Monday, January 8, 2007

Flashback: Charlie Baar and the former Governor Disagree on Everything Concerning the Illinois Republican Party.

[A memoir of more than 50 years in politics for my kids and grandchildren. Note: The photo shows a young TFR in the 1960s when Charlie Barr, Billy the Kid and I were having lunches].

It was no mean feat to get Charlie Barr and Billy the Kid to meet at any time not to mention lunch: but it happened in a strange way. I forgot that I had invited Charlie on the regular day that Billy and I ate: so all three of us met in the anteroom and there was nothing to do for the two old opponents but to grin and make the best of it. The reason for their contention was historic. In 1960, Stratton was running for his second term as a progressive—but not unduly liberal—governor and Charlie ran the conservative Cook county GOP chairman and a state senator, Hayes Robertson—a close friend of Charlie’s—against him. Robertson lost but not by all that much.

The charge Robertson made was that Bill Stratton was too liberal for the Republican party, and beyond that didn’t give a damn about the Republican party or in recruiting new leaders but concentrated solely on himself. True, but Billy wasn’t much different than any other governor in that regard. Robertson also used the Orville Hodge scandal as a reflection on Stratton--but that was unjust….in the same way Blagojevich said Topinka was George Ryan’s state treasurer. Hodge was a freely elected state auditor who turned crooked, was a rival of Stratton’s and his turning crooked was his own doing, not Bill’s. Hodge and Stratton were adversaries.

The lunch was memorable but both of them later called me and said, “You planned this, didn’t you?” I didn’t but things couldn’t have worked out better: two opponents actually went toe-to-toe while I, the real kid in the group, age 38, compared to an ex-governor of 52 and a oil executive about 56, listened attentively. And I took mental notes which I transcribed later in my files from whence this reconstructed dialogue.

Actually, both later admitted they enjoyed the lunch more than they had let on. For one thing, both had a lot of time on their hands with relatively little to do and it was fun to rehash the past, putting their own spins on it: for me it was glorious because I had the benefit of both sides. They had lots of time in which to debate because, by the end of 1966, Bill Stratton’s political career was over even though he was at a prime political age; but he wouldn’t acknowledge it…former two-time congressman-at-large, two-time state treasurer, two term governor. And Charlie’s was winding down as he kept losing favor with his senior bosses at Standard Oil (Ind.)

Billy the Kid was the older and more relaxed about his fading eminence; Charlie was at the point where his long service to the Republican party should be paying off and it wasn’t. Their bosses…either at Canteen or Standard Oil…weren’t exactly calling them up to ask for advice so they whaled into each other heartily. Stratton was used as a former governor trophy to give his views to the Canteen chairman when asked; Barr was a used-up conservative now on the shelf because Big Oil was more interested in Lyndon Johnson’s wheeler-dealer style rather than in conservative philosophy.

Charlie stated by saying, “Well, perhaps you and I can agree on one thing, Governor”—use of Stratton’s former title was meant to placate Billy, “and that is that we hope the rumor that Dick Ogilvie will run for the governorship in `68 after he just got elected president of the Cook board, is wrong.”

“No, Charlie,” said Billy. “I can’t criticize him because that’s what I did in my own career. I lost a wife because of it but in this business as a Republican you can hurt yourself by staying too long—especially in Cook which has a heavy Democratic base in Chicago. No, I think that if Dick’s planning to run for governor from the Cook county presidency, he’s smart. Not that I think he’s going to be unchallenged in the primary of `68.” By which he meant privately that he, Stratton, was thinking about making another run for what would be, were he to be elected, a third term.

“Well, if I may say so, you never gave much of a damn about the Republican party either,” said Charlie, “which is what we’re finding out about Dick Ogilvie. It’s a shame because when we started Draft Goldwater, he was our most valuable ally.”

“Charlie,” said Bill. “I’ve been dying to say this to you for years. What is the Republican party? Specify it, Charlie. Tell me: what is the Republican party?”

“Easy. The Republican party is an association of like-minded individuals who agree on the broad dimensions of a philosophy who want to see these principles implemented in government.”

“Fine. Now how does the party’s philosophy as you call it get on the ballot, raise money, pay for television and radio commercials, organize the precincts, go door-to-door in some localities, debate opponents—how does it do all these things and more? How does the philosophy do that, Charlie?”


“Don’t stumble around. Tell me. How does the party’s philosophy do that, Charlie? While you’re stumbling around for the answer, I’ll tell you—since you’ve never run for anything in your life…not one thing…and I’ve ran statewide and won for Congress twice, state treasurer twice, governor twice--.”

“And lost twice—for secretary of state and governor.”

“You’re right. But how many times have you run, Charlie? Anyhow, I’ll tell you—now don’t interrupt me now, goddamnit. You’ve never run. Now I’ll answer my own question since you’re having trouble responding, Charlie. The answer is, Philosophy in which you show such a vital interest, doesn’t get on a ballot, doesn’t raise money, doesn’t go door-to-door in some localities, doesn’t debate opponents. Candidates do. Candidates who imbue a particular philosophy some of whom align with your very purist one and some of whom don’t.

“And candidates are flesh and blood, Charlie. They have to face challenges that aren’t covered by Russell Kirk in his book The Conservative Mind. The first time I ran my opponent started to clobber me good and my father’s memory good, saying I was a renegade and not a team player. And I looked up Russell Kirk and he didn’t have a damn thing to say about what to do in that situation, Charlie—because Russell Kirk, like you, never ran for office.

“So I out-manuevered him with my wits; out-worked him, out-debated him about how bad the so-called vaunted Republicans who wanted team play really were and that I was a reformer. And the voters listened to me when I wasn’t even twenty-five years old, which is where I got the name Billy the Kid. You can talk about philosophy all you want, Charlie, but political philosophy is concocted out of experience, not in cool university seminars. As a matter of fact…”

“Is this going to be a filibuster?”

“No, I’m waiting for my soup to cool. As a matter of fact, political philosophy follows…follows, Charlie…the experience of men who have run and won and run and lost. So don’t give me this stuff about who’s not consonant with philosophy. The first philosopher was a guy freezing his nuts off who happened to strike flint on a rock and saw a spark which caught on some wild grass and started a blaze and the guy decided wow, that’s how I can keep warm. And so he taught his kids that and what he taught was philosophy and what he learned was by accident, experience or what have you. The Republican party was formed by a lot of different people—mostly aligned against slavery but men who formed it for various reasons. Lincoln had been a moderately anti-slavery Whig. Seward had been very anti-slavery. Others had been not so anti-slavery formally as against it expanding into the territories: which was Lincoln’s original position. If you insist on your specified brand of philosophical purity, Charlie, as you did with Goldwater, the result is going to be just what happened to Goldwater—disaster.”

“I’ll be happy to respond while you sip your soup. I agree with how philosophy was born—following experience. But after a certain time, men determined that it was prudent to enact rules: not starting a fire with flint and a rock where the wind is blowing toward the cave so the prairie fire might threaten the encampment. Not running off with the other guy’s mate unless you want to be knocked on the head by a rock. This buildup through the ages culminated in a social philosophy. We Goldwaterites may have lost in 1964, Bill, but we’re on the way to a new alignment—with the South and elements of the blue-collar class moving into our camp. They know what their philosophy is and it’s bound to resonate sooner or later. That’s why when you look at the Democrats you see men of certain shared values. Until 1964, the Republican party was a hodge-podge: Rockefeller people just like Democrats, people like you not unlike Democrats, Bill. Actually, while we lost in 1964 it’s people like you and Dick Ogilvie who are on the outs. You--.”

“I resent that.”

“You can resent it all you like, Bill”—notice it’s Bill now, no more Governor—“but when you ran for governor you ran on a conservative set of principles. Once in, you turned out to be Big Bill the Builder just like forty years ago Chicago had a Republican Big Bill the Builder.”

This was a reference to William Hale Thompson, the last Republican mayor.

“Unfair, Charlie. Big Bill was a buddy of Capone and I defy you to point to a single instance in my administration where the mob was tolerated.”

“True. I’ll grant it was unfair. But one comparison is fair, Bill. Nobody could print money fast enough for you to spend. That wasn’t and isn’t the Republican philosophy, Bill. Now it happens that of all the governors…of all of them…you know more about state government than anybody else. You were and are a technician of government and I respect that. There isn’t a thing that went sour during your time that had anything to do with you.”

“It would have been nice if you had told Hayes Robertson that.”

“You don’t know what I told Hayes but now that you asked, I called him on the carpet and said he was unfair in that particular. But changing overnight, seizing opportunities to be all things to all men, acting as a liberal Democrat, causing government to grow, close to Daley in the early years—with these actions, Bill, you showed that the party and its philosophy means not a damn to you but you just hijack the party name to accomplish your own ends. Now you may talk.”

No, I said, let me talk. Charlie, let’s get back to Ogilvie. What do you want him to do now that he’s the county board president?

“I would like him to craft policies for the county that are reasonably free-market oriented, to cut the bloated size of government, to restore merit hiring instead of flagrant patronage--.”

“And to lose the time reelection comes around,” snapped Bill. “And then after that noble experiment, the Democrats come back and instill a government of waste, bigger patronage than ever and stay a thousand years.”

Okay, once again, let me talk. Bill, granted that what you say may well be right, what would you want Ogilvie to do?

“I believe a public official should run on as nearly perfect a conservative philosophy as it’s realistically possible. What we’re into here in politics is to elect good men. Our good men should apply the standards of honesty and integrity to their task. Not unlike Lincoln who may well have been a total abolitionist in his approach but who knew he would not get elected with that end in view so he spoke in a guarded, measured way until he got in and had the power to do what he probably had set out to do in the first place.”

“That was the old politics, the way it was crafted in the 19th century,” said Charlie, “because in those days you went from one part of the state to another and could freely contradict. Lincoln got in as a minority president because of his ability to obfuscate: he was a brilliant lawyer. These days with instant communication, you have to shoot straight and tell the truth. In a very real sense, Bill, your highly-regarded pragmatism misses the boat because it fails its first test—pragmatism doesn’t work. As Mr. Ogilvie will find out.”

Stratton snapped: “But Goldwater gave out some hard unpalatable truths, Charlie. And what happened to him?”

“He lost and lost heavily because the time wasn’t right. But the time is coming when it will be right. Maybe on the next go-round.”

But I was captivated by what Charlie had said earlier about Ogilvie. He said: pragmatism doesn’t work—“as Mr. Ogilvie will find out.”

What do you mean, Charlie?

“I mean that liberal Democrats are saying that the state cannot run, with its heavy social policy components, without an eventual income tax increase. And that while nobody talks about it, the man who will deliver it will be Mr. Ogilvie if he becomes governor.”

“He won’t if he listens to my advice—which odds on he won’t because he won’t ask for it and he and I are not close,” said Stratton. “If a tax increase is to come, it should come over his dead body and he should be in a position of having it come by means of terrible deadlock and threat to the continuance of government, with it either coming by veto override or with the governor signing with such reservation that his opposition would help him in his reelection.”

“That’s interesting, Bill,” said Charlie. “I threw that out for the first time to anybody because nobody—and I mean nobody—knows state finances better than you. And your response is very interesting. A tax increase is needed and the thing to do is to have the Democrats force it on the governor. Which is what you would do in his circumstances, wouldn’t you?”

“From the standpoint of us three at this table, Charlie, yes. The social component is such that in a few years it will be suicide to cut back on the poor. You can only cut back so much: nobody knows that better than I. If wise men decide a tax increase is necessary, wise men should apportion the blame. A Republican governor should not have the burden of selling a tax increase alone: but a Republican governor should be allowed to fight it until the cows come home and unwillingly be coerced by a strong majority to either signage or repass over a veto. Democrats can get by with a tax hike; their constituency will allow it. Not Republicans.

“If I were governor, I’d look at the fresh numbers, meet privately with the Democratic leadership and say, `Gentlemen, you say you want a tax increase. If so, you’ve got to pay for it. And I mean pay a political price. I will see that in the last analysis you’ll get it, and I mean to campaign against you for delivering it from Shawneetown to Waukegan. It is up to you to determine—and your recipient constituency. My constituency doesn’t want it so I’ll get along without it. Oh yes, and when your constituency comes to me complaining about starved services, I’ll blame you also. That’s the game. Now if you want improved services, bear up like men and be prepared to take it the abuse I’m going to dish out.’”

We parted on that note and Charlie said: “I’ll say this, Bill. You’re candid and a brilliant operator. I just don’t think Ogilvie is that smart.”

“Maybe, maybe not,” said Stratton. “We’ll find out like everybody else will—by reading the papers because he isn’t going to ask me for advice and he’s damn sight not going to ask you.”

“You’re right there,” said Charlie, tipping us a wave and off he went.

EDITOR’S NOTE: An anonymous reader commented that Barr was never a big deal in the Goldwater campaign with F. Clifton White but was only kept around because Barr could raise money. . He should refer to one of the best books written on the subject, The Agony of the GOP by Robert Novak who correctly lists Barr as a key player in the strategy. Barr’s ability to raise money was formidable but he was also one of the Goldwater kingmakers. TR.

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