal arts, mostly at elite institutions. For a variety of reasons, many newsmen became my friends: one being that, while far from liberal, I had always had the reputation as being something of a rebel, which suited the journalistic fashion of favoring the un-mooring of convention. I never knew intimately the biggest name in communications in Minnesota—Cedric Adams, a columnist of the Walter Winchell-Irv Kupcinet variety (three dots…a nugget of opinion or news and…three dots again) for the Minneapolis Star who made a fortune anchoring the noon and 10 p.m. radio newscasts on WCCO radio while television was just starting to be a rival.

In those days it was de rigeur for radio news broadcaster to introduce the show with a commercial line. For example, Adams would begin his wildly popular noon broadcast like this: “Are you cookin’ with Crisco and suds’n with Dreft? This is Cedric Adams and the Noontime news.” His sponsor at 10 p.m. was “Sweetheart Bread” and he would begin “For the best in bread say Sweetheart! This is Cedric Adams and the 10 o’clock news!” Of course it was a fatal alliteration, especially when he would show up for the 10 p.m. news at about 9:55 p.m. well-lubricated after dinner washed down with several martini’s. Anyhow, I had just walked into the newsroom at 10 p.m. one night in time to see and hear Adams blowing his initial line: For the breast in bed, say Sweetheart!” There was a devastating gasp after that gaffe and then an explosion of mirth—so loud and so long that a substitute announcer had to rush in to relieve the 260 lb. old master who was almost carried out of the studio in paroxysms of hilarity. The news director was not amused for in those days even the hint of sexual impropriety was near fatal…but the gaffe made news across the nation. Now it would be regarded as mildly comic if even that.

Adams was famous for gaffes. He specialized in giving housewives hints for his noon radio-cast. An archaic story from the `50s caused a state-wide sensation. One day in a particularly hot summer (before central air conditioning came to private homes) he instructed housewives who ironed their husband’s shirts (you can imagine how long ago that was) to stand in a bucket of cold water while ironing to cool off. Of course that would provide immediate electrocution and the station ran emergency bulletins to housewives to ignore Cedric’s latest hint, long after Cedric went to the neighborhood restaurant for drinks to prepare for the evening radio-cast.

Adams survived to move over to television, became the host of a popular variety show, was romanced by all the big networks to move to New York and rival Arthur Godfrey. Rather than rival Godfrey, Adams became Godfrey’s close friend and subbed for him in New York: but Adams wanted to remain—and did—a Minnesotan. Actually, Adams was by far the superior television performer to Godfrey with an avuncular knack, not the arrogant know-it-all mien that Godfrey had. He was actually the only television performer who vetoed having a national audience because he refused to move to New York for the networks: which made him even more of a hero in Minnesota.


All the while I was crafting news releases, trying to stir controversy with the reigning Democratic-Farmer-Labor party by picking their programs to pieces, lining up “spokesmen” who would agree to say whatever I wrote, the most colorful political woman I had ever met, Elizabeth Bradshaw Heffelfinger, the multi-millionaire Republican National Committeewoman from Minnesota, married to F. Peavey Heffelfinger whose family owned the Peavey Grain Company, was working doggedly behind the scenes to encourage the Republican party to dump Richard Nixon at its forthcoming 1956 convention in favor of Henry Cabot Lodge, President Eisenhower’s ambassador to the United Nations. The need to dump Nixon seemed urgent: Eisenhower had had a heart attack and an attack of ileitis which had necessitated an operation. There was grave worry that as one of the oldest presidents, he might die in office—especially if he won a second term. And the next president would be to the liberals’ horror: Richard Milhous Nixon.

After Ike’s heart attack and before his minor stroke and ileitis, we had hit on the very sound strategy of using Harold Stassen, a key cabinet figure, to foment progressive Republican discontent with Nixon. She and I bet that Stassen would stir the pot and probably harm himself in the process, but that with the door open to consideration of a new vice president, quiet, subtle suggestions would be made to President Eisenhower to open the convention up to choice: and that at that point, the Lodge people would be ready. Thomas Dewey, then considering retirement, was opposed—but after having lost two presidential races himself, Dewey was not in the strongest position. I remained distant from the enterprise because my original sponsor, Fred Hughes, wanted Stassen to get the vice presidential nomination, not Cabot Lodge…and I knew that wouldn’t happen. But every so often I would get clued in on the clandestine plot. And, it was clear, that Eisenhower himself wouldn’t be overcome with remorse if Nixon were replaced as Ike had heard some discouraging polls about Nixon himself.

It’s important to consider that Harold Stassen was not in 1956 the ludicrous comic figure he became. Stassen had captured national attention for being the nation’s outstanding governor in the 1930s, for quitting his political career and joining the Navy where he was a top aide to Admiral Bull Halsey, for returning to run for the presidential nomination in 1948 and 1952. Losing to Dewey in 1948 was almost lucky for him, because Dewey went on to blow the election to Truman which decimated Dewey for the future. In 1952 Stassen was a presidential candidate again and was overturned by Dwight Eisenhower. He was a charter founding member of the United Nations, then regarded as the last, best hope of man for peace. He was given a major cabinet-ranked post as head of Mutual Security under Ike, or the big foreign aid program which was an important part of our foreign-defense policies. Then he was made disarmament czar or the so-called “Secretary for Peace” which Eisenhower promoted as an antithesis to those who criticized him as a war-monger because of his military background. In short, Harold Stassen was very much the stature for progressive Republicans that John McCain has tried to become: independent, somewhat of a maverick but with a great appeal to liberal Democrats.

Mrs. Heffelfinger was in close touch with Cabot Lodge who, it must be acknowledged, didn’t care for the idea of ditching Nixon but who was agreeable to the notion that if Eisenhower wanted another vice president, he, Cabot Lodge, would oblige. After all, the vice presidency on a sure-win ticket with Eisenhower in 1956 would lead to a sure-thing nomination for president in 1960. Cabot Lodge was on television frequently from the United Nations, disputing with Soviet delegates and doing extensive interviews. The secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, didn’t particularly mind Cabot around if Cabot didn’t try to influence policy, which Cabot didn’t. “I tell you,” Mrs. Heffelfinger told Lodge, “let Stassen stir the pot. You just be quiet and prepare to let us plead for you to allow yourself to be considered when the President allows the convention to make its decision.”

But, said Lodge, I can tell you, Eisenhower is not going to ditch Nixon because Nixon is the key to the conservatives remaining true. He’s not going to allow the convention to pick the vice president!”

“Yes he very likely will!” she said. “All you have to do is shut up. You’ll let us try, won’t you?”

He shook his head and said okay, if the forces of big wealth want to act surreptitiously in his behalf—but, he added, he will not lift a finger nor say a word that is sympathetic to it. Quite the opposite: if asked he, Lodge, would endorse Nixon.

“We understand, Cabot,” she said. “Just let the process work.”

Of course it was a hideously dishonest ploy in the first place, crafted to encourage Harold Stassen to ruin himself by sidling up to him with flattery and telling him he, Stassen, is the man of destiny to remove Nixon—and that he, Stassen, would be venerated by the young progressives forevermore by doing it—all the while allowing them to pick as Ike’s running-mate Cabot Lodge.

What they failed to calculate on was Stassen’s ham-handed bluntness. Where the eastern progressive Republican coterie had financed a private poll be taken that would underscore Nixon’s lack of popularity and then leaked discreetly to the press, once the poll’s result was handed to Stassen, he became a blunder-buss. Instead of leaking it first, Stassen marched into the Oval Office and gave Eisenhower the findings, declaring that Nixon’s name on the ticket would cost the Republicans from 4 to 6 percent in November. While Eisenhower had fretted about Nixon’s standing anyhow in other private polls he had seen, now with Stassen urging political assassination, the old general to whom staff loyalty was essential was stunned—and immediately vowed to do away with Stassen and keep his administration unified. How could anyone imagine a president could do anything else with Stassen presenting him a proposal for Nixon’s head on a platter?

Eisenhower, the cool diplomat who had dealt with Churchill, DeGaulle and Stalin, told Stassen, “you’re an American citizen, Harold and free to follow your own judgment in these matters.” Stassen took that to be support—which it emphatically was not. When news of this got out via the grapevine before it hit the media, it was Cabot Lodge who almost had a stroke, fearing that this goofy Stassen would somehow mention Lodge. But Stassen didn’t. Instead he certified himself to become ever after the laughingstock. With the news making the rumor grapevine as columnists reported it on a sensational basis, Stassen sent a registered letter to Nixon while Eisenhower was visiting Panama, meeting with South American presidents in an effort to show his recovery to health was complete.

The letter came to Nixon and Rosemary Woods brought it to him while the vice president was lunching with General Jerry Persons, Ike’s congressional liaison and Leonard Hall, the GOP national chairman. The letter said (a) that his poll showed Nixon would lose up to 6 percent for the ticket with the number growing among more highly educated, best informed and younger voters, (b) that Eisenhower was an indispensable man whose reelection could not be jeopardized and (c) Stassen was announcing his support for Governor Christian Herter of Massachusetts for vice president! Nixon’s, Hall’s and Person’s eyes bugged out: Herter! He was a sixty-one year old governor, with career State Department service in his background, but severely afflicted with arthritis who often walked on two crutches, a diffident, remote former Congressman and ex-member of House Foreign Affairs who was not known particularly as a good campaigner. Herter was not on any list that the anti-Nixon people had prepared for vice president. What in the world was this crazy Stassen thinking of? But what dismayed me was that he was acting with the full concurrence of Fred Hughes of St. Cloud. My idol, a brilliant lawyer and master legal strategist was something less than a political genius.

As soon as the letter to Nixon became public, all sorts of putative successors to Nixon emerged via the leaking process—none of them Cabot Lodge (who screamed to his well-wishers that this was a damn fool idea anyhow and he wanted no association with it). Names included Governor Dan Thornton of Colorado and Governor Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin of Maryland with Governor Goodwin Knight of California officially supporting Stassen. Then Stassen called a news conference, endorsed Herter and said Eisenhower had approved an open convention, which he had only vaguely hinted at. Brad Heffelfinger was shouting over the phone to Stassen that he had actually re-nominated Nixon—which was true. A survey of House Republicans showed 180 of all 203 wanted Nixon (although that wasn’t exactly a stunning degree of support). Eisenhower hastened to cut off the revolt by having Sherman Adams, his chief of staff, call Herter and offer him the job of under-Secretary of State under Dulles (with the likelihood of Herter succeeding Dulles in the second term). Herter said okay and agreed to place Nixon’s name in nomination at the convention.

“That stupid [scatological]!” Brad Heffelfinger told me as she stirred our scotch and sodas at the usual hour of 10 a.m. “The only good thing to come out of this is to find out once and for all that he’s a [scatological, sociological inhuman whose parentage is in dispute].” I didn’t really care; if Stassen was that inept it was just as well that Nixon continued anyhow.

And besides, I was enthusiastic about accompanying Minnesota’s most famous Old Guard Congressman, the isolationist, America First, ultra-nationalist leader of whom I had read since the mid-thirties when my father had given me a tutorial about Robert R. McCormick’s favorites, the men who stood fore-square against Rooseveltian socialism. We were to travel his district in southeastern Minnesota for many days as he would certify his reelection, one of the last vital links between the Congress of the pre-electronic age. A last living compatriot of Robert Taft, Gerald P. Nye and Stephen A. Day. I could hardly wait!


Next time: A journey back through the decades when Congressmen, unburdened by electronic media, went through the country towns ala Abraham Lincoln with the last link to the Nineteenth century.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Gidwitz Lays Out a Conservative Program One-Two-Three Making it Short and Sweet As a Gubernatorial Candidate is Expected to Do.

While I’ve never supported him, on my radio show last night Ron Gidwitz laid out a conservative response one-two-three with fact-filled answers which produce a definite contrast to the hair-pulling domestic screamer between self-justificatory Rod Blagojevich and Judy Baar Topinka. The fact that the overwhelming number of “mainstream media” savants supported Topinka in the primary race either casts severe doubt on their analytic abilities or could presage another reason. There is no doubt that liberalism is ascendant in the “choice” between Blagojevich and Topinka.

I’m touted Gidwitz’s response at this point in counter-distinction to charges that I’m an Oberweis rule-or-ruin guy. Gidwitz is a social liberal but as I learned in his appearances on my program, he is a superb logician who applies top-notch cerebral qualities to figuring out the problems of state government. I would one thousand times prefer him being the nominee to our present one: and indeed, at this advanced stage of progress on social issues, a libertarian with a “hands off” view might well be preferable to spoiled kid so-called socially conservative candidates who refuse to budge or compromise with all hands on deck going down.

I’ve made notes on Gidwitz’s answers to the major issues of the week and here they are. First, as to who he viewed won the gubernatorial debate, he said Topinka…but he was very clear that she offered no positive program of her own. On the issue of the Reverend-Senator James Meeks who feels he got what he wanted on the lottery privatization deal, Gidwitz scored the scheme in staccato, machine-gun fashion (intriguingly, Democrat Mike Noonan agreed with him)…Second he felt correctly that the budget impasse was not settled but shoved off for future generations to solve…Third he felt the Cook county board presidency vacuum is intolerable with no one knowing how ill Stroger is—but he coupled that with the candid statement that Tony Peraica is hobbled by inability to raise money and a consequent failure of opportunity to articulate positive programs…Fourth in outstanding cogent fashion he presented a tough solution to the impasse over immigration between House and Senate bills.

Fifth, when I tossed him the political hot potato of the District 214 high school reading list battle, he pointed out that the resolution, whether you like it or not, was made in the right way—by local people at the school board level. Who can quarrel with that? I would have preferred the resolution upholding the book ban—not because they’re dirty books but because they’re junky pop reads rather than the classics the kids should be reading: but even I can’t quarrel with the local solution to the problem…

Sixth on the Gary school’s problem with the boy who went to the prom in a dress—and who was tossed out while civil libertarians howl that they will sue the school—Gidwitz supported the school decision…Seventh as to the issue on Exelon’s John Rowe owning a private Egyptian coffin 2,600 years old which Rowe bought with his own money—a matter that was challenged by the Egyptian director of antiquities who said that such coffins are made for exhibit in museums and that this one should be either exhibited or returned to Egypt, Gidwitz, a vice chairman of the Field Museum, said rightly that the Egyptian should take his objections to a private purchase and stuff it: noting that there are probably 20,000 coffins of this type in existence.

Seventh on the Hastert matter, Gidwitz said the Speaker is full of beans in the fight with the Justice Department over so-called separation of powers, pointing out that proper procedures were utilized and that there should not be a separate privilege for the Congress that the rest of us private citizens can’t enjoy.

Let’s have a plebiscite on this one. Am I right that Gidwitz has the perspicacity and guts to answer these questions with sharpness and crispness or am I wrong?

Just Between Us: The Vast Difference Between Gidwitz and Topinka…The Agonized Refusal of Brady Social Conservatives to Accept Responsibility for Topinka…Denny Hastert’s Real Worry.

As you know, I backed Jim Oberweis in the primary but if you heard my radio show last night you’ll see the vast, almost chasm difference, between Ron Gidwitz, an economic conservative and Judy Baar Topinka (as she demonstrated in that caterwauling cat fight called a debate on Sunday night which is due to be re-aired this morning on Channel 5 at 11 a.m.). My point is that in Topinka you have someone who served for more than 20 years in state government and politics and still comes to the debate winging it with no definable program for getting the state out of its present sorry condition.

My earlier column on the Train Wreck was to point out that social conservatives who supported Brady well beyond the time when it was obvious he either wasn’t able to win or couldn’t muster the finances bear major responsibility. Much of the hashing back and forth in Reader’s Comments are rather, if I may say so, unconvincing justificatory excuses such as: with a runoff, Judy still might have won from Lovie’s Leather…well, Oberweis couldn’t have won anyhow; Roeser’s comments “are not objective” (of course they aren’t: no analysis is objective but is subjective) from D. Thomas who storms about saying Oberweis was “unprincipled” with ties to the “Wizard of Carpentersville”…and another from Lovie’s Leather: “get over it, Tom; cry me a river.” …another that Brady got into the race first and before Oberweis got in, Brady was “leading” (you have to be a kind of moral theologian to compute that one: Brady was leading Oberweis before Oberweis got in)…but after Oberweis got in, Oberweis was leading but anyhow Brady had been in first so Oberweis should have withdrawn…

Yet another objection: my point that following Topinka’s loss it’s time to rebuild the party with new leadership—what’s different now than in 2002? That kind of futility that because it hasn’t been done yet it can’t be done in the future from Matt Nelson…besides, as Jason A says Topinka will win anyhow (give me a drag on that, Jason). See, this is weasel-worded self-justification: call me a whiner, say Oberweis made his own mistakes like tying up with Jack Roeser: anything except agreeing that Brady and his people did the damage. None is so blind as he who will not see. So now you got the 62-year-old prematurely orange-haired lady, dressed in the carefully selected Goodwill Industries jump suit that matched her hair (supposedly to strike a chord with the working class?) with no program whom one of you predicts will win anyhow. You’re kidding yourself friends and if it makes you feel better o.k., except that mistakes unrecognized are sure to be repeated. My thanks to those who called in with agreement last night and to Yvonne Arentz who wrote in to the Blog.

The objection of Speaker Dennis Hastert who linked up with Nancy Pelosi to blast the Justice Department for supposedly violating separation of powers by getting a court order and invading Congressman William Jefferson’s cache of cold cash has no intellectual or constitutional worth to it. What Hastert’s really worried about is that Justice may in fact traduce Hastert’s preserves in a legal search for something. Hastert is edgy because an ABC “investigative” reporter, the same one who rigged an automobile to ignite in flames so as to produce a better photo op some years ago and who got fired for it, is playing footsie with somebody from Justice. Hastert ought to lighten up. Nothing he has done or even contemplated doing will be probed.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Conservative Train Wreck That Didn’t Need to Happen.

Friday morning I was reviewing polls, nationally and statewide. A national poll showed that the American people are energized to the hilt about immigration, almost at the point of demanding something be done about it. And then I calculated: who first raised the issue of immigration reform in Illinois—and I remembered it was Jim Oberweis. He did it not on the spur of the moment to capitalize on an issue, but presciently several years ago when he was running for the U. S. Senate…for which he was assailed by country-clubbers within his own party, the media and Democrats for being a racist. A racist when the entire country and certainly this state has now turned to the direction that he pointed to several years ago.

A second poll was from the 6th district, a supposedly strong Republican area, on the govenorship which shows Judy Baar Topinka running only two points or so ahead of Rod Blagojevich. Someone tried to slough that off to me by saying that this is the effect of Tammy Duckworth on the race. Of course that’s ridiculous: the poll shows the lack of support from the Republican base for a liberal, prematurely orange-haired feminist who has made no bones about despising social conservatives and vowing to oppose the elements of conservative thought that characterize the GOP for what it is. She opposes the marriage amendment that would support marriage between a man and a woman. Imagine. Have we gone so far down the road that a Republican gubernatorial nominee is not only opposed to us on two cardinal points of the Republican platform but on the sanctity of marriage itself?

So after reviewing the two polls, I was driving my car and listening to talk radio. The talk radio station was playing a news excerpt from the forthcoming Channel 5 debate between the governor and Topinka. I mean to watch it when it airs at 9 a.m. Sunday, but as audio it was the most caterwauling, screeching “you-did! I didn’t!” low-life, low-rent debate between adults I have heard in more than fifty years of either reporting politics or participating in it as a partisan. Topinka was saying that Blagojevich is the subject of a federal inquiry and this probe represents the low-point in Illinois governmental history. Blagojevich was responding by saying that 40 people in the George Ryan administration have been indicted and convicted without so much as a peep coming from Topinka as a Republican state constitutional officer.

It was so bad, so tacky, so low-rent that when the audio completed, the news director exclaimed (I paraphrase): “Gee, isn’t there some way we can make a choice that doesn’t involve the baggage that these two are carrying?” That certainly now has to be the view of a majority of Illinoisans. Then the idea hit me harder than ever before that it didn’t have to happen. Social conservatives narrowly topped the vote that she won in the primary—and when you add the very tough economic conservatism of Ron Gidwitz (with zero based budgeting and other issues he expounded)—there was no reason why Topinka became the winner…except one.

She won for the simple reason that State Sen. Bill Brady, a tender 44 years old, a baby robin’s years by political age, a state senator and failed congressional candidate—with an entire lifetime of public service ahead of him, decided to rule or ruin against every remonstration by realists who told him he couldn’t win because he didn’t have sufficient money to advertise on television up here and that he ought to run for a lesser office as a bridge to the future.

Experience in lesser office was the gateway to almost all our governors. Thompson I do not consider a great governor or even much more than a mediocre one: but he earned his stripes as an assistant States attorney and then U. S. attorney. Edgar I do not consider a great governor but he was a state representative, governor’s office liaison and secretary of state before running for governor. Ogilvie, regarded as great only by liberals who were gratified he gave us the income tax, was Cook county sheriff and president of the county board. Stratton, a great governor despite an indictment from which he was acquitted, was state treasurer, congressman-at-large, a losing candidate for secretary of state, then elected state treasurer again and then governor. Dwight Green, an average governor, was a victorious Republican nominee for mayor of Chicago (having defeated Big Bill Thompson), losing to Ed Kelly in the general and then governor. The only person since James Wilson Fifer in 1888 to insist on running for governor directly from a state senatorship, and not even from the vantage-point of Senate leadership, was Brady. Only one person in Illinois history moved to governor from private citizen: Dan Walker.

Early in the game after Brady won the endorsement of the Conservative Summit (not with my vote, initially because I cast the lone vote for Birkett but after which I joined to make the vote unanimous rather than risk a split). Because I thought he might well be a more attractive a candidate than Oberweis, I sought early in the pre-primary period to get Brady funding…took him to meet a very influential finance leader and found that there was not the slightest possibility of interest from major finance sources. Later I told him and his people that. I waited as the pre-primary campaign continued; then satisfying myself that Brady couldn’t win and that his candidacy was endangering conservative prospects, I endorsed Jim Oberweis proudly. Oberweis’ campaign was starting to resonate as the anti-immigration movement swung into gear. Oberweis continued to show the tough guts on immigration and other issues while on many Brady supplied vague generalities.

In desperation as the primary ran on, I urged my conservative friends to support Oberweis because on all conservative issues and economic issues he was a ten-strike. It took no feat of genius to understand that unless Brady withdrew, there was to be a train-wreck. Unaccountably, some of my conservative friends argued Oberweis should withdraw despite his leading Brady in the polls! For one reason or another, people in the engineer’s cab on the Brady train put blinders on and refused to reconsider. It was a matter of pride with them and ego. But the greatest ego tripper of them all was this young man who not daunted by his failure to raise sufficient money, determined like a spoiled little kid that he would accept no substitute, insisting he would run for nothing else but governor no matter the potential train wreck that loomed ahead.

Even so, if he had stayed in the race and had crafted a campaign that pointed out the difference between himself and Topinka, he might have ensured her defeat. Not so. Instead, unaccountably, he resolved to do devastating damage to Oberweis and in debate after debate he made it clear that Oberweis was the enemy. He ridiculed Oberweis’ prior commercials in debates; on most issues, he gave Topinka a pass. Why? Maybe it was because Jim Edgar people had flattered him, telling him he was reminiscent of Edgar as a young man (I have heard that explanation more than once). His key strategist had been a deputy Edgar press secretary: was that a factor? No matter. On election night, before the results were in, Brady telephoned Topinka and counseled her to claim victory very soon, with the result that she claimed victory very early, before many analysts believed she had it in the bag. Brady’s impatience to get Topinka accepted as nominee was something to behold.

Other people played minor roles in the train wreck. There were people committed to the social conservative cause who refused to endorse Oberweis despite that Oberweis was always leading Brady, watching the train wreck that was pre-ordained occur. Whether their own ego got in the way is for them to determine, but they who pride themselves on astuteness and sagacity sat still until the train wreck.

Because of selfishness, ego and high self-regard as eminences gris have precipitated the train wreck, here is the condition we conservatives find ourselves: At a time when immigration reform is burning up the country with the possibilities of voters using that as a yardstick—although Illinois has had a candidate who raised it early and presciently—we have bargained away the issue by defeating by a narrow margin a man who could have capitalized on it for Republicans and would have mobilized movement politics here that could elect many others including some congressional candidates who could benefit from that power today…bargained it away as we watched the 44-year-old who would not withdraw…bargained it away by not taking steps to see that, if Brady wouldn’t withdraw, endorsements could be made for Oberweis…bargained it away by not complaining when Brady kept Oberweis in his gun-sights during the primary.

We could have had a social conservative Republican nominee running right on the issues topping it off with immigration reform when through petty, suicidal madness, social conservatives sat there and watched it happen. I don’t blame anyone who voted for Ron Gidwitz who was an honorable candidate and a social liberal—and they properly decided he more nearly reflected their views. But I do blame lots of my fellow social conservatives who would rather have Topinka than one who agreed with them because of the most petty of reasons. I know more than one person who received a last-minute call from Oberweis asking for an endorsement at a time when Brady’s loss to him was foreshadowed. Oberweis pleaded, saying his endorsement would mean a very great deal. He was turned down. The arrogance of that denial almost but not quite matches the arrogance of Brady who was emboldened by his claque (“atta-boy, Bill. Stick with it!”) and would not back down.

This election will not only be a defeat for the Republicans: it is a bitter one because of conservative Brady suicide troops who could recognize at the end that we must coalesce…and who turned thumbs down. Private counseling to Brady—if it occurred at all—that he should run for State Treasurer is not enough when such counseling was just that—private. Refusal of Brady to withdraw was one thing: his rising up and beating Jim Oberweis over the head and shoulders is quite another. For that and with good reason he was rewarded with the Topinka lip-smack in return for the Judas kiss that sealed the triumph of the election.

I have said before that the governorship is an election conservatives cannot win, the choice being either short-term or long-term. Reelection of Blagojevich, bad in the short-range, would at least spur a takeover of the Republican party by forces who want to rebuild. Election of Topinka would be worse because it would hand the official reins of the GOP to enemies as bitter against conservatives as if the incumbent were George Ryan with little likelihood that the combine would be dislodged in 2010.

Our current circumstance was caused by arrogance and refusal to recognize a need to compromise on personalities even when issues are agreed upon. To me, the failure of imagination, the stony-hearted refusal to endorse Oberweis…or at the least to make a public warning about the imminence of disaster in the events leading up to the March primary… were stunning. Now after the debacle, Brady, with no further experience, still holding no higher office than state senator, no statewide experience beyond precipitating the train wreck…will likely be asking for help to further advance his career.

I have to look askance at the people who rode in the engineer’s cab, cheering Brady on, as the train roared down the track. The only way this dreadful experience can be made profitable in the future is for those who either rode in the cab or did nothing to acknowledge their short-sightedness.

But asking them to admit error on this one is akin to forcing them to acknowledge human fallibility: it’s not going to happen.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Strictly Personal: Readers’ Comments and Responses.

From Patrick McDonough, a friend who’s close to Frank Coconate (another friend) who is active in fighting the Daley administration’s politically preferential hiring and firing: “As one of your greatest fans, some of us greatly respect what Carol Marin does to fight corruption in Mayor Daley’s administration. She doesn’t accept Daley’s spin and lies. Please do another show with J. Terrance Brunner and more of Daley’s lackeys. These are classics.” …Frank Nofsinger: Tom, are you aware that a blackguard could type your exact hints into Google and come up with Robert Browning, Cardinal Newman and Thomas de Quincey? I am not entering this quiz as I didn’t recognize a one until I tried my idea…You should admonish participants to act independently and honorably or risk excommunication from your Blog.” Thanks, Frank but earlier I told them an honor code was in effect and I trust them…

To all: I can trust you, can’t I?...

Bill Pascoe: The first verse [Oh to be in England/ Now that April’s here]was written by Robert Browning in “Home Thoughts from Abroad.” Browning’s favorite line of poetry: “A man’s reach should always exceed his grasp.” The definition of a gentleman was penned by Cardinal Newman in “The Idea of a University.” The opium-eater confession was written by Thomas de Quincey…

Mike Fiasco: Bill Pascoe was correct on the first three quotes. I’ll finish up by identifying John Keats’ “The Eve of St. Agnes”. My daughter took Agnes as her confirmation name. Otherwise I might have forgotten it from my college years. Pascoe plus Fiasco equals the complete answers. To Jason: I still haven’t got around to running your good piece. Somehow limitation of time curtails me.

To all: Take a look at Jason’s latest comments in Reader’s Comments. He says I’m not much of a conservative! Can you beat that? What’s your assessment? Am I a mushy like Chris Shay? Let’s have a plebiscite!...

Grover Norquist says something I agree with: The idea that the Democrats will take either house of Congress this year is specious nonsense. Republican majorities in the House and Senate are not fragile. “They have survived a recession, two wars, trillions in lost stock market wealth, a late-breaking DUI announcement, a popular-vote-losing Republican president, the Enron scandals and the best that Bill Clinton had to throw at them—twice.” He says “Democrats point out that they only need to win a net of 15 seats to regain the majority in the House. The problem for the Democrats is the small number of targets that these 15 have to come from. Thanks to the marvels of modern gerrymandering there are probably only 16 Republican incumbents in competitive districts and seven competitive open seats being vacated by Republicans. There are 15 Democrats in competitive seats, optimistic Republicans believe, and maybe three Democrats retiring from competitive seats.

“The most likely seats to change hands are the open ones. This year there have been 17 Republican retirements and ten Democrat retirements…The Democrats’ chances of gaining a net of 15 seats are diminished by the Democrat incumbents likely to lose…To gain 15 seats, Democrats [must] defend…eleven of their most vulnerable seats and win 63 percent of competitive seats held by Republicans. Thus, Democrats must win 74 percent of all competitive races to gain the majority. Not impossible but difficult.” Your view?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Personal Asides: The Sun-Times’ Impressive “Chicago’s First Family” Series…Marin’s Attempt to Capitalize on It…The Pioneer Press’ Shoddy Move to Ban Parental Say Over Childrens’ Readings…Congratulations to Dan Miller and Fran Spielman for HOF

There is no doubt that the Sun-Times regular news staff, underpaid, under-rewarded has topped many of the paper’s the better-paid, celebrity-studded columnists (with few exceptions: Lynn Sweet, Mark Brown and Sneed). As I’ve said before, Fran Spielman, the City Hall reporter, writes about a third of the paper each day: no signature column, probably doesn’t want one. Now Tim Novak, Robert Herguth and Steve Warmbir have just completed a three-part series on the Roti’s, Chicago’s first family of clout, that is really a distinguished contribution to the city’s history—something that hasn’t been reported in such depth before. The series is so good it just has to receive some kind of reward.

The only thing that’s tacky about the series is the cynical attempt to cash in on it as a journalistic treasure. Carol Marin yesterday snarled that Jackie Heard, Daley’s news secretary, insisted that before Daley would comment on the series, she’d have to get the questions in writing. She did and then decided not to give them to the Mayor. So what? That’s Heard’s right as a news secretary. Marin huffed: “He’s [Daley] an expert on public policy, but it’s way past time for the mayor and Jackie Heard to re-evaluate their press policy. Because we’re not going to stop asking.” What do you mean “we”? It’s just an old-time TV celebrity prima donna who had nothing to do with the series at all, trying to horn in late to get a bit of reflected glory. And this business of “I didn’t vote for Jackie Heard. And neither did you. She was appointed, not elected…To refuse to present legitimate questions to the mayor is both high-handed and outrageous” is nonsense.

A news secretary has the obligation to serve two masters: the boss and the press, not just to be an open conduit to the elected official. Finally, stop being the outraged moralist about not getting other peoples’ questions answered until you produce a story on your own that deserves comment—which hasn’t happened in two years…

Here’s a story that is disturbing on two levels.

First level: Township High School District 214 in Arlington Heights is considering a request from board member Leslie Pinney that targets books on a reading list that contains what she says is vulgar language, brutal imagery or depictions of sexual situations inappropriate for students. The board is set to vote tonight on whether to keep the books as part of the curriculum. The Pioneer Press newspapers, an adjunct of the Sun-Times, is trumpeting that this objection is an outrage, using all the old clichés about students’ right to know etc.

Then Mary Dempsey, the Democratic political “whenever-I-can-be-of-service-to-the-party” lawyer-wife of Democratic power broker and party fund-raiser Phil Corboy, who moonlighted trying to bail the mayor out of patronage difficulties—one of the (for reasons that are obscure to me except that she holds down the political job at the library) frequently cited experts on literature, is quoted as saying “Good literature is supposed to get people to think. And sometimes good literature takes you out of your comfort zone.” Mary knows a lot about comfort zones, having married a

zillionaire big shot Democrat personal injury titan and former finance chair of the Democratic National Committee but she shouldn’t have stuck her nose into a matter that does not concern her. I suppose we are to be overwhelmed because we are informed that that inveterate bookworm and arbiter of literature, Daley supposedly picked one of the books for the One Book, One Chicago reading series which Dempsey has promoted in a burst of selfless devotion to intellectuality. Dempsey’s own taste buds may well have been corroded by her service on the DePaul University board which nods pleasantly affirmative on the designation of a minor in Queer Studies.

The nine books are of dubious literary value notwithstanding that one was nominated for the Pulitzer prize. When you look at some other Pulitzer prize winners, you find the quality has descended to the basement. In essence, the books are emblematic of the most widespread of human weaknesses, intellectual cowardice and the craven appetite for mental ease and security along with the fear of thinking things out. They are “Slaughterhouse Five” by Kurt Vonnegut; “Fallen Angels” by Walter Dean Myers; “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien; “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky; “How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents” by Julia Alvarez; “The Awakening” by Kate Chapin; “The Botany of Desire” by Michael Pollan and “Freakonomics” by Stephen D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.

All are distinctly intellectually second-rate. I had some personal experience with “Freakonomics” by a supposed young genius, Levitt who first sold the Tribune on a specious idea: that the drop in crime rates is due to the abortion rates which removed so many unwanted children—presumably minorities—from life. When the book came out, John Lott, a distinguished lawyer and statistician, proved that Levitt had goofed on the statistics—to which Levitt has never responded and has gone around the country touting the false statistics because they are comforting to the pro-aborts.

The idea that this list contains distinguished categories of literature is ridiculous. High school is the time when students should not be invited to read crap. Instead of the current run-of-the-garbage flow that turns the cerebral Daley on, a list should be dipping into Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”…Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Crabbed Age and Youth”…Thomas Hardy’s “The Darkling Thrush”…Francis Thompson’s “The Hound of Heaven”…Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market”…William Butler Yeats’ “The Stolen Child”. Why don’t we ask that cerebral paragon Daley what he thinks of them? Sneak up on him sometime and say, “Have you ever read any Yeats?” and he’ll likely answer, “Huh? Was Syd a writer?”…

Finally one more time: congratulations to Fran Spielman and Dan Miller, an outstanding journalist and editor, for entering, deservedly, the Chicago Newspaper Hall of Fame.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

This Sunday’s Political Shootout: Gidwitz vs. Noonan.

Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron Gidwitz will discuss Gov. Blagojevich’s budget, the decision of Reverend-Senator…or is it Senator-Reverend…James Meeks not to run for governor as a third party candidate…the big lottery privatizing extortion, giving Meeks what he wanted for not challenging Blagojevich… and a host of other things. He will appear with Mike Noonan, ace Democratic operative, former campaign manager for Lisa Madigan and about as astute a young man as I have found in the Democratic party. Should be another historic show.

One Word Led to Another: “Seeking a Christian Response to the Gay Games.”

satan in hell
\One of the many reasons why there should be a free and independent press in Chicago…call it a variant of “Radio Free Chicago”…is that you have never heard of some organizations formed by chastity-seeking homosexuals who are working collectively to lead wholesome lives in concert with the precepts of the Judeo-Christian rubric. You only read about homosexuals when they’re called “gays” and when they march and demonstrate for what they call self-affirmation. But there are homosexual people who are determined to lead straight lives and who pray very hard to overcome temptations that, happily, do not come to many of us but which they have determined to win mastery over.

The kept politically correct media in this town glorify “gays” and because they do this, many of us are deceived to suppose all homosexuals are striving to overturn the moral law to gain a kind of civil rights victory. The only way the two major newspapers here and the other major newspapers in the state and most radio and all TV outlets describe it is in terms of combat, in terms designed to please Rick Garcia, the officer of “Equality Illinois”: the oppressive heterosexual majority either purposely or thoughtlessly discriminating against the rights of gays in this state. But there are other kinds of homosexuals, people who know that the homosexual act is disordered and sinful and who are determined to mount individual personal campaigns to keep themselves untouched by the gross sexual culture; they are victims of injustice as well: shunned by gay rights people, shunned by liberals, ignored by the media, often set aside by churches wishing not to offend powerful constituencies; sometimes attacked by some mal-educated right-wing bigots. Their selfless cause is harmed by virulent anti-gay groups that claim “God will get you” if you disagree with them in method. This 10 to 1 preponderance underlines the power of one whom Christ in yesterday’s gospel (when the original King James or earlier standard versions are used) referred to as “the Prince of This World.” You know who this Prince is: he has won all the battles since the beginning of time except two. In this one he intends as the father of lies to mislead by misrepresenting it as a glorious battle for human rights: when it is not.

The most vivid allusion to the Prince of This World is not Christ’s, interestingly enough. It was made by the Puritan John Milton. His Paradise Lost opens with fallen angels lying beside their rebel leader, all stunned in Hell, where they have just made a crash landing. They get up and apply a kind of American ingenuity about them: going to a part of Hell that is slightly cooler and there, resolving a comeback, build a devilish city and draw up a plan to action…and wage at least two more on the Prince’s chosen turf—this world.

As we know the second battle was waged against Christ wherein the Prince of this world exulted too early that he had won with Christ’s crucifixion by the very people He sought to save. Looked promising, only to have it elude his grasp smash him down with the resurrection. The entire post-resurrection period from then to now is preparing for the third and climactic round—a round which we Christians know Christ will win but which the Prince as underdog, feverishly working (which makes him able to tolerate Hell) resembles modern man, the energy liberating in him a kind of workaholic exultation of misplaced freedom and a semblance of dignity.

The climax will be waged here, on the Prince’s turf. For the wounded souls of whom I am to refer, the battle is being engaged now. In self-defense, some selfless and courageous recovering homosexuals who are embracing chastity and innocent friendships have formed an inter-faith organization called “Overcomers.” Others, within the Catholic fold, have joined a group called “Courage.” There are such organizations in Chicago. They do not demonstrate or picket but use the sacrificial gifts of charity, penance and prayer to stand up to the culture—a culture that glorifies the antithesis of Judeo-Christian sexuality…TV series like Will and Grace, films like Brokeback Mountain, classroom materials like Heather Has Two Mommies and Daddy’s Roommate. They are besieged by media editorials favorable to “gay rights” from the Tribune and Sun-Times (which endorses same-sex marriage). They are on the defensive because so many Christian churches—particularly the Catholic—are weakened by sexual scandal. Then come the politicians.

Many modern politicians understand that by compromising with the gay culture, they can get votes. So in this state you have two bipartisan panderers: the governor and Judy Baar Topinka. Moreover there is that great pillar of quivering Jello—a man who has disdained fixed moral compass but yet, behind the red-faced shouting and ungrammatical tirades, knows better—Richard M. Daley who unaccountably has a national reputation as a kind of centrist when in fact he has endorsed same-sex marriage, attends and co-hosts gay rights benefits. Crushing down on homosexuals who are fighting to be straight—or at least not to go wrong—are Daley-sponsored events that are drawing a panoply of favorable media huzzaing. Leather Weekend is an annual occurrence; so is the Gay Pride Parade in which Daley, Blagojevich and Topinka march. The next super-charged media event will be the 7th quadrennial Gay Games, modeled on the Olympics to be held July 15-22. Criticize them and in the eye of the media you are a bigot much like Sheriff Jim Clark in Mississippi, Orval Faubus of Arkansas and George Wallace of Alabama. The so-called upright righteous outraged morality of popular newspaper columnists are all arrayed on one side: and it is not on the side of those homosexuals fighting against loneliness and isolation; it is on the side of permissiveness.

And right in the middle of the permissive political majority is the jowly pragmatic visage of the all-things-to-all-men pillar of Jello, Richard M. Daley, honorary chairman of the events, who uses his evident Irishness as substitute for the morality he has so adroitly repudiated (never mentioning the glaring contradiction between his policies and his public church-going, their kneeling together to receive the Eucharist at Old St. Pat’s, the contradiction the media are fearful of referring to)…Daley and his wife Maggie who enthusiastically countenances it since it will get her husband reelected, both hugging and smooching to give a kind of Mom and Pop baptism of consent to the carnivals: all of which bring pain to the down-the-line homosexuals and upset to many more who have no recourse save a few Blogs like this one for sustenance.

How to stand up to it when all forces are arrayed against? “Overcomers Ministry Report” for April/May counsels prayer for those afflicted, ask faith communities which have never directly addressed the problem of homosexuality to begin learning about the issue. (For example with very few exceptions, the Catholic community, weakened, ultra-fearful, emblematic of all that is represented by the phrase “earthen vessels” is overwhelmingly terrified of the issue since homosexuality has invaded the priesthood by leaps and bounds over the past four decades).

Overcomers asks how many Christian churches have the courage to discuss it, how to encourage the ones in their midst who want to find freedom. It urges congregations, ministries and campus groups which are experienced in the area to consider fasting and praying about the outreach they may ultimately want to do. “It’s important to stay alert to the spiritual warfare that will be involved,” the leaflet says. “In addition to keeping close personal connection with the Lord, we need to be interceding for a cover of protection over the city—particularly for those who are most at risk from the Games’ impact. Attending some part of the event purely out of curiosity wouldn’t be advisable for anyone. The `weaker brother’ who recognizes he could be susceptible to the atmosphere or spectacle might consider it best to remain at home as a prayer warrior.”

Then there are the Conferences where like-minded straight-leaning prayerful homosexuals can gather: the Pastoral Care Ministry School June 25-30 at Wheaton …the Exodus International Conference June 27-July 2 at Marion, Indiana,/u> ; the Cornerstone Festival July 5-8, Bushnell, Illinois .

Ministries that help with sexual addictions include BraveHearts: …Pure Life Ministries: …New Life Partners: …Pure Intimacy at …Purity Exposed at …Stone Gate Resources at …Be Broken Ministries at Setting Captives Free at . Then there is the Catholic organization Courage which can be reached by calling the Catholic archdiocese wherever you live, national headquarters of which is in New York City.

To all Overcomers, to all who seek to overcome: prayers of this Blog are with you. God bless.

Cabot Lodge for Vice President

[More posthumous reminiscences from grandpa to be read on a rainy Sunday when the grandchildren want to find out what went on].

No sooner did I begin meeting regularly with the grande matron of Minnesota politics than it became clear she had been in touch with those in the eastern wing of the national GOP who felt Richard Nixon’s slating as vice president—despite the fact that it had been done at the suggestion of New York governor Thomas E. Dewey—had been a mistake. She was very much interested, as her eastern friends were, in seeing if President Eisenhower would agree to dump him as running-mate in 1956: but contrary to everyone’s expectation, her candidate for vice president was not Harold Stassen whom she regarded with a kind of lofty contempt. She did not make it clear at first but her private choice was—who else?—her great and good friend, Cabot Lodge.

Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. was then the well-publicized ambassador to the UN. A pedigree as long as your arm that goes back to John Cabot nee Giovanni Caboto Venetian discoverer of the mainland of North America in 1497, the Cabots were so blue-blood they were celebrated as “speaking only to the Lodges and the Lodges speak only to God. The Lodges helped settle Massachusetts and got hooked up martially with the Cabots. It is interesting to think of the ultra-blue blood Lodge as a descendent of an Italian sailor. Lodge was the grandson of the first Ph.D in political science granted by Harvard, Lodge senior, who had been a strong ally of Theodore Roosevelt. Lodge was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee that scotched Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations. Junior was one of the youngest Senators in U.S. history when he resigned to enter World War II, the first Senator to do so since the Civil War.

He returned a Lieutenant Colonel, got reelected to the Senate and was one of the most instrumental leaders in winning the GOP nomination for Dwight Eisenhower in 1952. He so neglected his own fortunes that he was defeated for reelection by John Kennedy that same year. In 1953 Eisenhower named Lodge ambassador to the United Nations. Lodge never lost the reputation similar to that of Freddy in “My Fair Lady,” the nice appearing young man, not terribly bright but accommodating: the type who would burst into a room and announce brightly, “tennis, anyone?”

I had not cared for Nixon ever since the 1952 convention when he moved from Taft to Eisenhower—but in particular something stood out that signified he was not manly. Yes, not manly. That term goes back a long way and has just recently been reintroduced by a conservative Harvard historian as the title of a book in which he seeks to re-engender an appeal for genuine manliness in politics. Am I saying that to me Nixon was effeminate? No, not manly. Remember, in the midst of the 1952 campaign some muck-raker or other turned up what he called a secret “slush fund” of money raised by rich people for the personal political use of young Congressman and later Senator Nixon? Nothing wrong with it and at the time it was legal; indeed, it later turned out that wealthy benefactors or Governor Adlai Stevenson of Illinois had set aside an identical fund for Stevenson to use for travel, for hiring consultants: that kind of thing.

As Eisenhower did whenever Nixon’s integrity was questioned, he fudged and didn’t come up with a quick response. Eisenhower-Nixon headquarters announced that Nixon would have to answer the charge himself.

With the “slush fund” endangering him on the ticket and as history records, Nixon scheduled a live national television program with which to respond. On the program, he pulled out all the emotional stops as Nixon always did when he got in a fix. He said his wife wore “a cloth Republican coat” instead of a fur one…and he focused at the end of the program on his puppy Checkers who was given to his kids. It was a tinny, over-drawn, lachrymose ending which dominated his speech and got him acquitted in the public mind and frustrated the Democrats: which pleased me no end…but I still felt the choking up part about the little dog was awfully corny. The results that came in from the speech were overwhelmingly positive and Eisenhower scheduled a meeting with Nixon midway on the continent where their campaign trains came together. With all the cameras grinding, Ike said, “Dick, you’re my boy.” At that point, Nixon wept and buried his head on Ike’s shoulder to the embarrassment of the old general. It was that well-publicized moment that traumatized me as being “unmanly.” I drew that conclusion and kept it throughout my life.

“Well,” said Mrs. Heffelfinger one day over her glass of rattling ice cubes, “what do you think of Nixon?” I told her my impression of unmanliness, which she took instantly as a sign I was aboard.

“The best thing to do would be to dump him for Cabot Lodge,” she said.

Yeah, I said, but as Republican National Committeewoman from Minnesota you can’t be viewed publicly as consorting for Lodge with Harold Stassen in the running for the future. And Lodge can’t be seen as jockeying against a vice president, given Lodge’s position. Why don’t you use Harold--.

She caught on quick. “Use Harold as a pigeon, shaking confidence in Nixon and causing Ike to call for an open convention which could nominate Cabot. Which would also finish off Harold, too. By God, you’re every bit as good at this as Wally.”

I never got to finish my sentences with her around but yes, that was the idea and I didn’t like the idea of being as good at conniving as Wallace Mitchell, especially since my sponsor was one of Stassen’s closest friends. But the idea was her property, for her to execute; Stassen, whom I had never met, would be a fool to be beguiled into trying to dump Nixon; he would ruin himself. But failing that, if she carried it off without flaw, Lodge would be promoted and Nixon put down which was all right with me. Or there was a third option: if she really messed up, Nixon would be enhanced, Stassen downgraded and Lodge neutered: which was not all right with me but so be it.

Let me warn you not to get Lodge in the papers in any way concerning this, I said, or it will embarrass him since the Nixon people won’t believe he isn’t a part of it.

And so, engrossed, she turned to her telephone, happily conspiring. In the meantime, I was meeting all the political reporters in the state, setting up conferences for my two bosses, John Hartle and Kay Harmon, to meet—one in the southern part of the state, one in the Twin Cities, one in central Minnesota, one in far northern. And there was a bit of personal fun to attend to. The Knights of Columbus in St. Cloud were coming to the Twin Cities to put on one of their lusty initiation ceremonies and I would play the part of the mad dog—my favorite where I would bite open Alka Seltzer tablets in my mouth and froth like a rabid person.

The first change I didn’t like was when I got to the hall in Minneapolis and found I would have to play the role of the priest. St. Cloud police detective George Stotko and I rehearsed a couple of times, him pretending to slap me and I falling but my roman collar wouldn’t open appropriately. After a few times, I had it working. Everybody in the cast was on hand. After the performance we would go out for dinner since it was probably going to be the last time I would be working this gig—and I was rather downcast about it.

The initiation went fine and we went out for dinner to a place in Minneapolis someone had recommended—but it was a dump. Still, the St. Cloud group had to eat and get on the road for the hour and a half trip back, so we made the best of it. The crowd in the steak joint was somewhat intoxicated and so to join in the festivities we had a few drinks ourselves. To say farewell to the good old times, I commandeered a piano that had been vacated by the professional pianist. The St. Cloud people stood around me as I played when one heckler across the room, sitting at a bar, wanted the return of the professional pianist. Unable to get attention to his point of view, he seized a round, tin waiter’s tray and twirled it across the room like a Frisbee where it struck me soundly on the forehead, knocking me off the stool to the floor where I lay for a few seconds trying to gather my senses. My loyal teammates raced across the room at him but he vanished to the street out a side door. That ended the festivities and I had a small, swollen hematoma the size of a small egg on my forehead.

It took two days for it to go down and I had quite tucked the episode out of my mind when at my office at Minnesota Republican Headquarters the morning’s mail carried an envelope addressed to me from a Mr. Thomas Davies of Minneapolis. I opened it. It was a copy of a letter sent to Mrs. Elizabeth Heffelfinger, Republican National Committeewoman in Wayzata, Minnesota.

In paraphrase this is what it said:

Dear Mrs. Heffelfinger: :

Having dropped in to the Nicollet Restaurant Sunday evening with my family for a late dinner, I was startled to see a group of disorderly patrons commandeering a piano and singing in uproarious voices songs that were singularly inappropriate for that time of night. They were imbibing quite frequently and heavily, had dispossessed the regular pianist and were behaving outrageously. When I inquired who they were, I was told by one of their party that they were a religious group from St. Cloud. “A religious group,” I said, “how could that be since they are imbibing so freely?” There was no response to my question. The leader of the group, a young man playing the piano one of their number said, was none other than the director of public relations for the Minnesota Republican party, a Mr. Thomas F. Roeser. He added: “We know how to have a good time! What the hell, it’s after hours and on Sunday, so what’s your beef?” Then there was a wild struggle; the pianist, your public relations director, was struck on the head by a waiter’s tray thrown across the room and a gang of toughs raced over to the bar, following the person who tossed the tray to the street where God knows what happened to him.

Let me ask you: I have been told an effort is underway to revitalize the reputation of the Republican party in this state. Do you think the man in charge of that effort who was involved in the melee is appropriate for this task in light of the behavior I saw carried out on a Sunday night? When I left with my shocked family, he was lying on the floor trying to collect his wits after having been struck by the tin tray that was hurled in anger by a patron who was justified at the interruption of his meal.

As I have been proud to call myself a Republican and have given liberally in contributions and devoted volunteer time to your effort, I want to notify you that you have seen the last of me for the indefinite future until you rid yourself of such a person as this Mr. Roeser is, who, along with the others, exhibited such shocking lack of manners that I would characterize them as evidence of debauchery and asininity.

Copies were marked to the attention of my direct superiors: State Chairman John A. Hartle; State Chairwoman Kay Harmon; State Republican Finance chairman Lucian Strong; the senior Republican United States Senator Edward J. Thye; and all the Republican members of the House delegation starting with Congressman Walter H. Judd, the former Congregationalist medical missionary to China.

Well, I thought, so this is how it will end for Tommy Roeser. An innocent get-together in Minneapolis after a Knights of Columbus initiation and just my rotten luck to have a major financial contributor to the Republican party in that place. Mrs. Heffelfinger will not be shocked: she would have enjoyed being there herself; but the others would—especially the pillar of rectitude, Dr. Judd and Senator Thye whom I haven’t met as yet. What will my mother say? She will say, “I always told you to beware of false friends!” And I will say, “Mom, these are fellow Knights of Columbus!” “Knights of Columbus,” she would say, “they’re bums drinking and carrying on in the middle of a Sunday night or the wee hours of Monday morning when work is to resume, when they should have been home with their families! Well, now that you’ve been fired you can think about this indiscretion for the remainder of your life. Your father and I think you should come home as your reputation is probably damaged in the Twin Cities.”

I checked the address of the writer of the letter and it proved out: a man by that address lived in suburban Minnetonka, a wealthy suburb. I thought: well perhaps the best thing to do is to call Brad Heffelfinger who has the original copy now and explain it to her—and then to my immediate bosses and then, I suppose, with the Minnesota Republican congressional delegation, most of whom I haven’t even met yet. What an introduction for them to the man who is supposedly handling their party’s image.

. Thinking it over, I re-read the letter. Several questions came to my mind. First, what was a prominent contributor like Mr. Davies thinking about taking his family to dinner in that Hennepin avenue bar and grill where the food was awful and the noise unbearable even when we walked in? Second, who in the Knights would have used my name and have spoken so thoughtlessly to a stranger? Third the concluding words have a ring to them, words I’ve heard before: “debauchery and asininity.” They are grossly inflated words: intemperate we were, debauching we were not; foolish we were, asinine we were not.

So, my heart in my mouth, before I decided to do anything like rendering a full confession of my behavior, I would take a gamble. I telephoned St. Cloud and Martin Nilan, the head of our Knights of Columbus, who earlier had had his daughter pretending to be the screaming wife of James Gasser about whom I wrote when he drunkenly drove his car into a storefront in Sauk Rapids, Minnesota and at whose expense I foolishly had played with his surname: Gasser, quoting the village constable as saying, “Mr. Gasser was gassed, all right.”

Marty, I said. I got your letter today. Congratulations. Great joke.

He said, “what letter?” My heart sank.

Your letter. The one you sent to Mrs. Heffelfinger.

He said, “What? Mrs. Who?”

Come off it. It was really well-written.

“Are you okay? I didn’t send any letter. What letter? What do you mean?”

You didn’t send a letter to Mrs. Heffelfinger with copies to the Republican delegation in Congress from Minnesota?

“What? Why would I do that? About what? Listen, talk to me: what’s this about anyway?”

It was the real goods, then.

Well, I said disconsolately, and I read the letter. There’s only one thing I can do and that is to call up Mrs. Heffelfinger and tell her…

With that an office secretary came in and said, “Mrs. Heffelfinger on line one for you.”

I’ve got to go, I said. That’s her on the phone now. Goodbye.

“Wait! Wait!” he said. “Don’t talk to her yet. Listen to me. After I wrote that thing, I thought it was stupid of me to do. It’s a joke. Can you hear me?”

I pretended not to hear him, letting him believe the conversation was over. Bye! And hung up.

I was exhilarated with relief. But I took a deep breath before I took her phone call.

“Good news,” she said. “Things are starting to work. I talked with Harold Stassen and of course he’ll start ginning things up. He wants to be vice president! He doesn’t realize it but he’ll be running cover for Cabot. Isn’t that exciting!”

Not as exciting as what just happened before I took her call.

All the while she was on, the phone was ringing off the hook in the office. The secretary came in and said, “Mr. Nilan is on the phone and must talk to you this very minute—before you do anything drastic. I don’t know what that means! He’s terribly excited. What should I do?”

I said, tell him I’m making some important phone calls related to what we discussed and I’ll be making them for the balance of the day.

Let’s play a reverse guilt trip for the ace practical joker of the 1950s.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

John Kass: Who Makes the Trib Worthwhile.

In my last pass at describing the tedious, ungodly dull, timid and cautiously tentative Tribune, I dealt with the editorial policy and mainly the editorial page Op Eds…with some scattered general interest columnists… deducing that the marketing rationale for the newspaper is that you can have it all by (a) endorsing Republican candidates for major office and (b) balancing that with a flurry of liberal Op Eds and liberal columnists while (c) hiring a news staff both here and in Washington that is predictably liberal. Result: whatever remains of its conservative base is not being nourished—the paper’s obvious hope being that it will die off or cling to the hoary tradition the Colonel left behind. They are so hopelessly mired in political correctness that they don’t realize (a) that fusion between the political left, the libertarian right and the paleo-conservatives are even making the old Tribune philosophy look more prescient than ever and (b) conservatives of all stripes in Illinois are bereft without a home which is gradually being subsumed by WLS, WIND and smaller talk radio stations. There just isn’t much of a market for yet another mushy socially liberal-economically conservative hybrid.

Now we get to the one good thing it has going for it. While not specifically an editorialist nor commentator on national or international issues but the superb ex-City Hall reporter he was, John Kass nevertheless makes the experience of reading the Trib, despite all the graphics one of unutterable tedium on most days, all worthwhile. To those who say he is not a successor to Mike Royko, let it be said of it that it is true which is to Kass’s credit. Royko’s gaze was filtered through a cracked barroom shot glass darkly from which he viewed the world: it was entertaining but not insightful, just inciteful. That he was a malignantly maimed warrior made his oft-cockeyed views laughable but after you read Dick Ciccone’s adulatory but nonetheless brutally honest biographical portrait of him, you re-read him less and less. The last days of Royko were particularly sad: run-ins with cops where scatological language was used, slurs against certain ethnics and gays etc.

While sentimentalists will hate this, Royko will never live beyond the immediate past: not a chance of being numbered among Chicago’s greatest columnists: Finley Peter Dunne’s creature Martin Dooley the saloon keeper on Archer who enlivened the Evening Post and all literature, prompting the elitist 92-year-old Jacques Barzun to say “it is a disgrace to American scholarship not to have elevated [Dunne] to a peerage equal with Mark Twain and Ambrose Bierce”; or even with Howard Vincent O’Brien, Robert Casey, Lloyd Lewis, John C. Carmichael and Sydney J. Harris of the Daily News, Warren Brown of the American and Bill Gleason of the Sun-Times. He will be remembered largely for only one truly great column, written in Christmas season about one Mary and Joseph, the couple who hit Chicago without hotel reservations or much money and couldn’t find lodging. That column told us what Royko had within himself at one time to produce but which was squandered away for what reason no one knows.

Kass is far different. His background as, among other things, a commercial butcher and sailor on commercial vessels gives him an unique perspective with which to write. He was, of course, the finest City Hall journalist the Trib ever had—and his insights into the corruption under Richard M. Daley is perspicacious and brave. But unlike Royko, he is no nihilist. He knows there is certainty and that in a world where there are some absolutes, truth is like a series of perpetual oscillations which we glimpse at progressive stages if we live the virtuous life. No other columnist has this depth nor, in my memory, has published book lists of classics for young people to read. All of these things, Kass obfuscates in blue collar lingo but all the while ties up traditional philosophy akin the Greeks in a wondrously easily read commentaries which rather mislead you to think he is a very average bloke—which, I assure you, he is not.

John Kass who added an all-descriptive word to characterize the bipartisan corruption here (the combine) is so powerful a subliminal force in contemporary journalism—without crusading or outwardly railing with outraged superficial morality—that he may well produce a reaction against the hideously corrupt forces that stultify this city’s political culture…far more than perhaps prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. There is a certain balance that must be struck between a city run almost entirely on a civil service footing (an aspiration that vague dreamers like former Alderman Dick Simpson envision without considering what the United States Postal Service has become and how that system could bring a halt to public services) and a city run on a very modest diet of politically motivated managers who are hired to carry out tasks a mayor has pledged to do…and also this necessitates political dickering under the ancient rubric that when one purifies the pond the lilies die (a view Kass understands as does no one else). Yet the huge appointment list must be drastically pruned. The president of the United States gets about 1,800 posts with which to influence the direction of the nation: Mayor Daley has about 40,000 and much more when you add the numbers in county government under control of his brother, John. Chicagoans tend to believe that because the city is beautiful, it cannot have been made so without the corruption Daley has brought: sort of a payment for it all. That is completely untrue and unwarranted as only Kass knows and tells.

With these virtues, it follows that John Kass is a conservative and by lucking into him and making him their Page 2 commentator, the Tribune which is as agnostic to good or bad journalism as its marketing department allows it to be, is performing a distinct service. It is no great shakes to write comic columns about corruption here: Ring Lardner, Westbrook Pegler, Edwin Lahey and a number of other clever writers went on to higher posts doing it. It is great shakes to zero in on the corruption with a vigor that bespeaks not cynicism but a life of virtue. To do that takes a serious writer and while John Kass can spin enjoyable yarns with the best of them, he is a very serious, integrity-filled correspondent. This somebody at the Trib understands which means that there is some hope at least for a newspaper which once billed itself the world’s greatest to become at least the city’s better one.

Kevin White and Russ Stewart: An Interesting Duo.

Kevin White made his debut on my radio program Sunday and he wasn’t half bad considering that he has never run for office before. He is the Republican nominee for 5th district Congress opposing Rahm Emanuel. I have no idea what it in his mind concerning running: he must understand he cannot win unless lightning strikes, but it is refreshing to see one come up and take a shot at it—especially one who is from all appearances so ideally suited to running a brilliant challenge. Russ Stewart is an old friend and superb reporter who asks questions that make politicians cringe. He is warmly supportive of Judy Baar Topinka but we must pray he will get over it.

Another Classic Quiz

Who wrote these famous lines? Oh, to be in England/Now that April’s there/ And whoever wakes in England/Sees, some morning, unaware/ /That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf/ Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf/ While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough/ In England, Now!

And who wrote this ideal definition of a gentleman? Hence it is that it is almost a definition of a gentleman to say he is one who never inflicts pain.

As well as, who, pray tell, wrote these lines? I have often been asked how I first came to be a regular opium eater...

Not to ignore the writer of these immortal words: St. Agnes’ Eve—Ah, bitter chill it was!/ The owl for all his feathers, was a-cold/…Numb were the Beadsman’s fingers, while he told/ His rosary and while his frosted breath/ Like pious incense from a censer old/ Seemed taking flight for heaven, without a death/ Past the sweet Virgin’s picture, while his prayer he saith.

Good luck.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Personal Asides: Somewhere in Dallas...Congratulations to Mike Fiasco for Winning on “Old Ironsides”…Mildred Malek and the Frank Nofsingers Come Close on Johnny Mercer…Carol Marin Writes a Good Column, Finally…and Lynn Sweet Tells Us How

Somewhere—either in Dallas or on the planes to and fro where they recycle the air—I caught a bug and it’s lasting too long, but as soon as I shake it, I’ll be my old self…Congratulations to Blog reader Mike Fiasco who got the poem right on Classic Quiz: “Old Ironsides” by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., father of the Supreme Court jurist of the same name, who wrote the poem to save the historic windjammer Constitution from being scrapped in the Boston navy yard—and the ship is still docked there to this day. It is the oldest ship still registered as an official warship in the American navy. Good job, Mike!

People did well on the Johnny Mercer round-up quiz, coming close but no victory cigar. Mildred Malek got them all but left one blank. The answers are: You’ve Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby…When the World Was Young…Jeepers Creepers…Lazybones…Hooray for Hollywood…Too Marvelous for Words…Day in Day out…Come Rain of Come Shine…Atchison, Topeka & the Santa Fe…Autumn Leaves…I’m Old Fashioned…Something’s Gotta Give…and Dream, Dream, Dream. The one she left blank was Fashioned as in Old Fashioned. But you qualify as a Mercer addict runner-up, Mildred!

The Nofsingers similarly did well but were wrong on the last one: Dream a Little Dream of Me. It was Dream, Dream, Dream. Mercer wrote the song for the Chesterfield Hour on radio to push cigarette smoking in those happy pre-politically but health-endangered correct days. It went: Dream, when you’re feelin’ blue/ Dream, that’s the thing to do/ Dream as the smoke rings rise in the air/ You’ll find you share/ of memories there! You two are the most faithful contributors and astute as well, which you become from reading The Wanderer!

It has come to my attention (through my oldest son who is a Carol Marin fan, actually) that I have never said a good word about her as a columnist. I checked and he is right. But that hasn’t influenced me because it is important to stand up to pressure, even from family. But happily this impasse is rectified. It is as a gesture to him that I now point out that Carol Marin has written her first good column since joining the Sun-Times as political columnist: this is not a slur—some spend lifetimes and never do. Her column on Tony Peraica was not that of an outraged moralist but about one who has turned to show-biz to energize his County Board presidency run. It is first rate…All the while, Lynn Sweet shows us how. In one of her really great columns which was at once educational, instructive and demonstrative of her political street smarts, Lynn shows a bewildered Todd Stroger what he should have done within the Democratic party to get the choice as his father’s successor nailed down. Now that kind of stuff from Lynn is really revelatory and her contributions, as I have said before, excel in this Democratic newspaper of record.

What Is There About the Tribune? Or Rather, What Isn’t?

Chicago’s white-shoe newspaper, written and published as if it were the Hinsdale Tribune…or the Winnetka Tribune…is losing money as a lot of newspapers are: but it is a source of fascination to me how it manages to avoid giving its readership what, in many respects, it deserves: a serious newspaper that is an arbiter of views and cross-current opinions with a budget of conservatively-flavored issues…probably with not the verve that the Sun-Times gives to liberal and Democratically-flavored ones. It is as if the Tribune is deeply ashamed of its venerable past as the flaming journal of Robert R. McCormick and wants to continue doing penance for it.

Colonel McCormick died on April 1, 1955—which is 51 years ago…and trust me (since I was there as a daily reader) there is nothing that the current presiders have to apologize for. The Colonel’s Tribune was not racist; it was vehemently anti-FDR but that was no sin; it was a supporter of the “America First” movement when this nation favored non-involvement in World War II by 62 percent. It sensibly changed after Pearl Harbor but dallied to do some innovative research concerning the nature of that highly unsuspected attack. It supported Joe McCarthy which is no sin since a new generation has grown up familiar with captured Kremlin documents that show highly placed members of FDR’s and Truman’s administrations were, indeed, active in support of the USSR: including Harry Hopkins.

What is the Trib apologizing for: the stupid headline in the first edition that announced Dewey Beats Truman? If so, it should get over it. Good night, the New York Times had a veritable liar and fiction-writer capturing its front pages for many months, Herbert Matthews and Walter Duranty, before it got wise; it also had two members of its foreign bureau who were if not certifiably Communist at least totally supportive of that fascist country and who tailored their reports—killing reports of Soviet purges—accordingly. What is the Tribune ashamed of? I for one, would be ashamed of the old Colonel’s weekly performance at the Medinah Temple where he spoiled good musical productions by reading in his monotone, sounding as if he had a mouthful of mush, but Marion Claire, the brilliant soprano whom he nearly bored to death is dead as is her husband Henry Weber who was forced to curtail the Chicago Theatre of the Air to meet the Colonel’s specifications.

Think of what he did! He engendered bold, non-temporizing editorials that were written with superb rhetorical draftsmanship by George Morganstern. He picked and trained Claudia Cassidy who was the premier music and arts critic for a generation. He pioneered the selection of great comics who began an integral part of the marketing of his newspaper. And he was wise enough to say that the power and influence of his newspaper was due—well this is how it said it: “It ain’t Little Orphan Annie, it’s the hair on our chest!” Meaning his tough, rarely qualified assessments churned out every day got readership, attention and reputation.

Because the Trib has been unaccountably trying to live down its conservative past, it is time it got some spunk and determined that it should become a conservative paper again. There is a great readership waiting for it. The editorials ramble, are inconclusive and meander to a generally conservative, or at least sensible, conclusion. Where in the name of God does the Trib do with its passion, put it in cold storage? An editorial last week on “The feds vs. City Hall” pointing out that the “corruption trial of Gov. George Ryan grabbed the attention of Illinois.” Gee, fellows, that’s rather obvious, isn’t it? Then: “The just-starting federal trial of four former City of Chicago officials? We’ll see.” Don’t go too far out on a limb, guys.

You can parse these editorials and find they are drained of all human juices and read like a legal abstract. “The prosecutors’ opening statement due early this week, should offer what this City Hall case has lacked all along…” And what it that, oh astute ones? “[A] concise narrative of what the U. S. Department of Justice seeks to prove not only about these four defendants but perhaps also about unspecified future defendants.” Aha. The interminable language winds on: “If you want to know, specifically, who the feds think controlled that power structure, grab a chair. That’s the parlor game the cognoscenti will play as the government lays out its case.” Now the wind-up: “In time we’ll see how much of that case, if any, the jurors buy.”

This is the latest sample of bland blather, all politically correct and cautious, fearful of leaning over one side or the other, that is reminiscent of the youngish professionals of Hindale and Wilmette and Kenilworth. If the newspaper is trying to appeal to them—it is not the way to do it. You should give them something to read, even if they disagree. Good God, the terminally worriedly objectivity and saccharine flavor of these evasively misnamed editorials is enough to give anyone with diabetes a temporary jolt. The reason these editorials are that way is not because Tribune people cannot write but because, I suspect this is literally true, they write to please someone in the business office who in turn bases his or her judgments on demographics of what white prosperous, moderately liberal suburbanites must think. Thus it is a white shoe paper, a dismal caricature of what it used to be.

The editorials in their meandering way do generally lead to conservative conclusions—if readers are still awake by the conclusions. But even the predictable endorsements of Republican candidates for office reflect a kind of cynicism: we endorse Republicans but give the liberals a lot of support in the Op Eds and news coverage to produce a truly balanced paper. And that’s what it does. I would rather have the same editorial writers endorse every Democrat there is running and produce a truly conservative Op Ed and Republican newsroom: for no one who is alive can remember what the editorials stand for anyhow.

Now consider for a moment, the product the Tribune produces when it lands on your doorstep—as it does on mine—every morning. It is an immaculately white—that it the name for it—white newspaper reflecting what someone believes the commuter trains heading from Hinsdale—believe. They are pro-choice…somewhat doubtful about the Iraq war and hope for a way to get out…are open-minded about gay rights: and before these things, by God, are for relaxing the regulatory strings on the economy. But even these people don’t get what they want in the editorial offerings. There is simply no social conservative writing except Dennis Byrne, an Op Ed who was fired from the Sun-Times because of his convictions.

In one week they had Jack Fuller, an ex-editor and publisher, also a composer who for some reason intrigued past owners of the paper writing the obvious: 700 words to say that General Hayden should be judged not by the number of stars on his military shoulder-straps but by his ability. Wow: that’s hitting `em hard, isn’t it? Clarence Page from Washington who specializes in black news and who someone once told he was a comedian, usually a snotty view of the Bush administration. Score to date: two white shoe columnists with very little to say. Then there’s Garrison Keillor, the Minnesota supposed sage who takes a liberal view of things who is intended to be a kind of latter day Will Rogers. Keillor works on the radio, friends, not as an opinion-meister on the editorial page. He makes some people in Kenilworth laugh—but not for long.

Charles Madigan who says these are not days for ones who believe in government—and he makes no bones about the fact that he believes in government in Chicago—secure. Nutritional value: 0000.4. Somebody named Gal Luft from what sounds like a libertarian think-tank recommending that President Bush tell the big auto makers that they should encourage innovation and things will get better—no bailouts. White shoe again. Nutritional value: 0000.3. Then there are the stridently Democratic columnists: Molly Ivins the old Texas gal who is a graduate from Smith who hates the Bushes, calls `em shrubs…and Leonard Pitts from California who is outraged at some fancied anti-black action or other. Nutrition value slightly higher: 0000.5. Still there is no nutrition for conservatives except Denny Byrne who writes once a week. You see? They don’t exist.

The letters to the editor show they don’t exist. But conservatives write letters all the time and they aren’t published. A decision by somebody or other—probably the lady who once wrote a cookbook, Marcia Lythcott, who handles those chores—that the letters aren’t worth publishing. When I was an Op Ed writer over there, dealing with her was one of the least fulfilling activities of the day: she has no time, no interest, indeed a hostility to conservative thought. Eric Zorn and Mary Schmich—no they aren’t married to each other—are good but usually eschew ideology, working their views out in pure logistics. No good for a paper that is consciously missing the conservative market. Yes, then we get to the uber-libertarian, Steve Chapman, a former writer for The New Republic who doesn’t want strong anti-drug laws: that’s really red meat for social conservatives. (Yes, I know William F. Buckley doesn’t either but for all he’s done for conservatism, his dereliction might be ignored in deference to the quirks of his advanced age) but Buckley’s conservatism on national issues, even on Iraq where he is now a dove, is much more robust than Chapman’s). I’ve gone down the list of frequent writers sufficiently to say that the Tribune doesn’t come close to satisfying even a balanced presentation much less become the shadow of its old self.

In short, Denny Byrne is the only social conservative writing and he isn’t working for the place but is a free-lance. I’ll get to the news reportage in the future but I would sum it up to say that what’s wrong with the Trib is that it has turned its soul over to economics and therefore produces a dull, abstract, irrelevant, somewhat ambiguous, meaningless paper that avoids difficult issues just like they do in nice suburban cocktail parties in Hinsdale, which is what it intends to do. On that basis, the Sun-Times which is at least a newspaper that knows what it believes and has the confidence to say so, is unrivaled because it faces an uncertain giant who is groping for certainty. God help us.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

In Dallas as Most Everywhere Else, Immigration Has Split GOP Conservatives

I cut short the Blog yesterday to go to Dallas Thursday night for a speech to business types. I found just as everywhere else, a great number of the CEOs were dovish on immigration, wanting protection at the border but great leniency for the illegals, stressing they are good workers and the difficulty created by hawkish anti-immigration hawks like Tom Tancredo. It tells you something: either that I’ve become country club myself or getting more liberal as I get older that I find myself agreeing with them. These are people who contribute to the campaigns in a very conservative Dallas—although just as everywhere else, the country club is mellowing in polemics: there were people there who shrink from Limbaugh (not me: I pedal my stationery bike each morning listening to Lord Limbaugh). I didn’t notice any great approval for George W. Bush (except a kind of defensiveness since he is a local Texas boy; but no particular support for the dovish stand he has put forth on immigration: an anomaly. At the same time, when you meet the conservative grass-roots they adore Limbaugh, want to canonize Tancredo and others; they support the House bill. Which explains Hastert’s support of a tough immigration stand. I come down on the Gingrich approach which is tougher than Bush’s but not as tough as Tancredo’s.

In support of the House measure, I talked on the phone to a very senior Congressman (who is not from Dallas) who is retiring who tells me when a fissure like this surfaces, the prudent thing to do is to go with the grassroots not the business people. Business people tend to forget and forgive; the grass-roots base tends to do neither. It is important to remember that throughout his conservative career, Ronald Reagan was usually on the side of the grass-roots and not the county club. When he approved amnesty in 1986, popular with business, the issue hadn’t energized the grass-roots as much as it has today. If he were still a practicing politician today, Reagan might very well eschew amnesty, says the House senior.

Flashback: Drinking Straight with Mrs. Heffelfinger and Getting Straight with Wallace Mitchell

[More on the road to complete reminiscence of the past for my kids and grandchildren.]

After a meeting with the powerful doyen of the Minnesota Republican party, Elizabeth Bradshaw Heffelfinger, I determined that the best thing for me to do is to establish a relationship of sorts with Wallace Mitchell, the influential liberal political editor of the Minneapolis Star who was worrying that his days as unofficial counselor to Republican leaders would be jeopardized by my presence. How to do it without showing weakness and fearfulness of my position was the problem. There was the age difference: he was 54, I 27; he was a tough liberal who had ingratiated himself as the “know-all” with his paper to the extent that they would ask him how stories should be played; I was a graduate of a country newspaper who had no power whatever.

In doing his job, Mitchell had wormed his way into the confidence of Mrs. Heffelfinger and others with the effect that he occupied a role unknown to his journalistic employers as a major strategist, in the same way that George Tagge of the Chicago Tribune had done in Illinois (except that Tagge had done it forthrightly, with support of his newspaper and the wholehearted gratitude of the Illinois Republican party while Mitchell had done it surreptitiously, with his influence unknown by his newspaper). No private tipping off the newspaper of Mitchell’s double life would work because the newspaper believed in him and Mrs. Heffelfinger cherished the conspiracy. So he looked to be buttoned in there for good.

But in a very real sense, Mitchell was betraying both: as a liberal Democrat, he was giving Republicans sometimes good advice which was a kind of betrayal; then he would give the GOP bad advice to even the score which was a betrayal of the GOP’s great confidence in him.. In addition bu his own newspaper’s rules, he was a walking conflict of interest. There is no moral law forbidding a journalist to consort with politicians; not even an absolutist ethical reason that he couldn’t do both: the history of journalism is replete with such activity. If there were monetary payment by politicians that would be unethical, but that could never be proved and it would be disastrous to allege. So I called Mitchell for lunch; we managed an uneasy truce while I heard hints from him as to the many reasons why I was too naïve and young to participate in the same role as he, and he had a very good point. He was an extraordinarily talented political analyst and counselor.

There are many examples from history that show the major force of journalists as partners in molding politicians’ reputations. Ben Bradlee then of Newsweek was such a close friend of John Kennedy—and an adviser, too—that by his own testimony he refused to take note of any personal dereliction in Kennedy’s behavior (with women). We know that Philip Graham, the publisher of the Washington Post, was an active participant with Kennedy at the 1960 convention and greased the way for Lyndon Johnson to become Kennedy’s running-mate…so much so that his paper was scooped at times on stories he had already known and could not release out of loyalty to the Democrats. We know that Kay Graham, although not as conspiratorial as her late husband Philip, was a vigorous partisan and ally of Democratic presidents; that Joe Alsop was a confidant of a series of Democratic presidents; that Arthur Krock, Washington bureau chief of The New York Times was a fast confidant of Joseph Kennedy and steered the writing of JFK’s award-winning book, “Why England Slept.”

Indeed journalistic alliances go back to the founding of the country when Alexander Hamilton had not only his pet journalist but had his wealthy friends set up a newspaper for him; the same with Thomas Jefferson. It was Jefferson’s pet journalist who, for one reason or another, soured on his patron and produced the story of Jefferson’s mulatto mistress, the comely Sally Hemings, who was the half-sister of Jefferson’s dead wife. And it has gone down through the years, with FDR and Marquis Childs, Truman and Eddie Folliard, Eisenhower and The New York Herald-Tribune past Kennedy, Johnson, Ford (not Carter) until it was discovered that George Will participated in a debate briefing for presidential candidate Ronald Reagan.

And there was a formidable Minnesota precedent. Harold Stassen became governor largely through the good press supplied at the outset by the St. Paul Pioneer-Press and Dispatch’s political editor who was every bit as powerful if not more so than Mitchell: Joseph Ball. In fact, Ball became such an intimate part of Stassen’s governorship that he was walking around with such complete knowledge that, sitting at his typewriter, he would have to examine himself before writing—so as not to indicate that he knew more than he could let on. The news that a powerful administration department head was privately being investigated for theft while the department head was featured on another issue entirely—and scores of other examples—caused Ball no end of problems. He sat on the news that Stassen, at his urging, had decided to enlist in the Navy during World War II to ultimately get the veterans’ vote for president afterward, determining to allow Edward J. Thye to become governor. All the while, his closeness to Stassen was getting around and Hubert Humphrey of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party was leery of him, and properly so—with Humphrey cutting him off from all Democratic leakage. Ball was so close to Stassen that when Sen. Ernest Lundeen was killed in an airplane crash, Stassen asked Ball if he wanted to be named U. S. Senator. To which Ball said, “hell, yes!”

And Joe Ball, Democrat, ink-stained wretch and political editor, became Republican U. S. Senator under appointment—the only Republican Senator who supported FDR for reelection in 1944! . Humphrey, who was mayor of Minneapolis, was enraged but he needn’t have been since he had favorites, too, namely a young Wallace Mitchell of the Minneapolis Star. Humphrey ran against Ball for the Senatorship in 1948 and won. Whereupon Mitchell became his choice confidant. Then for some reason—Mitchell began advising Mrs. Heffelfinger, the grand matron of the Republican party while seemingly never losing his touch with Hubert. In his time he was more influential than Ball, seen as a strategist for both sides. You could find out what both parties were plotting by getting Mitchell drunk. Intriguing.

So Wallace Mitchell was on familiar ground. And no snooty-nosed kid from Chicago via St. Cloud would dislodge him. Unless. I decided that as a full-time publicitor, I should be able to find out Republican information that even Mrs. Heffelfinger and Mitchell didn’t know: what was happening in the grassroots, for example, far away from her palatial manor in Wayzata of Mitchell’s newspaper office in Minneapolis. And so I got in touch closely with Congressman Walter Judd who was not enamored of Mitchell and key grass roots conservatives as well in all sections of the state. Shortly thereafter, I began steering Mitchell’s rival, Fred Neumeier, political editor of the St. Paul Dispatch-Pioneer Press, and the successor of Joe Ball in that post, to real news. Neumeier began to blast out with exclusives which the paper banner-lined: feuds between progressives and conservatives, likely toppling of Republican state lawmakers, likely conflicts of interests in the administration of DFL governor Orville Freeman.

After about a month being drowned by Neumeier exclusives from his own beat, I got a call from Mitchell. “What gives with Neumeier?” he said. “How’s he getting that stuff?” I said mildly that Fred Neumeier was one hell of a reporter. “No,” he said, “He’s not one hell of a reporter. I know Fred Neumeier. He’s so lazy he never leaves his desk. You’re giving it to him.” Of course I denied it. “Okay, Tommy,” said Mitchell. “Let’s have lunch and work it out.” We did and didn’t work it out. Mitchell started drinking after lunch as I listened to him and watched him getting progressively tipsy. “Listen,” he said, “Heffelfinger is my beat.” Of course, I said, I wouldn’t dream of interfering with your long relationship. She’s a cute old girl. [Lord, I shouldn’t have said that!]. “What do you mean by that?” he said. “That I’m sleeping with her?” No, I said, she’s far too old for you [Lord, again: I shouldn’t have said that either. I decided that when I get fired I would have to tell my mother that I was fired by hinting to a drunken reporter that he was either sleeping with a Mrs. Elizabeth Heffelfinger, then in her sixties, or that he was too young for her. To which my mother would say, “Then it’s time you came home to clean Chicago after wallowing in that immoral cesspool.” But it never came to that].

He was getting progressively sloshed when I said, “Wally, I have to go back to work. Let me just tell you one thing: We can work together or we can work separately. It’s your choice.” And I walked out. The next morning I was summoned to the Heffelfinger mansion.

“I understand you think I’m sleeping with Wally Mitchell,” she said in her frostiest tone. No, ma’am, I didn’t say that: That is entirely wrong and was probably told you by Mitchell when he was drunk. “I understand you think I’m too old for him.” No, ma’am, I didn’t say that either and was probably told you by Mitchell when he was drunk.

She offered tentatively, in a subdued tone: “Wally doesn’t get drunk.”

I said, Mrs. Heffelfinger, Wally does too get drunk and does so frequently. But that isn’t the point.

She shouted, “Well, what is the point?”

The point is we can work separately or we can work together. It’s his choice and also yours. Obviously I can also be fired. But Mr. Neumeier wouldn’t like that because he has a certain fondness for me. The implication was that Neumeier would zero in on the Heffelfinger cabal in retaliation for his source being fired. That would certainly not have happened but when conspirators begin to consider what may happen to them, they grow weird. .

She got up, poured a drink for herself (it was 10 a.m.), offered one to me which I accepted. She said, “You young rascal you.”

We drank in silence. Then she said, “How do you propose we proceed?”

Pardon me? Proceed with what?

“Working together.”

I propose that we three form a partnership: you, me—and if you want Wally around—with Wally. You are the senior partner, of course. But I’d like to be a full partner with Wally.”

She tipped her glass bottoms up. “Deal.”

Is it? Will Wally accept that?

“He damn well better, my dear. Now where does Fred Neumeier fit into all this?”

His sources may well dry up if this is to be a full partnership and I suspect Wally Mitchell will continue as he has up to now.


When I got back to the office, driving very slowly after the onslaught of morning scotch and sodas, there was a call from Mitchell. Deal. But not long after that, Mitchell dropped out of the partnership—nearly dropped out of journalism altogether. He was taken off the political beat and put on the desk. I was mystified. Mrs. Heffelfinger called me, aghast, and wondered if I had anything to do with it. I didn’t and told her so. She said she didn’t believe it. To imagine I had that kind of clout with the owners and publishers of the Minneapolis Star whom I had never even met was ridiculous.

It turns out that the rumor was Mitchell was years behind in paying his Minnesota state income tax—and as a political reporter who was covering state government while in serious arrears in his tax payments all the while other Minnesotans paid theirs, his continuance in that role was intolerable, said the Cowles people who ran his paper (as well as the Des Moines Register and Look magazine).

His interrupted service had nothing to do with me because I would have no idea whether he paid his taxes or not—but for some strange, complex reasoning endemic to born conspirators, Mrs. Heffelfinger determined that I had found out about his tax avoidance and had “gotten” Wallace Mitchell. She gave me far more “credit” or blame, actually, than I deserved. Strangely enough, she regarded it as a great recommendation for me—that I had torpedoed the major political writer in the state in a game of dirty ju-jitsu! She decided that since I could play dirty pool, I could thereby fill his role since she luxuriated in the notion that she could play dirty pool too. And so quite innocently, I got the reputation as being a bad guy to fool around with. The reputation has been very helpful to any political staffer from young Captain Alexander Hamilton, the guardian of the door at General Washington’s Valley Forge down to Karl Rove…and in between on a very minor level, me.

[Next: A botched Heffelfinger-hatched attempt to dump Richard Nixon from the vice presidency in the 1956 national convention.]