Friday, January 5, 2007

So After Ogilvie Got Elected President of the Cook County Board, We All Sat Down for Lunch: Charlie Barr, Billy the Kid and Me.

[More memories from 50-plus years in politics for my kids and grandchildren].

Charlie Barr, the Kansas-born attorney who became Standard Oil (Ind.)’s first full time public affairs officer…and who was the original Illinois board member of what would be the “Draft Goldwater” campaign…was a godfather of 1960s conservatism in Illinois. Barr was far less a lobbyist (although he was required to do some of that) than principled philosopher of business, believing that CEOs should abjure neutrality and get involved hip-deep in saving private enterprise. When he started, he had the enthusiastic support of top management—but when they realized he meant what he said—that business should take tough stands and aggressively support their champions in politics—they faded back, resorting to their public relations advisers who counseled them not to get overly involved.

In the early to middle `60s, Barr was top-of-the-heap, although he was never made a company officer. He didn’t encourage people like his CEO John Swearingen to get too much involved in fund-raising duties for Republicans; he did a great deal of it in Swearingen’s name himself. He was a self-taught strategist and expert in six major activities. First, a brilliant fund-raiser who developed contacts with other corporations to produce on-the-spot money. Second, he was an anti-vote-fraud expert and pioneered a way to fight it. After the 1960 election where vote-fraud in Illinois was credited with defeating Richard Nixon, Barr formed a cadre of volunteer lawyers and specialists to go to the polls in 1962 and spot instances of fraud—calling them vocally to the attention of the election judges and phoning states’ attorney staffers and the media to alert the abuse. He called his cadre “Operation Eagle Eye” which Hubert Humphrey referred to disparagingly as “Operation Evil Eye.” Barr got funding for it (it was an arm of the Illinois GOP), put on anti-vote-fraud clinics and saw that other corporations cooperated in sending out volunteers on election day. For these two reasons alone, the drive-by media of the day—with the exception of the aristocratic banker-like George Tagge, political editor of “The Tribune,” despised Barr.

Third, Barr was a formidable talent-finder. He discovered a suburban leader named Hayes Robertson, groomed him, kept him from making novice mistakes and got him elected Republican chairman of Cook county and later run him for governor (albeit unsuccessfully—since by then Barr’s favor with his Standard Oil bosses was beginning to run out). But until that happened, it was fun for a corporate novice like myself to join Barr and Tagge at lunch and watch them shape the news…Tagge ticking off things for Barr to do, Barr retorting with points Tagge should make—sometimes both exasperated with each other. Tagge was one of the most important figures in Illinois politics: nor was he a corrupt reporter. The story came first but he was firm in his view of interpretative reporting (exactly what Lynn Sweet is doing today for the “Sun-Times”).

Fourth, Barr was indisputably a giant in the field of presidential backroom politics: I’ve sat with such people as Leonard Hall, Thruston Morton, Meade Alcorn, Ray Bliss and Haley Barbour (Barbour the berstof them all) in regional versions of such meetings (not presidential) but for my money Barr, with his folksy down-home rural manner and ingenious poker-player manner which covered a first-rate intellect, had them all of them but Barbour and would tie Barbour in practical application and surpass him easily in conceptual politics. Fifth, Barr was a master in cognitive mastery of how the media should cover a campaign advantageously—which Tagge despite all his druthers had to acknowledge.

Sixth, Barr was a brilliant self-educated political scientist, philosophical idealist wedded to practical vision. Barr’s vision was this: business must supply the same sinew to Republican political activity as does organized labor for the Democrats—but they should play it safe, turning the spade work over to professionals of his own mode. His blueprint showed a political quotient for picking CEOs, board members, forming public affairs departments, re-energizing trade associations, reclaiming errant philanthropic agencies that strayed from their originators designs (all encased in neat legal formulae). His philosophical concepts were based on the reading of Edmund Burke, John Randolph’s views at the Virginia convention, Thomas Babington Macauley, Benjamin Disraeli, Walter Bagehot, Paul Elmer Moore, T. S. Eliot, George Santayana, Michael Oakeshott and Russell Kirk.

Barr’s great worry was hack careerists who would matriculate through government, leave, become lobbyists and capture the Republican party, subordinate its philosophy, debase natural pragmatism to bordello-level for lobbying and self enrichment, meld the party with the Democratic, substitute the gold of principle for base hybrid alloy of cheap metal. For that reason, he believed Republicans should eschew governmental buildup, tax hikes, the creation of multitudinous new state agencies, the wish to appear to be all things to all men—and stick with abstemious conservative dogma: low overhead, tax cuts whenever possible and traditional moral principle. He believed strongly that young professionals Republicans bring to government ought to serve and then go back to the private sector, either as public affairs people who would understand limited government—or go up the ladder in the entrepreneurial and management side of business.

He reasoned that there will be times when this innate conservatism will keep Republicans out of office by the enticements to mobocracy extended by liberal Democrats—but the cycle will turn as the people grow tired of liberal blandishments when voters will turn to Republicans. His mission was to see that corporations should understand and grasp principle themselves.

Armed with that philosophy, Barr got involved early in 1962 in a movement to draft Barry Goldwater for president in 1964. Working with F. Clifton White of New York, Barr became the Midwest operative whenever they would meet, as they would in a rundown motel near Michigan avenue, the Essex. Barr was joined by John Grenier, a Birmingham, Alabama lawyer, a pioneer in the state’s fast-growing Republican party; Bill Rusher, who had been national chairman of the Young Republicans, a former Hill lawyer and publisher of Bill Buckley’s “National Review.” Barr recruited a host of young, aggressive people for the Goldwater effort, including Dick Ogilvie who had just been elected the Republican sheriff of Cook county. Barr’s goal was to send Ogilvie and others forth like the disciples of Christ…go forth and do good: get elected, conservatize government, serve for a time and go back to the private sector to energize it to conservative ways. But it was clear that this wasn’t going to work. After the Goldwater campaign, Ogilvie began a quick climb upward, just like Billy the Kid. He ran for president of the Cook county board and got elected. But rather than try to conservatize the county…which Barr sorely wanted him to do…Ogilvie’s goal was just like Billy’s—use the momentum to run in 1968 for governor and move on, leaving the county to flounder.

Barr was then in his early 50s. His big goal was to retire early and teach. Harvard had just opened the John F. Kennedy Institute of Politics and Barr sorely wanted to be the first corporate public affairs person to be picked to teach at the Institute. Sadly, he was not: in fact, after he faded, it was I, his faithful steward who became the first. f I always felt Charlie should have gotten it. He did start a teaching career at American University in Washington toward the end of his life.

You could not find a man who was more opposite to Charlie than Billy the Kid, another friend of mine…canny, street-smart, laconic, cynical but not crooked…so polar opposite to Barr that as they both struggled to communicate, I feared the both of them—years my senior—in trying to find common ground would dispute so heatedly they would have joint cerebral hemorrhages. At one time, Billy pressed two thumbs to the hollows on the sides of his head and said “wait-wait, goddamit, I’m going to have a nice little stroke right here and you just caused it.” Philosophy wasn’t a big thing for Bill Stratton, two-time U. S. Congressman-at-Large, two-time state treasurer, one-time loser for secretary of state, two-term governor of Illinois, one-time loser (by 1966) for a third term.

The denouement of a longstanding battle between them was waged at the Merchandise Mart’s M & M Club after Billy and I did a coin toss for who paid (both of us were members, Charlie the guest) and Bill lost, meaning he had to pony up on the Canteen Corporation’s dime. The issue was Dick Ogilvie, the sheriff, who just won the presidency of the county board, who was clearly going to move ahead in two years and run for governor.

There: I’ve set the stage. I have to quit because would you believe it, my wife insists I have to go to bed early in order to get up at 5:45 a.m. tomorrow in order to be at the Resurrection Hospital work-out room where all of us post-bypass people work out with the nurses taking your blood pressure before and after…and giving you hell about being overweight which I am. But I’ve set the stage: next time…Monday…the debate between two giants which served as an antecedent to what has happened to the Illinois Republican party. Adios.


  1. ...Al Sharpton didn't participate in the debates? Seems like it was the presence of Dennis Kucinich and Al that made them worth watching.

  2. You sir, are a pain in the ass. Why don't you and your phony URL drift off to the gay s/m blogs where you belong? You obviously have the intellect of a --
    (need help here)!

  3. Tom,
    What you forgot to memtion in saying nice things about Hayes Robertson was that he ran against Ogilvie in the 1962 primary and that he teamed up with Elmer Conti while Ogilvie teamed up with Ed Kucharski to form the OK ticket.

    And while Charlie Barr did participate in meetings with White he was not truely one of White's keys, he was there because of the $$$$$$ he could bring. White's key people were a group of YRs that he had worke dwith through the years and had been the bone of his YR Team. It was this old(now old)YR Team that became the strength of many state repulican organizations in the years following Goldwater. We haven'y seen this type of GOP farm system since.