Monday, January 1, 2007
Personal Aside: Reorganization--the Only Thing that Can Unite the Illinois GOP. And the Need for a Council of Trent.
I was talking with a good friend who has been involved professionally with the Republican party both nationally and locallya friend who reads this Website, incidentally. In discussing what could be done for the Illinois Republican party which is riven by dissension, we both hearkened back to my experience with the then moribund Minnesota Republican party in the latter 1950s. Then as now with Illinois, the Republican party had no respect. The two Senate seats were filledwith Hubert Humphrey, a national figure, and Eugene McCarthy, who was coming to be regarded as a national figure. A majority of the U. S. House seats were Democratic. The legislature was Democratic, the governor Democratic. The Republican party was split between the conservative Taft forces, represented by a formidable leader in the state House and the more moderate Eisenhower forces, represented by the faction for which I worked at the state party. There seemed to be utterly no unifying point that could solidify the GOP.
The Republican National Committee people were progressives; leaders of the Republicans in the legislature were conservative. Key leaders in the GOP House delegation were harshly anti-Ezra Taft Benson, Eisenhowers ag secretary. Everywhere one turned, there was dissention. The party had a paid chairman, an executive secretary and a publicist. When I moved to Washington, it was seen as a hopeless cause to resurrect the party and build unity. It so happened that the charter of the GOP allowed for its hugesome 200-membersState Central Committee which contained in general assembly county chairmen, county chairwomen, congressional district chairmen and chairwomen to elect as its chairman anyone it wished. One need not be a county chairman or State Central member. So the worsen the situation, the conservatives mounted a campaign and elected as state chairman, a dynamic, Rush Limbaugh-like character, a former television and radio announcer with pronounced conservative views. Everybody believed that this was the final step to the ultimate dissolution of the GOP: a passionately ideological chairman who would intensify the split.
I didnt believe this because I knew the guy who was elected chairman. He had been campaign manager for a Congressional candidate in the darkest part of the agriculture recession who had elected him by a scarce handful of votes411. When this guy, Ed Viehman, took over the GOP he announced that he would concentrate all his energy on the nuts and bolts of political organization. He hired me and others to put together a program called Neighbor to Neighbor which featured grassroots organization of the party. Armed with that plan, the chairman took to the highways and turned the consciousness of the party away from division to the very constructive effort of organizing itself. I never believed political organization could be made interestingbut he did so: with wit, fervor, zest. By the time he died at the terrible age of 39, he had built an organization that was ready for any candidate: conservative, moderate or progressive. The very liberal Republican National Committee-woman, my mentor, was the chief mourner at his funeral---the same woman who had predicted the end of the party when he got elected. He didnt change from his original conservatism; he changed the subject. And as liberals, conservatives and moderates vied to build organizations, county-by-county, a healing occurred. It was wonderful.
I repeat this now because I firmly believe the only salvation for the Illinois Republican party is to pull itself together in that way. Ladies and gentlemen, if Bob Kjellander were to be swooped up and carried away in a fiery chariot to either perdition or beatific reward and he as an issue were removed the Republican party of Illinois would be in the same funk: divided over issues, abortion, stem cell and all the other things that go into platform writing. This idea that we run a day-clock ticking off how many minutes and hours before Kjellander goes means that we are neglecting all the other elements. The party will either take care of him and he will exert enough power to block them. But whatever happens, we are blindsiding ourselves by being controlled by that damned day-clock. Take a look at brother Diersens excellent daily blog: so many days and hours remain before the SCC makes its decision. There are many, many more important things to decide to get ready to meet the challenge of 2008 than this. Decide about him what the party will and I have been on the record on this as well this is not the overriding reason this party was formed. At least I hope not.
The only way for the party to survive is to change the subject, get on with the organization building as (a) a vitally needed thing and (b) therapy of a sort. This is not to argue that issues shouldnt be debated and discussed: of course they should and I am on record on each one of them. But this party is in a state of unconscionable weakness at the precinct level, up through the counties and the congressional districts. Campaigns and candidates are the ones who determine the issues and we can all divide up after they spring up. But no candidates and no campaigns and no fund-raising are worth anything if the partys political organization is as supine as it now is. By all means have the SCC elected on the ballot: but if you think that alone is going to do it, think again.
If you think Kjellanders leaving is going to do it and after hes gone we will stride forth anew into the Valhalla of perpetual victory, think again. If you think a victory in Iraq will do it, think again. What will do it is to have a Council of Trent composed of SCC, county chairmen precinct committeemen legislators, business activists, church people and movement leaders only if they are willing to do party tasks and so pledge to be Republican movement people and have it ratify or elect a leader who will be concerned with only one paramount thing at the outset: organization.
Your comments, please.