Sunday, November 5, 2006

Flashback: Being Out with the Ins—but in Good Company…that of An Outstanding Ex-Governor.

[Memoirs from fifty plus years in politics for my kids and grandchildren].

George Tagge, the memorable Chicago Tribune political editor, had one more good tip for me when we had lunch at the Chicago Club. He said, “Don’t be surprised if you are regarded with some hostility by the so-called corporate public affairs community here in Chicago. Anybody who played a major role as you did in beating Goldwater anywhere…even Minnesota and even by Walter Judd…won’t be easily forgiven.”

He was 100% correct. They had a little luncheon club of us headed by Standard Oil’s Charlie Barr and attended by most of the members—Borg-Warner, International Harvester, Illinois Tool, Kemper Insurance, Sears Roebuck, about 35 of them—and when I walked in for Quaker Oats there was a distinct chill. That’s how committed they were to Goldwater. It didn’t mean that their CEOs were but they were a hard-eyed little cadre of middle-to-upper management people (I was definitely middle: actually lower than middle) who thought of themselves as moles: trying to switch their corporations to Goldwater support. They belonged to a central Washington, D. C. organization called “ECO” (Effective Citizens Organization)…later to be called the “Public Affairs Council,” run by Dick Armstrong with his assistant Ray Hoewing. Armstrong was a Goldwater apostle but Hoewing was agnostic on politics. Anyhow, looking back on it, I yearn for the day when public affairs officers had a definite philosophical point of view rather than the numb-nuts ultra-pragmatic people of today who are afflicted with the Nuremberg Syndrome: “do everything for the corporation that enhances it and ask not why and kill if you have to in order to sit pretty with the boss.”

The Chicago group was fun-loving, somewhat alcoholic and irrepressible except when it came down to philosophy which was strictly Goldwater. Of all the members who chilled up when I came around, Charlie Barr, the leader, was most friendly. Others hushed up with Goldwater stratagems so I wouldn’t hear—as if I were the enemy. Things warmed up, though, when word got around that Charlie Barr no less invited me to luncheon.

Charlie had started as a Kansan who became an excellent executive for Standard in the West. When the company faced a political problem in the Southwest and its lawyers despaired of solving it, somehow Charlie got involved and applied such political dexterity that the problem went away—poof—like that. He was so successful at other political problems that management changed his job specs and moved him to Chicago with a new job title: Director of Civic Affairs. He was roundly praised for his political expertise and he had a good deal of it; he was self-trained and taught himself as he went. But he was not devoid of a public philosophy which most public affairs officers didn’t have and don’t have today. Not in the slightest.

He invited me to have lunch to grill me about my philosophy. Although I was an anomaly--a conservative who disliked Goldwater--he grudgingly acknowledged that even at that early time he spotted things in Goldwater he didn’t like: an inner insecurity, an over-fondness for drink, an over-fondness for attractive stewardesses whom he would meet on flights from Arizona. He wholeheartedly acknowledged that Walter Judd was a far better man but he squinted at me over lunch and said that he had researched what I had done in Minnesota from Minnesotans and came up with this analysis:

A born rebel yet a conservative. An idealist, but equipped with realist moxie. Hard to figure out because of this. As a young man, I ran around socially quite a bit but then I should—I was single. I settled down after marriage. As a bachelor very nearly went to jail because of an outdated driver’s license some six years old which was found on a routine driver’s license check. Conservative but a very tight-in friend of the notorious Mrs. Elizabeth Heffelfinger, a deep dyed liberal Republican. Evil woman and nobody has every figured out that relationship. Good writer…in fact, very good wordsmith…fairly bright but not as bright as I thought I am…quite conservative…totally unmanageable…operates best when left to my own devices…a masterly inattention to detail except when it involves something I’m running himself…well educated on, of all things, Catholic theology which doesn’t necessarily mean I’m as pure as you might believe…never wanted to be a priest…good friend of Ed Viehman which says a lot…passed up a good job at Josten’s because he wanted to stay in politics which says a helluva lot…swears a lot which conflicts with the churchy stuff…irreverent which conflicts somewhat with the churchy stuff.

When finished he said, “that’s what I figured out about you. Is it right?” I said it was except that I am also a notary public which caused him to laugh. Privately, I was somewhat shaken at how spot-on the assessment seemed to me.

Charlie, thus reassured, took me into his confidence. He said: “You know, when I’m gone from this job…and it might be sooner than we know…someday, in a few years, you might well want to take over this thing.”

What thing?

“The leadership of the…the…public affairs officers.”

Not insulting you, Charlie, but I don’t think it’s worth it. Frankly, I think this vision you have is a pipe-dream. It can’t work because being public affairs is not a profession. So, not hurting your feelings, I wouldn’t want it. I’d rather have you tell me who and what makes the Illinois Republican party run in this Year of Our Lord nineteen sixty-four.

“Sure. You’ve already met with George Tagge.”

How do you know that?

“I do. Tagge has spelled it out right. The Bourbons, the landed gentry, the families with big wealth, run the party and have selected and supported the Republican governors for a hundred years. I mean the Ingersolls, the Stuarts, the Billy Wood Princes and the rest. These days the Bourbons are divided into three parts. You’ve heard that all Gaul was divided into three and so are the Bourbons—not divided as in the sense of being split, just divided into preference.”

He sketched on a paper menu. All the Bourbons were behind Bill Stratton as governor. He served two terms and to my mind was the best governor this state ever had. But, trying for a third term, Stratton lost to Kerner in `60. Stratton is only fifty and was an outstanding governor but the newspapers have carried hints that he’s being scrutinized by the IRS so the Bourbons are off him. The Bourbon families including your boss’s are behind Chuck Percy for governor. So the main wing of the Bourbons belong at this time to Percy. They believe in an idealism, a kind of liberal idealism, that was reflected in Bill Stratton and is today carried on by Percy.

“The second group of Bourbons part is indirectly overseen by the Bourbons: Dick Ogilvie. These are not idealists—far from it. They’re realists. They are headed by the Smith family—Harold Byron, Sr., Edward Byron, Sr. and Harold Byron, Smith, Jr. They feel both Stratton and Percy area too mushy, too idealistic. They want to see a strong Republican party carry on like the Daley machine. They want Ogilvie who is now our sheriff of Cook county to run for Cook county board president and then for governor. They fault Stratton for not leaving a strong, machine-type party.

“The third group is composed of selective Bourbons who support the public affairs guys who came together only a year or so ago. They believe in Goldwater and his campaign for small government, lower taxes, a big military and winning the Cold War. They’re idealists, too, but not the progressive idealists of the Percy and Stratton vintage. And, of course, I’m with this third group. Again: nobody’s fighting, nobody’s spatting but that’s how the Bourbons divide. I would think you would fall into this category but you say you do not—so I’m glad I asked.”

What’s your goal, Charlie?

“We’re trying to get all of our members to have direct reporting relationships with their CEOs. None of this stuff of going through a battery of lawyers to get to the top: that’s no good. I’m trying to figure you out in that sense. You don’t report to Stuart and aren’t even close to reporting to Stuart. You go through a dumb p.r. man, Freeland, who reports to a dumb vice president-employee relations, Bartell, who reports to a dumb executive vice president, D’Arcy who asks if somebody can be a Christian in politics who goes to Stuart. But then I find out Stuart goes to you if he wants to find out something in politics so I figure you probably have it better than most of us. And don’t ask about me. I am right now running into trouble because I’m the head of the Goldwater business in the region and a player in the national which is turning off a number of executive vice presidents and close to getting to John Swearingen because the Texans in the oil business and others are supporting LBJ. So I got more problems than you. But when this all ends, I mean the Goldwater stuff, I would hope you could help me setting corporations straight and helping through this movement to make `em conservative.”

I said: sure, Charlie but I have my doubts they’ll ever be.


I told him my theory about corporations which I will relate in another place. He listened and pronounced all of it far too academic and insufficient. Well, he was wrong and I am right. But where we agreed was that from what I heard, he was in trouble with his boss, Swearingen. No Bourbon, a manager—but a Bourbon wanna-be.

“He doesn’t understand,” said Charlie. “I don’t want to run the goddamn place. I want to affect its philosophy, its philanthropy. I don’t want it to end up like the Rockefellers or Fords. But one of these days I’ll be out which I fully expect.”

Well, Standard will end up liberal whether you’re there or not, Charlie. Bourbons are that way. But stall it. And I suppose this tells me that I shouldn’t imitate you and get my boss alienated…

“Yep. But don’t be a pussy either. Still, if I had it to do over again I’d play a softer role. As it is, all I got now is the hope that Goldwater might win and take me with him. And that’s--.”

I finished it for him: a damn remote hope.

“Very right. Don’t quote me. But you see I’m on a mission here. Corporations are all over the lot, with no express point or purpose politically. Their CEOs are all over the lot—not yours but many of them. They should be conservative—conservative on economics, conservative on social policy…none of this kow-towing to black militants…conservative on supporting this country against Communism. I’m a couple of fifty years old. If I can encourage these young guys in our group to influence their corporation policies for good, I’ll sorta have made my mark.”

Which told me Charlie Barr was an idealist; I liked him right off and he liked me.

But that didn’t mean the others did. When I’d go to Washington for the ECO (Public Affairs Council) meetings most of them didn’t, either—since they were all Goldwater. Charlie was in his real element there. He’d talk to the real big-timers in public affairs and step out and take a call from David Broder and then he’d go out and have a drink with Teddy White [Theodore H. White who was writing a series of books, “The Making of the President” and was doing his volume II on 1964]. He’d pop up in Evans and Novak’s column frequently—all of which was slowly eroding his base with Swearingen who was steaming inside because he was feeling heat from the LBJ people who ranked high in the oil industry. I knew it and Charlie knew it but he liked celebrity too much. The same thing was happening with McFadzean of ADM because Bill Scranton had been miffed at an ADM scion, Jon Daniels, because ADM was linked with Goldwater when Scranton had tried futilely to get the nomination.

Charlie’s dream of corporations, guided in their politics and social actions by officers who would offer solidity to the country and culture was just that—a dream. And a wildly impractical one at that. But an idealistic one which made me think well of him.

His dream was impossible given the history of corporations in America. When the Revolution started, there were no corporations at all but private enterprisers and a good many of them engaged in the Revolution, linking their future to that of the war. John Hancock, the richest man in the colonies and people like him. In the east, businessmen who owned ships engaged them as privateers with the sanction of the Continental Congress—raiding British shipping, taking the swag, sharing it at home and keeping enough to make a profit. The Congress even passed a Privateering Act which made them legal: made it legal to be armed and, actually…although it’s not polite to say it…pirates to prey on British shipping. But say this for them: they were committed and risked jail and capital punishment for the Revolution. Other businessmen profited hugely from the Revolution by gouging the infant colonies for supplies—but in the main, these business types were themselves revolutionaries and warriors.

After the country was formed in 1789 businesses stayed pretty much the same—entrepreneurial, largely free of a corporate structure until 1819. Dartmouth College which was run by a corporate structure engaged in a fight with its board. Dartmouth existed by fiat from the British crown and had a royal charter. On its board sat proper conservatives and after the Revolution, members of the Federalist party of Washington and Hamilton. They elected a college president. When Thomas Jefferson won the presidency in 1800 the constituents of Dartmouth elected some new trustees—those favoring the Jeffersonians…thus making the corporation react to the politics of the time. The Jeffersonian trustees canned the old Federalist president of Dartmouth and the Federalist trustees, named Jeffersonian trustees who in turn elected a Jeffersonian type to the presidency. Now stop right there. This was an ominous precedent. It meant that a corporation could well reflect the political temper of the country: elect a Democratic president and the trustees or board members to follow might be Democrats, a Republican president, the trustees or board members Republican. It would promote an inherent instability to the corporation.

Well, the fired president of Dartmouth decided to take it to court. He made the case that Dartmouth had been charted by the King of England and that the rules of its trustees would run without interference with the transitory whims of politics. In the political heat of the day with almost everybody thrilling to the Jeffersonian changes in the country, this was a kind of archaic and unpopular stand. But the old trustees made a sound decision: they hired as their attorney the best man of his day—a graduate of Dartmouth…Daniel Webster.

Webster was a paradox. Crooked as they came in terms of securing law business and wrapping it up with his work in the Congress…brilliant as they came in terms of law and oratory…often drunk as they came on weekends…conniving as they came with regard to his goals to attain the presidency. Webster took the case and then a good look at the Supreme Court of the United States where he figured this case would ultimately rest. The Supreme Court was Jeffersonian with only two exceptions: its chief justice, John Marshall (named by John Adams at midnight before his term expired as president) and Bushrod Washington, the late general’s nephew who would dawdle and fall asleep at his place on the bench.

Webster fortified himself with many a drink and wrote out his case in constitutional law. He pushed it up and up through the court system to the Supreme Court. He made his case before the Court in 1818. He argued that a corporate contract was just that—a contract and could not be abrogated by whim, political winds or anything of the sort. He said the Jeffersonian had reacted to the 1804 election by trying to change the membership of the corporation—to democratize it to reflect the electorate. (Incidentally, Ralph Nader has always argued that the corporation’s membership should reflect changes from the community so the idea still thrives on the left). He pounded home constitutional law but noticed that Bushrod Washington was nodding off. So he turned on the oratorical juice. He cited his own student days at this humble college. He stood erect, stuck his hand prominently in his vest and moved one foot ahead of the other so as to strike a pose. He concluded with tears: “It is just a small college sir…” and here the tears cascaded so he had to blow his nose…adding “but there are those of us who love it!” Twirling on his heel, he caught out of the corner of his eye the fact that old Bushrod Washington had awakened and was wiping his eyes. Marshall, the chief, looked impassive and unmoved.

One year to the day of Webster’s tear-jerked summation, the Supreme Court handed down its decision. It ruled for the Old Dartmouth…meaning that corporate charters were supposed to stand inviolate, un-intruded by the whims and strains of the outside world. Webster went out on a toot with the old trustees of Dartmouth in a serious session that lasted many hours. And it was well deserved because constitutional law was made that day which has forever endured, with only some modifications. The state cannot change the nature of a corporate charter: now there are some amendments like eminent domain…but basically it still stands. Which means that two things happened…one good…the other not so good.

The good thing was that corporations were formed immediately, existing untrammeled by the federal government for a long time which enabled these corporations to build the world’s greatest economy…to take risks…to build transcontinental railroads and all the rest with a kind of safe-harbor in the 19th century against government intrusion. The bad thing was that businessmen became less interested in government and politics since they had that safe harbor…proceeding to the point where old John D. Rockefeller wrote a note to one of his lieutenants saying: I understand you’ve been involved in politics again in your spare time. If you have so much spare time let me know for I have more work for you to do. The point is: you contribute to these men…see that they receive money…and that’s it. That should take care of it.

That should take care of it. Meaning that businessmen generally do not participate in politics but are fund-raisers and hire lobbyists who leverage funding to achieve their purposes. Not so Bob Stuart, my boss, who was a Lake county precinct committeeman…went door to door at election time…and loved the process. Few other businessmen did. Few other businessmen now do. And from the legacy of Dartmouth comes the isolation from exterior events. Do you remember the kids who demonstrated against the Vietnam war and who urinated in Grant Park as revolutionaries? I know a few. When the time came, they got their college degrees and joined corporations. At Quaker I could point out old college revolutionaries who became marketers and suburbanites, who left their old tasks as participants. Take a look the next time you go to a cocktail party at the young business types men and women who are there. Ask how many are actively involved in politics. Some give money; most do not. Most don’t work precincts. That is the enduring legacy of Dartmouth. A bright young business type may be a liberal but at most joins Common Cause and pays $15 a month to get a newsletter tilted slightly to the left. That’s it. I know. I taught business types at Northwestern Kellogg…bright MBAs on the way up. Some were conservative, others liberal. Some had been active on campus but none were then active when I taught. It’s the same way today.

That’s what I told Charlie Barr when he outlined his dream to me of corporations that were resolutely conservative and seeking to apply a cultural solidity to the country. I said: it won’t work, Charlie, because once people get into corporations they start losing their political identity and take on varying shades of grey. Take a look at your John Swearingen; take a look at the others. They want to be ambassadors someday to gain prestige. They don’t give a rap about the overweening culture because their environment has been protected—in a kind of hot-house culture.

I said: That’s why so many business types are poor candidates, Charlie. Take a look at Charles Percy. A poor boy who lived near the L tracks in Rogers Park trying to high-tone it with a phony New York accent. But he still wants to be elite. He spent a million dollars to get people to call him Chuck. When he loses the governorship, he’d like to spend another million dollars to get people to be retained to call him Charles H. I said: it won’t work, Charlie, because once people get into corporations they start losing their political identity and take on varying shades of grey. Take a look at your John Swearingen; take a look at the others. They want to be ambassadors someday to gain prestige. They don’t give a rap about the overweening culture because their environment has been protected—in a kind of hot-house culture.

I said: That’s why so many business types are distanced from public issues, Why do they hire socialists and goofy ex-priests to run their foundations? Like Ford and Rockefeller. You think old John D. and Henry Ford would agree with what they’re doing? Not on your life. The nature of business types is that they don’t assimilate well with outside activities. They hire people like you and me. They hire foundation people. It’s not them. They belong in the profit-making sector not public sector. That’s the genius of the system thanks to Dartmouth. And that’s the legacy of Dartmouth.

He said, “too damn convenient a theory, Roeser. I don’t buy it.”

After lunch he said: “Well, I tried to sign you up but maybe you’re smarter than I thought. But I know you’re one of us—an idealist. What you should do is get together with Bill Stratton who works in the Merchandise Mart where you do. He works for the Canteen Corporation. As I say, he is a dowdy, uncharismatic guy with a funny-shaped body and receding chin who was probably the best governor bar none that this state ever had, better than any state’s ever had in modern times. You and I hate Nelson Rockefeller but Nelson Rockefeller cribbed off of Stratton to build public works without hiking taxes. I hate it but it’s brilliant. He got hired by Pat O’Malley the president who’s close with Daley. Bill Statton’s more outside than you. He doesn’t earn more than you.”

I don’t believe that.

“Maybe he does. But you ought to know him. He’s leery of me. Doesn’t like Goldwater. Strike up a friendship with him. Tell me what he says. You’ll be the better man for it.”

And so I did. True Republican progressive (not Democratic liberal) he was…probably the most far-sighted governor, most intellectually gifted (from the standpoint of natural talent) the state has ever had. He was my guest lecturer in 1974 when I started teaching public policy part-time in addition to my Quaker work, one night a week in Washington and Philadelphia at the Wharton School of Finance, University of Pennsylvania and we spent many hours together. Nothing enduring that I learned about Illinois politics didn’t come from Bill Stratton, this state’s most hands-on governor who all told held statewide office for 16 years, two terms for governor, two terms as state treasurer, two terms as U. S. Congressman-at-Large representing the entire state and by all odds the greatest authority on Illinois, local and state. At age fifty he should have been able to re-cycle his political career except for the IRS and the fact he might go to jail.

I wondered: was Bill Stratton a crook and still our greatest governor? In one lunch I found out the answer.

1 comment:

  1. Tom, thanks again for the insight.

    Political hires do campaign work on the taxpayers' dime at great risk. Why shouldn't shareholders get the benefit of knowing who pays whom to do what in the political and campaign realms while on corporate time? Your work confirms my belief that a separate SEC filing should be created that specifies amounts spent and the number of corporate employees/contractors/sub-contractors performing political and campaign work on the shareholders' dime.

    Every group expressing liberal tendencies probably has either been infiltrated or is under surveillance by concerned corporate groups and governmental agencies. Why should corporate hacks get a free ride without shareholder awareness, if not consent?