Thursday, June 15, 2006

Flashback: Bipartisanship in Action—Cooperation on the Battlefront.

[More memoirs from fifty years ago for the four kids and thirteen grandchildren].

In the summer of 1956 I was coordinating the press for the state Republican ticket, concentrating on the GOP attempt to wrest the governorship away from Orville L. Freeman, a Humphrey ally. In those days there were (a) no cell-phones, (b) no faxes, (c) no copy machines except mimeographs, (d) no e-mails which meant that news releases would have to be personally delivered to the outlets and (e) no video tape which meant that for practical purposes there were no TV spots: TV would either have to be live, in personal appearances or if programs were pre-prepared played on blurry-appearing film. The result was that such TV spots as were produced were largely still shots and billboards with “voice-over” announcers touting the candidate. The Democratic-Farmer-Labor party had a solution: to buy half hours of live television time and put Hubert on the air—he was so good that no special production was needed. We didn’t have anybody nearly as good as Hubert, though. Our people weren’t as articulate.

So we muddled through with TV spots which I helped write with an ad agency, radio spots which I helped write and news conferences where our candidates could grab a sound byte or two every day. My job was to orchestrate the media flow for all our candidates by setting a daily attack theme: for candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general. All these candidates had press operatives and we’d meet at 7 p.m. the night before to orchestrate the campaign: they’d produce press releases on their own with my approval. In addition, I’d personally write the daily assault on the DFL for my state GOP chairman.

My state GOP chairman, John Hartle, gave me carte blanche to write for him whatever I chose because for him to have to read the stuff every day no matter where he was in the state would prove to be impossible. In addition our national committee members—Heffelfinger as committeewoman and George Etzell as committeeman—gave me blanket approval to issue statements in their name without their having to check and read everything all day. Heffelfinger particularly enjoyed it. She said that one day she was driving around Wayzata on a civic errand and heard the news announcer read a particularly insulting attack on Governor Freeman. She said she thought: who is this crank who is finding this much fault with the governor? Then the news reader said it was her! She thought it over as she was driving and decided, I rather like being on the offensive after all!

My opposite number in the DFL party happened to be a guy whom I got along with, strangely enough: Jerry Schaller, the former press guy for the Minnesota AFL-CIO. We both went to the same church, St. Paul Cathedral on Summit avenue. One day he called me on the phone. I said jokingly, is this line bugged? He said no; his mother was sick and he had to go out of town for a few days: was there any way I could hold down the attacks I was running from the state GOP chairman John Hartle for those days, in which case he would have to hang around and write responses. In return he would promise the DFL wouldn’t level serious attacks on my chairman: a sort of truce.

We met for coffee and agreed (1) we wouldn’t and couldn’t shut down the press attacks on either side from the candidates but the candidates would be attacking and responding, not the party chairmen; (2) there would be a three day cease-fire between my chairman Hartle and his chairman, Ray Hemenway; (3) if the cease-fire worked, he and I would work out another so that I could take a breather in the summer and go home for a short while to Chicago to see my parents. Schaller and I had to watch it because we were on the verge of becoming good friends, had laughs over the same politicians but we had to cut it out because familiarity leads to unintentional divulgence of information that could compromise our roles.

One day I was rather overwhelmed with all the work I had to do, orchestrating attacks on the Democrats up one side and down the other. I decided that I needed some spiritual guidance: after all, if all you do all day is attack people, that isn’t very good for your soul, is it? All day—attack, attack, attack and finding fault? So one evening after work I dropped in at the St. Paul Cathedral and went to confession. My plaint to the unseen priest who was behind a curtain was this: Father, I have a kind of political job. All day I am orchestrating attacks on members of the opposite political party. It’s starting to get me down. Maybe by finding such fault I am committing a sin? What’s your advice? There was silence behind the curtain and the old priest responded: It is good that you are here, my son. I can understand the turmoil in your heart. It so happens that I know a young man who has surmounted a similar problem and has through rigorous spiritual exercises now performs his duties with great charity and has attained a high degree of spirituality. I would be happy to introduce him to you if you wish. His name is Jerry Schaller.

Jerry Schaller! At this very moment probably he was pounding out on a typewriter vicious, unsubstantiated attacks on my people! And he has mastered his spiritual crisis so that he conducts his duties with great charity? I responded; Thank you, Father. I feel I can probably handle my problems myself with further meditation. I left the confessional and was never bothered by bad conscience again. When I saw Schaller next, I told him that my confessor had recommended him to me as a kind of pristine role model of charity. He snickered, raised his eyes to heaven and clasped his hands in saintly attitude. I chortled and did the same. Then we both went back to our jobs happily lopping off political heads with great venom and gusto.


In those days, with fewer landing strips making it impracticable for small private planes to fly to the nether regions of the state, we were planning a bus tour with all the candidates, going from town-to-town starting with the rural heartland of southeastern Minnesota (visiting small newspapers, radio stations, etc. in the company of the welcoming Congressman—in this case Augie Andresen). Two days before the bus tour was to start, with I the captain, the phone rang. “This is August H. Andresen!” he thundered. “Who in hell sent out that [explective] press release all over my district saying I am going to be on a bus for three days with all those idiots who are going to be championing the Ezra Taft Benson farm program while I am firmly of the opposite persuasion?” I said the press release didn’t say that. It said merely that Congressman Andresen would accompany since his staff had agreed to it.

“I want you to know I’m not going!” he shouted. “Roeser, do you want to lose all the Republican congressmen from this state? If so, that’s the way to do it! You were good enough to come down here and listen while I stated my credo—a credo that made me somewhat, I say somewhat, acceptable during this farm crisis! Now you’re going to un-do all that and tie me up for three [blank] days with an architect of the Benson farm program! I called Mrs. Heffelfinger in an attempt to get you fired; just got off the phone with her and she says she can’t do a thing with you! This by God’s the last straw. It’ll be your [description of a part of anatomy]! I’ll by God get you fired if I do nothing else today!”

Getting me fired ought not to take the whole day, Congressman, I said. I just want you to know that I am planning the visit of President Eisenhower to this state and had just scheduled you to introduce him before a huge outdoor rally in First National Bank Plaza but now that you are so hostile to the president I guess we had better re-think that. I will have to tell the White House advance people that the senior Minnesota Congressman is so estranged that he refuses to have anything to do with the president. [Andresen was famous for importuning the White House for favors for his district.] Also that you will have nothing to do with the state ticket bus tour which will take place in your district where we extol the Eisenhower record and urge his reelection. Nothing whatever. Of course that’ll be a national news story of your defection but we’ll have to put up with that.

There was a thoughtful pause. Then a great deal of asthmatic coughing as I listened to him fighting with an insufferable wheeze deep in his lungs.

“Tom,” he said after a great length. “I am truly regretful that I allowed this thing to overtake me. Obviously I appreciate your willingness to have me introduce the president. I just want you to remember that were I to accompany your candidates in the 1st district, it would be extremely difficult for me.”

Congressman, I said, I don’t doubt that. But I know you well enough to appreciate that you have surmounted difficult occasions before. These are good men who need your endorsement. Moreover with the bus tour, we’re all campaigning for the President. You can have your say about the farm issue. I can’t imagine that you wouldn’t, although I would hope you might restrain yourself about the character of the secretary of agriculture so that we can present a unified stand in support of the president. You can speak well of Ancher Nelsen’s experience in the state Senate, the lieutenant governorship and as REA administrator, can’t you? It should all work out. One way it wouldn’t work out would be if you decline to come along and the press gets wind of it and works to worsen the discord which would harm the president’s chance to carry this state.

“No-no-no. I say we can work it out. When are you planning to come and where do I pick up the bus?”

How about if we pick you up at Red Wing, your home town?

“Now that would be very nice. Or I can meet you fellas in South St. Paul and give you my personal tour of the district going south.”

That would be fine, Congressman.

The next call was from Mrs. Heffelfinger. Her voice had a joyous ttrill in it.

“My dear, I just want to warn you that Augie’ll call.”

He just did, raved and stormed and quoted you as saying you can’t do a thing with me.

“But that’s right, my dear, which is why we love you so. Ta-ta!”

At the end of the day just as I was ready to go home, the phone rang. It was U. S. Senator Ed Thye.

“What’s your name—Reeser, Riser, Rorrer? Roeser, I’m sorry. And I was stunned to hear the news here in Washington that’s going through the delegation like wildfire that Augie Andresen will introduce the president at the First National Bank plaza! My people are asking who the hell are you, from what state do you come and who is responsible for this humiliating schedule. I will remind you that I am the senior United States Senator, Mr. Reeser, Riser, Rorrer…and former governor of this state, in fact the man who grabbed the Minnesota standard and announced our delegation’s vote from Stassen to Eisenhower which delivered the nomination to Eisenhower. I remind you that up until then, Augie was for Taft! Protocol demands that the senior legislative officer introduces the president when the president is of his own party, especially when I as delegation chairman was responsible for his nomination, indeed his holding the presidency itself! And I would especially like to know how you get off making that decision as a junior staff official without any discussion with my people?”

Of course, Senator, you have that prerogative. But since you are not up for reelection this year and Augie is—and he has a rebellion of sorts on his hands in the 1st district—we thought that you would go first, tell the cameras in the President’s presence what he means to this nation, and then show the magnanimity of allowing our senior Congressman who needs the exposure greatly to do the honors.

“You say I will speak at some length about the President? You see, I didn’t know that. Yes, it is only right that Augie introduce him. What is likely to be the introduction?”

Introductions of a president are prescribed: “Ladies and gentleman, I have the distinct honor and high privilege of introducing the President of the United States.” Period.

“That’s all it is?”

That’s all it is.

“Well, I recognize that Augie needs all the support from us that he can get so I accede to that request. The next time, however, Mr. uh, uh, uh, Roeser, check with my staff first. Good day!”

The next phone call came from a hero of mine whom I had not at that point met but had worshiped from afar from the immediate years prior to World War II when as a medical missionary and surgeon in China he dug a piece of shrapnel out of a young boy, examined it and saw that inscribed on it was the mark: Manufactured in the USA, meaning that it was part of the scrap metal we had sold to belligerent Japan which had used the scrap to make munitions in its war to conquer China. My heart sank as I realized—this being the first time I had done this—that the President would be speaking in Judd’s district, Minneapolis.

“Mr. Roeser, this is Dr. Walter Judd. I just heard today that Augie Andresen will introduce the president at the First National Bank of Minneapolis. I want you to know that I think the choice of Augie is politically astute as he may have trouble down south this year. I’d like to suggest, though, that Senator Thye be given an opportunity to speak as he will have to run for reelection in 1958 and I am sure would value the exposure. Would you please consider that?”

Not only that, doctor, but I’ve talked with the Senator just a few minutes ago and he has graciously agreed to deliver some remarks prior to the introduction. Would you want to speak as well, sir, as it is in your district?

“Not necessarily. You’ve got a lot of people speaking. I’ve got a pretty easy race this year. Perhaps the MC could acknowledge me along with the others. Would that be all right?”

Class. Real class.


[ Next: President Eisenhower arrives and there’s a flurry of great difficulty].

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