Monday, January 15, 2007
Address to the Wheeling Township Republicans.
Asked to keynote a session of the Wheeling Township Republicans, Saturday morning, I put these words down on paper. Thanks to Ruth OConnell, the committeeman and Penny Pullen. This is Part I (to be continued tomorrow).
The president of the United States was elected to a second term because he had gained the confidence of the voters who believed he had measured up to the task in a time of crisis. But not long after his reelection, many voters thought they had made the wrong decision about returning him. The country, they felt, was no better off. The crisis he was supposed to handle was actually getting worse.
His opposition in Congress was growing. And the opposition now was coming also from his own party. One Senator of his party were among his most severe critics. Editorials in major newspapers said that on his watch the central problem of the country had worsened, not improved. The conflagration besetting the country was now given a new namehis name.
Not long ago things seemed much brighter. He had won reelection against strenuous opposition including a key arm of the media. It was a poll: not just any poll a poll that was reputedly the most credible in the country. It showed his opponent far ahead of him. Again, it was not just an ordinary sample of opinion. The poll asked more than 10 million voters their opinion and had hired a thousand trained workers to compute the totals. More than 10 million votersone out of fourtallied their views in the poll that purported to overshadow other surveys in an effort to reduce guess-work to fact. And the results that came in on the first go-round were not even close. They showed this president far behind, getting only 40 percent.
So they took a second poll which was tallied just before election. Another 10 million voter survey. It showed the popular margin of the opposition shrinking a bit but still indicated clearly that the president would be defeated with his opponent getting 370 electoral votes and the president 161.
One state had voted earlier than the othersa state with a national record of being the bellwether of the nation. That state came in heavily for his opposition. When the election of 1936 was tallied, it showed that the nations most foremost pollthat of the Literary Digestwas far wrong despite its huge numbers surveyed. But no one knew that when the president flew to Philadelphia to accept the Democratic re-nomination. Seventy years ago, that president, Franklin Roosevelt, with 25 lbs. of steel braces affixed to his paralytic legs, was loaded by two men who struggled putting him on the plane. Sorry to take all this time, he wheezed to his three political aides who had taken seats beside him two of whom I interviewed many years later: James Farley, postmaster general and chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Rexford Guy Tugwell, his assistant and Thomas Corcoran his legal counsel. (Farley and Tugwell were the ones I interviewed 37 years later).
Farley and Tugwell were more concerned about flying in the spindly 2-prop biplane than being inconvenienced by their boss who was jocular and unworried. They hadnt flown much before and as the plane roared down the runway they chewed the obligatory gum and put fingers to their ears while Roosevelt studied his papers. When they got up above the clouds and the engine roar subsided somewhat, Roosevelt asked them to perform an exercise. He liked his speech of acceptance but he said it needed one small addition that would convey inspiration. He asked them to take out pencils and jot down some ideas. They did. He didnt like the offerings from either Farley or Tugwellbut when Corcoran whom he called affectionately Tommy the Cork produced his, the president said,Tommy! Youre a genius! It fits just right! He tucked the half paper on which Corcoran had scribbled thee sentences into his speech folio, put it in a folio and talked of other things.
When they arrived in Philadelphia, men on hand had the same struggle in carrying an invalid with dangling legs that were lifeless, dead weight out of the plane and assisting him to his feet where his son Jimmy and a Secret Service man would guide him slowly to the limousine. The car drove right into Franklin Field where he was helped out to face a crowd of 100,000 and a podium with a microphone where millions would be hearing his voice on the radio. The crowd had been entertained as a warm-up by the Philadelphia Symphony conducted by Leopold Stokowski and a vocal by Lily Pons, the ranking coloratura in the world.
The crowd was on its feet and cheering as he was helped from the limo and his aides bent down to tighten the braces on his pipe-stem-wasted legs. There waiting for him to walk across the stage for a greeting was 84-year-old Edwin Markham, the ranking American poet of the world. As Roosevelt approached Markham and the crowd was continuing its cheers, a brace on his right leg gave way it hadnt been properly affixed by the Secret Service man and the president tumbled out of the grasp of his son and an aide and was sent sprawling to the platform floor as the crowd suddenly gasped and then turned deathly quiet. All six-feet one-inch of him was sprawled out at Markhams feet his glasses tumbled away his speech papers scattered across the platform. There was silence as he was raised up, attendants kneeling to stiffen the leg braces. Then, restored, glasses replaced, he walked slowly to Markham, greeted him and the crowd roared yet again. He turned to the rostrum and joked with the crowd as he reassembled his papers. His son ran over with the errant half-sheet on which Corcoran had scribbled the three sentences that were supposed to give inspiration.
That speech has been adjudged one of the most vibrant delivered in the 20th century. One year after his reelection, he and the nation would have great need of all the inspiration it provided. His real popularity had descended to the basement. He had promised to restore the nations economic good health. He had taken office with unemployment at an unacceptable 14.2 percent. Now a year after his reelection despite everything he could do unemployment had spurted to an unheard of 19.0 percent, the highest in modern times! Productivity of the country was downway down. The stock market was sagging again, nearly matching the disastrous tumble of 1929. The country was in chaos and organized labor supposedly his allies was contributing to it. The media were calling it Roosevelts Recession. His party was in revolt key Senators opposing himByrd of Virginia, Wheeler of Montana.
And every day there was news of violence. In May, 1937 ten steelworkers were killed in Chicago on a Memorial Day Massacre at Republic Steels South Chicago plant. There was an erupting UAW strike in Flint, Michigan. His own supporters were asking why cant he do something to stop thisto hike employment, stop the labor violence, stop the labor-management strife that was leading to killing.
Well, the bad times passed. Less from what he did than what destiny had done to change the subject. Times got better and the country settled down, remembering his words at Philadelphia which caused it to settle down.
That was then. Today we are engaged in similar tumult. Our country is prosperous but no one cares. We are involved in a war which is named derogatorily with the presidents own name. The war is not unduly bloody as wars go but sufficiently bloodythree thousand killedfor people of both parties to ask: how do we get out? But this president insists that we shall not get out before its time and that we will win this war.
In another year, we will hold a presidential election and this president will be history. How will we fare? How will he fare in the scope of history? What will happen to his partyour party? And what will happen to Illinois a state once regarded as swing but now is seen as a deep blue state?
His critics ask how will he measure up to the test but let me respond with these words: The times are not a test of this president. He passed the test when he described the situation correctly and laid out his firm belief in his first address after the rubble of 9/11. The enemy is, he said, a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them. Further: the battle we will fight will be, in his words, a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen. Moreover, he said, I will not wait on events while dangers gather and this: If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long. The war on terror will not be won on the defensive. We must take the battle to the enemy. Finally, the doctrine of preemptive action: My solemn duty is to protect this nation and its people against further attacks and emerging threats.
If a test is to be measured by results, since we have not been attacked again, it can be concluded that this president has passed his test and will be measuring up every day he exerts similar courage to wage this war. But the test that now before us is directed to the Congress the Democratic Congress and to those Republicans who have shrunk from the battle. Let it be clear that the House of Representatives has the power of the purse and the Democrats own the power of the House. Leaders of this Congress have yet to submit a plan other than withdrawal sooner or later before victory has been won. Let no one assume that the party which in 1974 and 1975 aided by some Republicans completely cut off all military support to our ally South Vietnam is not poised to declare defeat once again. But now there is no Watergate to paralyze a president. The party that controls the purse will either come up with an alternative strategy or bear the condemnation by future generations for shirking its duty to our soldiers there and future generations at home.
After humiliating withdrawal, how will they respond to a full unfolding of civil war in Iraqfar worse than has yet been seenand the massive ethnic cleansing it would engender? How will they respond to the likely intervention of Iraqs neighbors to cut up the pie Iran Syria and Turkey? And most important of all: whsat will they propose to do, if, after our withdrawal and the total collapse of Iraq, al Qaeda and other terrorist groups secure a safe haven there form which to launch attacks against us and our allies? Will they tolerate another terror base, bigger than the one thast developed in Afghanistan? Will they be forced to invade Iraq again?
The test is not with the president. He has signaled his resolve to see this through to victory. It is with the Democrats and the Chuck Hagel Republicans. So long as George Bush will be in charge, we will be playing on offense which is what we must do to win.
Speaking of playing on offense, let me say this about the Illinois Republican party. With all the disasters that befell it last November, it passed the major test of its own. With all the odds against us with a president at an unheard of low with a sharply divided party we replaced the venerable supporter of unborn life, Henry Hyde with his personal choice to continue his legacyPeter Roskam, a firm supporter of life. Therefore let it be truly said that this party is on life-support. You bet! We will continue to support lifefrom the presidency to the Congress as it specifies in our platform.
If we had not done this if we had not elected Roskam those who wish us ill would be celebrating even today, saying that this signals the end of a veritable tradition. They cant do it because while the left gave way and even elements of the right seem weakened in words that contradict the poet Yeats the center held. And will continue to hold as this fight goes on. For we are the center not hyphenated but centrist Republicans we are the center of the party and the nation and this center will continue to hold.
What of the future? Some say they are hearing our death rattle. I suggest thats not what they hear. What they hear is us clearing our throat! Our patron is Lazarus who, touched by the Masters hand , arose. We this speaker, heavy with years the oldest one here remind you: We were pronounced dead after Goldwater lost in 1964 but who came back to elect a president four years later. We were pronounced dead again after Watergate but who came back again with Ronald Reagan. We were pronounced dead again when Bush lost in 1992 but came back to elect his son. And now they say we are dead men walking as we approach 2008?
Dead because we have not defeated terrorism overnight? Our critics will be politically dead irretrievably dead if they fail this terrorist test. I know Rahm Emanuelat least I knew him in his salad days and to turn on TV and see him have to abandon his news conference because of the heckling of Cindy Sheehan whom he is in sly maneuvering used to his partisan advantage to see him fleeing before her produced an exquisite joy to me.
About us: Show me a party that has such a panoply of attractive candidates for the presidency and Ill show you a party that is catching its second wind. A gallant war hero Senator, flying ace who refused to be released from a prison gamp until those who were held imprisoned before him were let go first an indomitable mayor of the nations most Democratic city who became a hero overnight on 9/11 and leads the polls on both sides before the campaign has begun. A vibrant former governor of the nations most Democratic state, Massachusetts, who started out as an entrepreneur became a mega-multi millionaire at 40 who rescued a floundering big-name investment house by restructuring its employee stock ownership plan, real estate business and bank loansadding transparency. Who took another floundering enterprisea public-private onethe Salt Lake City Winter Games which was going down for the count cut its budgets boosted fundraising heightened safety and led the Games to a $100 million profit, unheard of in modern times.
Who gave Ted Kennedy the worst case of jitters since Chappaquiddick at one time leading him in the polls causing the Hyannisport clan to try to get their Camelot Cameo to cut down on his Happy Hours holding Kennedy to the smallest margin of his career. Who then ran for governor of Massachusetts giving his campaign $6 million of his own money, an unheard of gesture for a Republican in that state .and won over Democrat Shannon OBrien beating the entire Massachusetts Democratic establishment which fought him all the Kennedys John Kerry the hallowed old Irish Democratic names: Congressmen Dick Neal Jim McGovern Marty Meehan John Tierney Ed Markey Stephen Lynch plus the lace hanky followers of Barney Frank holding Shannon OBrien to 45%.
This Republican governor reformed health care working with the Heritage Foundation retooled state education by setting up a scholarship to reward the top 25% of the states high school students with a four year tuition-free scholarship to state public universities and colleges. Not only thast but coming to office facing a $3 billion deficit, who cut spending, refused to consider a tax hike, reorganized state government and led Massachusetts to finish 2004 with a $700 million surplus and 2005 with a $500 million surplus.
That makes three top contenders for the presidency any one of whom can stand comparison with any of theirsparticularly if the issue is national security or domestic reform. But our party options dont remotely end with the Big 3 they include a distinguished Senator from Kansas a governor of Arkansas (but then who ever heard of a governor of Arkansas becoming president!) a highly regarded former chairman of the House Armed Services committeeand the list swells every day.
Part II and the conclusion tomorrow.