Friday, November 3, 2006
Flashback: The 1964 Convention and the Birth of the Modern.
[More reminiscences from fifty years in politics for my kids and grandchildren].
The Cow Palace in San Francisco produced a flawed Republican candidate for president but also the birth pangs that delivered a modern era GOP which sought no to be a pale imitation of the Democrats. In 1936, Alf Landon, billed as the Kansas Coolidge, was nothing of the sort but a liberal who conceded much intellectual ground; followed by a former Democrat, Wendell Willkie, who sailed under false pretenses and intended to become a full-blown progressive-populist; then Thomas E. Dewey twice. A measure of Goldwaters inattention to philosophy beyond the bumper-sticker sort came in the early `60s when Brent Bozell wrote the first draft of what would become Goldwaters signature opus: The Conscience of a Conservative. Bozell went to Goldwater, handed him the manuscript and asked when he should come back to get the amendments and revisions. No, said Goldwater, sit down and stay right there for a minute. He spun the manuscript through with his thumb, looked at the chapter headings, browsed through some for a few minutes and then handed the document back. Its fine, he said. Bozell was bowled over. He didnt know whether to cheerthat he had a book that passed muster that quicklyor cry that the long hours of constructive thought that went into it passed unnoticed. But he kept that lesson in his heart.
Goldwaters stance was far different than that of Ronald Reagan who was paid little attention to detailbut Reagans inattention was to the levers and push-buttons of governance. He was powerfully interested in philosophy and indeed his radio talks, which he wrote personally, reflected an abiding firmness of primary belief. The next writer who approached Goldwater with substance was Karl Hess, a former anarchist turned conservative libertarian. Listening carefully to William Baroody, Dennison Kitchel and Ed McCabe, he produced the main draft of the acceptance speech. Goldwater did pay more attention to the speech than the book since he would be required to deliver it. Baroody, Kitchel, McCabe and Hess wanted to produce something far different than the usual acceptance where the victor brings to himself the dissidents and pledges they are all one team on the road to victory. The important thing was not to keep the old party that served well with Eisenhower but could not perform with othersbut to form an entirely new party composed of the dissident South, angry ex-Democrats, those urban dwellers torn up by civil rights riots in the streets and entrepreneurs who value liberty above all other aspects: including order.
So Goldwater, fully cognizant of what he was doing, said: Anyone who joins us in all sincerity we welcome. Those who do not care for our cause, we dont expect to enter our ranks in any case. That was a kind of impolitic exclusion, bad politically but necessary for movement-building.
Then the preamble: And let our Republicanism, so focused and so dedicated, not be made fuzzy by unthinking and stupid labels. I could have foregone that sentence which sounded cranky and odd. And finally, the summation which I personally thought was perfect not exclusionary but brilliantly realistic and about as capsulized as anything Reagan was to say later: a declaration of a conservative philosophy a statement that has ever since been criticized by liberals but which nevertheless conveys the heart of robust conservative vision:
Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice! And moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.
Standing on the convention floor looking up at this silver-haired, bronze lawmaker, trim and magnetic in a blue suit, I knew Brad Heffelfinger, a liberal, had been wrong in saying oh well, let the conservatives have it for once; well be back in other years. Not so. Conservatism was born that hour by this imperfect means and was so generated that a framework was struck for future victoriesbased on a realignment of the South and not so much by anti-civil rights, either, but by a natural force: conservative animosity to federal government strong-arming.
Earlier Nelson Rockefeller, the architect of his own defeata man who very easily could have become the nominee had he been able to restrain his carnal, womanizing impulses that ultimately took his life which led him to believe as a Rockefeller he could do anything and everything and make people like itfaced the convention and was booed when he tried to link conservatives with Nazis.
I can personally testify as to their existence, he said pointing to his unhappy California campaign. And so can countless others who have also experienced anonymous midnight and early morning telephone calls, unsigned threatening letters, smear and hate literature, strong-arm and goon tactics, bomb threats and bombings and infiltration and take-over of established political organizations by Communist and Nazi methods. The apocalyptic portrait he drew was fantastically overdone and the crowd roared its denunciation of him. There are some of you who dont want to hear this, ladies and gentlemen, he shouted, but its the truth.
Not remotely. Earlier, too, Dwight Eisenhower, at 74 once perceived as a liberal Republican but now becoming more conservative as he agedparticularly with respect to violence and civil rights demonstrations in the streets that turned destructive, wrote a paragraph into a talk that was supposed to be conciliatory but linked him thenceforward with the conservatives. Let us particularly scorn the divisive efforts of those outside our family, including sensation-seeking columnists and commentators, because, my friends, I can assure you that these are people who couldnt care less about the good of our party! He added a second hand-written sentence: Let us not be guilty of maudlin sympathy for the criminal who, roaming the streets with switchblade knife and illegal firearms seeking a helpless prey, suddenly becomes upon apprehension a poor, underprivileged person who counts upon the compassion of our society and the laxness or weakness of too many courts to forgive his offense.
I was sitting in the Minneapolis Tribune press box as he said it. There were muffled slurs about Eisenhower from the objective reporters there but the Cow Palace crowd went nuts. As I looked across the arena, I saw the beginnings of a spontaneous demonstration and in the middle of it a handsome, grey-haired man, dressed very much like a banker, waving the Illinois standard. Obviously I was interested in what my birth-state and the state to which I was to return was doing. I shielded my eyes and tried to see if Bob Stuart was in the crowd but could not see him. I was particularly fascinated with the trim banker with a mustache tinged with grey, wondering who he could be and speculating that possibly in the future I would be dealing with him.
Just at that minute, a reporter friend of mine from the Minneapolis Tribune yelled: hey! Look at that! See that guy waving the Illinois standard? There he goes, taking the standard andsee him?hes leading the demonstration for Illinois. You know who he is? I said no.
Thatsdo you believe it?thats the political editor of the Chicago Tribune, George Tagge. Hey, Roeser, youre going to be dealing with him when you go to the oats factory in your home town! Hes not only the Tribs political writer hes the Republican partys best strategist. Seethere he goes, jumping up and down! Hows that for objective journalism, Roeser? Wouldnt you like to see us do that for good old Barry?
I said yes I would and gradually eased myself out of the press box, hurrying down to the convention floor. I had some delegates badges from Minnesota GOP delegates who were turned off at Goldwater and didnt want to go to the convention. I got on the floor and muscled about a half mile through seas of people until I got to Illinois. The demonstration had subsided and the chairman was reading another introduction. I finally saw Bob Stuart and sat for a time with him. He was enjoying the convention but I sensed he was not a Goldwater backeryet a loyal Republican. When we finished our brief conversation agreeing as to when Id start at Quaker and that Id see him on my first day I started looking for Tagge. He was sitting in a delegates seat with a small portable typewriter on his knee, writing facilely. The roar of the convention was deafening so I knelt down to shout in his ear:
Mr. Tagge, you dont know me but Im going to be working with Bob Stuart at Quaker Oats.
Oh, Ive heard of you, all right, he shouted back. Youre a Minnesota transplant liberal sumbitchone of those who beat Barry at your state convention. I told Bob not to hire you but Lord Robert is close to Sir Charles and he doesnt listen to me.
Thats how Tagge spoke. Sir Charles was obviously Chuck Percy. Lord Robert was my boss-to-be.
Youll get to know `em, he yelled as he continued to punch the keys of his typewriter. They meet all the time at the Van Buren Street Y. You been to the Van Buren Street Y?
I continued to kneel, trying to figure out what the Van Buren Street Y was. Then I understood.
You mean the Chicago Club!
Thats right. You catch on fast.
No, Im a guy from the northwest side. I dont have a membership there although I understand you do, Mr. Tagge. Congratulations. I guess that makes you a knight of the Roundtable with Lord Robert and Sir Charles while Im just a nobody who worked for that wild liberal Walter Judd.
I love Walter Judd. Well, Ill tell you what. If you let me alone now to write this damn thing Ill take you there for lunch and indoctrinate you first before they can get a whack at you, hows that?
When that lunch happened, in my first week at Quaker, Tagge, his graying mustache bristling looking for all the world like a prosperous banker knowing what to order, being specific about how he wanted his fish prepared nodding to patronizing CEOs who tried to catch his eye as we lunched, gave me a kind of first-hand look at the Republican party of Illinois.
Youre familiar with the Bourbonsthe family not the whiskey. Bourbon kings ruled France in the 16th century. They went on until the French Revolution. They tried to come back but never really did. There was a Bourbon family in Spainthey spelled it Borbon which continues in some minor matter to the present day. Anyhowthis party is dominated by variants of the Bourbons. Your boss is one: Bob Stuart; his father, Doug and his Uncle John. You know Bob; get to know Doug. I dont think youll ever get to know Uncle John but hes not reliable. Not reliable. Nosirrr.
For Rockefeller. Thinks hed be good for the cities. Told me so. I struck him off my list. I like Doug and have high hopes for Bob. You I dont know but what the hell youre not a Bourbon anyhow. Others are the McCormicks of International Harvester, a tie-in to my late lamentedand when I say lamented I mean I lamentRobert R. McCormick, the greatest editor and publisher of his time. Youve got Bob Ingersoll of Borg-Warner, a Bourbon and let me catalog them all for you. Got a pen?
Which he did.
Now, he said, what I will tell you now is interesting. In the old days, the Bourbons met with my old boss Colonel McCormick and they ran this goddamn party, see? The Colonel was very kind to me and I was sort of a junior valet to them. But they did the figuring. General Wood of Sears. Nobody could stand Sewell Avery of Wards so he didnt play. But gradually there has been started a movement thats what it is of so-called public affairs people. Not lobbyists particularly although theres some of that. They are for the most part talented guys, more than businessmenbut philosophically committed conservatives in business. The big major domo right now is Charlie Barr of Standard Oil who along with a good number of other public affairs men in other states organized and managed the Goldwater effort. You have some in your stateMinnesota: Bill McFadzean of Archer-Daniels-Midland, Bill Bennett of 3M. Theyre up-and-at-`em now but theyre time will be short.
Because already theyre exceeding their mandate. Charlie Barr is starting to run afoul of John Swearingen, his CEO. Charlie isnt even a v.p. but a director of civic affairs, reports to a v.p. John Swearingen doesnt like to have his man running around this convention with more power than he has, see? Makes sense, doesnt it?
The same with McFadzean. Heres Jonathan Daniels of ADM, the scion of the family, who graduated with Bill Scranton who challenged Goldwater and Scranton tells Daniels, `Hell, Jon, your own company is against me. This guy McFadzean is the go-to guy for Goldwater! So McFadzeans days on this earth are limited. So Im telling you, buddy boy, if you want to be around here long, dont try to ace your boss out of prominence. He sees his destiny with Percy. So be it. You tie your destiny with Percy too out of loyalty. But keep your own counsel and let himBobknow what you feel. Honest and true. No running behind his back. On matters you feel you can give me, keep me informed not on company matters but on what you hear if its okay with Bob because I hope this lunch seals a deal so that we can visit fairly often off the record. And if I can help you get around, let me know. I think youll find my name is pretty good.
Pretty good. Like golden. Theres only one other journalistic operative who works that way and shes one of the most effective if not the most effective political writers I know: Lynn Sweet. Like Tagge shes an activist, a strategist and a thoroughly savvy reporter who, as Tagge was, is in it for the zest as well as the story and to achieve victory for her side: liberal democracy just as his was conservative Republicanism. When I say this she thinks Im zinging her but Im not.
Shes the equivalent on the left that George Tagge was on the right. He worked with Paul Powell to get state aid for McCormick Place: Im not sure she would do something like thatbut she could! The point is: the myth of objectivity in this business is a jokenot observed by anyone important just maintained as a fiction by the purists. The job is interpretative reporting which means shaded with erudite political opinion. Thats the way it is with The New York Times if you dont mind a little treason mixed in. Also the Sun-Times if you dont mind the soft porno look which belies the really good journalism by staff that doesnt have columns. But not observed by todays Chicago Tribune because with the news goes left the editorials now going left but ending up with stay tuned, it doesnt know what it believes. It cant hire a cartoonist because a cartoonist cant shade or straddle. Jack Higgins of the Sun-Times is one of the bestbut he could never work at the Tribune because they would vie and dance and parse about his drawings long after deadline passed. Lets put it this way: the editorial board of the Tribune has just as much backbone and courage as the general consistory of bishops in the Catholic Church. Take that from one who goes to Mass every morning. Does that give you a glimpse?
George Tagge RIP: Born in 1907, a graduate of the City News Bureau system in 1929, he became political writer, then editor, retired in 1986 and died at age 92 which means that he saw the slow, agonizing unfolding of a once great newspaper to the one that today with few exceptions tries to please all sides, embraces political correctness and stands for not one enduring thing.