Monday, February 19, 2007

Personal Asides: A Revelatory Off-the-Record with John McCain…The Generational Test Has Been Met

chief illiniwek


Last Friday I attended an insightful off-the-record with John McCain with a small group of about 20 or so, courtesy of David McSweeney who is involved in the senator’s presidential campaign. I am deeply grateful to David who is a personal friend for his including me in the list. David arranged the session at the behest of Peter Fitzgerald, his—and my—friend who is an enthusiastic supporter of Senator McCain. The ground-rules specified no reporting of the views expressed by Senator McCain and I will honor those rules. Let me give impressions of how the senator looked, acted and handled himself in this gathering.

Many of the people involved in the session were social conservatives. It is clear that the Senator has a superb voting record on abortion and on the issues no explicitly involved in that issue with which the group disagreed—such as embryonic stem cell—he expressed himself completely and fairly and volunteered to study the side with which he has not been identified. I am satisfied with the exquisite fairness and courtesy with which he handled disagreement on this, the issue of McCain-Feingold’s alleged and possible abrogation of free speech and the 527 “loophole” which the Senator feels allows people and groups with money to short-circuit the law. These are issues with which fair-minded people can disagree and I am an opponent of embryonic stem cell federalized research, McCain-Feingold and a supporter of 527.

The major thing I look for in a presidential candidate after having done this for more than fifty years is not whether or not he agrees with me on every instance. It is whether he has the passion needed to keep this country the leader of the Free World. On this issue, let me record that John McCain came across Gangbusters. His legendary short-fuse, blowtorch temper was in check but was subliminally visible; not unlike Eisenhower’s with whom I met at Wold-Chamberlain field, Minneapolis when he was president in 1956.

McCain is determined that we shall not lose the war on terrorism’s major first battle in Iraq. To me that is of paramount importance, second only to the life issue. The central life issue being abortion, he assuaged me completely. On embryonic stem cells he did not. On McCain-Feingold he doesn’t nor on 527s. But these are not do-or-die issues: embryonic stem cell is but I noted a degree of malleability there which tempered me. Beyond this, he so impressed me with his intellectual strength and hardihood essential to the presidency that were he to be the Republican candidate I would have no difficulty whatsoever in supporting him to the limit of my ability.

I would dearly love to have the same opportunity with the other two members of the Big 3—former governor Mitt Romney and former mayor Rudy Giuliani. I have had one private meeting for a considerable time with Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) whom I favored at the time but with the deep feeling that he will not be around in the final countdown. Since then, the senator has come out against the Bush surge which I think was his mistake…sufficiently so that despite his support for social issues on which I agree…he has forfeited my possible endorsement. I cannot support anyone who is less than eager to finish the work we are in and see that the sacrifice made in terms of lives and treasure is carried through to ultimate success.

There are three conditions I place on any candidate for the presidency. First, is he well motivated i.e. determined to do what is right on major issues for the best interest of the nation as he sees it? Second, is he sufficiently intellectually and physically up to the challenge?. Third do I have any reservations or personal doubts about his willingness not to flinch from major challenges? (Richard Nixon did not pass my first and third qualifications in my similar meeting with him in 1967; Hubert Humphrey, despite my fondness for him did not measure up on the third: I said what the hell and voted my heart. Perhaps, strangely, Reagan with whom I spent four hours one-on-one bothered me on the second. I said what the hell and voted my heart).

On all three counts, John McCain has proven to me that he deserves the highest possible consideration…and I am very grateful to David McSweeney and Peter Fitzgerald for allowing me to be in the room.

The Test Has Been Met.

Each generation has its own test. Mine—World War II, Korea, civil rights, the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis when Dean Rusk said things were so tough that he was pleased to awaken the next morning and see the world had not been cremated with H Bombs; assassinations and shootings of two presidents, a civil rights leaders’ murder, a presidential resignation. My parents’—from the struggle for labor’s right to organize in the `90s, World War I, a dark recession and heavy unemployment thereafter, the battle for woman’s suffrage, the Depression, World War II, the beginning of the civil rights struggle, the Cold War. And now the banning of Chief Illiniwek—a linkage to those times: the only test we could muster.

Equate it to our heroic past when school children huddled under their desks in mock air-raids. Commentators in tense years asked “what does Stalin want?” Answer: To regain the territories he had lost to the Germans in World War II, to retain the territories taken with the pact of August, 1939—portions of Poland, Romania, Finland and all the Baltic states…then—how to resist his further expansion? What about the program one generation faced standing with Truman on the program of military and economic assistance to Greece and Turkey, March, 1947 while George Marshall was concocting a gutsy strategy of containment: committing us to nothing less than the rebuilding of Europe?

Parents with sons as soldiers winced at news of U. S. and South Korean troops on a forced retreat to the southeastern tip of the Korean peninsula and considering whether to evacuate it altogether…thrilled when Douglas MacArthur surprised the North Koreans with a daring amphibious landing at Inchon, near Soul, in mid-September 1950, trapping the North Korean army below the 38th parallel, his forces advancing almost unopposed into North Korea? These were just preparatory challenges. The big one was yet to occur. And the test was met by this generation last week.

In 1926, two years before I was born, Chief Illiniwek, a mythological Indian chief, was conceived by an assistant band director of the University of Illinois, Ray Dvorak and the Chief, in full headdress, appeared brave and in authentic dance at the Illinois-Pennsylvania football game in Philadelphia. Ah, but my countrymen—Dvorak was benighted as were all his successors. The crisis began in 1989 with—who else? Senator Paul Simon (D-IL), also known as Paul PaleFace PureHeart, he of the lovely baritone resonant with meaninglessness who worried that an entire race was being mocked. In blind, racist reaction the U of I trustees voted a year later to defy Saint Paul PaleFace PureHeart and make Chief Illiniwek the official university symbol. But conscience touched the Board as in 2000 it announced renewal of the dialogue on the mascot issue. Two years later a heartless trustee, heedless of public opprobrium, Roger Plummer, announced to the world that there was no compromise that could be found to please both sides of the issue.

Ah but the cavalry was on the way in the personage of Sen. Emil Jones, the state Senate Democratic leader, eager to cleave to prior generations that had fought oppression when they do not interfere with Com Ed, announced his determination to remove the Chief out of concern for the Native American race. He pushed the nomination of the reincarnation of Rosa Parks, Frances Carroll to the Board. Voila! Carroll announces she is part Creek Indian! She introduces a resolution to retire Chief Illiniwek but withdraws it for lack of support.

The long exploited Indian…er, sorry, Native American, race saddens. The shade of the great chieftain Massassoit, proper name Woosame or Yellow Feather aka King Philip by agonized liberal white scholars, sachem of the Wampanoag, folds his arms in resignation. . 2004: University trustees plead with supporters and critics to reach a consensus on the Chief. He whose reputation has suffered so much from the white man’s disdain along with the entire Indian race—beginning with the emotional truth concerning the 90 towns attacked between 1675 and 1680 of which 12 were completely destroyed and a thousand dead.

Continuing: These whites who tried to buy us off with the drivel of John Eliot [1604-90] who developed a written version of the Algonquin language—pure tokenism which we repaid by not applying the written language…these whites who believed we Indians had a true conception of land ownership and understood what we were doing when we sold land to the Puritans—well we did but we weren’t prescient enough to appreciate it—because we did not use the wheel, possessed no written language and were, in effect, living in the Stone Age. All this beatific Stone Age the white man defiled. And now modern universities wallowing in guilt have begun to set the record straight—but still they exert the final insult: damnable whiteys dancing in our sacred rites.

Aha! 2005: the NCAA comes to the rescue…guilt-ridden white executives whose god is wampum…says the chief is “hostile and abusive” and that the university cannot host postseason tournaments if he remains, thanks to bespectacled Myles Brand who in turn is indebted to his public relations agency in New York. Now…the shade of Massassoit smiles…university officials announce they will drop Chief Illiniwek following the last men’s home basketball game of the season, February 21.

Let not the dead of past generations who have fought for rights…the dead sleeping under the snows…think their successor generation has gone soft And somewhere the haunting vision of Sanctimonious Paul PaleFace the PureHeart who never shirked from the challenge to defend the helpless—unless the helpless were unborn children…that vision shall clasp hands with the mighty Massassoit in a bond that will inspire a future generation…

…a future generation more mature than this flaky one to ask “what in the hell was that nonsense banning a mythic Indian chief all about anyhow when so many other things were at stake? Truly decadence and sentimentality hit the bottom at that point when grown men and women—turning their eyes from legitimate exploitations—wasted their time in 2007 with this arrant nonsense and felt good in their shallow vacuous souls, mistakenly believing they fought in this way for social justice. God give them sense!”

1 comment:

  1. Tom,

    Today, McCain said that Rumsfeld was about the worst Secretary of Defense we've ever seen in this nation. Why wasn't he saying this a few years ago? It makes him look like an opportunist.