Thursday, March 15, 2007

Flashback: Quaker’s Social Responsibility Program Goes to Danville, Illinois with a Spectacular Offer to the Mayor—all in Confidence.

[Fifty plus years in politics written for my kids and grandchildren].

The late sixties and early `70s saw corporations moving to embrace what was called “social responsibility” to meet the rising tide of minority inflammation caused by the false great expectations generated by the Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society.” The “Great Society” stemmed from a memorable reference in a presidential address written by Richard Goodwin (husband of Pulitzer prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin who om 1977 unsuccessfully tried to block my appointment to Harvard’s Kennedy school but was overruled by Teddy Kennedy). In the address and others to follow, Johnson, a cunning and duplicitous legislative leader and malevolent president, sought to eradicate all poverty by spurring new government programs. From 1950 to 1968 the poverty rate had steadily declined by one percentage point per year. Since the LBJ years the poverty rate has held firm, neither raised nor lowered. Seven trillion dollars and Johnson’s extravagant language have produced little positive gains—and much wrong.

Nowhere was the disaster more relevant than with the Elementary and Secondary Education act of 1965, passed with extensive fanfare that it would rectify educational disadvantages of poor children (Rep. Albert H. Quie of Minnesota, my old chieftain, a well-meaning socially moderate Republican, played a major role in its enactment). A study by the National Institute of Education of the act’s Title I found that such gains as were achieved during one school year had been dissipated in the next. Title I students entered new grades as far behind as they would have been in absence of Title I; “Head Start,” the brilliantly publicized preschool program saw gains made in one year evaporate in the next.

There is a good reason for this which we did not fully recognize during the Great Society fanfare and which still not has penetrated the current liberal mindset. We believed in government’s power to achieve unparalleled change—a great huzza begun in academe and carried forth by the popular news media--despite the fact that under FDR it had not cured the Depression (our entrance into World War II did). The Sixties under Johnson launched an era of unprecedented social reform. Blacks were to be drawn up by government to full equality; crime, ignorance and poverty were to be eradicated by legislation, progressive court decisions. But the legacy was counterproductive.

Two books are the key to viable reform of the mindless old “reform.” The first: Losing Ground: American Social Policy 1950-1980 by Charles Murray [Basic Books, N. Y., 1984] which has not been surpassed—and indeed, not satisfactorily answered by liberals. Rather than I summarize it, you should read it. An essential portion is Chapter 9: “The Family.” It has three basic points which have never been contradicted: First, the welfare state constructed during the 1960s and 1970s created a system of disincentives including the paying of women to have children out of wedlock in poor homes. Second, by doling out dollars that could not be matched by the economy, the government encouraged poor women to stay home.

Staying home for women with children could be seen as a good but when taken together--encouragement to have children out of wedlock and then remaining home which would spur more children born out of wedlock. Third, by lowering the threshold of learning in the public schools, by guaranteeing that all would be passed on to succeeding grades, it ruined a major element of societal discipline. Fourth, easing the punishment for criminal activity by proclaiming it is society’s fault for law-breaking, not the individual’s, the perpetrator, seen as victim, was encouraged in his ways.

It is important to note that in the overall…in academe and the media…the myth of the Great Society is still propagated with very little appreciation of the defects of the era. When you read popular daily newspapers and watch fashionable mainstream media the idea continues to be generated that the poor are being disadvantaged by skewed national priorities that do not pour even more financial resources to “education”—a political cliché adopted by elements of both political parties as essential for electoral success. In Illinois this is particularly current, politicians by now understanding the fallacy but smelling the meat a-cooking from votes from the under-class and pop academe and media support.

But worse than all the wasted treasure expended in behalf of “inner-city education” is the ignored reality that underscores the problem of the poor—particularly black poor. It is the diagnosis that no one has been explained than the economist and social analyst George Gilder in the second book which is a corollary to the first: Men and Marriage [Pelican, 1986] which is still valid—ignored by the liberal social elite but never contradicted nor even considered worth answering. The very first lines in Chapter One states the thesis: The crucial process of civilization is the subordination of male sexual impulses and biology to the long-term horizons of female sexuality. The overall sexual behavior of women in the modern world differs relatively little from the sexual life of women in primitive societies. It is male behavior that must be changed to create a civilized order.

Men lust but they know not what for: they wander and lose track of the goal: they fight and compete but they forget the prize; they spread seed but spurn the seasons of growth; they chase power and glory but miss the meaning of life. The prime fact of life is the sexual superiority of women. Sexual love, intercourse, marriage, conception of a child, childbearing—even breast feeding—all are critical experiences psychologically. They are times when our emotions are most intense, our lives are most deeply changed and society is perpetuated in our own image. And they all entail sexual roles that demonstrate the primacy of women.

Bad as the record is, it is worsened by the fact that the contemporary U.S. elites ignore it, believing that to question government aid is to embrace racism or callousness in the face of poverty. The record shows otherwise. In 1988, as The Economist magazine shows, less than 1 percent of America’s poor was composed of couples that (1) finished high school, (2) gotr married and stayed married and (3) kept a job—even a minimum wage job—for a year. The incentives spawned in the 1960s made it less and less likely that people would consider it worthwhile to follow these basic steps—marriage and a steady job—both of which are the escape hatches from poverty and have proved to be for generations.

I am frank to say that during the 1960s and 1970s, I suspected, felt viscerally but regrettably did not have the intellectual curiosity or the acumen to probe the grounds for these contentions until the pioneering studies made by these two authors. Hence I contributed to the social disease myself—and not just in token form, in substantially large measure. Hence when charges are made, as some have, that my conservatism stems from a racist and insensitive elderly, patriarchal, unduly religious, white background, I must stifle not just a yawn but mirth…since as a federal official, an “enlightened, moderate-to-progressive Republican”—let us say a kind of Rockefeller Republican, having changed gradually from the conservatism learned from my Father as he shaved each morning and in counter-distinction to the lessons given by Walter Judd, became—albeit a Republican—an exponent of government as social corrector.

Thus was I as responsible as some—more so than many—for inculcation of the early view that government can solve the poverty problem. My only consolation is that a true onetime “Rockefeller Republican” exceeded me in the fallacy and later renounced it as do I: George Gilder himself. Gilder’s father, killed in World War II, was a college roommate of David Rockefeller who became deeply involved in Gilder’s upbringing, sending Gilder to Phillips Exeter and Harvard. Gilder wrote, with his college roommate Bruce Chapman (now also a social conservative) the book The Party that Lost Its Head, an attack on the policies of Barry Goldwater (a book that made some impression on me in 1965). He was a speech-writer for Nelson Rockefeller, George Romney and Richard Nixon. He was an early Fellow of the John F. Kennedy Institute of Politics, Harvard.

While I do not know Gilder and never met him, we came to the same conclusion anent Republican—and all--liberalism at about the same time—me from disenchantment after government service, he, vastly more perceptive, after longtime reflection. He became one of the early popularizers of supply-side economics, became a dot-com multi-millionaire, lost most of it with the bursting of that bubble, becoming later chairman of the Lehrman Institute, program director of the Manhattan Institute and is a frequent Op Ed contributor to the “Wall Street Journal.” He and Chapman (head of the Census Bureau under Reagan, former speech-writer for him and now-conservative Catholic) helped found the Discovery Institute which became the leading think tank of the Intelligent Design movement. To sense the continuing liberal dissatisfaction with Gilder, read his bio on Wikipedia, written by an anonymous someone who calls him an “anti-feminist.” Anti-feminist he is by current liberal reckoning, but in absolute terms, far from anti-feminist, Gilder is a true feminist, calling attention to the natural superiority of women: thus does the age old liberal bias from academe and pop media continue to confound us all.


At Quaker, two of us were responsible for its social responsibility program—my immediate boss, Bob Thurston, a senior vice president and board director who engendered the corporation with a sense of the importance of heightened social responsibility. I was the full-time implementer as well as political officer and corporate lobbyist. The program was always modest in scope but we liked to think that its parts could easily be replicated by other companies. It began with a once-a-week after-work employee participation program on tutoring disadvantaged kids at a public housing project on the South Side where Quaker volunteers would be bused and returned.

It followed with a complete revision of the corporate philanthropy program, directed by Bob Thurston in which we all played a part, but perhaps I foremost: getting new, innovative social programs to receive some funding. The social responsibility program which I directed continued with a series of courses for minority—principally black—public housing residents to encourage them to improve their lives: a nutrition education program conducted by a black consumer expert who would take people on trips to food stores (with the emphasis on no Quaker commercial overtone), instruct them on how to buy economically, how to prepare food well—in short, the essentials of homemaking. Another course was designed to whet the interest of potential entrepreneurs by instructing them in enterprise, with the emphasis on food market management (taken from the company’s own self-management series given to prospective entrepreneurs). The latter course involved us getting banking representatives to lecture on capital formation etc. Its goal was not so much to spur new businesses as to encourage, subtly, mostly male residents of the housing projects to take advantage of free courses that could steer them to the private sector.

At the same time we generated what is still a kind of revolutionary concept: the use of corporate leverage to attain social change in the public arena. It’s fair to say that among major corporations, we were the first to see that there are limitations to what companies can do for the poor in philanthropy and voluntarism—but not in exercise of social influence. Corporations have inherent power in the public arena: either to do things or not to do things. None of us—Bob Thurston, Bob Stuart, the chairman, or I—have fully determined who devised the first concrete use of that philosophy…I know it did not come from me. I had always believed it came from Bob Stuart which at our last meeting he denied; perhaps it came from Bob Thurston (I always thought it did but don’t know for sure). Anyhow, it centered on a decision by Quaker to build a large cereal plant somewhere in the Midwest. The concept was revolutionary—and still is revolutionary to this day. It has demonstrably good and bad points. At that time we saw only the good.

The rationale goes like this. Whenever a major corporation undertakes to locate a plant in a community—and in our case, our plants were usually in smaller cities…for example, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Jackson, Tennessee, Rockford, Illinois, Pekin, Illinois, Shiremanstown, Pennsylvania (on the outskirts of Harrisburg), Philippi, West Virginia…it is common currency that the company that wants to locate has certain legitimate demands to make of the would-be host community. For example: is the tax base favorable? Are the schools satisfactory for our people who will be moving in? Are the police and fire services adequate? These are ordinary requests that all companies study before making a determination on locating a major facility. As all communities wish to appear attractive to new industry, their desire puts industry in a powerful position with which to seek positive social change. That was the rationale in the progressive late `60s which I describe.

Bob Stuart, our chairman, suggested that we apply a social responsibility component to the selection process. This was well before passage of the national fair housing legislation by the Congress. We determined to request of the community into which we were considering to move to provide a demonstration of its social responsibility to minorities which we would take into consideration along with the other advantages. It seemed very logical that a community into which we wanted to locate would have a climate favorable to equal housing opportunity. It so happened that one of our key managers—Bill Hatch—was black and we felt strongly that he and his family should not be discriminated against in housing by a community to which we would supply a good many jobs.

One of the communities we were looking at—and quite favorably—was Danville, Illinois. It had superb advantages, was Midwestern, near bountiful agricultural resources, had good educational facilities, had a good tax base, fine police and fire services with access to excellent higher education. But at that time, in the late `60s, Danville was not different from many other rural-based communities of moderate population. Although its black population amounted to 14% of its total—a microcosm of the nation at that time—it had no open housing ordinance…nor, in its trouble-free orientation, did it particularly wish for one. The drive for civil rights was crucial in Washington and in the large urban areas of the nation—Detroit, Chicago, Washington, D. C., the Watts area of Los Angeles—but not in the smaller towns notwithstanding that proportionately there was segregation in these small towns as well.

Danville was rooted in the older tradition of rural southern Illinois. It had been the hometown and base of conservative Republican, Joseph (“Uncle Joe”) Cannon [1836-1926], a one-time follower of Lincoln, named by him as federal prosecutor, who became inarguably the most powerful U. S. House Speaker who ever lived, tangling with Theodore Roosevelt during his speaker’s tenure [1903-11]. When I worked in the House in the mid-`50s the legend of Uncle Joe still lived. He was indomitable because he controlled the right to name chairman of all committees at the start of each new session, power from which he secured their allegiance for time immemorial on all legislation. Quite by stealth, a group of Democrats and Republicans, among them George Norris of Nebraska, sneaked up on Uncle Joe and when he was nodding got a rule through the House that required a great liberal reform to be instituted—the seniority system, so that with few modifications the ranking member of the majority party would succeed to the chairmanship. Cannon bellowed that there would come a time when the seniority system would be regarded as evil and unprogressive. Right he was—but not until he had long passed from the scene. But Cannon’s intransigent conservatism, on race and other matters, indemnified his area of the state as one of the nation’s most conservative.

With the company looking favorably at Danville, Illinois, I went down there with our chairman and without any previous appointment, walked in on the mayor who was in his office: a part-time mayor, part-time automobile salesman, part-time bible salesman. It is one of the great qualities of Bob Stuart, though the chief executive officer of a blue-chip company, that he had a folksy, friendly, ingratiating way with people—especially people in rural areas—symptomatic of his innately Jeffersonian beliefs about the inherent benefits of small towns and rural areas (laced with some suspicion of the larger, more pressure-packed urban areas). The gracious and friendly manner continues well into this, his 90th year.

We walked in on the mayor and Stuart quite frankly told him that he was thinking seriously of locating a major cereal plant in his town. The guy, working in his shirt-sleeves and loud suspenders, leaned back in his chair and emitted a loud: whoooppeeeee! He had not long before been elected mayor on a pledge to bring industry to Danville—and he hadn’t had the faintest idea of how to do it.

Then came the difficult part. We asked him how felicitous the relations between whites and blacks were in Danville. Misreading us (understandably) this bible salesman leapt up and extolled, “we got no problem with them [implication of a scatological reference to blacks]. They live on their side of town and we live on ours!” We explained gently that we wanted to move our company to a small community that practiced non-discrimination. And to do that, it might well require a fair housing ordinance. His joy evaporated. We added: we are not making passage of a fair housing ordinance condition on our moving to Danville. The community should wish to pass the ordinance freely without constraint.

The mayor tried to restate it so he understood us. “You mean--,” he said after a long pause, “you are thinking of locating a big cereal plant in this town which has not had a lot of industry in many years and which would be a very popular thing to do, right?”


“But you won’t come unless we have an Open Housing ordinance, right?”

No. We are not making this a requirement.

“But what you’re saying is that if we don’t pass one, you might not come, have I got that right, gentlemen? Is that what I’m hearin’?”

We might not come—but then we might. We would like Danville to see the need of the ordinance without reference to us.

“Well,” he said, “all I would have to do is to tell the council that if they pass one the biggest cereal company in America would be coming in here and they’d pass it.”

That’s the sticky part. We want you to keep this secret—from the council, from anyone. Keep it out of the press, keep it out of the dialogue. Only you know we are here and, frankly, if it were to get out that we were thinking of coming here, we might very well cancel the plans.

He lit a cigar.

“So I gotta—let’s put it in biblical terms—I gotta walk into the council and introduce an Open Housing ordinance to a council populated by my lifelong neighbors just as if I was like the apostle Paul smacked down, out of my chariot, on the road to Damascus where he heard the voice of God Almighty saying Saul-Saul why do you crucify me? And get `em to pass the thing and not tell `em why. And if they were to know why, you’d possibly not come.”


“And even if they’d pass the damn thing—pardon me—the ordinance…even if they’d pass it of their own free will—you might not come.”


“Now, gentlemen, I’m rather sorry you came into the room. When you first come in, I’d like to have kissed you. Now you’re telling me I could end my political career with this. Let me think it over.”

We sat there for a while, had coffee while he looked at us curiously. Then we went home.

When I got home, Lillian said: “The mayor of Danville has been ringing the phone off the hook all evening.”

When I got him on the line he said, “Is this thing on the level?”

Sure is.

He said, “goddamn. I’d like you to come back here soon as you can so we can skull this out together.”


  1. Evidently, based on your citation, not many. If the reasoning expressed by your citation was valid, then the critique that "Great Society Welfare" promotes out-of-wedlock births is not. And, with welfare cuts, aren't out-of-wedlock births increasing?

  2. Heh. He sure had a way with words, no?

    One of Milwaukee's most successful entrepreneur/bankers was from Danville--a man named John H Kelly.

    Old-school Democrat (he actually bought a building JUST to throw out the porn-shop on the ground floor) and a man who could inspire anyone to do anything.

    Can't wait for the end of your story.