Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Flash-Back: Duping the Liberal Media. They Write What They Think Will Hurt Conservatives so They Make Deception Easy

[Another one for the file, to be read by my kids and grandchildren after I’m long gone—as they’re probably too busy to read all this stuff now.

This is about Augie Andresen addressing the conservative Rotary Club of Lake City, Minnesota one hot Spring day in 1956].

After I got to know her better, I would occasionally ask mega-millionaire rich, tough society matron and Teamster’s Union-like swearer, Elizabeth Bradford Heffelfinger, the 60ish Republican National Committeewoman from Minnesota, “Mrs. Heffelfinger, what are you intending in contrast to what you are pretending?” She would answer very candidly (since she trusted me) by saying, for example, “I am pretending to back Harold Stassen for vice president in order to bump Dick Nixon out of the job but in actuality I am intending to see that Cabot Lodge becomes vice president and uses it to become the next president.” Terrific. That helped me very much as I observed her strategy. In 1956, as I have said, she inveigled Stassen to try to dump Nixon, counting on the fact that he would alienate everybody but open the door to a convention selection of Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. Half of it worked: Stassen, by his own incompetence, became regarded as the jerk of jerks but immeasurably helped Nixon retain his post. But Mrs. Heffelfinger was not about to give up on Cabot Lodge for the future.

As old wheezing Augie Andresen and I rode to Lake City for his Rotary speech, I tried to figure out what would be the best headline he could get. He was addressing an ultra-conservative business crowd which would be pleased to have him get a headline that would be isolationist; but his district was slowly changing to internationalist, given Eisenhower’s popularity and the growing realization that world Communism deserved a global strategy that Eisenhower and Dulles would impart. For Augie to get an isolationist headline would alienate the more sophisticated portion of the district: Rochester with its rich Mayo doctors, its fey business types and wanna-be social groups who would stir martinis on “pill hill,” the very posh residences of the Mayo surgeons and allied pharmaceutical businesses.

So, it took no great shakes of imagination to conclude that Augie’s political future would do better getting headlines of his railing against Ezra Taft Benson, the free-market secretary of agriculture who, frankly, left Pill Hill cold anyhow…than screaming against what he called “globaloney”—a fusion of the words “global” and “baloney” which entranced Colonel McCormick—that would turn off the more moderate district which was growing in power. Blasting Benson would immeasurably help get him votes from the poorer, so-called family farmers who were falling away from Republicanism and flirting with Humphrey’s DFL. Notwithstanding Humphrey’s praise of Andresen, I knew the Senator was preparing to run a real dirt farmer with a well-financed campaign to beat Augie. My conclusion: Augie should blast Benson, turn back the threat of a farm revolt and risk alienating the old guard business types who were fast dying out anyhow.

None of this I told Augie because he was busy writing his notes. There would be no news release on his speech—Augie hated such releases which he concluded were decadent modernism--and I didn’t know what I could do to shape it anyhow. So calculating which way a speech could be played for Augie’s benefit was just an intellectual exercise for me as we rode along. Little did I know that there came a supreme moment at the speech to shape the coverage.

After the old coughing, snorting asthmatic was greeted with wild enthusiasm by a bevy of bronze Scandinavian farm women who unaccountably were drawn to him (proving long before Kissinger said it that power is a great aphrodisiac) he was escorted to the head table and I sat in the back, prepared to eat the rubber chicken and limp salad Rotary had become famous for. I was assigned to what was known as the “press table.” There I sat next to the Rochester Post-Bulletin’s fast-rising political writer, Norman Freiderich, obnoxious, a younger man and vastly more liberal than I of whom I was discreetly envious because he was obviously headed for a top journalistic post here and later nationally—while it was clear that I should aspire for nothing more than continuance as a Republican flack. He was the son of a New York Times Pulitzer prize-winner (science and technology), Harvard-educated who turned down a Times junior berth in order to learn the business in the Midwest. Born rich (his mother was an heiress) on the east side of Manhattan, he created a stir when he joined the Post-Bulletin as a kind of democrat with a small D, a berth from which he would be expected to move on to more commodious surroundings in either big newspapers or TV. Even the Rochester paper was far more reputable than the St. Cloud Times.

“Where’s the puff?” he said to me in a New York accent. “Puff” was a derogatory fifties term used in the movies by world-weary journalists who would grab the nearest phone and say, “Sweetheart, get me re-write!” . The weekly newspaper writers—from the LaCrescent Times, the Dodge Center Tribune and the Hokah Chief, even a pad and pencil reporter from Rochester’s KROC-TV seated with us thrilled to his wise-guy mode.

I said archly, I beg pardon?

“The puff. The press release. Aren’t you the GOP flack?”

The weekly newspapers tittered.

Sure, said I. But the Congressman doesn’t use press releases which means that you will have to take notes and provide your own analysis. I presume you’ve done that before? I’ve even heard that it is occasionally done by the New York Times.

“Yes,” he said. “People in my family in this business have been known to take notes have been taken before for some newspapers. You see you smart fellows from the Saint Cloud Daily Times”—he drew out the words in snide fashion: Sa-i-n-t C-l-o-u-d D-a-i-l-y T-i-m-e-s-- aren’t the only ones who use that system.”

How did he know I worked at the St. Cloud Times? Mirth and derisive laughter at me from the weeklies which he acknowledged while I sat mute. It wasn’t the first time I was out-pointed by a sophisticate.

After lunch, Augie began. He obviously decided to play to the oldsters in the audience, blasting the Democrats for causing international wars which required Republicans like Dwight Eisenhower to end them. He used “globaloney” a few times as Freiderich scribbled, smiling to himself. Warming to his theme, Augie blasted the sell-out at Yalta by FDR and related that to Woodrow Wilson’s break with tradition by capitulating us into a European war with no U. S. goal in mind except what he called Wilson’s “Anglo-philia”. The old grey heads in the audience were bobbing up and down. He was beginning to be a hit. I was familiar with the line. It was used by my father many times and I tended to agree with it. But in an era when the 1st district was turning more moderate on foreign policy, rousing up the old timers—especially with the newspapers and TV in attendance—threatened possibly primary opposition and armed Humphrey’s handpicked DFL challenger.

Finally, after the raillery it came time for questions. One from a senior fellow in the audience struck me as particularly fortunate for Augie although it was couched in criticism. He asked something like this: Congressman, you have impressed us as a strong opponent of socialism and intervention in world affairs where it’s none of our business. But how do you reconcile those conservative positions with your liberal farm legislation?

Augie wasn’t going to back down. He answered with something like this: Because I want Republicans to be known for helping not just big business. Big business has enough help. But the men and women who run family farms in this district and the nation don’t—unless I and others like me do it. Many small farmers have been forced to abandon their farms and go into debt. Young people have drifted away from areas like this in search of greater opportunity.

I tell you the American farmer has not received his fair share of the American national income. His costs have risen. It’s no secret that the Benson farm program has not helped the small farmer and if I can help him, I will. I frankly think it’s time for President Eisenhower to cut Mr. Benson out of the herd. Give us a secretary of agriculture who has the basic qualifications for the job, not a man—no matter how high principled he is or how high a position he has in the Mormon church—who looks at agriculture first of all as a business. It is not just a way to make a living. It’s a way of life.

Freiderich was writing it leisurely, like it was all cliché and the weeklies which had heard it all before, were looking at their watches.

When the session was over, I looked at the weeklies and said something like: Thank God, that attack on Ezra Benson came last. It was a good speech until then.

Freiderich said, “Why? Didn’t it square with you guys, the Republican power boys in St. Paul?” The weeklies and the KROC-TV pad and pencil man were listening.

Well, I said, don’t quote me but Augie always riles up Republicans when he goes after Ezra Benson. After all, Benson is secretary of agriculture. It’s downright disloyal for—aw, skip it. Remember now, I’m just talking to you and not for publication.

“I understand,” he said. “I understand. But the fact is that Andresen is one of the very few farm state Republican Congressmen who feels this way, isn’t he?”

Yes, I said. Between you and me—and for this not to go beyond this table including you guys [the LaCrescent Times, Hokah Chief, Dodge Center Tribune and KROC-TV], I’m down here to try to get him to be a team-player. A team player for Ike. Well, his answer to the last question tells me I have some more work to do. I don’t care what he says about Yalta and FDR. Who cares about that? But I don’t think it’s productive for the ranking Republican member of the House Agriculture committee to blast the Republican secretary of agriculture.

Freiderich put his pad and pencil away, frowned importantly and said, “Very interesting.” The people at the table nodded.

Augie and I stayed that night at the Kahler hotel in Rochester where he met with some fund-raisers. The next morning we were up at 6:30 a.m., had breakfast and I speared a Post-Bulletin from the news-stand.

Augie Defends Family Farmers, the headline across the front page said. The subhead: Congressman Vows to Stand for Those Driven off the Land.

“Goddam,” said Augie exultantly, as we drove along. “You never know what those newsguys will write, do ya? I thought they’d hop on the FDR stuff like the audience did. Oh well. But not bad. You see why I don’t want press releases? If you had put down something like that, they wouldn’t have printed it, would they?”

No, Congressman, I said truthfully. They wouldn’t.

That night at the next hotel, I got two phone calls—one irate from my boss, John Hartle. “Can’t you hold that old guy down so he doesn’t rap Benson?” he said. :”What he said in Lake City not only got printed in Rochester where my sister lives but got on the TV and in the Twin City papers just like it was in Rochester! Cool him down, will you?”

And the second was from Mrs. Elizabeth Heffelfinger: “Congratuations! God, I almost could kiss old Augie! I’m sure you had something to do with it. If Hartle fires you we’ll hire you!

Who’ll I work for? I asked. President Henry Cabot Lodge?

“He’d be lucky to have you,” she enthused. “I suspect you did what I always taught you to do—lead with your right on what you pretend and sock `em with the left with what you intend. Isn’t that right?”

No comment, Mrs. Heffelfinger.

1 comment:

  1. Tom, no regrets about it, but I just spent close to $30 on Jonathan Alter's "The Defining Moment". I'm enjoying your memoirs here just as much -- maybe more, since they're free -- as Alter's description of Roosevelt's rise and first 100 days. (Are you writing this blog from a US corp's overseas subcontractor's dorm?) Thanks.

    By the way, are you familiar with Leo XIII's 1891 encyclical? Alter had a brief mention of it in his FDR book.

    "The governor's (FDR in '32-NY) secretary of state in Albany, Ed Flynn, an educated man who was no longer just the boss of the Bronx, began a series of conversations with FDR about Pope Leo XIII's landmark 1891 encyclical, which shocked the world with its insistence on the natural rights of workers to form labor unions and recieve a 'just wage'. Soon FDR's speeches began to strike these more liberal notes, quite at odds with the reigning conservative orthodoxy of the Democratic Party."

    Think that encyclical would go over big with NAFTA supporters or all of us enjoying the imports made by workers living in the dorms of Wal-Mart's & others' overseas contractors & sub-contractors?