Thursday, November 30, 2006

Personal Aside: My Date with Ginger Rogers—Part I.


There is in my files somewhere, although fortunately I have mislaid it, a full color photograph of me and my 1974 date Ginger Rogers (who died in 1995 at age 84). Then she was a mere slip of a girl at 64 with luxuriant hair so blonde that it shone in the dark, wearing rather extensive cosmetics…eyeliner, glossy lipstick, heavy pancake primer over which there was a second coat of pink powder and upon one cheek was pasted a black imitation beauty mole the size of a lascivious ink spot. I was a stripling of 46, married with four children, squinting through horn-rimmed glasses, taking her arm nervously as I didn’t know what else to do with it when the cameraman asked us to look natural. My date with her was arranged by Doris (Mrs. Robert) McClory, Ginger’s former agent who in her own advanced middle age had married the widower Republican Congressman who represented the far northwest suburbs. It was my first year as chairman of the anti-vote fraud organization, Project LEAP (Legal Elections in All Precincts) and I was hosting a fund-raiser at the Conrad Hilton. Mrs. McClory saw the advance notice and since Ginger Rogers was in town appearing in the play “Cactus Flower” and when she called me at Quaker Oats, she said she thought it “would be good to kill two birds with one stone.”

I didn’t quite know what she meant: kill two birds with one stone. The analogy didn’t seem to be apt for any endeavor in which I would have an interest. She said it is a figure of speech and didn’t care to explain it further but proceeded with her idea. “Ginger,” she says, “is always worried about her plays not getting sufficient media. Your organization seems to get media at election time and I think it would be a good idea if you were to accompany her to your fund-raiser where the media, if it were there, would be prompted to mention that Ginger is in town doing Cactus Flower. She is, after all, a Hollywood celebrity, a solid Republican and it wouldn’t hurt your fund-raiser if it were announced that you would be accompanied to it by Ginger Rogers.” She repeated: “Ginger is a solid Republican who has never forgotten that Mayor Daley stole the 1960 election from Richard Nixon.”

All well and good but this was some time ago. Now, the people who volunteered for Project LEAP tended to be long haired extremely liberal young men with sideburns that merged into longish beards, who smoked exotic cigarettes and for a reason I had never understood tagged around with, for the most part, rather plain, unattractive extraordinarily liberal often butch women wearing no makeup—all of whom were radical refugees from the ultra-liberal “days of rage” against the Vietnam War who did the vote counting in the hope of screaming foul against the hated Richard J. Daley machine. They had elected me against their better judgment because although a Republican, I was seen to have some access to Republican corporate contributions for the organization which was tied into the IVI (Independent Voters of Illinois). The IVI had little money of its own. I did not let them down and for that reason they continued with me as their leader, allowing me to announce to the press every election day that the machine made it a jungle out there since voting conditions perpetrated by the Boards of Election Commissioners were a disgrace to democracy with which Republicans and liberal independents agreed solemnly.

As radical, un-bathed and dissolute as some of our LEAP election judges were, they were a boon to the weakling Republican party and had been recruited as Republican judges of election--although they hated everything my party stood for, particularly Richard M. Nixon who had just thrilled them by being forced to resign. But Republicans embraced the LEAP judges happily albeit pragmatically because they could not muster judges of election on their own and the radicals hated the Democratic machine so fervently they had good reason to see that no votes were stolen. In fact that is how we sold that idea to W. Clement Stone, a roly-poly insurance half-billionaire of advanced age with patent leather black hair and a pencil-line mustache who donated tens of thousands of dollars to the enterprise, securing my steady tenure. With Stone’s money I was generally assured of a loyal LEAP following.

Still in all, I had my doubts about the well-being of Ms. Rogers and me were the date to occur. I was closer to the age of our volunteers than was Rogers who had been born in 1911. I had at least been in the Peace Corps which was accepted by them, had been fired by Nixon which had thrilled them while Rogers was noted for her support of the late Robert A. Taft as preferential to Dwight Eisenhower but voted for Eisenhower only because he had made Richard Nixon his vice presidential choice. It was to be a cocktail party where our “comp” volunteers usually celebrated raucously while Clem Stone and others paid the bill and didn’t show up. Thus I did not believe this would be an evening where views would congeal. However Doris McClory sweetened the pot by putting me in touch with some dowagers who would go to our cocktail party and make sizable contributions in the hope of touching the hem of Ginger Rogers…and added that Mr. Stone had hoped we would treat the sweet darling of his adolescent dreams, Ms. Rogers, with circumspection.

That did it. I was committed.

I checked with my wife, of course who did not feel the slightest pang of jealousy that I was going to accompany an elderly female former screen star who had gone through four husbands, virtually telling each of them on their wedding day she would not keep them long.

There was one proviso. Doris McClory told me that Ms. Rogers wished to be picked up by me in a limousine with driver as befitted her station when in the old days she was driven through the studio gates for her early morning shoot. That was easy; I negotiated a Quaker mailroom employee who drove senior officers in a limousine to get permission to take the car out for this purpose since Ms. Rogers was a conservative Republican. Permission granted.

So with a long sigh of misgiving at the hideous unnaturalness of the event, I told my wife that I would see her later at the reception but I would first have to pick up my screen star escort in a limousine. I asked my wife if she wished to accompany. She said no, she trusted the both of us and she would see us at the reception. Drat. All the way to Ms. Rogers hotel I, sitting in the back seat of the limousine, felt desperately uneasy. I experienced a kind of exquisite Catholic guilt about this arrangement but then, too, a pinch-me-I’m-dreaming feeling that four decades after seeing her when she won the Oscar for “Kitty Foyle” I was taking her out. More realistically, I turned my thoughts to other things: such as how my arrival with Ginger Rogers would be taken by a rabble who just a few years earlier had been hurling imprecations and horse-dung at the police.

It being 11:15 p.m. now, I shall go to bed to continue this on Monday. Until then if you wish to comment, please do—but let no one recycle the old bromide of how she was the better dancer than Fred Astaire since she had to do everything he did backwards and in high heels. We have all heard it; it was first coined by Gloria Steinem as part of a feminist pitch which was good when first used but which has been so repeated that it has become a cliché. Now if you wish, comment away.

Personal Asides: Two Men Named Stewart on “Shootout Sunday”


Two Stewarts.

Two guests named Stewart...not-related…will be my guests on “Political Shootout” this Sunday on WLS-AM (890): Jay Stewart, lawyer and executive director of the Better Government Association which is Chicago’s leading foe of political corruption…and Russ Stewart, lawyer and political analyst for the Nadig newspapers which cover the city’s northwest side. Jay is non-political and uses his powers of investigation to ferret out corruption in both parties; Russ is the kind of commentator who makes both Democrats and Republicans sweat. They’ll have a lot to talk about from the recent decision to allow George Ryan to continue to be a free man while his lawyers appeal…to the Cook county Board issues…to Hired Trucks…to patronage abuses.

The Big Question: Why is Kjellander So Invaluable That He Cannot be Replaced when Rumsfeld Can?

[Another column for The Wanderer, the nation’s oldest national Catholic weekly].

By Thomas F. Roeser

CHICAGO—Everybody asks here: Who is Bob Kjellander and what special kind of clout does he have with the Bush people?

Having ditched Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense for political reasons, by admitting that, by following his commander-in-chief’s orders in Iraq he became a political liability, the Bush administration is hanging on for dear life to an obscure but powerful local political figure who threatens any future chance of GOP victory here through linkage to bipartisan Dem-GOP corruption by a Bush-appointed federal prosecutor. The mysterious survival of the official may tell more than Republicans would want to know about the strange love-fest between President George W. Bush and Mayor Richard M. Daley, despite the fact that Daley’s monolithic Cook county party delivers whopping majorities against everything the president stands for.

Official Washington follows the maneuverings of both parties with consummate attention but hasn’t given more than a nanosecond’s consideration to the uncanny ability of a close friend of Karl Rove to endure and prosper hugely through shadowy bipartisan dealings. Beyond his ability to become a multi-millionaire thorough close friendships with national Republicans and the Democratic state administration, the case of Robert Kjellander (pronounced “sha-lander”) is a glaring case history of how the Illinois GOP has become incestuously entwined with the Democratic party of Daley for the last thirty years.

Kjellander is the Republican National Committeeman for Illinois, holding down a post that in years past have gone to venerable GOP patriarchs including James M. Kemper, founder of the Kemper Insurance Group and Robert D. Stuart, Jr., chairman of The Quaker Oats Company, both of whom had spent decades of service in fund-raising and organization for the GOP. The Illinois native parlayed savvy patronage work for a liberal Republican governor to lobbyist and then, through friendship with Karl Rove, to not only Committeeman but also national treasurer of the GOP. He is involved in a federal corruption investigation concerning his winning the Illinois pension fund business for the Carlyle Group, a Washington private equity investment firm with top ties to Democratic and Republican establishment figures. Bush-appointed federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is probing corruption at the Illinois Teachers’ Retirement Systems, a state-run teachers’ pension fund. Kjellander received $4.5 million in fees from the Carlyle Group for delivering an okay from the Democratic Blagojevich administration. Fitzgerald wants to know if Kjellander, who is no investment banker and has no training as such, did any work at all in getting the business for Carlyle or if he just utilized political contacts which may have been greased by some exotic machinations. Most Republicans want to know if Kjellander did double-agent service to Governor Rod Blagojegvich for being made a multi-millionaire by the Democratic state administration. Recently he was served with a subpoena by Fitzgerald in the matter.

Kjellander may be as innocent of any dereliction as it’s possible to be but it is stunning to Republicans here that no matter how soiled he makes the GOP seem he can’t be gotten rid of through his friendship with Karl Rove, the president’s political guru. Rumsfeld, who was scandal-free and loyal to Republican principles, was expendable but not Kjellander whose name in Illinois is identified with the state’s worst political hustler tradition.

In 2002, the Republican-establishment-connected Carlyle Group hired Kjellander to secure an eventual $500 million investment from the teacher’s pension fund. The pension board says it knew nothing about Kjellander’s finder’s fee of $4.5 million.

The scandal caused a public uproar in Illinois which prompted the Illinois State Senate to pass legislation banning such payments. Kjellander called the bill “an overreaction.” In 2003 with the headlines still warm, he was involved in yet another pension deal, a $10 billion one with the Bear-Stearns investment firm that netted him a “finder’s fee” of $809.000. After the deal came under scrutiny by the state General Assembly in 2004, neither state officials nor Bear Stearns could document any proof that Kjellander had done anything to effect the deal. This sparked investigations by the SEC, the Illinois attorney general and the governor’s inspector general.

The scandal proceeded to capture local news coverage here when a whistleblower lawsuit filed in 2004 alleged that a Bear Stearns broker who worked with Kjellander on the deal helped win the contract for the firm through a criminal kickback scheme. The broker was one Nicholas Hurtgen who resigned from Bear Stearns in 2004, after earning for his firm a $500,000 consulting fee for a separate $100 million investment from the teachers pension system which the feds are probing as well. Hurtgen was indicted on separate criminal charges last year for allegedly extorting hospital officials in Naperville, Illinois into using Bear Stearns to finance their new hospital construction project.

All the while, the man known as “Big Bob”—a portly man with white hair—is leading a charmed political life. In the midst of the bad press here for his consorting with Democrats, he was elected by the Republican National Committee as its treasurer. How the top elected GOP party official in Illinois can be rewarded by a Democratic governor without compromising the GOP and still be rewarded by the Bush National Committee may seem curious but not when one examines the increasing two-party “Combine” (the name giving incestuous patty-cake playing by pols here) by the Chicago Tribune’s sole legatee of the paper’s glorious old tradition, John Kass.

Time was in Illinois’ tradition when pols stayed largely within their own party precincts and cooperation was short-lived. Illinois’ best modern governor, William (Billy the Kid) Stratton won votes for himself while benefiting old Mayor Daley by building state expressways around Chicago to ease clogging traffic in the early postwar years. In return Daley found an honorable but uncharismatic candidate against Billy the Kid: a judge who put people to sleep. Stratton won but when he didn’t continue to help Daley, the old man mobilized a statewide campaign to win for Democrats slight control of the state House. Stratton trumped Daley by cutting a deal with southern conservative Democrat, Paul Powell (called in southern Illinois-ese “Pol Pal”), getting Republicans to vote for Powell as Speaker on the second ballot with the result that both of them stuck it to old man Daley. But that was good clean fun. The new generation to which Bob Kjellander belongs uses two-party politics not to accomplish governmental goals but to personally enrich.

Kjellander started as a youthful volunteer organizer of the College Young Republicans and got to know Karl Rove in the activity. While in an earlier era, Republican businessmen risked their futures in behalf of a party that in the Depression was desperately unpopular, in the 1970s and `80s, Kjellander and Rove matriculated in paid-to-play staff roles. Rove started a prosperous direct mail campaign business trading on political contacts. Kjellander began his career as a foot soldier, following Republican governor Richard B. Ogilvie (1968-72) , the original progenitor of get-rich-quick secret agreements between the Richard J. Daley and Republicans. Ogilvie, a grim, humorless tactician, pleased liberals by passing a state income tax which ended his career whereupon he was called a martyr. Joining with Republican Senate president W. Russell Arrington, a multi-millionaire, Ogilvie, who admired Richard J. Daley’s machine, trained young GOP staffers in a political command school. They graduated with lobbyist political skills placed at the service of whatever party paid the higher rewards. Ogilvie became a wealthy lawyer when he returned to private life, adored by Democrats and Republicans alike for his service to liberaldom.

His young devotee, Bob Kjellander began as a teen-aged driver for the candidate, a job hotly sought-after by youthful male political climbers since being a campaign driver gives intimate association between candidate and importuner inside an automobile driving for long hours at night with no one interfering.

But it was under Republican Governor James R. Thompson, a 6 foot 6-1/2 inch giant of a man (ironically a famous former U. S. Attorney here), a gregarious brilliant campaigner who is unburdened by GOP philosophy, that Kjellander perfected his trade. He became Thompson’s director of patronage, rewarding subservient Democrats and obedient Republicans with state jobs. That there was no discernible difference between Thompson and liberal Democrats became clear as the governor glad-handed his way through friendships and deals with a succession of Democratic mayors culminating with an enduring friendship with Richard M. Daley. Thompson’s latest foray has been to defend his former lieutenant, ex-governor George Ryan, who was convicted on all counts of corruption and is due to begin a 6-year prison term soon. Also to hire out his law firm as an ethics adviser to guide Blagojevich who is also under probe by the feds.

After Thompson left office, Kjellander benefited hugely from dealings with Republicans Jim Edgar and Ryan. He was Ryan’s choice for national committeeman. In that role, he succeeded in getting Judy Baar Topinka, the last survivor of the old Thompson-Edgar-Ryan crowd to run in a losing effort for governor, Topinka actually receiving fewer votes this year than her nemesis Alan Keyes did against Barack Obama in 2004 when Topinka publicly labeled Keyes “a disaster.”

But now, while Ryan is heading to jail and Thompson, at age 70, is thinking about retiring, Bob Kjellander is warmly serving as Illinois consultant to the Carlyle Group, the Washington, D. C.-based firm with at least $44.3 billion of equity capit al under management. It employs what it calls more than 300 investment professionals in 114 countries, which takes its name from its first meeting place where wheelers dealt themselves in, at the Carlyle in New York City.

For a one-time driver for Dick Ogilvie, Kjellander has moved into high company—consultant to one that owns rental car company Hertz, Dunkin Brands (of which Dunkin Doughnuts are a part), Baskin-Robbins, sizable pieces of Casema, a Dutch company and all of Insight Communications, the ninth largest cable company in the U. S. along with controlling interests in several military contractors. The Saudi Arabian relatives of Osama bin Laden were prominent investors in Carlyle until October, 2001 when the heat from 9/11 pushed the family to sell it investment back to the firm.

In fact, the bipartisan-friendly status of Carlyle Republicans and Democrats which typifies much of U. S. investment has become similar to state political dealings. Which is seriously troubling to Illinois conservative Republicans as state politics becomes blurred beyond recognition of what is Republican and what is Democrat.

Carlyle is a living, breathing hissing zoo snake-house of wriggling, entwining and cooperating Democrats and Republicans. The corporation is stuffed to the gills with nodding and often-agreeing ex-officials who served many administrations. A huge bipartisan panel of business types are or were associated with Carlyle—and they range from establishment Republicans to extreme lefty Democrats who do not wish the U. S. well in its foreign dealings.

Examples: Former president George H. W. Bush who served as paid senior adviser; George W. Bush, who served on the board until he resigned to run for governor of Texas; G. Allen Andreas, chairman of Archer-Daniels-Midland; George Soros, billionaire and left-wing political contributor who funds the most virulent anti-U. S. propaganda; James Baker III, former secretary of state under George H. W. Bush; John Major, former Tory British prime minister who was chairman of Carlyle-Europe; Richard Darman, a Rabbi’s son who became OMB director under the senior Bush; Frank Carlucci, former U. S. Secretary of Defense and close friend of Donald Rumsfeld; Mack McLarty, White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton. When Cong. Rahm Emanuel leaves public life, one Carlyle officer told me it is likely he will receive an offer to serve in a high post for the corporation.

To all of the foregoing and future money sharks, consultant Robert Kjellander is distinctly a tiny minnow indeed. When this reporter had lunch with him some time ago, he played completely the good old boy who lives the simple life of multi-millionaire in southern downstate Springfield. He has the twang and the wide grin. A Lutheran who says he’s pro-life, he’s married to a Catholic who definitely is, he says. “I really believe in the principles of Jim Edgar,” he told me about the former governor who is pro-choice. “But on the other hand, I’m pro-life.” He also made no bones about the fact he was a backer of Judy Baar Topinka. “Look at her record,” he said. “She’ll get a lot of Democratic cross-over votes.”

But Catholic pro-abort Topinka may have but she only got less than half of the Republican base which she alienated by playing her accordion at gay rights rallies, supporting abortion rights and refusing to back the proposed marriage amendment. Now she’s gone, never to return: among the last of the pro-abort “moderate” Republican Mohicans.

And as Illinoisans look at the increasingly merging two party system into one Big Government party, they are slowly beginning to understand from looking at the nature of Carlyle just why Bob Kjellander is being protected by so many important people. Not long ago, former U. S. Senator Peter Fitzgerald, a Catholic pro-lifer who was scorned by Kjellander and a group of “moderate” Republicans for opposing George Ryan’s deals, spoke in Chicago about his experiences trying to get an outsider appointed as U. S. Attorney here in order to break the “Combine” two-party hold over such appointments that favor easy prosecutors.

Fitzgerald said he House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, a “Combine” politician, put the pressure on the White House to block Fitzgerald from submitting a name that would be hostile to “Combine” Republicans and Democrats in Illinois, including Governor George Ryan, an old pal of Hastert’s. Sen. Fitzgerald was called to the White House where Rove told the Senator that the White House would only stand for the Senator naming an Illinois lawyer for the post. Fitzgerald tried to find a qualified Illinois lawyer for the job who wasn’t close to the “Combine” but couldn’t. Instead he named on his own—without White House or Rove’s approval—Patrick Fitzgerald (no relation) who had no known associations with Chicago or Illinois. This outraged the White House and Dennis Hastert. It also prompted the newly-named GOP state chairman, Judy Baar Topinka, to refuse to endorse Fitzgerald for reelection when she appeared on my ABC radio program. From all indications, Karl Rove’s best friend, Bob Kjellander was working the highest levels of the federal government in opposition to Peter Fitzgerald’s appointment of an outside prosecutor.

Kjellander gets along with Rove and the White House and with Democrats whom he serves. Democrats are pleased because he may provide interesting insights into GOP philosophy. Republicans are pleased because he gives huge contributions from earnings made by fees through service to Democratic interests. From the Bush administration there is not even the feeblest disclaimer of Kjellander. Kjellander appears to be every establishment Republican and Democrat’s boy.

That’s the way it has been. But maybe not for long.

Republican conservatives are determined to get Kjellander out of his Republican swivel-chair if it takes a derrick and block and tackle to do it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Personal Asides: Mea Maxima Culpa—Michael Richards Confesses all to a Bored Jesse Jackson…Getting There with Wife Driving is Twice the Fun.

Michael Richards.

If you are a big celebrity name and you say the “n” word you must go immediately to confession to the Reverend Jesse Louis Jackson who with his stage pout before the media will consider whether or not you are contrite and deserve absolution. Which is what the man who played Kramer on “Seinfeld” did. He told Jackson he didn’t know what came over him in his outburst at the Comedy Club. He had never used that term before—ever. Jackson, in recounting it later, said he was sure Richards had. That may mean that as a fellow racial explective user, Jackson knows that he himself had used the phrase “Hymietown” before…maybe often… to characterize New York city as the city of Jews. Jackson’s contrition was not presented like Richards did his: but as a general self-absolution politicians make in the middle of a stentorian oration to the Democratic National Convention—“if I have offended any--.”

But the interesting thing in the Richards confession was Jackson’s total disinterest. He spotted the chance to go after bigger game, (a) monetary enrichment which is always tops on the Reverend’s agenda and (b) politics. Jackson turned the subject over to the fact that Hollywood and TV entertainment has a dearth of black faces…forgetting to mention Oprah, of course…but sending a hint to the forces of TV syndication that he, Jackson, is available for another recast of a show he had had earlier and lost due to slumped ratings. The second: Richards had not yet begun to wipe away his tears of remorse when Jackson changed the subject to an even worse crime than Richards had committed: the years ago stupid salute to the 100-year-old Strom Thurmond by Senator Trent Lott who did not use the “n” word or anything like it. Lott is now being partially rehabilitated by becoming the Republican Whip. The salute performed the good deed of taking Lott out as Senate majority leader. He is a lousy spokesman anyhow but is a superb nose-counter…which he is doing now under one who is a great spokesman, Mitch McConnell.

Getting There.

Whenever my wife, Lillian, and I go to the same destination, she drives. That has led some to imagine that in my present stage of decrepitude I have lost the ability to determine where I am going. Well, they are wrong. As they should know, whenever I have to go somewhere alone and must go by automobile, I drive myself. And I usually get where I’m going: usually.

Which leads me to recount a basic secret about how our marriage has succeeded for twenty of its total 47 years. First, we love each other dearly…second, we have just about the same interests: I say “just about” because she is not entirely as gripped by politics or history as I and I am not nearly as schooled in English poetry as she. She is far more religious than I. But don’t discount another subordinate but in the long-run very important practice we adopted twenty years ago.

Our only long-range point of contention was how I drive. I think when I drive but not about where I am going with the result that I rarely know how to get to my objective. A friend of mine had a device many years ago which he would plug in when he drove out of his driveway. A woman’s voice would tell him how to get to his destination: “turn right here…now at the next corner make a left…and there you are, at your goal.” I said I had another female voice directing me to my destination but it says: “turn left…no, left, I say! What’s the matter with you? No, no, no: listen to me! No, don’t back up—go to the next crossing and turn around. You see where I’m pointing? There! There, I say! Now go! Not so fast we want to get there in one piece! Here’s where you turn! No, wait a minute, there’s a truck behind you! Now you may go!” By the time we would arrive, I would be refreshed from not having to think where I was going but she would be exhausted.

In 1986 we determined that life was more important than she giving me these instructions and I obeying them. So we came up with the proposal that when we are both in the car, she should drive and I will either sit there and watch the scenery or will read. It has worked fine. In fact, I have discovered that I would much rather have her drive than not, which doesn’t mean very much because by now when we are together she will drive notwithstanding. Now when I am to drive alone I (a) miss not being on the passenger side and (b) not hearing her instructions. I am thinking of asking her to record just a sample from the old days to keep me alert—some generic commands: “Why are you dawdling along? You can’t think of other things and drive, remember that! Now, slow up: you are not going to a fire.”

But I will not ask her to do this. Instead when I drive alone there will be silence from the passenger side and I frankly miss her direction. But you have to give up some things in order to have a happy marriage.

Good News and Bad in the Illinois Election.

[From an article in The Wanderer, the nation’s oldest national Catholic Weekly].

By Thomas F. Roeser

CHICAGO—The good news is that the Illinois Republican party is on life support. Literally. Life support: in that it has replaced that venerable supporter of unborn life, Henry Hyde, with his personal choice to continue his legacy: State Senator Peter Roskam.

And the bad news is also that the Illinois GOP is so weak it is on life support, even at the point of gurgling its last death gasp. The state (a) reelected a Democratic governor who is under serious probe by the feds for corruption, (b) elected as state treasurer a Democratic banker the scion of a clout-heavy Greek family, who at age 30 has no political experience, just wads of dough (which secured him the endorsement of Barack Obama, the U.S. Senate’s ethics model), the winner an insouciant youngster who has admitted granting loans to Outfit figures, defending his action by averring the mobsters were good loan prospects.

. In addition, (c) voters of Cook county, a jurisdiction with a roughly 60-40 ratio of white to black, voted for patronage first (either to protect their county jobs, family jobs or contracts) and next voted black skin pigmentation, electing as president of the Cook county board a proven incompetent, an African American Catholic pro-abort alderman who will not even hold a seat on the board he will reputedly govern over a white Republican board member, a Catholic pro-lifer, with an encyclopedic knowledge of county programs and a vision of political reform.

But it could have been a lot worse. The bright spot here was the election of state Senator Peter Roskam to the House from the suburban 6th district (the area surrounding O’Hare field) to succeed Hyde, the Catholic pro-lifer who by all odds has been the ranking hero on moral issues—unborn life, anti-euthanasia, embryonic stem cell--in the House for the past 32 years.

The young Anglican (who has criticized his flabby, liberal Episcopal church and affiliated with the traditional, more conservative church of England) is almost as close a clone to Hyde as can be found. The go-to legislator on social issues in Springfield, he won election over the toughest opponent Illinois Democratic strategist Rahm Emanuel thought he could find: a charming, female Army major in Iraq who as a helicopter pilot survived a mortar attack that took her two legs. She is Tammy Duckworth, born in Hawaii who gained national attention in a campaign orchestrated by the perversely brilliant Emanuel who is chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign committee. He made only two mistakes, borne of his over-enthusiasm for ideology. He newly-minted Duckworth as a pro-abort and elbowed out of contention an attractive woman candidate who had given Hyde a fairly tough battle in 2004, spurring anger and repercussions among Democrats. The irony is that by cracking too many heads in the district to get Duckworth elected, the abrasive Emanuel may have sealed the doom of his candidate in the general election.

But the 6th district was the only bright spot for Republicans. The 8th district which had been represented so long by Philip Crane, who had caused it to be neglected by allowing himself to go to seed through wantonly careless personal habits, continued with Democrat Melissa Bean who won over a valiant pro-lifer, Republican investment banker and good Lutheran layman, David McSweeney.

Roskam led Duckworth, a beguilingly charming candidate, who evoked tears and cheers as she campaigned on two metal stilts the surgeons gave her for legs, 51.5% to 48.5%. The eighty-two year-old Hyde, confined to a wheel-chair, made a few appearances for Roskam but will be able to retire now with surety that his seat will continue to be filled by a bright advocate for life.

In a sense the story of election day 2006 here in Illinois was like the words told me in 1954 by the last Union veteran of the Civil War whom I interviewed for the Associated Press in a story that ran nationally. Confined to bed with an IV up his nose supplying him with oxygen, a hose running through his arm and clappers nearby to jump start his failing heart, 107-year-old Albert Woolson of Duluth, was not particularly interested in talking to the press. But, propped up with pillows so he could breathe, he looked at me with near-sightless saucer-blue eyes when I asked him the usual journalistic cliché: what was the most notable thing that has happened to you in those 107 years? He croaked: “That I have survived!” It trumped anything else that happened to him along the way…from Gettysburg where he was a 14-year-old drummer boy…past the Gilded Age of railroad barons in the era of Grant and Garfield…past Grover Cleveland’s depression…the McKinley boom…the Spanish-American war…the First World War…the 20’s boom…the 30’s depression…the Second World War and the Korean War. He repeated: “Did you get what I said?”

I did indeed. The Illinois Republican party is in the same fix and much of it has an Illinois connection. First, there was the issue of the Iraq War led by Illinois’ Donald Rumsfeld. We first met when, about the same age, we were working across the hall as junior aides to different Congressmen. Then the girls called him “Pretty Donnie,” an ex-Navy jet pilot, who had scored top honors at Princeton and was a national wrestling champ. We’d eat lunch together in the House cafeteria every day. He’d always pick up the same thing; fruit, cottage cheese and douse it with ketchup. When I asked him what was wrong with a little variety, he said, “It’s easier this way. I’ve made a decision on what I eat for lunch and see no reason to change.” That told me a whole lot about him which later came home to me during his years of adamant refusal to change a whit about the war.

Second, there was the failure of the Republican House to live up to its conservative mandate. A major blame comes to Illinois. The House machinery was run by a group of Illinois staffers hired by the accidental Speaker Denny Hastert about whom I reported before. Denny was a fry cook in his family’s Fox River Valley restaurant and a small town high school wrestling coach who also taught a bit of history and took a summer class I taught for high school instructors’ brush-up at Loyola. Rumsfeld has certainty but has thought about things. Not Denny. He moves his eyebrows up and down, twirls his glasses, leans forward and looks like he’s about to say something meaningful but never does. You think he will say something but he’s just trying to clear his throat.

He went to Wheaton evangelical college but didn’t absorb any ideals beyond the George T. Babbitt Rotary Club platitudes of Kendall county. To him, the important thing isn’t conservatism but Republicanism which means hang in long enough and your turn will come around. Denny’s Republicanism means getting elected by pledging local pork for the towns in his district and reelected by loading on the pork with earmarks that everybody, Democrat and Republican, nods and winks assent about and getting credit for it back home and his staffers saw to it that this was done.

Many people tried to tell Denny that a homosexual Republican was flirting on i-mail with boy pages but Denny, who to his credit comes from a Norman Rockwell era in the Fox Valley, raised his eyebrows and twirled his spectacles meaningfully and did nothing: paralyzed because he didn’t want to embarrass his party. That’s what is meant by being a party loyalist here.

Third there is the charter membership so many Republican players hold in a group my friend John Kass at the Chicago Tribune calls: “the Combine.” “The Combine” is the unique arrangement of Republican and Democratic corporatists which has no formal head but is typified by lobbyist, ex-Republican pro-abort governor Jim Thompson. In the latest biography of Conrad Black, the indicted ex-“Sun-Times” owner, the author says Black took the measure of the former governor, early---sensing that he wanted to become very, very rich—and named him to his Hollinger board where Thompson was put in charge of the audit, agreeing to sign away all reservations to ingenious money maneuvers with which Black milked the newspaper company for the chance to tinkle sherry glasses with fellows Henry Kissinger and Richard Perle. Thompson spent more than $20 million of his law firm’s money trying to defend his old political colleague George Ryan and, having failed at that, retired as chairman with one last gasp: trying to convince the state pension board not to take away Ryan’s pension from his earlier state employment—under the theory that there is no proof Ryan was a thief in those earlier days. Thompson is the crown prince of the “Combine.”

Others are: Protestant Republican pro-abort Sam Skinner, known as “Mr. Warmth,” a host of other former Republican office-holders and all their business and labor patrons whereby everybody pitches in to get projects and goodies for Illinois with lots of interest-bearing rewards for themselves. They join with current Democratic and Republican office-holders. There’s no room for ideological differences or philosophy with everybody working so hard to get theirs. After a few years they all begin to look and sound alike. The two parties have taken on the same grey “Where’s mine?” pallor. But for Republicans indissolubility with liberalism is fatal.

Third, with the two parties almost indistinguishable…with most leaders agreeing on subsidies, grants and big construction projects like the O’Hare expansion as well as abortion, homosexual rights, embryonic stem cells and the like…the Republican party establishment undertook to nominate for governor a charter female member of the “Combine,” Judy Baar Topinka. She was the Republican state treasurer, a Catholic pro-abort and good friend of former governor George Ryan, a Methodist pro-abort who cut a deal with the Dems to win reelection for Democratic Congressman Bill Lipinski some years ago by causing sample ballots emanating from her township committee office to be marked for Lipinski. Ryan will be going away for a six year study sabbatical at Oxford (a minimum security federal prison in Oxford, Wisconsin where Dan Rostenkowski, a Democrat pro-abort matriculated). Needless to say, it’s not the venerable university in England.

Some members of the “Combine” were in agreement that the current Democratic governor had to go because he is flaky. The media felt that way, too. Afflicted with the Serbian name Rod Blagojevich (bla-goy-a-vitch), this mop-haired, pro-abort former pizza delivery man got a law degree and married the daughter of a prime Chicago Catholic pro-abort Democratic ward boss. Okay so far but he violated a sacred trust: the belief that a Democratic ward boss can deliver for his family. Blagojevich’s father-in-law touted to his cousin that he could exempt the cousin’s land-fill from environmental regs. In one of the rare times, Blagojevich said no to his old mentor-father-in-law, he did now: which started a feud whereby the old man squealed that this ungrateful governor kid was cutting other deals with prime financial backers. It got the interest of the feds

Thereupon came the suggestion in both Democratic and Republican circles that Blagojevich will have to go because he is “not reliable” and “endangering the state’s reputation.” So fragments of both wings of the “Combine” settled on a Republican who they felt was safe, hospitable to them, could defeat the governor, serve only one term, raise income taxes and not run for a second term to allow the Irish Princess AG step-daughter of state House Speaker Mike Madigan (himself a charter “Combine” member) to be elected and run a trouble-free government.

The Republican they had in mind: Topinka, 62, who narrowly won the Republican primary against a pro-life social conservative when the pro-life vote was split because of a intransigence of a young lawmaker to withdraw in favor of a united field. Huzza, the “Combine” shouted: We now have a Republican candidate who reaches out to a broad constituency, not like that horrible Alan Keyes in 2004! Sounded good except for one thing—Topinka went down like a ton of bricks and got fewer votes in 2006 than Keyes did in 2004: Keyes—1,390,690 and Topinka 1,332,735. More than 50% of the Republican base, principally conservatives, was turned off by her.

Fourth, there’s the Rahm Emanuel factor, named after one I have told you before, the lean, spare Congressman from Illinois, grand vizier of Democratic House elections, who looks like Shakespeare’s Cassius with the same hungry look. No doubt about it, Emanuel was pushy enough to find attractive candidates across the country and deserves some credit.

Here it is appropriate to ask: Is there truth to the old adage that you’re responsible for the face you have after forty? When I first met him, he was a slim, lithe, non-gay former ballet dancer-turned-fund-raiser who was so imbued with idealism that he went to Israel as a volunteer stretcher-bearer when it was being socked by Iraq’s scud missiles in 1991 with a seamless face like Jackie Coogan’s in the film “The Kid” which he stole from established star Charlie Chaplin. But twenty years have left their mark as he moved from fund-raiser for a Lefty cause, for Illinois Dem pols including Robert Cramer, husband of Rep. Jan Schakowsky who went to jail for check fraud in operating a Lefty “reform group” of which Ms. Schakowsky was the un-indicted treasurer; for Mayor Richard Daley where Emanuel hung out with top aides Jeremiah Joyce and Tim Degnan; to Little Rock as operative for Bill Clinton, conspiring with James Carville and Stan Greenberg; to political director at the Clinton White House; to lead apologist for Clinton after his boss, having had fellatio performed on him, lied under oath about his involvement with an intern…

…who threatened retaliation against those who brought impeachment to Clinton—won his threat against a cowering Trent Lott for something he purportedly did as a cheer-leader at Old Miss, who threatened an adamant Henry Hyde and carried out the retaliation, ruining his name concerning an affair 40 years earlier, news of which conveyed to his children and grandchildren; investment banker on the make, multi-millionaire, last-minute usurper in a congressional district that belonged to a woman grass-roots activist and legislator; beneficiary of an ingest of city patronage workers on his behalf in his first race so ordered by a deputy water commissioner, Donald Tomczak, who is going to jail; Congressman and head of the Dems’ campaign committee and now chairman of the House Democratic Caucus .

His cheeks are sucked in like he’s an advance man for a famine, showing the hollows of his cheekbones and his eyes are underscored with deep blue lines that say he needs sleep; his hair has turned salt-and-pepper. The idealism has long faded. That kind of life will do it to a man.

That said, on election day we reelected a prospective crook as Democratic governor; elected a mob loan broker as Democratic state treasurer. And elected as president of the vitally important Cook county board of commissioners which runs a $8 billion government, a likely incompetent—the shaky future of whom will do African Americans no good. Understand, Illinois has a long record of politicians bequeathing jobs to their children and there’s no reason why a Chicago black can’t play that game. But the others are relatively competent, some even able. Former Cook county assessor Tom Hynes, a Catholic pro-lifer, used his contacts to promote his son, Danny, a Catholic pro-abort, as Comptroller (distinction on life and death means very little to Illinois pols: acquiescence to pro-abort when needed to get elected is taken as realism to them)…state House Speaker Mike Madigan, a Catholic Democrat pro-lifer, used his office to elect his step-daughter, Lisa, a Catholic Democrat pro-abort, as state attorney general. Congressman Bill Lipinski, a Catholic Democrat pro-lifer resigned his post in his solidly conservative blue-collar southwest side district so the Democratic committee could rubberstamp his son, Dan, a Catholic Democrat pro-lifer who despite decades in Tennessee is learning the Illinois ropes with his father’s tutelage very well, thank you.

Along comes Democrat Catholic pro-abort Cook county board president John Stroger, 74, who suffered a serious stroke. The Stroger family put the severely disabled Stroger on ice so to speak so as to forestall a primary election for the job; then when a deadline passed held a pen in his shaky hands with the family and key Democratic favorites guiding the signature so that he could resign, allowing the Democratic county committee to follow Rich Daley’s order and pick Stroger’s son Todd, 44, a man so unable to muster a guess about how he would run the county that the media soon labeled Todd “toddler” and some media types believe resembles the character “Urkel,” the nerdy neighbor kid with huge spectacles in the TV situation comedy, “Family Matters,” about a middle-class black Chicago family. The look-alike nature of Stroger and Urkel is remarkable.

No one—including the Democrats—make the claim that Todd Stroger is anything more than a bewildered Dauphin prince, not unlike the son of France’s Charles VI in Joan of Arc’s time…the one played in the 1948 film by Jose Ferrar. He appeared on my ABC radio show three weeks after his rubberstamping by the Democratic committee and, smiling shyly, acknowledged that he had not taken the trouble to crack in big county budget book, saying he would allow his staff to do that for him. The Cook county Republicans nominated an able man, a lawyer and articulate expert on the budget…yet not immune to a certain vindictiveness and anger…Tony Peraica but to no effect. The suspicion has grown that if they had nominated Patrick Fitzgerald, the nationally-known U. S. prosecutor who is probing county government, it would be to no effect and Urkel, er, Todd Stroger, would win.

So much for 2006. Next year is the Chicago mayoralty and two anti-Daley candidates have already withdrawn: Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. and Rep. Luis Gutierrez. That leaves the way clear for the reelection of Mayor Daley. But only U. S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald knows if Mayor Richard M. Daley will be around for 2007—or whether he will be preparing to defend himself from the prospect of matriculation at Oxford (Wisconsin) where he would join his best friend, ex-Governor George Ryan and other “Combine” inmates.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Personal Asides: Rosalie Doherty and the Choice for Life…Newt, His Genius-Half Now Dominant, Gives the Iraq Study Group a Brilliant Test.

st pats
Rosalie Doherty.

Sunday afternoon we went to a truly memorable affair. My old buddy Jay Doherty, president of the City Club (of which I am its chairman) christened his second child, Rosalie, at Old St. Patrick’s near the Loop. Old St. Patrick’ is the mother church of the Cook county Democratic party, which is fitting since Jay, by his own proud testimony, has never voted Republican in his life. Looking around in the church and at the reception at Gibson’s later, composed of so many of the A-List of the Democratic party and liberaldom, I think I can honestly say that my wife and I were the only Republicans…well, perhaps we include Jay’s father who couldn’t have been elected years ago as a McHenry county board member had he been a Democrat—but I suspect party identification for him at the time was a justifiable and prudent camouflage. Just about all the crowned heads of Cook county’s only viable political party—the Democratic—were there: including assessor Jim Houlihan, Alderman Burt Natarus a host of other public officials, scores of fund-raisers and contributors, many foot-soldiers and the twin leaders of the “Sun-Times,” Chicago’s official Democratic newspaper of record, John Cruickshank and Michael Cooke. If the roof of Gibson’s had fallen in on those crowded at the bar and supping delicious roast beef and turkey, Mayor Daley would declare a week of mourning for the crème of his party would have been expunged.

What made the christening and attendant party ineffably memorable was the fact that Rosalie is a gorgeous child who will need assistance since she was born with a slight imperfection…but nevertheless indelible…that will require her to receive her parents’ care for so long as they shall live and beyond…in fact, as long as she shall live. In this day and age where our own earthly convenience is everything, secular moderns, upon receiving early news that their unborn child might not be perfect, have the option of abortion to spare themselves of troublesome rearing, using as excuse the euphemism that only perfectly healthy lives deserve to be brought into the world. That is not the way with the Dohertys who have accepted the tender responsibility it entails and who invited all of us to share their joy of parenthood.

Let me tell you that Colleen Doherty, Jay’s wife, is a special treasure, she sharing with us her beautiful philosophy as tears of joy and resoluteness flooded her deep and exquisitely beautiful eyes. Her testimony on the support Jay gave to her when they learned the news came with such beautiful force that you could hear the clichéd veritable pin drop in the place. Sister Rosemary Connelly, the famed Chicago nun who runs the highly-acclaimed “Misericordia Heart of Mercy” which is dedicated to help children and adults with developmental disabilities, spoke in a moving way about the blessing that Rosalie Doherty will make in leading Jay and Colleen to heaven—where Rosalie herself is assured to go as the beneficiary of lifelong innocence.

It was a memorable, life fulfilling and inspiring afternoon which renewed our gratitude that we know Jay, his beautiful wife, their healthy 2-1/2 year old son Jay, Jr. and the matchless, auburn-haired newly born Rosalie. These days when many proclaim themselves pro-life…and some truly are…it is more important than ever to recognize that Jay has always accepted the Democratic party’s mantra on pro-choice—but given the choice God presented to them, he and Colleen opted for life. Their shining-eyed little Rosalie validates the beauty of their choice.

Newt’s Test.

Long ago when he was a back-bencher in the House…and came to Chicago to address a small group at my Republican Assembly of Illinois…Newt Gingrich was already carrying the tattered mantle that Winston Churchill wore in the 1930s: that of an adventurer, a dangerous man because he was imbued with ideas rather than shouting comfortable clichés. He was strikingly on target when he spoke to the RAI that day. While far from the House leadership, he spoke of the need for his party to develop a comprehensive blueprint to take over the House…which later came to be known as the Contract with America. As he ticked off the various issues, it was clear he could become the brilliant legislative leader America needed then.

He joined the leadership in a putsch where he dethroned Speaker Jim Wright for profiting unduly on a book. Unbelievably, later, as Speaker, Newt tried to sell his audio-video TV college courses and books to earn himself remuneration part-time while he sat in the presiding chair, the eccentric factor came out…defending himself by saying that he had written a truly brilliant opus where Wright had not. True, Newt, but the distinctions were not apparent to the outside world.

An eccentric affair and marriage number three sealed his fate. Now he is back at the genius mode again: the only public official who has issued the congressionally-supported Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group with a series of questions that go to the heart of their inquiry. Baker-Hamilton was concocted by a group of weakling Republicans and Democrats in Congress who want the pragmatic magician James Baker III to spin a convoluted strategy to get us out of the problems or Iraq and allow us to fail to carry through on our responsibilities. As with everything Jim Baker has done, his image glows foremost, evidenced by the Sunday newspapers where he is cited as the potential wonder-worker who will unscramble the omelet that George W. Bush has dished up.

Yesterday, Newt asked eleven questions of the Baker-Hamilton group, composed of such powerful foreign policy experts as Sandra Day O’Connor and Vernon Jordan. Question 1: Does the Commission have a vision for success in the larger context against the dictatorships and fanatics who want to destroy us? Anyone who knows a thing about Jim Baker understands that he doesn’t and it doesn’t. The fact that Iraq is a single campaign within a global war against Islam and dictatorships that seek nuclear and biological weapons hasn’t penetrated to Baker who is a short-term fixer. Question 2: Does the Commission recognize that the second campaign in Iraq has been a failure? Just as the first, which removed Saddam Hussein, was a brilliant success, the second, to provide security to the nation, has been thus far a failure. Unless Baker-Hamilton recognize the failure of the second phase it cannot recommend a successful third campaign.

Question 3: Does the Commission recognize the scale of change we will need to adopt to be effective in a world of enemies willing to kill themselves in order to kill us? This would require more than changes in the military but how we use our intelligence, economic strength and communications to achieve victory recognizing that there is at present a shattered system with many players scrambling to enhance their positions. Question 4: Does the Commission understand the consequences of defeat in Iraq? importance of victory? It is almost a surety that Jim Baker, the short-term fixer with scotch-tape and paper clips, does not. We are involved in a worldwide power struggle with those who want to defeat us: Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea and with movements that want to kill us: al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas. Time is not on our side but on the side of our enemies seeking nuclear and biological weapons to use against the civilized world.

Question 5: Does the Commission understand the importance of victory? Baker has been called in to be the architect of a quick and easy retreat and victory is not in the cards for him…because his entire career has been antithetical to such absolutes, relying on the abjectly manipulative.

Question 6: Does the Commission define what it means to win or simply find a face-saving to lose This is the biggest question of all and the one that the media understand inherently that Baker has not the slightest interest in. He has been appointed by Congress and aided by the George H. W. Bush people to scuttle the war and find a politically dexterous means of losing. Question 7: Does the Commission acknowledge that winning requires the need to think regionally and even globally? No, for reasons applicable to #5 and $6. Question 8: Any proposal to ask Iran and Syria to help is a sign of defeat: does the Commission recognize this? Not in the slightest since these strategies are already baked in the Baker cake. Question 9: Does the Commission believe we can do a deal with Iran? Baker, a born Neville Chamberlain who ruled for leaving Saddam Hussein where he was under G.H.W. Bush, believes so as do the compliant (at this stage) media.

Question 10: Does the Commission believe we are more clever than our enemies? Unquestionably: Baker is supremely confident as was Neville Chamberlain via-a-vis Hitler, Chamberlain believing Hitler was a dumb paper-hanger but was hood-winked by ill-kept pacts and solemn hand-shakes. Question 11: Does the Commission recognize the importance of working with centrist and conservative Democratic majorities on a strategy of victory? Baker’s habits in the past have been to compromise with the Left which are where the power fulcrum of liberaldom is located. His earlier deals on the economy…where he prevailed on George H. W. Bush to break his no-tax hike pledge and foreign policy where he prevailed to save Saddam Hussein. These issues have won him short-term salutes by the media, which is of greatest importance to him: his sense of where he belongs in history. Everything with Baker is short-term because he cannot think beyond next week.

While he lusts after compromise to assuage the Left, cooperation with the Democrats’ Blue Dogs is possible and certainly more realistic: although that is not where the media are interested, something of great moment to Baker who wants his reputation to rest on his role as the Great Compromiser.

As a preface to his eleven questions, historian Gingrich recast the problems of George Washington at Valley Forge where his forces had dwindled to only 4,000 effective men, survivors of a total of 6,000—the remainder too sick to go into battle. Faced with declining morale and desertions, the collapse of political will and overwhelming sense of despair as well as a revolt in the Continental Congress, Washington determined to cross an icy river to take the battle on Christmas Eve to a professional opponent. It led to a smashing victory on Christmas Day and a surge of enlistment of volunteers which spurred him to win the second engagement at Princeton. Gingrich asks this: If there had been a Baker-Hamilton Commission set up then, would it have emboldened Washington to strike on that icy Christmas Eve? You know it would not.

These eleven questions…served up by Gingrich in his genius mode… should not just be given to the shaky, inexpert Baker-Hamilton Commission but to President Bush whose own morale may be uncertain (who could deny it with the battering he’s been taking?) and the general public. The great buildup the Commission has received…locally from our local establishment press Washington pundit wanna-be, Michael Tackett of the “Tribune” who echoes his model, David Broder (never in doubt but seldom right), requires that Gingrich’s eleven questions be studied and circulated. In fact, if he keeps this up and steers away from the flaky stuff, Gingrich may succeed in being an indispensable resource for 2008—if not as president, at least as a key fomenter of strategy. Nuts he was sometimes in the past…as was Churchill—but not now.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Personal Asides: The Simon Mystique…Milton Friedman’s Revolutionary (for the time) Economics.


Simon Mystique.

Saturday, the “Tribune” had a laudatory front-page article on how Sheila Simon, who is running for mayor of Carbondale, Illinois, is prepping to carry on her father’s name. The article fairly sang with hosannas to her father and his honesty. I suppose that’s right. I knew Paul Simon beginning when he was in the state House. He was honest. That’s all. Maybe that’s enough, I don’t know. Looking at his bio in here is what they say about him. Or rather what Simon’s idolaters wrote about him as Wikipedia prints what you write without revision.

He wore a bow-tie and horn-rimmed glasses. He was a crusading newspaperman in Troy, Illinois and fought the Madison county gambling interests. There: that’s doing something. That got him an invitation to testify before the Kefauver committee. That’s doing something as well.

He went to the army in the Korean War, came out, got elected as a state Rep. Then as a state Rep he wrote an article in “Harper’s” that said many of his colleagues were corrupt. They probably were; Paul wasn’t. But it accomplished what he wanted: got him press. He ran for the State Senate and got more press. Didn’t accomplish anything in either house but--. Ran for lieutenant governor and got elected with Dick Ogilvie as governor. Cooperated with Ogilvie to pass the state income tax. Then he ran against Ogilvie anyhow. Lost to Dan Walker.

Ran for the U. S. House and got in. Did nothing there but issue press releases. Ran for the Senate and got in. His record of accomplishment is very sparse. As a Senator, he said he was proud…as he once told me…to have voted against the Reagan tax cuts which spurred the economy, rejecting the theory that a growing economy can cut the deficit—as it has…economists telling us that as a percentage of the GDP the deficit is well within our ability to manage. Most economists would say he was wrong about that—but right as an ideologist of the Left. Something else he told me at a Quaker cocktail party in Washington after he had been elected rocked me on my heels—but more about that later.

What else did Paul do? He ran for president in his first Senate term—the very thing he berated Chuck Percy for doing. No policy ever attached to his name. As Senator, he “overhauled the college student loan program to allow students and their families to borrow directly from the federal government thus saving money by not using private banks to disperse the loans.” That figures; he always came down on direct payments from the government rather than the private sector playing a role. He promoted the military response to Somalia during the presidency of George H. W. Bush. That got headlines. Whether it propelled Bush to do what he did, no one knows. He was an outspoken critic of Bill Clinton’s timid response to Rwandan genocide resulting in the deaths of up to one million people (which Clinton himself called his biggest mistake as president). That got headlines. He joined with Bill Jeffords in actively lobbying Clinton into mounting a humanitarian mission to Rwanda during the genocide. No one knows whether that was instrumental in changing Clinton or not. But it got headlines.

What else? He co-authored the Balanced Budget Amendment with Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. That amendment didn’t make it out of the Congress but he co-authored it. And it got headlines. A non-lawyer member of Senate Judiciary, he voted against all Reagan and G. H. W. Bush nominees to the Supreme Court. He supported all dove proposals in foreign policy…nuclear freeze etc….during the Cold War. Then he decided not to run for the Senate again.

He became director of the Southern Illinois University Public Policy Institute. In that capacity he denounced the death penalty, tried to end trade restrictions with Cuba, promoted an amendment to the Constitution to end the Electoral College. Another amendment to limit the president to one six-year term. Then the Wikipedia says he advocated “fostering political courage among his students.” Hmmm. I guess that refers to Simon’s own liberal concept of courage…and not his sudden change from pro-life as a U. S. Congressman where he represented a conservative southern Illinois district…overnight to pro-choice in running for the Senate. That looks like squaring your principles to fit the views of the populace at a particular moment. I don’t think Paul would put it that way. He would say…as his successor Dick Durbin does…that he “grew” and his concept “evolved.”

That’s all in the Wikipedia, folks—and the Simon people wrote it themselves. The “Tribune” reporter didn’t even write the record up, just assumed we all know Simon was great. Lazy journalism. Although he was smart enough to disown conservative social views to help him move from a conservative downstate district to the U. S. Senate…it could be said he never accomplished a definable thing in the legislature, U. S. House or Senate for which he can be remembered—or in his short-range run for the presidency. This isn’t in Wikipedia but he kept an beaten up portable typewriter at his Senate office desk to symbolize his old-fashioned small town heritage. but beyond imagery achieved nothing of substance. He was wrong on foreign policy, wrong on economic policy (having voted against the crucial Reagan tax cuts), wrong on social policy. On Judiciary he is remembered for asking a nominee to the Supreme Court if he had ever been to an Indian reservation…saying that he should because “you’ll be a better man for it.” Which caused the entire panel to sit in stunned disbelief.

Compare Saint Paul Simon with Billy Stratton about whom I write below. Not so idealistic was Billy Stratton: no saint, surely; honest in that he wasn’t on the take. And a very effective governor…I even say a great one. He was a good friend of mine; he was a guest lecturer for my college courses a number of times and gave me insights such as I would never have had without his guidance. RIP Billy. You belong with Richard Yates, Richard Oglesby, John Peter Altgeld, Frank O. Lowden and Henry Horner…that’s all…in the pantheon of fine Illinois chief executives. Paul Simon, you were a different kind of cat. Rest in peace, too.

Oh, I was going to tell you his remark made to me in Washington at a Quaker Oats cocktail party we threw to welcome newly elected lawmakers. Reagan had just defeated Fritz Mondale. Senator-elect Simon said this to me: “Roeser, think a minute. It would be impossible to do this but just consider for a minute. If you gave all of Reagan’s views to Mondale and had Mondale say them, and all of Mondale’s views to Reagan and had Reagan say them, who do you think would be elected?” I knew what his answer would be so I pretended I didn’t know. I asked him: who? He said, “Reagan!” Someone interrupted him at that point but I got him to explain. “Simple,” he said. “Reagan is a master communicator and Mondale was not. It’s all in communication.”

I don’t believe that for a moment. Was Reagan that good that he could sell what Mondale was talking about…a tax increase…nuclear freeze…and Mondale that bad that he couldn’t sell conservatism? That was Paul Simon’s view of how Reagan won. Now you tell me in Reader’s Comments.


The great angst about the Iraq War…the public furor that George W. Bush is wrong to stick with it…reminds me of another time when the great liberal public was convinced a president was wrong—only it was on economic policy…and the great liberal talking heads and writing heads were shaking their heads in agreement: conventional wisdom told them that Reagan’s economy…meaning Milton Friedman’s…was wrong. Friedman got the Nobel Prize in 1976 for arguing that the money supply was determinate in economic and inflation fluctuations. By managing the amount of money coursing through a financial system, he said, central banks can control inflation without making costly mistakes. It was an idea he had advocated since the 1950s which repelled central bankers who believed inflation arose from other factors including the influence of unions, corporations or oil-producing countries. A major defender of that view was none other than Friedman’s early mentor, Arthur Burns, Fed chairman from 1970 to 1978. Friedman zinged Burns’ monetary policy which, he said, produced stagflation—a hike in inflation and unemployment. By the time Friedman got the Prize, U. S. unemployment was more than 7% and inflation was spiraling to double-digits.

People began listening to Friedman more after that as he also maintained that policy-makers can’t maintain low unemployment by permitting higher inflation. The test came when Paul Volcker, who became Fed chairman in 1979 (by Carter’s appointment) put the monetarist theory into practice. He adopted money-supply targets that drove interest rates to double-digits, sent the economy into recession but wrung the inflation out of the economy. It proved Friedman right that there was no tradeoff…none at all…between unemployment and inflation. I had the non-opportunity to make a speech at, of all things, a Cedar Rapids Rotary (where we had a plant) and when the question came up on the economy there was a light sprinkle of boos and some hisses when, as an economic amateur, I defended the Reagan economic policies. Just gritting our teeth and waiting for the thing to come around was very unpopular. Those same people today would probably forget or not want to remember that they were hissing a program of a man they have grown to admire.

I am no more a military expert than an economic one—but I tell you the time will come when people will have forgotten…or want to forget…that Bush was so unpopular. Your comments.

Flashback: Dirksen’s Brilliant Testimony Exonerates Stratton but Scandals Unconnected to Him Ended the Career of One of State’s Most Effective Governors.

[Fifty plus years in politics written for my kids and grandchildren].

Billy the Kid Stratton told me that as he sat at the defendant’s table he worried as he saw the glorious old thespian, Everett McKinley Dirksen, bowing and tossing waves to the audience, jury and judge…responding to the affirmation to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but with his famous resonant whispery rumble that nevertheless carried throughout the courtroom: “I do.” Stratton worried that Dirksen was not going to be a smash hit in the Democratic courtroom of heavily Democratic Chicago with a Democratic-appointee federal judge and a jury pool drawn from largely Democratic Chicagoans. Moreover that Dirksen may have become a comic figure to some people. Both ideas were wrong.

Acknowledged as a master craftsman of legislation, even in 1965 Dirksen had become a kind of parody of old-fashioned 4th of July oratory where he had earned the title “the Wizard of Ooze.” Stories about him were magnificent, including the time in 1962 when he was engaged in a fairly heavy cocktail party fund-raiser during his campaign at the side of his veteran aide Harold Rainville…himself as eccentric as Dirksen, a man who walked like a duck because of sore feet and who by dint of years served the senior Senator more as a friend than servant: insisting that when campaign dinners were held he, Rainville, was to sit at the head table. Neither Dirksen nor Rainville were noted for having many staffers around them, Dirksen jotting notes about future engagements and giving them to Rainville who, on very rare occasions when he had one of his two baggy suits sent out to be cleaned, forgot to rescue the missives.

Anyhow, they were at a Dirksen cocktail party for heavy hitters in the Conrad Hilton. Dirksen had always believed that the rural vote…the vote of farmers and small towners in Illinois…could save him from the evil city of Chicago. As they imbibed among friends with Dirksen at his best telling enlarged Senate stories, someone came up to Rainville and whispered in his ear that a major Illinois farm organization was meeting downstairs in the grand ballroom. The messenger checked and said the organization would be delighted to have Dirksen greet them for a minute or two in the ballroom. Dirksen reacted with alacrity. It was reelection time and a convention of several thousand farmers from all over Illinois just a few floors below was duck soup.

As they sped down the corridor to the elevator Rainville briefed Dirksen by saying, “now this is the Illinois Farm Bureau. Remember: they love the free market. They don’t want high price supports; in fact they want no price supports whatsoever, so you should tailor your brief remarks to that fact.” Dirksen nodded; they landed on the ballroom floor and were greeted with open arms by farm leaders with the minority leader escorted to the rostrum where he was introduced to great applause. Somewhat fortified by priot liquid refreshment, neither Dirksen nor Rainville did not notice banners attesting to the kind of farm convention it was.

Dirksen opened by praising them and saluting the idea of a free market. Pausing to sip the inevitable glass of water mid-way through his remarks to hold their attention, he noted that there was embarrassing silence. He tasted the water briefly and returned to his theme, making his allegiance to the free market even more oracular. He paused for theatrical effect and there was no response. He looked down at the rostrum and there was a hastily scribbled note from Rainville: “Cripes, I was told wrong! This is the Illinois Farmers Union! They want higher price supports!”

Whereupon Dirksen whipped off his spectacles and said: “What you have heard is the conservative side of the question—the one that I presented in fairness to them…but, now the side which I believe to achieve the balance you deserve: Unfortunately, total reliance on the cold statistics of the marketplace ignores the humanity, the compassion that goes with the vocation of farming…because, yes, it is a way of life!... a vocation, ladies and gentlemen. Where our friends on the right make a mistake all too often is that they believe farming is a way to make a living. Indeed, farming is far more: it is a family institution on which this nation has been fed and nurtured…a family institution that has been with us since the foundation of this country and as I stand here I give you my pledge that I shall continue to fight for this way of life…liberated from cold balance-book numbers…

“…reliant on the fact that just as the government has a certain role in supporting the poor of the cities, it also has an important stake in seeing that the agriculture on which this nation and the Free World depend…the agriculture of our forefathers survive and whether it takes 90 percent of parity…92 percent of parity…or 100 percent of parity—whatever the conference committees come up with…you can be assured that from my seat at the sword’s point directly under the gaze of the vice president of the United States…my old colleague in arms, Lyndon Johnson who has been a valiant comrade in so many battles in behalf of this nation…and the young man whom we both serve regardless of partisanship—a young man who turned to me so often as the junior Senator from Massachusetts, now president…under the gaze of his running-mate looking down upon the members in the canyon called the Senate of the United States…and with full reliance on this young president…I shall be fighting once more again with him for the well-being of our farm families so gallantly defended by the Illinois Farmers Union!”

Finally! The applause thundered. He was almost carried to the exit on their shoulders. Once he passed though the army of well-wishers and was ensconced on the elevator up to his cocktail party, he turned to Rainville, and snarled to his cowering assistant: “Goddam you, Rainville, don’t you dare do this to me again! I had to work myself up into such a frenzy to get out of that box you put me in that you may well have shortened my life!” Back at his party he downed a glass of straight scotch whiskey to steady himself from the ordeal and turned a cold shoulder on Rainville for the remainder of the evening; but by the time Rainville had to drive him to his hotel, he was sufficiently relaxed and convivial so that he was forgiving. “I will just say, Senator,” said Rainville, “not to excuse myself for my error: but confronted with the problem, you were ingenious! Brilliant!” To which Dirksen said, “well…thank you, Harold. But let us never again force the occasion on which I have to be so.”

The story became legend and has circulated in Republican circles since 1962. And it was that story and many others like it that crossed Stratton’s mind as the Senate’s number one impresario sat down in the witness chair. Dirksen began by reading from a letter he received from “a humble little nun—Sister Mary Charlesita, BVM, a teacher in the Regina convent in Dubuque, Iowa who wrote that her prayers were with the former governor in this case.” She wrote, intoned Dirksen, “there are few whose lives could be scrutinized as yours in this endless presentation of minutiae without revealing weakness or vice.” The nun was Stratton’s first cousin, an incidental Dirksen saw no need to acknowledge.

After that, there was such quiet in the courtroom that the ticking of the clock could be heard. It seemed that everyone was absorbed in thought. Then in response to the question from Judge Will as to whether Dirksen had ever spent contributions on clothing for himself, the Senator responded: “I came very close on one occasion, Your Honor, and it might have been a sizable sum. Let me tell you how it almost happened.”

The judge and jury sat transfixed as the Senator recounted that in 1933 he arrived in Washington for Franklin Roosevelt’s inauguration without a tuxedo. He wore a rented tuxedo that fit so badly he was reported in the newspapers as the man who attended the inauguration in a rented suit. He said his friends were so embarrassed for him that they raised by private subscription the money sufficient to buy a white tie and long-tailed coat. Then, with an eye to the IRS possibly probing himself, he said: “I did not use the money for that purpose but gave it to charity but I felt I might be justified in doing so.”

There was a comforting rumble of approval from the jury. Dirksen then faced the members and said…particularly to the women jurors: “0, the ladies: yes, the ladies who keep our home life together, who suffer so much as we males go about our political duties and are missing from the dinner tables…this is partially what this trial is about, is it not? I’ve said a thousand times that Mrs. Dirksen is the most valuable unsalaried member of my staff. It is my feeling that the ladies…God bless the ladies…God bless them, I say…that the ladies be adequately clothed as a legitimate political expense. If a wife attends two functions in the same dress, the next time around there should be a new gown!” Applause had been ruled out of order in the courtroom but Dirksen, eying an approving Judge Will, knew that he had delivered for Billy the Kid. Even so, Billy the Kid was unsure.

The jury began deliberating late in the day on March 10, 1965 and until the evening. At 10 p.m. Judge Will sent it home for the night. The next day it resumed at 9:30 a.m. and by 11:40 a.m. it had reached a decision. Shortly after twelve noon the decision was read that found William Stratton not guilty. There was a loud cheer in the courtroom. Judge Will declared to Stratton: “You have earned the right to freedom in our free society. You are entitled to walk a little taller from now on.” Dirksen’s eloquence notwithstanding, the jury took eight ballots before unanimity was reached. The climactic argument, Stratton agreed, was Dirksen’s but the government also failed to credit him with cash reserves he might have had and its failure to pin down any unreported taxable income.

Stratton’s lawyers’ fees were $100,000, a large amount in 1965. The Strattons had to stay in a downtown hotel for each week at their own expense on all weekdays from January to March. People from all over Illinois contributed including Paul Powell, the Democratic secretary of state who had become House Speaker because of Stratton. “I’m kicking in,” he told the press, “because I consider it a great victory not just for Bill Stratton but for all of us in public life.” Ironically, Powell kicked off not long after with a wad of cash on the upper shelf of the St. Nicholas hotel in Springfield…a far different man from Stratton.

As for Stratton, he believed until the end that Bobby Kennedy and his associates had decided four years earlier that if his brother was going to be reelected, they better smear him because as governor he held up issuing the certificate of election. The course of criminal prosecution takes long and it continued after the Kennedy assassination into two years of the Johnson administration. After his acquittal, Billy’s spirits soared immediately—but his career had ended, no matter how he tried to revive it. He ran once more for governor, against Dick Ogilvie in 1968 but couldn’t jump-start it.

Thus completed the career of Billy the Kid on three counts of “scandal.” One, was the fact that State Auditor Orville Hodge, a Republican and rival of Stratton, elected state auditor on his own and in charge of his own office, stole money from the state—for which Stratton was blameless. Second was William “Smokey” Downey, Stratton’s press secretary, who tried to work in a little private p. r. and lobbying at the same time he was working for Stratton, in contravention of Stratton’s direct personal order—with no loss of state monies just a rupture of Downey’s personal ethics for which he paid the price of conviction. Third was the bogus alleged misuse of campaign funds by Stratton for his own use for which he was exonerated by a jury. In all, compared to prior and future governors…Kerner, Ogilvie, Walker, Thompson, Edgar—certainly Blagojevich—…his administration was pristine. As he was not a lawyer and was hit by these episodes for which he was all but non-accountable, Bill Stratton didn’t serve on any boards but was a working stiff, assistant to the president of the Canteen Corporation, and a in-name-only bank vice president which gave him a modest desk and a place to go to every morning through his entire life.

A few years later and Billy the Kid was all but forgotten.

I was proud to salute him one day at Rotary when he sat unnoticed near the wall, prompting a standing ovation which startled him. It turned out to be his last day at the Club he would attend without fail every Tuesday. He came to me…walking very slowly…to the speaker’s table with his little chuckle. A one-time qualifier for the best governor in the country, for potential vice president on the Republican ticket, now very modest who would walk out the door with his little cane down Michigan avenue. Not long later, he died in 2001 at age 87.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Personal Aside: Newt Gingrich Likely Won’t Run—Who, Then?


Newt Gingrich.

The decision announced late last week by Newt Gingrich to forego a decision to run for the presidency until next September tells us that in all probability he will not run for the post at all: since September 2007 is far too late for anyone to mount a national campaign…unless (and one cannot entirely eliminate the possibility) the field is almost entirely disseminated by then. It would mean that John McCain for some reason…health or disadvantageous revelations…would decide not to run, that Rudy Giuliani would be out for similar reasons…and that Mitt Romney’s enemies had turned up something to disqualify him. That would leave people like Sam Brownback and a few others which would impel Gingrich to jump in. All these things can happen, obviously—but Gingrich has obviously decided that only if all these things happen will he be a viable candidate. Thus his enemies can subside now because he’s not likely to run.

That decision is not all bad. Reading Gingrich’s program which is published and updated every week on the “Human Events” blog one is struck with the sheer brilliance of the man and the fact that like Winston Churchill, who was so feared by some contemporaries that they considered making Beaverbrook shed his peerage to try to qualify for the premiership, But Gingrich for all his prescience does scare the living hell out of some otherwise normal conservatives. Not me, I should add. But recall that a few wise counselors would have to wrestle with Churchill who had seven new ideas to advocate before breakfast…they knocking down four, sending two to a subcommittee and agreeing that one might be worthy of further study. Not for nothing has Henry Hyde famously said to me…and I’ve publicized it (which he doesn’t appreciate)…that Gingrich is half genius and half nuts. Exactly what they said about Churchill when, in desperation, Britain turned to him fearfully and found out even when he was nuts…as when he described the Italian campaign as likely to proceed swiftly through “the soft underbelly of Europe”… he was an inspiration.

Okay, with Gingrich out what do we have? I told the Palatine Republicans the other morning something that some may have misunderstood. I said if the Republicans wanted to choose the ticket that could most easily win at the outset…topping Obama and Hillary or the combination the other way around…it would be…steel yourselves, social conservatives…McCain for president and Giuliani for vice-president. That does not mean I favor the ticket. I loathe the concept of McCain-Feingold and the Senator’s jockeying as hero turned opportunist—but I am persuaded that the combination would be dynamite—and not self-destructive dynamite, either. The issue in 2008 that will transcend all others will be, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan’s question: Do you want to feel safer…with a greater sense of national security…now than you have felt heretofore? Or do you want to tie up with a very pleasant young man who believes, as Jimmy Carter did, that insurrectionist forces out there are susceptible to his negotiative charm?

Social conservatives of whom I am one would feel dismayed—although McCain’s voting record on those issues has better than one might suspect. All the same, I cannot think of a Republican who starts off…starts off, that is…with greater popularity than McCain. And I cannot think of a running mate who starts off with greater energy and qualifications as a defender of internal security than Giuliani. I would thrill to a Newt for president but despair that he can get there with his flaky side and all that eclipses his brilliance. I would feel more subdued but enthused if Romney got the nod—but I would not be at all surprised if he lost to our own bright young man who has so much to prove but has been so easily accepted because of his geniality and the great lust of the American people to expunge themselves from white guilt by voting for charm decorous manners and…let’s face it…the excitement of novel skin pigmentation…a charming young man so easily accepted though showing us so little.

Let not the politically correct assail me: As the one who applied the federal set-aside program for minority business which has totaled $440 billion for that community with federal, state and local outlays since 1969 when I set it up (the defects of which I freely acknowledge) I would still be bold and egotist enough to advise angry liberals not to match sentiments with my deeds. With the Obama phenomenon, I am not even remotely racist but realist. Now, your comments, please.

Women’s Center Head Leads the Way in Chicago Archdiocese for Catholic Renewal. Mary Strom’s Her Name; Saving Lives Her Game.

[Another article in the nation’s oldest national Catholic weekly, The Wanderer. It was edifying to learn a week after this column was published, readers of the newspaper sent an Ultra-Sound machine plus several thousands of dollars in contributions to the Women’s Center, for which heartfelt thanks.]

By Thomas F. Roeser

CHICAGO--When delicate parsing comes from archdiocesan officials to politicians and so-called “Catholic” universities on issues that shouldn’t have to be defended, I cheer up by thinking of one person.

She’s far too young to be ready for the hereafter but for a woman in her late 30s, blonde, vivacious, prayerful Mary Strom has accomplished a lifetime of service in behalf of pro-life and the Catholic Church. Without fanfare. She’s the executive director of an organization in Chicago that goes by the name “Women’s Center.” It means everything and nothing due to its name: it could even be an abortion referral designee. But in a city where the Irish Catholic Democratic mayor has reneged on his former pro-life position to the point where he supports an anything-goes position, and whose leading politicians are Catholic—a state whose Democratic Catholic Senator, Richard Durbin, renounced pro-life when it became pragmatically important to support abortion, and where almost all Chicago-area Catholic pols endorse abortion in an archdiocese where prelates seem to bend over backwards not to offend secularists, Mary Strom is a blessed anomaly. For at Strom’s direction, the Women’s Center bends over backwards, too-- to convince young pregnant women who are considering abortions to have their babies.

Born in Pittsburgh the oldest of five to a warm and hospitable Catholic family where football and daily Mass were synonymous, she was an athlete early and played touch football with her siblings including a brother Rick. He took sports all the way, scoring touchdowns and headlines as lead quarterback with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Mary Strom was interested in business and marketing as well as sports. Graduating from the Jesuit John Carroll university, Cleveland, Ohio in 1986, like a good number of young people she strove to make Catholic teaching intimately personal to her. “I’d say the `Hail Mary’ and concentrate on every word, blocking any extraneous ideas from my mind,” she says. “I was never in doubt, never an agnostic but sorely wanted to increase the identification of the Church with what I was doing every day.”

In a sense it was a prayer for commitment. She moved up the business ladder at a startling pace for one without an MBA which is taken these days as the gold-standard for success. Rather, she moved beyond MBAs and had them working for her in a PP0, a preferred provider organization of doctors, hospitals and other health care providers banded together with an insurer or third-party administrator to provide health care at reduced rates to the insurer’s clients. Operating in Cleveland, Chicago and Philadelphia, it was an idea born in the 1990s and praised by some for initially cutting the rate of medical inflation in the U. S.

The work was satisfying but still not what the doctor ordered for Mary Strom who wanted to tie the Church into her daily life. I asked her if she had ever thought of becoming a nun.

“My goodness, no! Not at all!” exclaimed Strom who could easily pass for winner of a William Morris agency contest search for an attractive, successful, coolly competent senior woman executive. “Not knocking it, of course—but I was looking for a tough, demanding job in the world where after a long day you go to bed every night exhausted but completely satisfied that you’ve done your best.”

Still looking, she went to work for Baxter Laboratories headquartered in Deerfield, Illinois, one of the world’s leading health care companies with 45,000 employees where half its sales come from outside the U. S. Formed in 1931 the company developed new methods to make blood banking practical for the first time following which it pioneered a stunning array of products and services including ambulatory peritoneal dialysis and a ventricular assist system that was first to keep alive a patient with a dying heart until a donor heart becomes available for transplant. `

“Very satisfying,” says Mary Strom, looking wistfully, “but--.”

But what?

The new scientific breakthroughs as revolutionary as they were had nothing to do with the Church she loved.

She rose swiftly, became divisional vice president, earning well above six figures. Did she became a typical mega-consumerist, driven for expensive living quarters, luxury cars and expensive vacations?

“You know, I didn’t. I did and still drive a Honda `96, have a condo in Wrigleyville [the not-posh, not poor, average Chicago neighborhood near Cubs field on the north side]. I gave a lot to charity and was so absorbed in some of them that I goofed and lost $100,000 in stock options”—which tells you that for someone geared to business opportunities she was fastening a large part of her mind on extra-materialist activities.

Still searching, praying, a daily Mass goer, she decided to volunteer some time at a crisis pregnancy center—and picked the Women’s Center where she filed reports, and, with other volunteers, answered phone calls from frantic women seeking abortions…talking to them calmly, saying that they are other options beyond killing their unborns. The Women’s Center was founded as a non-profit in 1984 by Conrad Wojnar, an early hero of the state’s pro-life movement. Under his guidance it grew three counseling offices in the Chicago area, serving nearly 6,000 women a year.

Mary Strom was a volunteer. Then, suddenly, there was a change in command at the Center. They were looking for a chief executive.

“They came to me,” says Mary Strom. “They offered me the job at—oh, I don’t want to go into the salary they offered; it’s a miniscule of what I was making. But I jumped at the offer. Jumped at it. What a job! What a deal!”

And never looked back?

“Never. The job and this work—saving lives—is just what I had been looking for since…well, I don’t know when.

Much of her job is fund-raising to keep the $4.6 million enterprise which has three offices running. There’s a major fund-raising dinner with gourmet food prepared by husband and wife master chefs, “Refined Dining” headed by Guido and Kathy Von Aulock of DesPlaines, Illinois…a Mother’s Day Flower Sale…a Walk for Life…and a Wreath Sale. Special little plastic bottles are distributed at many Catholic churches including my own St. John Cantius which are taken home by parishioners who empty their pockets of spare change and fill them up to the top.

Is it hard work?

“Sure,” says Mary Strom. “But prayer, not just work, has always been the backbone of our efforts—because our battle is not against flesh but against principalities and powers. Abortion is one of Satan’s favorite tools in his vain attempts to destroy God by destroying His image and likeness.”

In the main Center at 5116 N. Cicero on the northwest side of the city, there’s a chapel dedicated to St. Jude with the Blessed Sacrament. One of thirty volunteer priests team up to be sure that Mass is celebrated there each day: Monday to Friday at Noon and a second Mass on Friday at 6 p.m. There is Eucharistic Adoration each Monday through Friday and all-night adoration twice a week.

In the St. Jude chapel, there’s one special intention Mary Strom and her workers pray hard for in that chapel every morning.

“It’s for an Ultra-Sound,” she says. “An Ultra-Sound shows the prospective abortion-seeking mother-to-be what her unborn child looks like in her womb. It’s absolutely the best sales clincher in the world. One look at that little guy or gal inside her and, in most cases, the lingering desire to kill the baby vanishes.”

How much does an Ultra-Sound cost?

“$200,000—but worth millions in terms of lives saved. Those who help provide it will have the spiritual guarantee that what they have given will do more than anything else to save unborn lives.”

Even without an Ultra-Sound, Mary Strom and her 14 full- and part-time experts in counseling as well as her 300 volunteers received more than 10,000 incoming telephone calls from expectant mothers last year. They met with 5,113 clients who came to the Centers in person. And here’s the big boxscore:

Mary Strom and her workers at the Women’s Center have saved more than 1,000 unborn babies’ lives last year and more than 30,000 babies’ lives since it was founded in 1984.

More than $874,000 worth of donated material goods—baby cradles, beds, clothes, diapers, toys, highchairs and more were distributed free to poor mothers last year.

It just may be that you might want to contribute to Mary Strom’s fund for an Ultra-Sound. Or, if you can’t afford it, just to drop her a note to add your prayerful support. Address her at The Women’s Center, 5116 N. Cicero Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60630. Phone is: (773) 794-1313, FAX (773) 794-1622 or log on to .


After reading this inspiring story about Mary Strom and the Women’s Center, you might become so optimistic that you think things are hunky-dory in this and other Catholic dioceses. So to bring you down to earth, let me report that “Out There”—the second national conference of “scholars and student personnel involved in “Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender-Queer-Questioning” issues on Catholic university campuses will be held next year at…where else?...DePaul University, the home of Queer Studies 101 which provides a minor in the subject—and which has not been sanctioned or commented-upon by either the archdiocese of Chicago or the reputed head of the office of Catholic Educational renewal in the Vatican, Archbishop John Miller.

Letters from the president of Catholic Citizens of Illinois, Mary Anne Hackett, to both this archdiocese and to Archbishop Miller lie in the dead-letter box, unanswered while Archbishop Miller goes across the world delivering stirring homilies about the need to re-catechize Catholic universities. Both the Catholic archdiocese here and Archbishop Miller at the Vatican can remove the designation “Catholic” from DePaul, and other institutions which traduce Catholic teaching as an official part of their curriculum. Delay and protests that maintain that faculties cannot be interfered with are inaccurate: the only thing holding up sanction is inordinate timidity and fear of alienating the popular academic culture.

In the meantime, a number of so-called “Catholic” universities are showing their disdain for Catholic teaching by co-sponsoring “Out There”. It will be held at DePaul on October 19-20, 2007 and will, according to their news release, “feature faculty, staff and students involved in LGBTQ issues on Catholic conferences. Say the sponsors: “We are calling for proposals for papers, roundtable presentation, panels and/or workshops that address issues of scholarship, curriculum, pedagogy, campus climate and support for LGBTQ students, faculty and staff and aim to build a program that addresses a wide range of issues…to build nuts-and-bolts organizing in student services to the place of Queer Studies at Catholic universities.”

Queer students, queer faculty, queer staff and queer nuts and queer bolts and queers of all varieties are invited to respond to Elizabeth A. Kelly, professor, Women’s and Gender Studies Program, DePaul University , Room 459, 2219 N. Kenmore, Chicago or phone her at (773)-325-1979. Her associate in queer studies at DePaul is Gary Cestaro, director LGBTQ Studies program, and can be reached at (773) 325-1870. With the university so dedicated to publicizing its queer role, one should mention that, believe it or not, you don’t have to be queer to attend DePaul…although I suspect that if you are, you will get preferential treatment. I was not when I attended its grad school and still am not: then the word meant eccentric and erratic.

Of course, it would not occur to DePaul to recommend the Catholic organization “Courage” to function on campus. “Courage” is composed of men and women who fight valiantly against their own same-sex attraction and reach out to others similarly attracted to do the same, believing that there is an obligation under the Judeo-Christian code to either conquer the tendency as one would an addiction (and there are many who have done so, have married and work with others)…or, failing this, live lives of sublime self-sacrifice, offering up their lives in spiritual penance which provides them a sanctity that is overwhelming. I have known men and women in both categories who are doing this—especially the latter…and are doing this daily… and they have my deepest admiration. They do not deserve the appellation “queer” which DePaul glorifies: instead, they go about their lives with a special holiness which is edifying.

There has been no move within DePaul to move in that direction. You see, that would be judgmental.