Thursday, November 16, 2006
Personal Asides: Notes on a Brief Springfield Visit A Wifely Suggestion I Move There if I Like it So Much Brilliant Lincoln-Civil War Scholar Interviewed A Gripping Book on Vince Lombardi I Thumbed Lisa Madigan Dems Giddy with Success An Elected State Central Committee as Crown Jewel for GOP Reform? This and Bumping into Optimism I Left via the Capitol Front Door Followed by the Example of My Other Home State.
SPRINGFIELDLike a college town when the students are out for the summer, this city can be refreshingly quiet and delightfully rural-like in off-season but exciting and a party-place when the legislature convenesas it just hasfor a short veto session. I like it both ways: quiet and boisterous. It reminds me of old Saint Cloud where I lived a few years in the `50s; so I suggested to my wife Lillian that we pack up and move here, to reacquaint ourselves with the thrill of small town living. I wont repeat what she said exactly but it had to do with the fact that if I so sorely wished to move there I should do soand take MacTavish J. Puppy, Esq. whom she has to escort to the acupuncturist for treatments--with me. That was a shocking suggestion after forty-seven years of marriage; so in the interest of family unity, I think I will forego the movealthough when I do go, I enjoy it.
Brilliant Lincoln Scholar.
How do I enjoy it? Let me count the ways. Like yesterday when I returned to my usual haunt at the Abraham Lincoln hotel and saw Joe youthful, enthusiastic and incredibly scholarly plus incisive guy who works the bellmans desk near the driveway where the cars pull in.
He is someone Id love to put on a show about Springfield and Civil War history if I had one. Hes simply stunning with his knowledge of Lincoln-iana. He gave me a first-hand critique of the great Lincoln museum just after it was built. I thought I knew a lot about the 16th president but not as much as does Joe. Yesterday we swapped notes on books and he really put me in the shade. He read 230 books last year. Since Ive been a slave to the Internet my output has gone down.
However, believe it or not, I thumbed a copy of the latest biography of Vince Lombardi, When Pride Still Mattered, that was lying on David Drings desk (hes the able press secretary to House Republican Leader Tom Cross) while waiting for him to come back to his office. As the world knows, I am an ignoramus on sports but the writer David Maraniss who wrote a biography of Bill Clinton makes this so readable that I could hardly put it down when David arrived.
During the two days I was in Springfield (which necessitated my foregoing an issue of this Report) I spoke to a good many peopleparticularly Democrats (the more celebratory people in town these days since they intensified their strength in the Senate and added to their House margin by one)and asked them about a rumor that was recurring with a good many of them during the late campaign. It was the rumor that our governor may well get indicted. Evidently it was the latest variant of rumors in the bars because the same purveyors of the idea seemed more relaxed and interested in other matters some telling me that, on reflection, no, the governor wont be indicted.
Which sort of pops the rumor balloon. I had been dining out on the idea that he will be indicted and that if he were to have the grace to resign to spend full-time defending himself, Lt. Governor Pat Quinn, of course, would succeed to the job and with his ever-green budding liberalism would be a deterrent for Attorney General Lisa Madigan to run. But throughout the day not just once I was told flatly by Democratseven those who had been critical of him during campaign season that (a) Blagojevich will not be indicted; b) if it happened there would be no likelihood he would resign under the justifiable theory that a man is innocent until proven guilty and (c) even in case of resignation and the ascension of Pat Quinn, Lisa would and should run for governor in the next primary because her popularity is so great that she would have no trouble dislodging him and going on to win the governorship.
Giddy with Success.
The Democrats are giddy with success and I dont blame them. They remind me of how I felt in the hazy Springtime of my youth after Reagan won and made the presidencywhich Jimmy Carter had said was too much for any single man to doa part-time job with luxurious naps and enjoyable vacations all the while frustrating Tip ONeill, cutting taxes, sending the economy spurting, out-foxing the Russians whose leaders kept dying on him and when one took over who was to stick around for a while, causing the whole superstructure to totter. Now the Democrats in Springfield justifiably see the world turning to them: they have an undeniable Superstar Barack Obama for president. Every Democrat I spoke with was a bona-fide Obama fan for president. There wasnt a mention of any other competitor. And on the state level, everyone I spoke to was an enthusiastic Lisa Madigan booster for governorproud that this slim young lady who once was regarded as just another heir to a family dynasty has emerged herself as a super-bright young woman. And I cannot fault them.
Elected State Central as Cure-All?
So I turn back to my old down-in-the-shoes party. Theres Chris Lauzen running for the U. S. House to replace Denny Hastert, taking up the reform that the State Central Committee of the GOP ought to be elected by the people in order to give it new vigor and in whose behalf he rails that Tom Cross is the impediment. I dont know if Tom is or not--but does Chris know that time was when the State Central Committee was so chosen? And as an assistant to the National Committeeman, I saw it in action I mean inaction?
And what leadership did we have? We had as state chairman, an elderly Robinson newspaper editor named Victor Smith who could not make up his mind what he would have for lunch or where followed by Don (Doc) Adams of Springfield. The party was run then by a group called the Bourbons wealthy financiers from Illinoisa hell of a lot better than the current Combine by the way in that they were all bona fide Republicans who didnt truckle with the Dems (with the exception of where Richard J. Daley was concerned) who gathered around various so-called political leaders: Chuck Percy, Everett Dirksen, Bill Scott, Dick Ogilvie, W. Russell Arrington, and to some extent, John Anderson. The point is, my dear Chris this idea of an elected State Central Committeenot appointedwhich you celebrate as the end-all, be-all, did absolutely nothing to instill the party with vigor. As a matter of fact, when I attended those meetings as a kind of surrogate for the Republican National Committeeman, I would often sit next to one of the elected bright leaders of vision who was elected by the people: State Senator Pete Granata, a charter member of the West Side mob, who packed a gun under the fold of his double-breasted, who sat in on all the meetings while trimming his expensively manicured fingers with a pen-knife all the while whispering to me delightful stories about Big Bill Thompson.
I expect to get a letter from Chris on this festooned with the usual frowning face emitting tears on the bottom following the signature as he has on earlier ones when he chastised me for being insufficiently conservative. To forestall the letter, let me say that I tend to support the idea Chris has recycledif it will spur Republicans to put up good candidates which it didnt last time. But I certainly dont think that general election of the State Central committee is a cure-all.
Bumping into Optimism at Last.
All too soon, my stay two-days in Springfield came to an end and I trooped to the front door, past the guards who run entrants through the metal machinery, having just told someone: One good thing: were finished with the last vestige of the `Combine and I wont have to think about her again when she and I almost collidedshe coming in the door and I exiting swiftly. Judy Baar Topinka and I were momentarily shocked so we tossed each other sprightly hellos and moved on. I will say, judging from her concession statement where she was beaming almost radiant she looked enormously relieved that the campaign was over and she didnt have to knuckle down to the arduous task of governing. And I will add that when she flashed me a campaign smile it was similarly luminescent. Getting into the car, I reflected that the world is not as bad off as I earlier surmised: perhaps those of us who didnt vote for her scored three definite positive hitssparing her from election which she may well have abhorred sparing the Republican party from four more years of indentured membership in the Combine and making the world a little bit happier for her.
And Riding to the Airport
As I rode to the airport, I reflected on my other home statethe one I have written so much about and which I share with Illinois: Minnesota. The years I spent there as a Republican operative were dominated by the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party trio of Humphrey, McCarthy and Freeman. Things got worse rather than better and by the time I moved to Washington, D. C. as a Minnesota-based operative, there was absolutely no hope none that the state would ever have a Republican governor. But two years later, the state did reject one of the most powerful DFL governors in its history for a Republican one. Then we Republicans were as giddy as the Democrats here are: we had one whom we thought was a winner as governor, Humphrey was down on his luck as result of a stratagem we pulled which caught him high and dry. There was a period of revenge where he force-fed on the voters an unqualified governor but the tide turned and a series of Republican governors and U. S. Senators followed. That string was broken just a week agobut the state, once deep blue, is a pastel blue and tinged red. How did it happen?
A wise old bird, Bill Stratton who was one of the best governors Illinois ever had (and about whom I will continue the series shortly) had a theory in his old age that politics is far more a game of abject chance than its protagonists pretend. As he looked back, he saw himself as an ambitious operator but one whose fortune was decided with the turn of a roulette wheel where the power of the turn led to the wheel stopping on his name despite all the ego he was serving up to himself that he had had so much to do with it. That is a very fatalistic view a view which tends to discount ambition and individual political labor but as I approach the age that he was when he uttered it and as I have seen events occur that seem to have turned on wild improbable luck or ill-luck, I hope and pray that he was right. And I have a sneaking hunch he was.