Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Flashback: Ogilvie Wins County Board Presidency and Builds Republican Machine, Preparing to Take the Governorship.

[Memories from more than fifty years in politics for kids and grandchildren].

Just as Everett Dirksen had surmised…and Billy Stratton, too…Cook county sheriff Richard Ogilvie, armed with literal millions from W. Clement Stone, geared up to run for the Cook county board presidency in 1966 as first step to becoming governor and beyond. Later, just as Dirksen had feared, Billy the Kid Stratton jumped into the GOP primary race along with Ogilvie and John Henry Altorfer—but made barely a dent. Ogilvie defeated them both handily for the gubernatorial nomination.

But along the way, Ogilvie picked a team that had scant ideology and pioneered in party building based on the Daley machine model. Tom Drennan, a former “Sun-Times” political reporter and Democrat, was his chief guru-consultant. The man who made the trains run on time was Jim Mack, a bright young former Illinois Tool Works executive and ex-Goldwater ideologue who had shed strong views to become an ace pragmatist. Both Drennan and Mack communicated by respective grunts and thence to Ogilvie who was less a politician than a fellow grunter who was animated by a love-hate of the Daley prototype. Love for its power; hate that it was Democratic.

Ogilvie had few items in his knapsack that a regular Republican politician would require as basic equipment. He had (a) no charm; (b) no discernible sense of humor; (c) no basic vision of a conservative Republican style of governance. Billy the Kid was lacking (a), was better at (b) than he was given credit for and had (c) in great amounts, being able to define a conservative style of governance that wasn’t conservative but Rockefeller-ian but by the time Billy finished his peroration about the need to turn bigger government to better public use, he was still not overwhelmingly convincing to me…but, after he finished teaching me without touching his steak sandwich, I had to admit “that’s not all that bad. I don’t agree with it but it’s not all that bad.”

I had to run liaison on behalf of the Republican National Committeeman between the Ogilvie types running the county board presidency campaign and the Percy types who worked for the ex-corporate chieftain seeking the U. S. Senate against Paul Douglas. My task was to try to be helpful to the National Committeeman and the Republican National Committee for the state campaigns. Here is how a typical meeting would go with the Percy people: literate, somewhat intellectual, inquisitive, balanced, sensible.

The Percy campaign manager, Tom Houser, would say: “This campaign has going to have to skirt ideology because Chuck is a pragmatic progressive and Paul Douglas is a kind of revered person. In fact, Douglas was his economics teacher at the University of Chicago. Now the fact is that Douglas is getting old, that yesterday downstate he nodded off as he sat on the stage waiting to be introduced…nodded off as the long list of dignitaries were saluted by the long-winded master of ceremonies. What we don’t want…and I repeat don’t want…is to have anybody try to help us from the Senatorial Campaign Committee by disparaging Douglas’ age or obvious slowing-down. What we’re going to have to do is to indicate as subtly as we can that Chuck is a generation younger, that he is not much less progressive than Paul but as an entrepreneur is open to new overtures. For example--.”

He took a sip of coffee from a mug. “For example—here is Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam War—a war that Paul Douglas supports. Here we must not embrace the dove position because Paul is a wounded veteran of World War II—a Marine officer who enlisted in his late forties and Chuck never served. God we don’t want to get on the wrong side of that. But Chuck has this idea of an All-Asian Peace Conference to solve the thing. Paul is a war hawk; he wants to gut it out. Lyndon Johnson is a war hawk and wants to gut it out. And to make this even more complicated for us, Everett Dirksen is a war hawk and wants to gut it out. Our task is to avoid being sucked by Dirksen conservatives into an undertow where we’re hooting and hollering for the war. Now here’s the problem. We’re going to announce the All-Asian Peace Conference next week and what we don’t want is for Dirksen to blast it. Can you do this? Can you run interference for us with Dirksen whom you seem to have some kind of decent association with? Can you get him at least to shut up about it when we announce it?”

I would not always see Dirksen but his operative Harold Rainville who said on several occasions: “Tell Chuck to…” and he would describe what Percy could do with his All-Asian Peace Conference.

I would say: Does that mean your boss would take off after it?

Rainville said: “Possibly. Very possibly. My boss supports the President of the United States in time of war.

I: But isn’t there a kind of gentleman’s agreement when one of your own party makes a proposal in time of campaign that at the very least there should be practiced a discreet silence if Senator Dirksen does not agree?

He: No. Why the hell should there be?

I: You’re not saying that if Percy outlines this thing and Douglas the hawk attacks it, Dirksen the hawk would also attack it, are you?

He: Why not? We are at war.

I: Would that not mean that Percy’s friends in the party who share his views might not respond warmly to Senator Dirksen when he runs for reelection in 1968? I’m a novice in this thing. Isn’t that something you have to think about?

He: Well, I suppose so, yes. You’re regarded as a Percy guy, of course and you say there are people who would punish the boss if he took that stand.

I: Wait-wait-wait. I’m regarded as a Percy guy?

He: Yep.

I: Why?

He: Because Percy made your boss the National Committeeman.

I: But my boss knew Dirksen longer and is a close friend of his, a financial supporter as was his family. Are you--.

He: Now-now-now, I’m not saying anything. If anything he can mediate this kind of thing. Tell him to call me.

I: Tell him to call you or the Senator?

He: Er-er, the Senator.

I: He will. But you understand my boss’s job is to try to preserve party unity.

He: Of course. Listen, tell Percy to go easy on Lyndon Johnson’s war stuff. Go easy on him. I’ll talk to him tonight. Tell Percy to announce his plan, take it easy on Johnson, be the statesman and I’m sure there’ll be nothing but some pleasant words from us if any are required at all. Besides, Percy’s goddamn ideas put people to sleep so don’t think he’ll get a lot of press on it. But rest assured—we’ll do our part if you…”

I: Me?

He: “…if he…Percy…is a gentleman about the president of the United States.”


That was a gentlemanly discussion. Now here’s a sample of what would happen when I’d try to sit down with Ogilvie. Nothing. So I’d sit down with Jim Mack and/or Drennan. One time I sat down with both. It was at lunch at campaign headquarters. Both ordered the same thing: hamburgers and chomped noisily, slurping coffee and grunting.

Drennan: Whadyawant?

I: Just to see how things are going. Is there anything you need?

Mack: Yah.

I; What?

Mack: Money.

I: You just had a fund-raiser. You have Clem Stone. We’re--.

Drennan: Look, godammit Minnesota boy, you asked what we need. And he just answered you. Did you hear him?

I: Yes. Money.

Mack: Mjfjnbnnn.

I: What?

Drennan roared uproariously.

Mack: Mhfnbvnnn.

Drennan would slap his knees hysterically.

Mack: Nbfbfbnnnn.

Drennan: Stop it! You’re killing me!

Then Mack downed his coffee and left.

I: What was that all about?

Drennan: Oh nothing. They were just punch lines from dirty jokes we know.

I: So the sum and summary of this conversation?

Drennan: More money. Can you guys host another fund-raiser. Clem’s cutting us back.

What it meant was that I was not in the loop. Being in the loop was doing exactly what you were told and obeying right sharp: yessir, no sirr. It was on the non-intellectual model of the way the Daley people treated everybody except a few on the inside. It was the model used by Ogilvie to entice young professionals to pass muster, obey, deliver money and wait for more orders.

“I told you,” Billy the Kid would say. “It’s no good. It’s grunt time for followers.”

1 comment:

  1. I'm told while Ogilvie was in county office that he was told to take over the Maine Township Young Republicans.

    Any memory of what he did before he became patronage chief when Ogilvie was governor?