Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Personal Asides: Daley’s Victory…More Spiritual Children…WPD’s Comments on Catholic Bishops…Won’t Somebody Say a Kind Word for Carlos Estes?



It is just as it had been reenacted so often with the old USSR when after “election.” A bulky figure moves to the center of the parapet overlooking the Kremlin to acknowledge the plaudits from the sycophants. Once again it is the drab 64-year-old Richard Daley, a figure with no inspiration, not the ability to utilize the English language—not even to draw laughter from his butchery of it--whose sole contribution continuance of the Party in furtherance of more public construction, the Olympics, which means more contracts and jobs. His father could make a point by shouting while standing on his tip-toes, his ruddy cheeks glowing. His son is drab and unexciting as the uncreative mechanic he is. He is our Gorbachev. He gives nod to modern times but is unable to beckon reform as Gorbachev failed to match Deng Xiaoping who opened the doors to the free market while Gorbachev still prattled of “social fairness” i.e. keeping the socialist economic system. Daley does not want to change and seemingly cannot change the system that bred him…jobs, contracts, paybacks…cannot muster the courage to really democratize, to give life to a merit hiring system, but, head-down sticks with the old ways, which very possibly because of a vigorous prosecutor will bring him down.

Most of the others before him were at least more interesting. Harold Washington gave an eloquent, unscripted, bright and witty salute to democracy…before him, Jane Byrne was at least a change in the old order from the over-coated stolid male figures standing immovably on the parapet and had a good idea in ChicagoFest until the Black Messiah shot her down…before her, the droll, mechanistic 11th warder Michael Bilandic who never wanted the job but at least squired a good-looking wife and sired a child—amazing his friends at least twice: our Leonid Brezhnev who at the very least had legitimacy. Before him the man who loved the job and at the very least, with quavering jowls and frenetic assault on the language, prompted mirth, Richard J. Daley who bellowed he was being crucified even criticized and who shouted that because his rule was being slighted by allegations, “we must get those alligators and make them stop!” No comparison can be made between him and any Soviet leader, Daley mercifully dying as his popularity oozed away.

Before him Martin Kennelly, the daily communicant and ate sugar rolls after Mass with the nuns who probably had more savvy dealing with the politics of their convent then he with the city: dumped, like Georgi Malenkov for political incompetence, Malenkov for expressing defeatism, Kennelly for not respecting the Party…and before him Edward J. Kelly who was as autocratic as Nikita Khrushchev who ran the Party for a long time but who weighed down with a legacy of rudeness, distraction, arrogance, megalomania and old age was dumped because of his liberalism: strangely, he was so pro-civil rights, so strong for “open covenants” in housing, he lost touch with the whites. And before him, Pushcart Tony, our Stalin, mal-educated, a free-thinker-unbeliever in a Catholic city, with a round banker’s face that gave no hint of the depths of calculation, ambition, love of power, jealousy, cruelty and ability to generate terror that lurked behind the façade. And who was shot to death at the top of his game.

Then you have to go back to the era which is just like any other urban history—composed of rascals, incipient tyrants and pontificators from both parties…Republican Big Bill Thompson who for all his sleaziness was a pinwheel of color…Democrat William A. Dever, a reformer, the only real one to serve as mayor…the pro-William Jennings Bryan Democrat, progressive William A. Dunne the only one to serve as mayor and governor. Even now as paintings hanging in a City Hall corridor they are more vibrant than the current holder of the office. That’s because Republican interests—business interests—sold out their party years before because of thrift: it was cheaper to have only one party to do their bidding than to waste money on two.

So with this victory, there were no inspiring words; indeed none from this man ever in his life. Richard M. Daley gives no inspiration, no vision, no reform, no inkling of progressivism. A winner with no inspiring words he was “reelected” by a people with no one else to turn to, so aside from the plaudits of the hacks, the victory merely meant more of the same grey machine-made government.


Spiritual Daughter—Julie (Mrs. Jim) Leahy, bright, beauteous and peppery, she raises five kids, keeps Jim in tow and has an insightful view of politics and the world. Jim whom I failed to identify in an earlier go-round is, as many know, the executive director of the Republican Assembly of Illinois, a grassroots outfit I founded twenty years ago.

A Further Fill-in on Spiritual Progeny--When I first starting designating spiritual progenies, I neglected to tell much about them. Beginning with Jesse Taylor, he is a key staffer at Haymarket Center he proved his dedication to his work and posterity as the driver and possibly closest personal aide to the late Msgr. Ignatius McDermott…driving him, seeing he was cared for and comfortable… and since the co-founder’s passing has been a top administrator at the Center….

Spiritual Daughter Kathy Posner is the gigantic-hearted humanitarian and fund-raiser of a thousand good causes about whom I wrote earlier last week and who is probably the most genuine bleeding heart I have ever met…

Spiritual Daughter Terry Sullivan is the assistant director of Midtown, the highly reputable private agency that provides education to disadvantaged kids from Chicago, an expert on music, gifted vocalist who formerly put on the famed debates at Bughouse Square in her former role as a top staffer at the Newberry Library…

Spiritual Son John Powers is a gifted engineer, superb raconteur, generous benefactor, compiler of the best book ever produced on the Catholic churches in Chicagoland…and incidentally the founder of Pay-Pal.

Spiritual Son Nicholas Lund-Malfese is a multi-talented lawyer, raconteur, philosopher-theologian, former law school professor, leading executive at the archdiocese of Chicago who along with Christine has brought into the world a gorgeous baby daughter, child number five, for whom Lillian and I will be godparents.


A question on my take on the weak level of contemporary Catholic bishops (with some noted exceptions) has come from a frequent commentator, W. P. D. who asks if the current crop is not better than the past collection from the `60s and `70s. Well, frankly, no. And that includes the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin whose tenure would fall in that category—at least as executive director of the USCCP and archbishop of Cincinnati. When you take a look at Roger Cardinal Mahony who has been crafting programs that unfailingly include gay advocates…chronicled in detail in a recent “Wanderer” and the pitifully weak selection of Archbishop Donald Wuerl in Washington following the more pitifully weak Theodore Cardinal McCarrick—all this topped off by the resignation of Stanislaw Wielgus as archbishop of Warsaw, no less, there is no doubt that something is amiss in the bishopric selection process in Rome. The Wielgus appointment and resignation the same day underscored a serious flaw in the appointive process.

This is a man who for 22 years was a secret communist agent who may well have been responsible for persecution and deaths of legitimate priests. At least one priest made the case in the “Tribune” the other day. You mean to tell me that nobody had an inkling of this man’s treason in the Vatican that would at the least lend doubt to his bishopric ordination?

WPD: If the G-2 intelligence is that bad at the Vatican, small wonder some whopping bad fish have been getting through the net.

Carlos Estes.

Let me at least say a kind word for Carlos Estes. His primary job was to drive one Teyonda Wertz, the chief of staff for the state Department of Human Services. According to his lawsuit, Wertz thought he was a pretty slick looking article of a young man, called him a “boy toy” and propositioned him when the two shared a hotel room arranged by her on a two-day state business trip. She rationalizes it by saying the hotel had only one room—a suite—and she had to make do by arranging that both of them stay together. Whereupon according to the complaint, Wertz donned a pair of silk pajamas, purportedly for the edification of Carlos Estes.

Let it be said that Carlos Estes allegedly demurred. Wertz said he would make love to her or he would lose his $70,000 a year job according to the legal complaint—but Carlos Estes believed that even as a boy toy his chastity was his jewel. Besides the rumor was he had a girlfriend to whom he would be true—which allegedly got Teyonda Wertz’s goat. Stop here. We don’t know all the facts except what it alleged—but stay for an answer.

We in Illinois are used to a shoddy parade of people willing to do anything to keep their patronage jobs. Not so Carlos Estes who, purportedly,k said no-no-no-no, I won’t do it. Yet who was fired by the state? Not Teyonda Wertz. It was Carlos Estes. Will not someone second my motion for Carlos Estes to be saluted for his adherence to chastity. And after one look at the photograph of Teyonda Wertz, his taste? I ask you. It was an easy choice perhaps, looking at her picture—but there was $70,000 at stake. Who among us would not grit his teeth and think of the state motto: “Illinois—Please Don’t Pronounce the `S.’”

All hail Carlos Estes.

Flashback: From the Hospital Bed--More on the Genesis of Liberalism.

[Memories from well over fifty years for my kids and grandchildren].

When I joined Father one day, to my pleasure he was shaving, with soap, bowl and his old Rolls razor which he would sharpen himself by running it back and forth in its case: the blade was permanent. He had given me one and unfortunately I gave it up for an electric; now that I am back to the blade I wished I had it.

Like old times, me listening to your thoughts as you shave, I said.

“Well, I was thinking the other day as I lay here that we never played a lot of baseball but all I did was talk politics and public affairs to you. Did you miss a lot of fun having to hear me bend your ear??”

Not in the slightest. As you understood, I was never an athlete anyhow. But now’s a good time to reexamine your own brand of conservatism. You’re a conservative but are you convinced the Republican party is one? (It was 1966; Lyndon Johnson had won the presidency by a landslide two years earlier and the GOP was in the minority in both houses).

“Well, I’ve never been one to say that there should be a theory to which all conservatives should repair. But my kind of conservative would have to begin to recognize a transcendent moral order and recognize that a kind of divine law is at work in society although we may not fully realize it. That would be the first principle. Belief in God and natural law.”

And the second?

“Well, it would be familiarity not undue experimentation. By which I mean we should prefer the devil we know to the one we don’t. There is a tug between order and freedom and to go overboard for one to the detriment of the other is no good. Hamilton was big or order as you know—but carrying order to the uttermost would mean a kind of fascism. Jefferson was big on freedom—but moving freedom to the end of its tether would mean anarchy. So the tension must be kept between order and freedom.”

Any more?

“Yes. Conservatives should recognize how indebted we are to past generations and rely on them. Without having learned from Hamilton we would have to reinvent the whole concept of order in a democracy; and without grasping essentials from Jefferson we would have to do the same. The next would be prudence which Plato said was chief among virtues.”

That’s a total of four.

“The next would be to understand what is meant by both diversity and equality. This chase after equality is a vile canard. All men and women come with different talents and it is fair to say that none of them are equal: an outrageous proposition by Jefferson’s dictum but then he was a poet. He wrote that all men are created equal although he was a slave-owner at the time. The only time men are equal is when they will stand before the bar of God at the Last Judgment. This country has succeeded not because it pushed equality so much as it promoted diversity. And in an interesting way—by perpetuating all sorts of inequities: wealth, property, rewards for innovation. Our liberal friends have seized the concept of equality and tried to promote a leveling which results in social stagnation. This is because liberals today—not those of yesterday—have substituted this for belief in God. They do not realize that if natural inequities between people are destroyed there will come a tyrant to establish a new form of inequity.”

What else do conservatives believe in?

“Conservatives believe in the doctrine of fallibility, imperfectability. Liberals seek a perfect social order but none has ever been created and if it were, men—liberals among them—would become tired of it and foment a rebellion, or fade away out of boredom. Conservatives understand the imperfectability of the human race; liberals do not: they look for the perfect case of social justice on earth. But because conservatives believe in God, they know that such cannot happen on earth—only in heaven. Since liberals chafe at the idea of heaven…which they call disparagingly pie in the sky when you die…they strive to build perfect social justice on earth. I think it is fair to say that they shall bring down this country—not in mine, possibly in yours or probably in your children’s.”

I expect you realize that the hospitalization and medical expenses you are incurring are being paid by Medicare which became law not long before you grew ill. Without this wouldn’t you be impoverished?

“No. No one who died in our family was impoverished because of medical care. My mother died in the twinkling of an eye—heart attack: boom. My father lingered with cancer but not long. Medical care wasn’t as good as it is now. But the payout is always death. The worry that we may run out of money to take care of us is the same worry that wants to forestall death in perpetuity. And it is not just being frightened but is unrealistic.

“Death—and I’ve had a good deal of time to think about it—is far from the worst thing that can happen to a man. We all must die. If only some of us died and others remained immortal, that’d be a bad deal. How would I feel dying, believing I would never you or Mom again? But you will die, too and we will meet again—all of us, if you don’t screw up and fall off the path of virtue, kid. About Medicare, I’ve been paying in to Social Security for a long time—since 1935. I doubt if I am getting back in services the equivalent of what I paid so far. With you, it’ll be somewhat better but not all that much, depending on how you wind up. You’ve paid in since the mid-1940s when you got your first job at Sun Electric as an office-boy. Your kids will be on the short end, having paid in a great deal more than they will collect.”

As long as I’ve known you, you have said that liberals substitute belief in God for belief in government. Have they always done so?

“No. Far from it. You know Humphrey, I don’t. You’ve said he is determined to make lives better for people as he sees it which is expanding government. Ok, he and I don’t agree on government programs all that much but I’ll grant him good intentions. The people of my youth—Bryan and others, even Norman Thomas—believed in the doctrine of improvement and believed in God. I think they were wrong but I grant them they believed. A new group coming into liberaldom—and I call it liberaldom—disagrees with them, however. I think our president, Lyndon Johnson, is one of those. He keeps talking interchangeably about serving God and humanity.”

What’s wrong with that?

Because Jesus never told us to love humanity!. The preachers who say He did—mainly liberal preachers, notably black ones—have their own political ends in mind. Jesus told us to love our neighbor! . I challenge you to find where He said we must love humanity. He didn’t because He knew it’s incredibly harder to love your neighbor than to proclaim that you love all humanity. Jesus told us to love as he did. That means to love and serve the individuals we meet. Liberals project that to love humanity which leads them to espouse huge spending programs to generate supposed benefactions from which they take immense pride. But they’re wrong. Jesus did not come to earth for the sake of humanity. He came for you and for me. Nor did he come to heal all of us; he had the power to heal all but he left many unhealed. Liberals don’t understand that. If they had the power to remold Jesus they’d have him coming here to help all humanity ala Lyndon Johnson at the airport fence, shaking hands and giving people that squint-eyed look of his.”

Would you sketch out the differences in belief between liberals and conservatives of our stripe?

“Yes. Increasingly, the newer liberals coming into their own in this country, believe that traditional dogmatic religions place revelation, creed, God and ritual on a higher level than what they describe as humanity. They’re right about us! We believe the ultimate first cause of existence is God. We believe God is the ultimate source of all authority. We believe God has revealed to us the truths by which we are to live. All men will be judged after death on whether they have lived up to the truths God has revealed. Liberals, particularly the younger secular ones, don’t share this view. They believe moral values derive their source from human experience; that’s what John Dewey propounded at the University of Chicago. He said that ethics is situational, needing no theological sanction.

“They maintain that human life has meaning as we create and develop our futures. See the difference? When old man Bryan inveighed against Wall Street he was at least a firm believer; in the Scopes trial where he tussled with Clarence Darrow he declared he believed in literal creationism. All well and good. Moderns say he lost the argument; not at all. He won the argument and won the case. Bryan was a good liberal—at least one we can deal with. When Norman Thomas talked about a greater welfare state under his Socialist Party, he was nevertheless a believer. The newest crop does not share that view. I don’t know whether Vice President Humphrey does or not; you tell me. I doubt, frankly, that Lyndon Johnson does. He wants to turn on the pump and pump money out for all humanity. That’s the mark of a new liberal. And Nixon who is likely to be our nominee in `68 believes in next to nothing so we are not going to get much of a change there even if he wins.

“That’s why I say modern liberals are destined to cause trouble if they gain the ascendancy because its endemic that they do not believe in anything—including…and this is coming…patriotism. We have seen wars fought where liberals and conservatives stood together. The very last one may well have been the Korean War. I doubt if that unity will exist for any future war, no matter how just.”

Now Mother is here and she says you must go to sleep for your mid-morning nap. We’ll return after lunch.

“And she is the boss.”

They embraced. As we walked down the hospital corridor, she said “I learn more from him every day.”

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Personal Asides: The Christian Right is Looking…Does the Bible Frown on Dirty Stories?...More Spiritual Sons and Daughters…Trivia Answers.

The Christian Right.

“The New York Times” which is hardly an authority on the Christian Right, being an articulate instrument of the secular Left, nevertheless has a political correspondent whose beat is conservatism…and he does pretty well. He is David Kirkpatrick. He reported Sunday that the Christian Right is seeking to find a presidential candidate since it is not impressed with any of the Big 3—Giuliani, McCain or Romney. I have enough connections with this group to know that some fragments are indeed looking. My advice to them—unsolicited as it is—is this: Don’t be too choosy or picky…disqualifying this and that candidate because he is insufficiently conservative, or has freckles or said something heretical at a church picnic in 1974. Keep this up and you’ll be out in the cold. Don’t get the Big Head and think that the Electoral College is your oyster. It is not. You’d better settle on somebody who’s in the major leagues rather than fool around with the also-rans: Brownback, Huckabee and Hunter. They may be ideologically better than others but the issue is not going to be embryonic stem cells or anything like it in 2008, no matter how much we wish it to be.

The issue will be national security. I’ll bold-face it: national security…how to protect this nation from a wild and woolly world out there. The fact remains that if we lose the Iraq War, this world and this nation will be a lot more dangerous for us, our children and grandchildren. So, social conservatives, keep on being choosy on the minutiae and you’ll end up either with a candidate who can’t get elected or by withholding your favor foul up the Republicans a candidate who is deprived of a majority—allowing either one of their Big Three—Clinton, Obama or Edwards—to get in. No one was more critical of Bob Dole in 1996 than I. But here’s Dr. James Dobson telling the Council for National Policy in prideful terms that he voted for a third-party candidate for president that year because Dole was insufficiently conservative. He must have been thanked profusely by the Abortion President, Bill Clinton for that act of woolly headed non-political sagacity. Smart guy that Dobson. He showed `em all right.

The idea that because one hasn’t been a pro-lifer since Roe v. Wade he is disqualified is sophomoric. Ronald Reagan signed the most permissive abortion law in the nation; George H. W. Bush was known as “rubber George” for his strong support of federal contraceptives and abortion rights. Just go ahead and pick some Arkansas hayseed who lost 110 lbs in a year or and is a palavering evangelical preacher or a Kansas Reagan imitator and when you lose the whole thing to Madame Clinton you can repent at leisure. Grow up, social conservatives. We’re not back to the early `80s where, having elected a pro-life president, we were throwing our weight around on how we would end legal abortion: shall it be an amendment banning it altogether or an amendment which would send it to the states? Well, with all that bravado we didn’t have the troops to submit even the weakest amendment. We had arrogant leaders who were blacklisting future candidates including that whacko Richard Viguerie drawing up a list of disqualified candidates, including vetoing somebody because in college he voted for a radical as president of the freshman class.

Already this loud-mouth who attacked Reagan for being insufficiently conservative, who has profited more monetarily than most social conservatives through his mailing lists has disqualified those who are not for building an anti-immigration wall…and others are saying that unless a candidate is protectionist he should not be supported. Don’t they get it? The issue is not about these things: it is about national security and who is best equipped to win the Iraq War and keep us vigilant at home. Look around at the whole field but don’t get so picky that you end up endorsing Ron Paul whose loss in the primaries will make you feel so principled…and alone.

The Bible.

Now that I got that off my chest, here’s a trivia question for those who know the Bible. No search engine allowed. Does the New Testament frown on the telling of scatological or dirty or tasteless stories? If so, where? Can you call the appropriate verse or verses? If you sneak a compendium of quotations to cheat on this, you’ll hear a mighty rumbling from somewhere up above. Frankly, telling improper stories is my secret failing—the more scatological the better—and a sin I’ll to kick this Lent.

More Spiritual Children.

Spiritual Daughter. Mary Hobbes, a nurse with a radiant, smiling face like a Botticelli angel, a former Franciscan nun who is the dedicated therapist at the St. Benedict’s Home where the nearest I had to a brother, my cousin, Fr. George Helfrich, my same age, lived and who was the one he wanted at his bedside when dying…the only one beside his brother. Nope, he didn’t want me. But I wouldn’t want me bedside either. Hobbes indeed resembles an angel if she is not indeed one who was sent to earth to provide comfort. She’s back ministering to others at the St. Benedict Home, eaking out a living on the peanuts the archdiocese pays while it overpays Jimmy Lago (Jimmy is his real first name), the lord Chancellor.

Spiritual Son. Terry Przbylski, onetime suburban newspaper writer and editor, thoroughly profound follower of politics; great accordion virtuoso; gifted prose stylist; expert on Polish-American history, a Michigander and wholehearted critic of contemporary journalism.

Spiritual Daughter. Kathy Salvi, excellent adviser and wife to Al, mother of a great family, dedicated leader of Opus Dei, excursionist to the Beijing population conference years ago when traveling there meant great sacrifice and some danger; gallant candidate for the Republican nomination for 8th district Congress.

Spiritual Son. David McSweeney, youngish (barely in his 40s) brilliant investment banker who exhibited a superb range of expertise on all the issues affecting the Congress during his whirlwind race against Melissa Bean, the incumbent, who was a sorry match for him.

Spiritual Son. David Dring, 30ish press secretary to state House Republican Leader Tom Cross whose issue familiarity and expertise with media is truly outstanding and unrivaled with a thorough acquaintanceship across the state that is edifying.

Spiritual Son. Nicholas Hahn III, head of a conservative group of students at DePaul who are out to change the flaccid university to truly become what it advertises itself to be: Catholic. And at the same time, leading the fight to give conservatives an equal hearing on campus. Young, 19, articulate and a born leader…a future top-notch lawyer…he is in his second year as a lay missionary for Catholicism and conservatism at a heathen, hedonist university whose president and board tolerate and endorse Queer Studies: 101 and who should be ashamed of themselves for selling out…while the archdiocese looks the other way and a so-called paragon of Catholic education, American archbishop John Miller, stationed in Rome and known for his homiletics on true Catholic education is timid, hiding under the rug and doesn’t even answer his mail. Tell me, where do they find paper shufflers like Miller? And how do we find more brilliant young men like Hahn?

Trivia Answers.

The perceptive Freiderich March got the answer to the first question where the guy standing next to me in a restaurant Men’s Room said he saw me on C-SPAN and enjoyed my remarks about foreign policy. He thought I was Lawrence Eagleburger the roly-poly, jowly former secretary of state. He was first; D. J. Skraggs was next. And old friend Frank Nofsinger got the second one—where the guy believed I was the late Lawrence O’Brien who was chairman of the Democratic National Committee during the break-in at his Watergate office, asking what I thought the crew expected to find in my office. Congratulations. And thanks to my cranky neighbor Eric Zorn for his correction on my punctuation.

In 1972 when I was 44, still roly-poly with reddish hair and jowly, I was in Washington, D. C. and hired a sleek, black stretch limousine to pick up my boss, the CEO of Quaker, at the Madison Hotel, driven by a chauffeur with cap with me sitting in the back seat reading the “Washington Post.” The car swept up to the hotel entrance during that era when negotiations were underway to end the Vietnam war. A dark-haired young woman cried out, “Look! There’s Dr. Kissinger!” I disembarked, held up two fingers in a victory sign and said in my best Germanic accent: “Negotiation iss the key!” was kissed lastingly on the mouth by the self-same, emotionally overstressed woman (a not too bad experience, actually) and strode into the hotel to small clapping of respectful applause. My boss who was waiting inside the door said, “well, what was that all about?”

Flashback: More About Wilson and Many Other Things.

[Memories of family and politics for my kids and grandchildren].

Once the desperate circumstances about Father’s precarious health became more clear—with the cardiologist saying that despite the removal of the oxygen tent, he could go any time—I determined to elicit even more from him in bedside talks, similar but more advanced than the talks we had while he shaved as the child in me listened.

So you believe Woodrow Wilson by engaging us in a war we totally didn’t need was the evil genius of all that came thereafter?

“No doubt about it,” he said. “You must remember that journalism was complicit in this conspiracy as was his family. There is the legend that Wilson tried every possible way to avoid going to war but, as a rational man of conscience, could not. The media surfaced with the story that on the night of April 1, 1917—just a day or so before Wilson appeared before the joint session of Congress to urge a declaration of war—the editor of the `New York World’ Frank J. Cobb was called to the White House from his home in New York to visit with the president as Wilson supposedly underwent the grave torment of deciding whether or not to ask for the declaration. Cobb was a close friend of the president; his newspaper was hotly anti-German, enthusiastically pro-British and Cobb had published several leaks given to him by the president which detailed the Kaiser’s plans for conquest—rather outrageous given the time and place.

“Cobb had to take a train to get to Washington and arrived at the White House at 1 a.m. on April 2—when later that day Wilson asked for the declaration--the story says. Thereupon Wilson paced the floor and reviewed the pros and cons of the decision, which Cobb faithfully recorded for the media. The supposed Zimmermann promise to Mexico that it could get back Texas and Arizona if it joined with Germany against us—a fantasy if there ever was one and which has not received serious attention from historians ever since—was on one side of the equation. On the other side was nothing more than Wilson’s desperate wish for peace. Not mentioned was what we have learned since: that the Lusitania had been filled to the gills with armaments for Britain as part of our working relations with England; not mentioned was the fact that Wilson as a supposed neutral had demanded Germany abandon all submarine warfare against England or the U. S. would sever diplomatic relations.

“Cobb wrote this up notwithstanding that there is no record whatsoever of his visit on the White House logs: strange but he could have been allowed to sneak in, but why? This was no clandestine visit. The greater evidence is that when Cobb was hailed into the White House to hear the pros and cons of an agonized president, on April 1, Wilson’s speech had already been written. Believe it or not, Cobb’s biographers then changed the time and had him visit Wilson two weeks before—when indeed the logs show he did visit. The change was made by Maxwell Anderson, the playwright, a journalist friend of Cobb’s who wrote the play `What Price Glory?’ There is every reason to think that the supposed last-minute reprieve for peace which Cobb heard from Wilson was invented by Cobb and made whole by Anderson after Cobb’s dearth.

“Not mentioned was Wilson’s undercover work to defeat a resolution the Congress had passed under the sponsorship of Oklahoma’s Senator Thomas P. Gore—Gore Vidal’s grandfather—which simply warned Americans traveling on belligerent ships would do so at their own risk. Wilson worked behind the scenes to kill that. Why?

“Because Wilson wanted provocations for war. It is even a part of our own history now as you shall read in books I shall give you. Wilson sent a letter to the German Kaiser to plead in his best public relations terms mentioning the urgent needs of humanity against German submarine warfare, the Kaiser responded by personally writing in longhand on Wilson’s very note the fact that Wilson was asking for the unrestricted right of U.S. citizens to cruise about on hostile and armed merchantmen whenever they like in a zone of war. The Kaiser asked if Britain’s starvation policy against Germany was not in the urgent need of humanity. Answer: starvation was quite right; submarine tactics were quite wrong in Wilson’s view. All these things in Wilson’s favor appeared in the daily press. None of the responses, appeared. That’s why General Pershing was right when he said immortally that in war the first casualty is always the truth.”

You indicated that Wilson’s family was engaged in this effort to promote war and him as a dove of peace.

“They concocted the heart-warming personal feature story which journalists loved to use and pro-Wilson historians still do. The story swept the country that Edith Wilson, his second wife, woke at midnight on April 2, 1917 and found her husband had gotten up and was tapping out a speech on his portable typewriter—they had them then--on the South Portico of the White House by the light of an oil lamp, the speech he would deliver later that day to a joint session of Congress requesting a declaration of war! She says she didn’t disturb him but left a glass of milk and a cookie by his chair as he hunched over the portable and typed. Thus the lonely president ala Lincoln together with his thoughts. The country was charmed. But her story is contradicted by the notes of a White House staffer who denies he was out on the portico at all but in his office a few steps from his bedroom. The implication is clear: Edith’s public relations people wanted to show how sacrificing and humble the lady was--leaving the glass of milk and cookie by his side unobserved.”

Why would her public relations people as you call them care what kind of image she conveyed?

“Because after his stroke when she ran the country and dealt with the House and Senate arbitrarily she was neither humble nor self-sacrificing.”

Let me ask you another thing. But first, are you getting tired?

“No. But where is your mother?”

She’s somewhere, maybe having coffee. Would you rather rest?

“Not in the slightest. Ask away.”

You have maintained that two presidents wanted to get us into war with Germany—Wilson and FDR. You have maintained, quite convincingly to me, that they had their messianic reasons for this: to become international leaders, perhaps even greater world figures than they already were. I don’t believe you showed them the slightest sympathy; yet you went to work for the FBI during Roosevelt’s third term. Wasn’t that the equivalent of working for FDR as the FBI would be expected to be on FDR’s side to cause us to intervene in the war?

“The FBI wasn’t on Roosevelt’s side in the slightest. As to where my sympathies were with the Germans, to start at the beginning, when we went to Germany in 1938—you, Mother and I when you were ten—I became alarmed at the racist haste and anti-American hostility over there. I was alarmed at the hatred directed against the Jews. I don’t know if you remember this, but you and I took a walk through the streets of Berlin one day and saw the Jewish stars affixed to the stores which were run by Jews. Do you remember that?”

I’ll never forget.

“I read the daily newspapers over there and I was disheartened at the evil they portrayed. After September 1, 1939 there was for all practical purposes no international travel; Germany was at war with Britain and my job shut down. For a time I was doing some insurance selling to keep the wolf from the door. I was secretary of the Germania Club, a German-American fraternal group that dates back to Carl Schurz, a group that gathered at Schurz’s behest to engage in the funeral procession with the bier of Abraham Lincoln and which continued to meet ever afterward. A friend at the Club said that someone from the FBI was interested in making contact with a person who knew German and participated in German-American fraternal affairs. There was only one person in the FBI Chicago office who could read German and she was a stenographer.

“I took the call which was to a man named Bill Krein—a charming young FBI lawyer. We had lunch. I was somewhat hesitant because just as you suggested I thought that FDR’s FBI which was part of FDR’s Justice Department would be as eager for us to get into the war as was FDR. It turned out quite the opposite. The Justice Department under Francis Biddle was; but even Biddle was less enthused than FDR. As for the FBI which was under Biddle, J. Edgar Hoover was far more interested in the Communist influence in this country—the feds and Hollywood—than the very little of the Nazis. But Krein had the job of keeping tab on the Germans. I thought it was entirely all right because if there were German disloyalty, our government certainly should know about it.

“There’s an interesting religious theme to it as well. Hoover was particular about hiring Catholics, although he was not one. Catholics at the time were basically anti-communist due to their religious upbringing and Hoover was decidedly anti-communist, more worried about infiltration from the communists than from the Nazis whose influence he discounted. Krein was a Catholic; in fact a lot of them were. And almost all of them were suspicious of FDR. Interesting.

“At first, I volunteered to do anything I could to make him familiar with German-American activities. There was a daily paper published here, the `Abenpost’ and a Sunday paper the `Sontagpost.’ I began by merely telling him what it contained—not much, just the chronicle of German-American social doings and gossip. Not long later I received a call from his superior, the agent in charge, Walter Devereux who became my good friend. Walt asked if I would translate pertinent stories from the newspapers as well as look over communications they had intercepted that were in the German language. I guess what I submitted on a free-will basis was so good that Walt became determined to hire me. I was agreeable since my job with the German steamship lines had gone pfffft anyhow with the European war.

“ They hired me full-time from late 1940 on but wished that I not mention it to anyone. To many people I was working in insurance or this and that. I went to the office every day at 188 West Randolph where the FBI’s local office was located and put in long days and nights translating newspapers and documents the agency received from German sources. It is interesting but you’d think they would have had much better translators than I in Washington. They had the translators—certainly better from a scholarly standpoint--but no one who was in touch country-wide with German-American affairs with the contacts I had had since I had been the western passenger manager of the North German Lloyd where I had free-range for sales trips across the country. . Quite often, my analyses were sent to Washington and I was told—after a promotion—that Hoover himself preferred my material to the stuff he received in his own office. Why? Because the analysis in his own office was pedantic and theoretical—not practical.

“As the line’s top Midwest, then national, salesman I knew far more German-Americans than anyone else in the agency—then anyone at the FBI in Washington, actually. It was quite an honor to be invited to go to Washington with Walt and meet with Hoover himself. The first time I went, Walt, Hoover and I had lunch in his office and Hoover asked a good number of questions about German-American activities which, fortunately for me, I could answer. All told, Walt and I went to Washington to meet with either Hoover and his assistants or Hoover directly about three times. You took a train, the `Capitol Limited’ in those days. I was asked to move there so I could be closer to the operations but I argued it would not be good. My information network was centered largely in Chicago. Besides, I hate Washington. Always have; always will. I am glad Hoover agreed.”

What were your observations about Hoover?

“I was much impressed with his bulldog looks which presaged his bulldog tenacity. He took the work seriously but recognized that the principal motivation of the Roosevelt administration was to get us into war under whatever pretext—similar to what had happened under Wilson—and this was what Hoover didn’t want. He also knew that yes, communist sympathizers really existed in the Roosevelt administration and saw first-hand the switcheroo from the days of the Hitler-Stalin non-aggression pact to the overnight change with the communist sympathizers after Hitler broke the pact and invaded the USSR.

“Then, overnight, the sympathizers felt we could not get into war fast enough. Hoover was also very wary of FDR’s interest in cracking down on dissent from German-American groups while not doing the same with communist sympathizers in his administration. Finally, Hoover had a long memory and recalled the terror tactics used against German Americans by A. Mitchell Palmer, Wilson’s crusading attorney general to whom civil liberties meant nothing. Hoover was as assistant to Palmer and disagreed with the tactics at that time. And as I said earlier there was yet another factor. Hoover who was not a Catholic was very big on hiring Catholic agents. Why? Because the church in America at that time was hotly anti-communist, this coming from the hierarchy many of which were Hoover’s friends and allies including—few know this—Fulton Sheen. A Jesuit at Georgetown, a Fr. Walsh, had written a good deal about communist theory. My being a Catholic gave Hoover more confidence that I would be thoroughly anti-communist. And he was right.”

On the way home from that session with Father, I told Mother that I had never seen him more dedicated to sharing material like this with me.

“That may be because he knows his time is short.”

Who told him?

“No one that I know. I didn’t.”

Why do you think he suspects?

“Yes. Of course. He has had the last sacraments and he is ready. He receives the Eucharist every morning. He seems at peace. He’s the most calm I’ve ever seen him.”

It’s more important to me than ever to hear him out, Mother.

“It seems to give him great satisfaction as well. Just watch to see that he doesn’t overdo in talking with you. Listen but don’t push him. When he gets tired, let him quit. While you’re at work—mornings and afternoons—he and I talk about all sorts of other things—not politics, things we have enjoyed. It’s selfish I know but I wonder what will happen to me after he goes. Oh, we are comfortably well off, of course. But taking care of him has been my whole life.”

Well, then taking care of you will be my whole life.

“Tommy, thanks, but I want to be independent. It’s my nature ever since I went to work at age 16. But we can talk about this later. Right now all I can think about is him. And if it’s true that we don’t have too much time left to be with him talk to him and remember what he says. He’s never written anything down. I’m counting on you to remember it and carry it forward to your kids and grandchildren.”

Monday, February 26, 2007

Personal Asides: The Odd Fellows Congregation..A Special Trivia Tease…More Spiritual Sons and Daughters.


Traditional Anglican Communion.

The Traditional Anglican Communion, a group of an estimated 400,000 clergy and laity has been threatening to break ranks and join the Roman Catholic Church, dissatisfied with the liberal push by the Episcopalian church in America which has been veering leftward, blessing same-sex relationships, extolling same-sex marriage, ordaining homosexual priests and bishops. All of this seems optimistic for the Catholics—but the leadership of the Catholic Church in the U. S. is the weakest I’ve seen so long as I’ve been around and cognizant—for about, oh, seventy years.

I am not sanguine about the intellectual hardihood of most Catholic bishops. With few exceptions and here I can list one (and there are more including some auxiliaries I know well) Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska…the people ordained to the episcopate are weak-weak men…men with few convictions…men fearful of getting bad secular press…men too timid to stake out even the most routine contentions to defend the Faith… Where do they find these men? They could be mistaken for Rotary Club officers jockeying up the ladder. In fact I have not seen such puddles of jelly who are living miracles—born without spine, hearts or guts…since the last national convention of Odd Fellows—and I mean Odd Fellows.

My sole conclusion is that they were not chosen by accident. Rome, let’s face it, doesn’t like hard chargers. The litany of vapid nonentities goes on: Mahony…Egan…Wuerl…Flynn…where should I stop? Does the Traditional Anglican Communion know what it could very well get with this bunch?

Special Trivia.

Here are two questions involving mistaken identities where people confused me with others far more prominent. I’ll relate the mistaken impressions exactly as they happened. Your job is to identify who it was the mistakees thought they were talking to. Understand, if you haven’t met me, I’m a pretty roly-poly guy, jowly with grey, even almost white, hair.

Two months ago, I was in Washington, dining by myself in a pretty nice restaurant. I went to the Men’s Room. There, standing in solitude, I was shortly joined by another guy who also stood there, side-by-side with me, for a time. This is what he said:

“Larry—I saw you on C-SPAN last night and I think what you said was terrific. As this impasse over Iran’s nuclear weapons grows into a crisis, a consensus has taken over the American people that this is a sure-formula for disaster. I want to thank you for putting this to rest last night.”

I determined to play along. I said, “what specifically did you like about what I said?”

He said, “That we should get serious about a regime change over there. Congratulations, Larry.”

Question: Who did he think he was talking to?

Thirty-three years ago I was in Washington, making a once-weekly visit for lobbying purposes in connection with my job at Quaker Oats. Same roly-poly size, same jowly presence; a little more reddish hair than now. Another restaurant, same trip to the Men’s Room. Standing there meditating when a guy stands next to me. Quiet for a time and then this is what he said:

“Larry—what the hell do you think they were looking for in your office?”

Same question: Who did he think he was talking to?

I’d tell you not to use a search engine but one wouldn’t do you any good anyway.

More Spiritual Sons and Daughters.

Spiritual Son: Charlie Johnston: Alabama-born, one of the best Republican grass-roots campaign organizers in the business, former radio talk-show host, ebullient sense of humor.

Spiritual Son: Jack Franks, brilliant, dedicated, integrity-filled, courageous Democratic state Rep in McHenry county, chairman of an important committee and sooner or later a statewide candidate for high office.

Spiritual Daughter. Debbie Franks, wife of Jack, outstanding wife, mother, political analyst and door-to-door communicator; Democrat who crossed over to do “Democrats for Topinka” last year.

Spiritual Son: John Kass, the all-time best political and social commentator the “Tribune” ever had as well as its most seasoned City Hall correspondent; deft wit; dedicated husband and father whose advice on what books to get your kids shows real intellectual depth.

Spiritual Son: Mike Noonan, the best manager and strategist the Illinois Democratic party has along with being a superb presenter of his party’s position—all this and very-very young.

Spiritual Son. Elias Crim, Texas-born, brilliant editor, prescient business type, excellent writer, longstanding friend. He could be my natural son if I had married at—what?--18?

Spiritual Daughter. Penny Pullen, woman of sagacity and courage; excellent writer, terrific communicator; a droll wit; one-time outstanding state legislator.

More coming. I pray for you all.

Flashback: The Oxygen Tent Removed, Let the Yesteryear Talk Renew.

Empty Hospital Corridor
[Memories from fifty years for my kids and thirteen grandchildren].

When next Mother I arrived at the hospital, a nurse approached us as we walked down the corridor…a sight that still, when repeated, makes me apprehensive. “I wanted to tell you something,” she said as she jointly drew in our breath. “No, it’s good. The oxygen tent has been removed and your husband and Father is extremely happy about it.” As were we. Mother embraced Father for the first time and congratulated him for being a good patient which resulted in its removal.

“All things come to he who waits,” she said quoting St. Catherine of Siena. “You see? You’ve been calm and good and this is the result.”

“Ah, yes,” he said as he leafed through the newspaper.

She said she hadn’t had dinner so I sat with him while she went to the cafeteria.

It’s been a long time since you indoctrinated me during the shaving sessions, I said. Have you changed in any substantial way?

“What do you mean?”

Well, when you were holding forth it was in the `30s. It is now the `60s. You told me that the first fatal thing that happened to this country in the Era of the Modern was the presidency of Woodrow Wilson and his pressure to take us into the First World War.

“Exactly right. Consider that he was reelected in 1916 with the slogan `He Kept Us Out of War’. Not long after his reelection, it made his bow on the world stage with an arrogant presumption. He called upon the warring European powers to let him mediate a `peace without victory.’ Can’t you imagine that the European powers asked: who the hell are you? Of course the warring nations rejected it and Germany announced that on February 1, 1917, it would use unrestricted submarine warfare against the Brits and ports of Britain’s allies in the Mediterranean. Wilson broke off relations at once and sent the German ambassador back to Berlin in early February. What was the reason? The slyest trick of all—one which would have taxed even the imagination of Franklin Roosevelt.”

The bogus telegram?

“The bogus telegram. It purported to be a message from the German foreign minister, Arthur Zimmermann, to the government of Mexico which said that if war broke out between Germany and the U. S., Germany on winning would promptly restore to Mexico the territories it lost—Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. The message was transmitted to Wilson by—you could have guessed—a British cryptographer. Neat little package, right? Nobody saw the original; the so-called `translation’ was given to Wilson by the Brits who sorely wanted us to join the war to win it for them. And the American people tended to believe it—except for the `Tribune’ of course.”

Your favorite newspaper is somewhat more wobbly these days, I’m afraid. Now since we will never know how fraudulent the purported Zimmermann telegram was or was not, what led you to believe that Wilson’s character was so rotten—and how do you document it?

“All that needs to be known about Wilson is that he was emotionally unbalanced. He had what they called a nervous breakdown as a student and his intransigence, his failure to compromise coupled with his insults to those who disagreed with him, paved the way for his messianic vision as the leader of the world and his inability to accept the Lodge Reservation which would have guaranteed that the Senate would approve the treaty along with the League.

“Take a look at one of his bitterest quarrels which received little attention then and less now. He was a first-rate professor at Princeton; then was hired as president. That was the error. Giving Wilson authority over an institution was a big mistake. He immediately saw his messianic destiny as abolishing exclusive dining clubs—not exactly an important step on the road to democracy let us say. But after he won that dispute, his eyes glistened as if he was seeing a vision as he outlined an expansion of the graduate school.”

We talked for a long time about this guy Wilson. An emotional cripple, lacking confidence with bravado to make up for it. A long conversation ensued, one of the best we ever had. At the end I asked what happened to Wilson’s idea of a redesigned graduate school, with money used for it at the expense of the undergraduate school.

“The man who abolished elitist dining clubs was at heart an elitist. It was his graduate school which he would make the equal of Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford. He wanted to spend the money there. That would have been fine but given that he had proved himself a terrible fund-raiser, was entirely inappropriate and the money he wanted to spend would have bankrupted the university. Nevertheless he charged on. This guy alienated the faculty, the board of trustees and even Grover Cleveland, a Democratic ex-president, a member of the board of trustees, who sided against him. He charged them all with defending privilege as against democracy. The ravings of a man who was not quite right in the head. He actually said that those who disagreed with him were `traitors to American’s ideals.’ They canned his ass as well they should have, the board voting unanimously against him, including Cleveland, and he was a man without a future in academe.”

Mother entered the room at that moment. “We could hear you out in the corridor. Who was canned?”

“Woodrow Wilson. My voice carries, does it?”

“The nurses enjoy your use of colorful language. You used colorful words to describe your lunch.”


“No! That’s good, Hon. Your voice is stronger and you’re stronger. I married you for your opinions.”

“Certainly not for my dancing.”

“Not for your dancing: that’s right. See, my father thought Wilson was a saint and martyr. You changed my mind. I just hope you’re right. It would be terrible if a man with your well-stated opinions would be wrong—just because Wilson was a liberal. You wouldn’t do that, would you?”

“No. I liked Lodge and he was a liberal.”

But (I asked) how did Wilson surmount that firing?

“By his visionary Messiah nature which wowed your newspaperman friends. Liberalism was and is the religion people get when they ditch religion.”

I’ll remember that.

“Please do.”

He must have done something beyond that to get elected Governor of New Jersey.

“Not really. You see it wasn’t all that different from today. FDR started out with Arthur Krock of the `New York Times’ who thought Roosevelt was conservative. Wilson was adored by George Harvey.”

…Who was--?

“Editor of `Harper’s’ magazine whose contacts centered on J. P. Morgan, Jr. who always wanted a conservative Democrat to go along with the conservative pro-business Republicans so business wouldn’t have to worry when the Democrats got in. The same general philosophy that later had them romancing Al Smith and a whole list of Democrats in 1932 who would be good pro-business types including Franklin Roosevelt who was being buttered up by Joe Kennedy no less.”

So what did Harvey do?

“Harvey used his connections with Morgan, who like his father was the undisputed king of American finance, to importune, let us say, certain prominent reporters who loved to sup at the great man’s table in off-the-record sessions. Those sessions lasted for years, every month or so. All the while Harvey was touting this fired college president as the guy to run for governor of New Jersey and from there to the presidency to snatch the Democratic nomination away from the man Morgan truly despised—William Jennings Bryan who had run against McKinley twice in `96 and `00 and against Taft in `08 as the enemy of Wall Street .

“Morgan feared Bryan and feared a return of Teddy. Teddy was still a young man, remember. Morgan wanted a conservative Democrat to start climbing the ladder. Wilson was to be the guy, born in the south, born in Virginia, who practiced law in Georgia—a true southern racist, by the way—also an enemy of the Germans and the Irish along with all other immigrants--who had written favorably about the Ku Klux Klan in his book `A Constitutional History of the American People.’ He hated unions; he loved trusts, called monopolies justified and that political bosses were necessary to keep government running smoothly. So Morgan got his friends together and in those days money could be hidden from complete disclosure and they carried for Wilson as governor in 1910. Once again, conservatives were fooled.”

What breed of cat was Wilson?

“Screwed up, as all—or most—liberals are. You know my view: Liberalism is at its root a belief in a false god: a substitute for religion. Wilson was a dissident son of a minister who didn’t get on with his father or the church. A friend of Harvey’s—a journalist who was a Wilson devotee—wrote later that Wilson told him that he was meant for the `rough and tumble of politics’—his words. Adding `my instinct turns that way.’”

Not all that bad.

“But the instinct was a hunger for fame to get even with a very critical father, who was a minister, and show him that Wilson had what it takes. When he was courting his first wife, who died early, he wrote her he wanted to `drive the opinion from the entire world in my favor for change.’ So after he took J. P. Morgan’s money and his friends money and got in as governor of New Jersey, he took a sharp turn to the Left. Where have you heard that before? Overnight he changed his opinion about unions. They were now good. Trusts were now bad. Big business had to be tamed. That set him up for favorable press—you know all about favorable press from your Minnesota days, don’t you? And right away he was in the race for president in 1912. Nobody wanted Bryan any more; that would be his fourth run. Taft was the guy for J. P. Morgan—not perfect—but here was Teddy coming back as a Progressive, the man J. P. Morgan feared almost as much as Bryan. So with Teddy splitting the Republican vote, Woodrow Wilson, once a conservative now a liberal, got in with 42 percent of the vote.”

“Hon, that’s enough for tonight,” Mother said. “It’s just like the old days with you talking like that, dear. I love you. We’re going to go home now and let you get some rest.”

“I don’t feel tired,” said Father. “You both will come tomorrow?”

We will.

As we walked down the hospital corridor, she said: “Tommy, we’ve got to be brave.”

Be brave? He was just like the old days. No oxygen tent--.

“I know. I’ve talked to the heart surgeon and he’s not optimistic. I mean, it’s good they took the oxygen tent down, good he’s more enthusiastic but they’re not giving me a lot more to go on. They still don’t think he’ll make it, Tommy. We’ve got to be very optimistic with him, get him to talk politics as you have—but all the while, be ready for what may happen. And it may happen suddenly.”

Friday, February 23, 2007

Personal Asides: William (Bill Dock) Walls and Russ Stewart on “Political Shootout”…More Spiritual Sons and Daughters.


Walls & Stewart.

Candidate for mayor of Chicago William (Bill Dock) Walls will be on “Political Shootout” Sunday along with ace journalist and political analyst Russ Stewart, lawyer and Nadig Newspaper columnist. That’s Sunday at 8 p.m. on WLS-AM (890). Walls is a far more feisty candidate for mayor than is Dorothy Brown, the Clerk of the Circuit Court. But he will have a tough time convincing Stewart that he will win—which his advance notices claim.

Stewart will give his opinion on key aldermanic races in the city. His batting average is very good.

Spiritual Sons and Daughter.

Remember, they have to be young enough to qualify as progeny of a 78-year-old man.

Spiritual Son: Frank Penn, former Chicago police officer and decorated veteran of Vietnam. Erudite man of the people.

Spiritual Daughter: Jill Stanek, the heroic nurse who held a dying baby born live after a botched abortion and who drove the issue through the Congress which passed the “Born Live” bill which was signed by President Bush. Fearless fighter for the defenseless.

Spiritual Son:
Jeff Berkowitz whose relentless questioning and thorough preparation on access cable TV puts most political analysts on major news outlets to shame.

Spiritual Son. Jack Higgins of the “Sun-Times”, the best political cartoonist of this era, easily ranking with the greats of all time—John T. McCutcheon, Cary Orr, Joseph Parrish, Vaughan Shoemaker

Spiritual Daughter. Christine Dudley, brilliant Republican counselor, moderate GOPer imbued with canny prescience.

Spiritual Daughter. Fran Spielman, the city hall correspondent of the “Sun-Times” whom I never met but whose workmanlike sagacity redeems the tabloid every single day of the week wherein she writes a good third of the political news of the paper and still ends her day by 5 p.m. after which she’s home with her family.

Spiritual Son. Al Salvi, bright, deft lawyer, perspicacious former state lawmaker, ex-radio talk show host; expert on a hundred things. All this and a sense of humor as well.

Flashback: “Don’t Die, Hon—and That’s an Order.”

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

The night Father was brought into Resurrection hospital, I spent the night dosing on the hard-wood couch in the anteroom; at dawn with a crick in my back, I went to a vending machine for coffee and inquired at the desk. I was allowed a peek into his room; he was sleeping under an oxygen tent with machine lights popping on and off. This was long before the era of bypass surgery which I myself experienced under relatively calm conditions almost forty years later. I talked things over with the resident physician on the floor; as far as could be ascertained, he was not in immediate danger of death but very noncommittal. I phoned Mother, reported what I had seen and told her I was going home to shower, shave and change my clothes. We agreed to meet in the hospital anteroom at 10 a.m.

When she entered the anteroom, she looked a lot better than she had the night before—less agitated with more acceptance. No sooner had we gulped coffee from the vending machine than Conley appeared. An embrace for a greeting, then his diagnosis. Father will never work again; if he’s lucky—very lucky—he will eventually leave the hospital…but there is no telling when. The heart attack was truly massive; so massive that it was anomalous he was still alive. He has not been a particularly good patient; he detests the oxygen tent, punches his fist at it. His emotional upset is a great worry because anything that sets him off could well kill him. Conley was in a quandary: to tell him this could induce panic which could kill; not to do so could allow him to fret excessively which could kill.

“My God, is it that precarious?” she asked.


“That means he may never leave the hospital, may die here.”

“Well,” said Conley, “I am not a heart specialist but I have seen a lot of cases like this. The heart is a wildly unpredictable thing. There are people given up for a fatal—the next attack—who are still around. But there’s no use kidding ourselves, he’s critical and if he goes home…and I say if…he will have to live a very sedentary existence. Resuming work at his office is entirely out of the question. I have retained a heart guy—Bill Mammoser, who will talk to you in a few minutes. Well down the road there will be surgery to alleviate the strain on the heart, with veins taken from legs and arms to send the blood re-circulating and remove traffic on the blockage. It’s not here yet. Before you see Mammoser, you should go in to see Harold. I don’t have to tell you to avoid any kind of agitation. It’s critical. I’m not going in because he knows I’m a scold.”

We entered the room; he was awake, heavy dark circles under his eyes. He said nothing, noticed us and drove his fist into the oxygen tent. All my life I had heard them call themselves “Hon” for Honey.

“Hon, I don’t want you to do that,” said Mother.

“I hate it.”

“I know you hate it but it’s keeping you alive, allowing you to breathe more easily.” She blew him a kiss.

“I can’t even kiss you with this thing. Rotten godamn thing.”

“I don’t want you to say these things because you’re not to get excited.”

“Don’t care, Hon.”

“Listen to me. You do care. Or you ought to. The important thing is that we have you and you have us and an oxygen tent is not going to get in the way. Where did you get so foolish as to let something like an oxygen tent which is for your own good anger you? Don’t you want to continue to be with us and talk about things with us getting your thinking about things?”


“Of course you do. Did you say hello to your son? He slept on a hard bench in the anteroom all night because he loves you.”

“Hello, Tom. I’m sorry you had to do that”—and he began to weep softly.

“Listen to me,” she said. “Listen to me. You stop that this minute. I won’t have it. You have your mind—and it’s a great mind. You have your sense of humor and it’s a great sense of humor. You have your insights which are great insights. You have your son and he’s a great kid. You have me; well, maybe I’m not great but pretty good. I passed a room down the hall where a man is like a vegetable, waiting to die. You have your faculties. Did you ever think about thanking God for that? Did you ever think of saying a prayer of thanks? I’ll bet you haven’t. I will not have this anger!”

He writhed in pain and the machine burped a red light sending a stream of medical attendants rushing in, brushing us aside.

“I—want—her!” he said waving his arm at Mother.

“Move over to him, missus,” said a very young doctor with peach-fuzz on his cheeks, “while we work”

They put a kind of clapper on his chest, contracted it and his body convulsed; his eyes stayed open.

“Hon…” he said.

She said: “Yes.”

“Hon—don’t—die—before--me. Don’t—you—die and that’s an order.”

The peach fuzz guy smiled as he worked, repeating: “that’s an order.”

“Of course I’m not going to die,” she said. “I have to be around to take care of you.”

Afterward, Mamosser, the heart specialist, said, “he had another serious one while you were there. I don’t know how many more he can take.”

Mother said, “then he must have the last rites—conditional, of course.”

“He had it last night when he had another spell.”

“You didn’t tell us he had another spell.”

“2:30 a.m. I was with him; I’m afraid I was too busy to wake your son in the anteroom. We were pretty busy around this bed last night. I called the chaplain who gave him the last sacraments.”

I wish you had awakened me, I said. That’s what I was there for.

“Believe me, we had our hands full.”

How long has he got?

“I can’t tell you. He might stabilize and be around for quite a while.”

Days? Weeks?

“Maybe weeks.”

“He’ll never leave the hospital then,” she concluded.

“My opinion is no.”

Another doctor came to us. “He’s asking for Mrs. Roeser.”

We went in.

“Sorry for that interruption,” he said. “Feeling o.k., Hon?”

She said, “tip-top. How are you?”

“Going to take your advice. See, when I get worked up that’s when the bad stuff happens.”

“You got it. Listen to me and you’ll be okay. I’ve been telling you that for 43 years.”

“You think I’ll ever get out of here?”

She said, “I know so.”

“What’s happening in the world outside, Son?”

Martin Luther King is tearing up the Democratic party. Lyndon Johnson seemingly can’t control him. He’s ripping at the fabric of the big cities which are run by Democrats.

“There’s going to be a political realignment. The blue-collars in the postage-stamp-sized neighborhoods are going to come over to our side and the rich—those rich on inheritance—are going to the other side. We’ll win the presidency in 1968—but with whom?”

Nixon, I suppose.

“God I hope not. I look at that man and see disaster. He has no firm consonants.”

But there’s nobody else—Rockefeller isn’t viable.

“What about Reagan? Doing a great job in California.”

He’ll try but won’t get it.

“Too bad. I want to live long enough to see Reagan president.”

Mother said: “You will.”

“Hon, I don’t want to be rude but I can’t keep my eyes open.”

“Good night,” said Mother.

I’m staying in the anteroom, I said.

“No. I don’t want you to! Go home to your family.”

Tonight will be the last night. I’ve got to go to work tomorrow.

“Let him do what he wants,” said Mother to him. “Go to sleep now. I will blow you a kiss through the tent.”

“Isn’t it awful?”

“Not awful,” she said. “It keeps you going.”

“You think?

“I know so.”

And so it went--from July 5 to August 9, 1966 when all ended. But we talked a lot before.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Personal Asides: The Catholic Bishops ...More Spiritual Sons and Spiritual Daughters.


Catholic Bishops.

When Catholic bishops are ordained they are required to lie—lie

prone, that is, face downward before the altar. The other day two eminent ones…Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, D. C. and Edward Cardinal Egan of New York…placed kissy-face with prominent pro-abort candidates for president. Archbishop Wuerl said he had no plans whatsoever to elevate the pro-abort position of Catholic Democrats to the state where they might be denied the Eucharist, notwithstanding the Church’s teaching. And Cardinal Egan, when asked how he felt about Senator Hillary Clinton and former mayor Rudy Giuliani huffed and puffed and said they were all his friends.

Which gets back to the prone position that the prospective bishops must take as they lie face downward before the Vatican altar including Egan and Wuerl. Last year as they and a dozen others were lying before the high altar, a little child asked his father in a loud voice what they were doing lying on their faces. Everyone tittered. The father responded softly, “they’re being ordained.”

“But why are they lying down?” asked the child plaintively in a voice clearly heard throughout the congregation.

The father’s response was just as loud.

“They’re having their spines removed. It’s a necessary formality before ordination.”

The child was very grave in response: “I see.”

Spiritual Sons and Daughters.

Yesterday I said I would begin a list of Spiritual Sons…those whom I admire, value and for whom I pray—adding that “I am not allowed to have Spiritual Daughters because that could be misunderstood.” A response from Bob Schmidt set me straight. He wrote: “and Spiritual Sons can’t be misunderstood?” He added: “Better you do what you think best and don’t worry what others think.” He’s absolutely right. The only qualification is that these valiant young people have to be sufficiently junior in age to this old codger as to make the sons and daughters designation appropriate.

Add to the Spiritual Sons: Jim Leahy…Jesse Taylor…John Powers. Starting the list of Spiritual Daughters: Terry Sullivan…Kathy Posner.

THREE QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF BEFORE YOU VOTE FOR PRESIDENT. Was Reagan Out of Touch or Was it a Brilliant Ploy by a Veteran Actor?


By Thomas F. Roeser

An article for The Wanderer, the oldest national Catholic weekly.

CHICAGO—Earlier on in this series of articles for The Wanderer, I said that no Democratic candidate for president could possibly be attractive to a traditionally conservative Catholic (who is pro-life and still anti-Iraq War). The possible options are with the Republican side. So, having outlined the pros and cons of the various Republican candidates (the Democrats’ turn will come later) what are the criteria to use to make a determination on whom to support?
For fifty years I’ve relied on three. More about them later.

I’ve always tried to meet and interview all the candidates—and I’m still doing it. It’s helped that I was a newspaperman and later a corporate executive who had access to other people’s campaign money (not my own) which intrigued candidates sufficiently to spend time with me. I interviewed President Dwight Eisenhower at the then Wold-Chamberlain field in Minneapolis in 1956 ; I had three distinct shots at querying Richard M. Nixon—in Chicago in `64, `66 and `68. I never questioned JFK but saw him sufficiently first-hand in Minnesota in 1960 and `62 and studied his remarks so as to draw a conclusion.

I never felt interested enough in Lyndon Johnson to bother trying to get an interview but I did spend an interesting evening with Barry Goldwater in 1964 while he flew a jet roundtrip-- from Minnesota to South Dakota and back again--with the co-pilot a 70-year-old grandmother, an excellent pilot who could swear like a longshoreman, causing Goldwater to double up with laughter as he sat at the controls. I knew Hubert Humphrey very well, having traveled with him from one end of Minnesota to the other as a journalist.

I never talked with Jimmy Carter but one of the longest and most profitable sessions was lunch and a four hour face-to-face session with private citizen Ronald Reagan in 1979, one year before he was elected president, while he waited for a plane connection at O’Hare for California. Walter Mondale had been an across-the-hall office neighbor as Minnesota attorney general so I knew what he thought long before he smothered his real opinions as vice-president and presidential nominee.

I spent the longest, most boring dinner in my life sitting next to the 41st president George H. W. Bush at a dinner hosted by the City Club of Chicago (where I was president) trying to prop my eyes open as he worked to parse his cliché-laden answers to my questions. I drowned Hillary Clinton by shaking my snowy overcoat in New Hampshire and covering her with melting ice and was the victim of her scathing looks and tongue while her husband Bill was nice enough to hang up my coat for me and answer a lot of questions. I met Sen. Al Gore in Chicago with my old Democratic friend the Rev. Jim Wall, editor of the Christian Century.

I had questioned Sen. John Kerry at length on night after he lectured at Harvard down the hall from the class I was teaching politics there. Believe it or not I have never met George W. Bush, sorry to say. But in 1969 in the Nixon administration, I drank a lot of coffee with Don Rumsfeld’s top aide at the Office of Economic Opportunity since the agency I headed required we work closely together--a lad named Dick Cheney (he pronounced it “cheeney” then) and I’ve interviewed him on my ABC-Chicago radio program several times since. That takes us up to this year.

Two months ago I spent 1-1/2 hours with Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), a Catholic convert from evangelicalism and last week it was two hours with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) along with about 20 people or so. All in all, not a bad record for putting tough questions to presidents, vice presidents and wannaabes for the past fifty years.

But you don’t have to be a nosy journalist like me to satisfy your curiosity about presidential candidates. There’s an easy way to do it. A website called www.realclearpolitics runs all the transcripts of news conferences and speeches for free and you can easily bone up. You can find out more about them there than anywhere else—and it’s all free. The point is: bone up on them before you decide who you’ll vote for.

Having boned up, I ask myself the following three questions: First, does the candidate appear to be well-motivated to do what is right—not just for his own political advancement but for the nation’s—if he becomes president? Second, is he sufficiently up to the challenge of the job intellectually and physically? And third, do I have any reservations or personal doubts about whether he would hold firm to his stated convictions and not flinch when the political heat is on.

Asking myself these three questions has always helped me. Having spent some time with Nixon before 1968 and watching his beady little eyes dart around as he thought of palatable answers, I had reservations about him concerning numbers one and three. Considering that he was running against Humphrey whom I knew very well over fifteen years about whom I had reservations on number three, it was a rather difficult job making up my mind. I said the heck with it and went with my heart.

Ronald Reagan was the greatest man I met running for president—but, believe it or not, I had trouble giving him a perfect 3 for 3 score. I graded him tops on number one and tops on number three. After our Chicago meeting I had doubts about him on number two—whether he had the intellectual stuff to be president.

When we were together in Chicago, he was relaxed and jovial, having served two very successful terms as governor of California and having come close to winning the GOP presidential nomination over Gerald Ford in 1976. He was 68 years old, slightly hard of hearing but with that burnished reddish pompadour that he assured me had not been touched up by Max Factor. In fact, he dug into his wallet to show me a picture of his big brother Neil, two years his elder who similarly had not a grey hair in his head. Why he thought showing me Neil’s reddish hair proved anything I don’t know: maybe they both had hired Max Factor! But until he got ready to climb on his plane, I was ready to give him 100% on question two as well. But then he seemed to unintentionally talk me out of it.

As we walked together to the plane, like the TV detective Columbo, I had only one more question to ask. He had been governor of California during the same time span as Richard B. Ogilvie—a fellow Republican--had been governor of Illinois. Ogilvie was the exact opposite of Reagan. Reagan was charismatic; Ogilvie was a nerd. So nerdy was he that he wallowed in fine print of legislation—down to the very last sub-section, semicolon and period. Everybody knows Reagan was not a detail guy—as governor or president, but he was a broad-brush specialist, setting forth general objectives and letting his staff carry them out.

Even so, long after he became a private citizen, Ogilvie told me a fascinating story. He said, “Both Reagan and I inherited deficits and spending programs from the Democrats who had greatly overspent on social programs. Californians and Illinoiosans both had gotten used to the continued levels of funding for the social programs—nutrition for the poor, programs for maternal care of poor women, special law enforcement help for sheriffs, a whole host of things that were very popular.

“When Nixon became president, the word came down to all the governors that the feds were going to shut down the pipeline for these funds going to the states. The federal government was hemorrhaging money. Nixon ordered them to shut the pipeline on these services and if we wanted them to continue, we’d have to pay for them ourselves out of our own state budgets.”

Ogilvie continued, “This posed a tough political problem for all the states, but particularly the big ones with huge urban centers like California and Illinois. Which meant Reagan and I had the same problem: we were supposed to pick up the cost of these programs for our states—Illinois and California—because the feds were going to shut down down—poof!—turn off the money spigot. To answer to the voters as to why the programs were ended was sure political death--but to pay for them meant ruinous tax increases. As it was, I was going to have to have a tax hike. This would mean I’d have to put it some more taxes which would kill me politically. What to do? I knew Reagan had the same problem.”

The former Illinois governor told me, “I didn’t know Reagan at all, had only talked to him a few times as national governors conferences. But at one, I tapped him on the shoulder and asked, `what are you going to do?’ He said, `I’m going to do what I have to do—cut the services.’ I was highly impressed: wow. Then I said to myself, `you can cut, brother, because you’re a big-time movie star and maybe you can get away with it. Not me!’

Ogilvie continued: “A few weeks later, I sent a staffer to Washington, D. C. to research these programs and figure out where we can cut. No sooner did he arrive when he called me up, his voice throbbing with excitement. He had just met a guy from the state of California who had been sent out there much earlier by Reagan to do the same research I had this guy do!. With the very same mission! This guy Reagan sent was an Asian, a Chinese by the name of Tom Joe—I’ll never forget the name. Tom Joe.

“Tom Joe looked over the original legislation which sponsored those social programs and discovered an amazing thing. The way the legislation was written, no federal agency could close down the pipeline by fiat. To do so required amendatory legislation! The Nixon administration was fooling us, telling us the spigot would be closed when under law it could not be closed! . The pipeline was open and would stay open: that was the way the legislation was passed.

“My guy said, `Tom Joe is telling Reagan he can keep on spending because nobody’s shutting down the pipeline.’ And my guy said, `Governor, this means we can continue the programs because the Democratic Congress is never, ever going to amend the programs to cut off the services for the poor. This means we’re home free! And only one guy—Tom Joe of California, Reagan’s guy—was smart enough to look up the law and see what it contained!”

So, Ogilvie said, “we continued to run the same level of federal programs in Illinois the way we always had—and California did, too. We sent our bills for these programs to Uncle Sam who paid them. So did California. I didn’t make a big deal about it, as you can imagine, and our lazy media never probed into it. The same lazy media out in California didn’t either, as Tom Joe kept joking to my guy. By the time the story came out, it was on page 123-B under the corset ads. The same with the California papers.

“But I’ve always wondered why Reagan was always so mum about it at first and so coy about it after that. He had that innocent look about him, a citizen turned governor. Maybe he was the slickest pol of all of them, at least as slick as FDR. Either that or, what really scares me is this: maybe Reagan didn’t really know what was going on and who was paying his social services bills! Is it possible he didn’t know that his guy Tom Joe had solved his problem and nobody brought it up and he wasn’t curious enough to wonder about it?

“Or, there is a third option: was Reagan who campaigned as a tough, hard-nosed guy who could make tough choices kidding us and winking while his guy covered his bases? The answer is either Reagan was dumb, or mum or duplicitous. If you ever talk to Reagan now that he’s no longer governor, ask him if he had received good service from his guy in Washington, Tom Joe.”

I wrote down the name—Tom Joe. Six months later, I received a phone call from John Sears, Reagan’s campaign manager, who invited me to meet the ex-governor at O’Hare and have lunch with him—a total of four hours—and see that he got on the plane at 4 p.m. for California.

At the end of the long afternoon Reagan gave me a tough dutch uncle talk about cutting federal spending including social services. He gave a very generalized prescription on how he would handle the Soviet Union—not detailed but which squared pretty much with what he actually did nine years later. Then it was time to go. He and I hiked together down the concourse together to his commercial flight.

He checked in and we had a little time before the flight was called. We sat down and I said, “Governor, may I ask you one more thing? How did you meet the dire social services challenge in California when you took over? I mean with the feds closing down the pipeline of services for people who had gotten used to receiving them?”

I thought he looked at me sort of funny—but maybe it was just me. He gave me a very nice sermon about how he did it. It by saying that it required tough budgeting from his entire staff headed by his budget director. He went over the numbers day by day and he cut here and cut there, skimped here and made a draconian cut there and plain took the heat in the interest of fiscal solvency for the state.

When he finished, I said, “Was Tom Joe helpful?”

He said, “Who?”

“Tom Joe. Wasn’t he your Washington, D. C. representative, the man you sent to Washington to do research on the federal budget?”

He said again, “Who?”

“Tom Joe. An state employee. He was your man in Washington.

Matter of fact there is a Brookings Institution study about the services; it seems this Tom Joe read the law and said the feds couldn’t shut down the spigot. His name was Tom Joe. T-o-m J-o-e.”

He shook his head, “nope, never heard of him.” Nary a comment about the law that mandated the spigot couldn’t be turned off.

After he got on the plane, waving a jaunty goodbye, I reviewed the three criteria I have always used. First, does the candidate appear well-motivated to do right, not for his own political advancement but for the nation’s if he becomes president? The answer here was emphatically yes. Second, is he up to the challenge of the job—intellectually and physically? I passed up that question for the moment. Third, do I have any reservations or personal doubts as to whether or not he would flinch when the heat goes on? I was sure Reagan wouldn’t flinch.

Back to the second: up to the job physically? Unquestionably. Intellectually? Well, if he told me a whopper that was all right; all politicians do. But was it possible he was so far out of the loop that he never heard of Tom Joe or didn’t know what Tom Joe had found out, that he didn’t know that the federal spigot continued running all during his term? Or was it a con like every other first-rate politician.

Then I paused again. Or, since I was looking at a first-rate actor—one who far from being a Grade B, was mentioned for the Academy Award for “King’s Row”-- and who narrowly missed out being given the role of Ricky Blaine in “Casablanca” in 1942 because he was in military service, a part he would have been more suited for than Humphrey Bogart. Directors felt that Reagan at age 31 was more natural to play opposite Ingrid Bergman who was 27 than Bogart at age 43. This idea that he was a minor B actor always has been hogwash. Was this gifted actor using the age-old political arts of duplicity on me which have gone hand-in-hand with the acting trade since Athens was a democracy?

I pondered the question for long months—and after his nomination I made up my mind on who I should vote for. Once again I went with my heart. It was the right choice: the old actor has gone down as one of the great presidents of the 20th century, teaching us the virtues of tax cuts and of standing tall with the USSR. Come to think of it, he fooled Gorbachev believing we were going to deploy Star Wars, so Gorbachev folded his cards, the Soviets went bust—and we haven’t implemented Star Wars yet.

That Reagan was a tricky one but, yeah, I made the right choice.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Personal Asides: Bravo Pickett!…My Spiritual Son.

Bravo Pickett!

For the past several years Debra Pickett was the hottest narcissistic young thing on two legs in “Sun-Times” trendy narcissistic journalism. She had a column on page 2 with a smile of supreme all-knowingness; she had a second feature where she took famous people out to lunch and reported what she thought of them which far dominated what they said. She had a third column on the book page—“The Smart Girls Book Club.” Smart girls read the books that interested Debra. She topped all the other women in the paper—the workaholic Lynn Sweet, the cotton-candy religion editor Cathleen Falsani, the predictably angry black woman Mary Mitchell…the—what shall I say?…the publisher’s wife Jennifer Hunter.

“The Smart Girls Book Club” dealt with more than books but what young female singles should be and sound like to be cool. It was narcissism but more: it fit the description of the near-illness defined by the late Christopher Lasch in his famous 1979 book “The Culture of Narcissism.” The narcissistic culture where liberalism is the fashion because it is cool, that every action and want is traced to the need to provide a veneer of what is cool. Were Lasch alive today he would say that the narcissistic culture would insist that the favored presidential candidate is Barack Obama…not because of Obama nor what he thinks (it doesn’t care what he thinks) but because support of him reflects well on the one who supports him. There was a time when Fidel Castro was regarded as fondly by the narcissists, when the Red Chinese were agrarian reformers.

All of us know people and couples who are slavishly narcissistic. They (a) hate Bush, (b) hate the war, (c) love Obama, (d) have read and still think “The Da Vinci Code” unmasked a church which has spent 2,000 years putting down women and now the threads of the conspiracy are being pulled away to reveal voila! that Magdalen carried Christ’s child—which explained why old dry-balls monks and pathological murderers from “Opus Dei” have been seeking to put down women for two millennia.

Since Lasch wrote it, it has been a favorite occupation of mine to identify narcissism, particularly in politics but also because of who owns or covets what. I enjoy couples like this—enjoy looking at them under a microscope, that is. I read Pickett avidly because she was the height of narcissism…occupying a higher niche I thought than Richard Roeper the status-seeking Hurd Hatfield-like trend writer (the perpetually youthful bachelor cum movie critic who tells you what thoughts are cool and what films are too)…Neil Steinberg is the bright metro narcissist: his sly humor, his once-in-a-while zing at even liberal convention.

Pickett was better than they. She was the all-American single woman who fit the marketing icon for the paper which has been trying to get young people to read it…and she defined what was cool. She was (a) young, (b) female, (c) not bad looking, (d) single, (e) neither establishment nor anti-establishment in thinking but suitably narcissist liberal. Her thinking was the epitome of cool. Whatever she touched became cool. It was not long later that Channel 11 came calling and assigned her a commentary cameo on “Chicago Tonight.”

In accordance with the canon of journalism begun years ago by Tom Wolfe, Debra Pickett was hugely successful because she wrote not just about herself but her thoughts which were concerned with the hedonistic urge to cavort with symbols of the consumerist age. Wolfe started personal journalism’s modern fad by writing about how he felt watching the ill-fated fund-raising for black militants defiling Lenny Bernstein’s apartment while the guilt-ridden white conductor savored the destruction ala the Marquis de Sade: if it hurts, do it! All reported uproariously from the standpoint of the perpendicular personal pronoun that Wolfe used as a revolutionary change of style for newspaper writing. Pickett was the latest follower in a long line of Wolfe imitators—but she had a following. She wrote endlessly about herself as the princess of cool—her boy-friend, how they regarded morals, trends, politics, developments. She was the beatific vision of narcissism.

Fine so far as it went. But Michael Cooke, the editor born with no narcissist soul but out to hustle writers with ones, found her less interesting when she got married—and evidently very-very uninteresting when she got pregnant and had the baby. While she was away on maternity leave she was transferred unceremoniously from page 2 to the—gasp!—women’s page. No more “Smart Girls Book Club.” No more “Lunch with Debra Pickett.” Hence no more cameos for Channel 11. The “Sun-Times” and its camp follower 11 were not going to follow her while she descended from narcissistic cool to…possibly wanting to interview Rich Lowry or Brian Wesbury and pronounce she agreed that Bush’s tax cuts should be made permanent for god’s sake. What next, lunch with Don Rumsfeld?

The last thing we heard was that Michael Cooke who rates second among the most banal creatures on this earth wanted her to write about breast feeding—for the women’s page. Hey, and the art to go with that would look down from the top so breasts would look like torpedoes. The word from the newsroom is she told him to go to hell. The “Tribune” carried a few of her charges. Bravo Pickett. For the first time I find her interesting, not as a narcissistic marketing sell but for herself.

Spiritual Sons.

I have two beloved natural sons—and two beloved natural daughters—with all of whom I am well pleased, thank you. But all old men have spiritual sons. I am fortunate in that I have a good many. Two of the many are Mark McGuire, a bright young lawyer and Nicholas Lund Malfese another bright young lawyer. That means two things: I am interested in their well-being and pray for them and their loved ones every night. I am not allowed to have spiritual daughters because this could be misunderstood as an old man’s fantasy. But I have spiritual sons, cherish them and fret over their welfare.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Personal Asides: Mark Steven Kirk Heads for the Tall Grass…Zorn’s Free Advice Worth Every Penny…Bishop Paprocki’s Invocation.


The last time I saw Congressman Mark Steven Kirk (R-10th) he was assuring an audience filled with conservatives, I among them, that while they disagreed on social issues, they could at least take comfort in his support of President Bush’s military actions in Iraq.

Last week when the question came up on supporting the president or not, he headed for the Tall Grass. He represents a district that is “moderate”—i.e. liberal—and expediency requires a man to save his skin for the next reelection go-round. I think what you did was a mistake, Congressman. A number of us gave you fairly good cover on social policy…even when you went beyond the bounds and started pumping up the engines for embryonic stem cell research beyond your vote.

You have obviously decided that you won’t be around long if you don’t agree with the liberals as well on the War. Wrongo. You may not be around because you have cut loose from your base—the one facet of that base that you cited and thumped your chest in citing your expertise.

You should read what Thomas More said to Sir Richard Rich about Wales.


There are a good many things Eric Zorn can do if he ever decides to forsake written commentary. He has a good radio presence; he does equally well on television also. The one thing he should avoid if he gets out of the media racket is to give advice to liberal candidates ala David Axelrod. His advice offered to a limping Barack Obama is disastrous. Zorn is so committed to lefty ideology, he can’t recognize what he’s dishing up as a further dose of strychnine.

Because the mainstream media don’t often dwell on embarrassing things that happen to liberal candidates, they’ve brushed off Obama’s huge gaffe of last week when he declared that “over 3,000 lives of the bravest young Americans have been wasted” in Iraq. The statement was brimming with irony since Obama’s handlers seek to equate his candidacy with that of Abraham Lincoln. The entire Springfield announcement was played with that in mind. But the irony of Lincoln’s view of soldiers’ lost lives and Obama’s is devastating. Lincoln’s immortal remarks at the cemetery at Gettysburg are a stunning contrast to Obama’s cold fury. Lincoln said “we cannot hallow this ground” because “the brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract….that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to the that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain…” Contrast that with Obama telling mothers and fathers of dead servicemen their children’s lives were “wasted.” It is noteworthy that the major media did not make the connection—not because they failed to see it but precisely because they saw it and wanted to save their precious Bambi.

Zorn may well have felt it—so he gave us instructions on grammar in his blog which was published Sunday in his newspaper the “Tribune”—that “wasted” is a loaded word. He explained, “In ordinary conversation, when we refer to a `wasted life’ we’re often being critical of someone—most often of the bright, promising, talented person who diverts his or her energies into drugs, crime, hobbies, lassitude, un-ambitious toil or some unhappy combination of the above.

“Soldiers don’t waste their lives. They risk them in the service of the necessary enterprise of protecting their nation. Their courage, their skills and their blood are a precious asset.”

Fine. But he didn’t leave it there. Here’s the conclusion:

“National leaders, however, can and do waste soldiers’ lives by spending that asset unwisely. And that was Obama’s fundamental charge: that the war in Iraq is an unproductive exercise that’s not worth spending our treasure and sacrificing the lives of some of our bravest and most promising young people.

“The passionate desire to put a halt to that waste is the animating spirit of the growing, majority anti-war sentiment in this country. And we might as well say it. Obama’s gaffe, if there was one [sic] it was grammatical. He should have used the active voice: “The Bush administration has wasted over 3,000 lives of the bravest young Americans.” His mistake was apologizing for saying “wasted” instead of clarifying the definition. (Emphasis mine).

I can just see David Axelrod saying, “gee, thanks, Eric! Why didn’t I think of that? His mistake was just grammatical! Okay, team, let’s put this idea of Zorn’s to work on a commercial which will be a major answer to Hillary when her band of 527s get going on us. Our guy is just guilty of being ungrammatical! Brilliant!”

Fortunately for the Obama worshipers, the candidate will refrain from saying he simply made a grammatical oversight in his comment on wasted soldiers’ lives. If he had taken Zorn’s advice, by now he would be as dead as Biden. Give Axelrod credit for a little sense, anyhow.

Bishop Paprocki’s Invocation.

Bishop Thomas Paprocki, auxiliary bishop of Chicago, is noted as a deft speaker with a beautiful sense of understatement. The other day he proved it again. Our all-time favorite humanitarian with a heart as big as the whole outdoors, Kathy Posner, was honored on Valentine’s Day for her leadership in many activities—principally for her service in behalf of Sheare Zedek Medical Center of Jerusalem. All of us have our own reasons to honor Kathy since she has done so much for so many…including serving as a fundraiser for Bishop Paprocki’s legal defense clinic which provides services for the very poor.

The bishop showed up at the Hilton & Towers in uncustomary attire—instead of the plain black clerical suit, roman collar and subdued chain of office semi-hidden under his jacket he wore the brilliant crimson robes that he is entitled to display during liturgical observances. When introduced, he explained that he was ordered to wear this finery by Kathy Posner. And he added softly: “In listening to her request I recalled the great lesson to us all which was delivered at the Wedding Feast at Cana…and that is: when a Jewish woman tells you to do something, you do it.”

Brilliant. The mostly Jewish audience loved it.