Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Flashback: And so I Returned the Phone Call from Quaker Oatsand Its Made All the Difference in the World An Order of Bacon and Eggs.
[Reminiscences from fifty years in politics for my kids and grandchildren].
When I got home and after I did a few chores, I returned the call from The Quaker Oats Company in Chicago (312) 528-0100 wondering what in the world did this cereal company want. A long time intervened before my caller, Bayne Freeland, came on the line.
Well, he said, youre a hard guy to get.
The cocky nature of the response mystified me. What can I do for you, Mr. Freeland?
Three months ago you answered our blind ad for a public affairs manager. We had some 200 plus answers to the ad and were getting down to the Rs now.
Whup! It was May and my I wrote my letter in early February. How could I remember what with delegate hunts, a Bureau of Public Roads admission it had been wrong, a hot convention fight in which we defeated Goldwater and a threatened firing?
Would you be interested in coming to Chicago to be interviewed? Would, say, Friday of this week be convenient?
Yes, it just might be convenient.
We made the date for that Friday. I had very little hope of getting a job there given that (a) I knew nothing about the grocery industry and (b) there were 200 resumes received, presumably most from people who had been involved in the food business or nearly so. And, as he said, they were just getting down to the Rs.
I flew there and walked into Quakers relatively modest Merchandise Mart suite of offices. Freeland was a folksy, quippy, rural kind of guy who had been a feature-writer at the Cedar Rapids Gazette (where Quaker had a big cereal plant) when he was hired some years earlier for the public relations department. Now he was p. r. director.
I was just kidding about getting down to the Rs. Weve had a harder time getting hold of you than we had with any other applicant, he said somewhat ruefully.
I apologized but said I am interested in the jobbut also that I didnt know anything about the food business.
Well, he said, lighting up a pipe, we know that. In fact, looking at your resume we find you dont have much business experience at all except for a stint as an advertising copy-writer for Perk Dog food. We do a have a dog food, however. Kenl-Ration.
For a long time we decided to ignore your letter. But now we are more interested. It turns out that our company president is very much interested in Republican politics. And his good friend Charles Percy, who as you know is running for governor here, has just made him Republican National Committeeman for Illinois. What does a national committeeman do, anyhow?
I told him.
Well, what we have here is a very small p. r. shop and no public affairs guy. The president calls us up all the time asking us for recommendations on files hes receiving from Washington, D. C., the Republican National Committee. I read the stuff and it beats me all to hell as to what we can do for him. None of us are well-versed in Republican stuff. Ill tell you, I have had no experience in this stuff. Nor has anybody else. Theres an old woman here Kay Metz who does but shes so far right that Im afraid to listen to her. She got our company into trouble a couple of years ago but thats another story. Theres an actor here who goes out, puts on a wig and a costume and plays Mr. Quaker and talks to Rotaries and schools who has a lot of ideas what our president should do but who cares what he thinks? And all the guys who applied for this job or almost all have not a clue on how the GOP would run here in Illinois, of which Bob Stuart, our president, must be a prominent leader. Then I fished your letter out of the dead-letter file where I stored it. Now my first question is: I know you understand a lot of politics in Minnesota but what about Illinois?
Well, I was born and reared here, was involved in some campaigns as a kid here and come from a family whose father was deeply interested and fascinated with Illinois politics.
He exhaled in relief. Good. I was down on Skid Row three times today to talk to either Stuart or his secretaries about this stuff of which I know nothing. Tom Bartell, my boss, is in the same boat.
Thats what we call the area where our senior executives are quartered. Here, take a look at this file and tell me what youd do.
It was duck soup. I told him.
Sounds impressive. If youre wrong, were all in trouble: you and me for hiring you. See, youll work for me. Bob Stuarts not particularly crazy about me and frankly the less I deal with him the better. Thatll be your job. But Ill be counting on your to be 100 percent right all the time so I dont get hauled down there.
How can I be wrong on this stuff? Its routine. Ive done this a million times for our state chairmen and our national committeemen. I know national committeemen from all over the country. Nothing complicated about it if youve done it as long as I have.
I see. I see. I see. Thats great. Now what I want you to do is to meet with Bob Stuart but hes just now gone out of town. Well have to have you back next week. Frankly, the sooner we hire you the better as far as Im concerned and as far as my boss is concerned too, Tom Bartell. He doesnt know anything about politics either. Hes vice president-employee relations. Lost his eye in the war. Youll see him next and when you finish with him youll see his boss a man named DArcy. He knows less about politics than either Bartell or I do but hes executive vice president. Then next week youll see Bob Stuart. I just hope to hell you pass muster with him because if you dont, I dont know who Im going to find to go through files like you just did. So pray hell like you for my sake.
For my sake, too.
I saw Bartell who was taken phone calls every ten seconds. Balding, very uptight; glass eye. When he put down the phone for a second, he said, Bayne tells me he thinks you know the political business. I sure hope you do because when Bayne isnt down there he nodded toward Skid Row, I am. And between the two of us we know nothing. Im trying to keep up by reading the newspapers but every day I get goofy notes from Stuart like this oneand he handed one over, a note jotted on a GOP form letter.
On it was written: TomCall Ed Derwinski and tell him he has a suite at Mark H in S. F. Bob.
Now hes out of town, said Bartell. Can you translate?
Pretty well. Derwinski is the Goldwater chairman for Illinois. Every state is supposed to have a Goldwater suite at hotels where theyre headquartered in San Francisco. Minnesota is at the Fairmount. I can check but it looks like Illinois is at the Mark Hopkins. Youre supposed to tell Derwinski he has a suite at the Mark Hopkins. You can find Derwinski at Goldwater headquarters in Chicago. If I were working for you, Id double check to be sure youre at the Mark Hopkins, get Derwinski and tell him hes got a suite. In all probability hell want to get more details and Id run interference between Derwinski and Stuart who is the National Committeeman and who is supposed to be in charge of arrangements.
Bartell was taking notes.
When he finished he said, Thanks. That clears up one of these notes. There are a handful of others who evidently have some political experience who are competing for this job youre interested in. Everybody else is far more impressive but all they know about is the food business. Why the hell would we want somebody who knows the food business? I am just hoping and praying that you will get this job because you can take this file and here he pointed to a hefty stack of memoranda, off my hands. It would be nice for you to know the food business but Im telling you right now, Bayne and I are in need help are in make that desperate need of help here with this political stuff and were in your corner. If you pass muster down the hall, you will come back next week Wednesday and have breakfast in the M & M Club downstairs with Bob Stuart, our president. Read up on us before, will you so you make a good impression? Here. Heres an annual report. Here is a stack of other stuff about us. Speaking for myself and Bayne, we hope you pass the test and join us to take this stuff off our hands. Your next stop now will be Jack DArcy who will try to show you he is knowledgeable about politics. But he isnt. Just a warning. He will try to find out if you believe you can be a Christian and in politics. I dont know your religion butyoure not Jewish, are you?
He didnt look pleased. Okay, well see. Remember, DArcyll ask if one can be a Christian and in politics.
What if I tell him one cant?
He smiled at last. Ill find you and kill you. I think youre our guy.
He led me from the hard-surface floors where middle management worked to another part of the building which was all carpeted. Skid Row. DArcy was seated at a more expensive desk than Bartels writing while a glow from his desk lamp settled around his shoulders giving him a kind of halo effect, lighting him up in the office gloom in solitary grandeur. He stood up shook hands, asked me to sit on his couch and looked at me with deep-set eyes that evoked those of an Episcopal bishop: eyes which looked like they had ruminated on significant things ethical challenges decisions in which war and peace hung in the balance. There was no smile just the grim humorlessness of the occasion.
Tell me do you believe one can be a Christian and yet be in politics?
I felt like responding with a remark that would send him flying out of his chair something like: Nope. Ive seen enough evil to split the planets to make the biblical Abraham an infidel! But that was the last remaining remnant of my old irreverence. I leaned forward, looked at him intently, and said that my model was indeed a Christian in politics, Thomas More Lord Chancellor of England the kings good servant but Gods servant first who lost his head by adhering to principle, opposing Henry VIIIs divorce.
He listened closely. Couldnt he just get an annulment?
Henry couldnt get one. The Pope said no. Their last recourse was Thomas More. If he would say yes, theyre push it back to Rome. Henry was clear about it. It was say yes or lose your head.
I got the idea he didnt cozy up to the Thomas More example. He thought for a while, sizing me up and then said: Very good. Ill recommend you see Bob Stuart for breakfast on Wednesday. Have a good day.
I left somewhat cocky. With all those guys indicating Im needed, what possibly could go wrong? Go wrong?. Go wrong? Oh, but it did the next Wednesday at breakfast!