Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Flashback: Legislative Strategy and Teaching at the Wharton School.

[Memoirs of fifty years in politics for my kids and grandchildren].

If it seems like all I did at Quaker was have fun, engage in my own personal projects and get paid for it, I hasten to say that this was not the case. A full lineup of legislative activities would take me to Washington, D.C. every week…usually leaving on Tuesday and returning on Thursday…with attendant duties in Chicago for the remainder of the days in the week. The only reason I don’t concentrate on all the issues I covered is that items of legislation that concerned Quaker and the grocery products industry thirty-five years ago are not vividly memorable—although to be sure, performing these tasks in the Congress did pay the bills. However one issue was of signal worth and tells much about the reaction of industry to liberalism…a reaction that is not salutary.

Ralph Nader was at his zenith in the early `70s and launched a crusade for an independent consumer protection agency with interventionist powers. In other words, if the Federal Trade Commission were to balk at bringing an action for consumers…or the Federal Communications Commission…or any regulatory body…under the law Nader wanted passed, an independent Consumer Protection Agency would have the power to intervene and take a second bite from the apple.

It was a choice item for the Democratic agenda in Congress and a number of liberal-leaning Republicans such as Illinois’ John B. Anderson were distinctly favorable to it. Support for the independent Consumer Protection Agency marked an increasingly leftward move for Anderson, leading to his co-authorship of campaign finance reform, then running for president, then running as an independent for president and finally joining the Democratic party. (It was the height of irony that Anderson as an independent candidate was hobbled by the restrictions levied by his own campaign finance act).

The job before the grocery products industry was whether to flat-out oppose the new proposed agency or not. The major industry trade association, Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA) postulated the theory that it was fatal to oppose the new agency without making a counter-proposal.

So the GMA espoused the idea of the industry supporting a toothless entity called the independent consumer protection agency. I opposed this because I felt it was the height of cynicism—creating a duplicative agency to the 27 others that had responsibility for protecting consumers…and a toothless agency at that which would mean a waste of money. Then there was the danger that the toothless agency would be passed with industry support but an amendment could be offered and adopted that would give it teeth…with the result that the industry would have out-foxed itself.

But the GMA went about its own strategy and I went on my own, viewing the idea that a flat-out opposition was more sincere that the Machievellian creation of an agency that would do nothing at taxpayers’ expense.

In opposing the idea of a new independent agency, I again came into contact with consumer advocate Robert B. Choate, Jr. He had received a good deal of press for testifying that the average ready-to-eat cereal (a) was filled with empty calories and (b) used beguiling cartoon characters to “seduce” (his word) children to pressure their mothers to buy sugar-filled treats in the guise of dry cereals.

He then dramatized the fact that Saturday morning television was filled with cartoons that were heavily advertised by cereal companies…and postulated as a diabolical plot the fact that a cartoon character like “Cap’n Crunch” (our product) was created by Hanna-Barbara, Inc. which had also a hand in creating kid cartoon shows. Thus he unveiled a “Seduction of the Innocent” campaign against cereal companies and against production of Saturday morning TV shows which he called “the Saturday morning ghetto.” There were lengthy hearings before relevant House and Senate committees and the creation by a group of liberal activist women in Boston called “Action for Children’s Television” which rated the shows and aimed to reform them.

Of course Choate was on his high-spirited white horse charger again as Don Quixote…first having begun a vitamin horsepower race in the early 1970s with the baseless charge that the cereal companies were exploiting the young with empty calory-meals…and now seeking to “reform” the cereal companies’ presentations on Saturday morning. His crusade didn’t do much more than get a lot of television coverage for him which was necessary since his crusade was to be funded by foundation monies.

In the middle of the campaign, it turned out that he had to make a presentation at the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia…but the Dean wanted someone from the cereal industry to balance the presentation—so Choate asked me to come. I did and it turned out we put on a modestly entertaining performance. Then the Dean asked if we would be amenable to co-teaching a course for the Wharton business students, teaching them the rudiments of how modern business interacts with consumer advocates.

We agreed and in Choate’s office in Washington one day we sat down and scripted a 13 week course called “Influencing the System.” We decided we would ask guests to come. The school produced a foundation grant to allow us to do it. Thereupon I sketched out a list of nine constituencies that affect public policy…which Choate assented to…and we invited representatives of each constituency to come. The foundation agreed to pay them modest honoraria and put them up for the night at a hotel—which, ironically, was the ancient but honorable Bellevue Stratford in Philadelphia which later was to be the site of the infamous Legionnaire Disease, spawned by an inadequate air conditioning system that bred virus.

The course worked this way. I would come in to Washington on my regular Tuesday to Thursday assignment. On Wednesday night I would take a train from Washington to Philadelphia paid for by the Wharton School, stay at the Bellevue Stratford (paid by Wharton) and in an evening session instruct, with Choate, the business students on the guest who was to arrive the next day. Their grades were determined on the quality of the questions they were to ask and a major paper at the end of class where they were to pick an issue in Congress and sketch out the strategy for either defeating it or enacting it.

The guests we had at Wharton were the forerunners of others I would work with at subsequent universities…including former U. S. Senator Eugene McCarthy who would talk about Congress…David Stockman, the top aide to Congressman John B. Anderson (who ultimately became a Congressman himself, and then Ronald Reagan’s head of OMB, then a multi-millionaire investment banker and now, sadly, an indicted entrepreneur awaiting trial for fraud in a federal court).

One of the classes was held on an April 12 which was the anniversary of the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. About the time I had met James A. Farley, Roosevelt’s postmaster general in New York, I also met, quite by chance on a California trip (where I attended a Conference Board session on corporate advocacy) one Rexford Guy Tugwell who was a senior Fellow at the then potent Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions in Santa Barbara. As an old FDR student, I knew who Rex Tugwell was although I was dismayed to find that my business colleagues did not. Tugwell was a legendary far-left New Deal planner who gave FDR most of the details on his agricultural reforms.

He was along with the better publicized Harry Hopkins, one of the architects of the New Deal. I was impressed that here he was…a little, wizened fellow of 83…and we chatted a good deal about Roosevelt. He ended up being too hot a radical for the New Deal and so they got him out of town by making him the governor-general of Puerto Rico. There Tugwell did what he could to foment an economic statist revolution but it didn’t take. Now he was at the Center swapping great thoughts with, all kinds of other radicals including Robert Hutchins, the famous former president o the University of Chicago and Bishop James Pike, the radical former Episcopal bishop of California who was almost defrocked for his heresy but who was a thoroughly delightful character.

It turned out that Tugwell had received a Ph.D from the University of Pennsylvania but because of his radical teaching in the late 1920s was thrown off the faculty as a Communist. He regarded this as a great insult. After talking to him, however, I decided inwardly that Pennsylvania was 100% right. While he wasn’t a subversive or a threat to the nation, there was no doubt that Rex Tugwell was philosophically and spiritually a Communist, embodying the belief in state ownership. But I thought he was a great treasure because here at 83 with a cane he was still as radical as he was while a young man with FDR. He asked shyly about Jim Farley one of his great critics but he spoke tenderly about him in retrospect.

I got the idea that for our class on April 12 it would be great to have Rex Tugwell come back to the University of Pennsylvania from which he had been so summarily ejected as a communist…and on the anniversary of the death of his great patron, FDR. The university became excited and volunteered to pay a handsome honorarium. The old man accepted but then called me in Chicago and said hesitantly that he could not accept it. He never told me why. I reluctantly said okay but an hour later my phone rang again and it was Mrs. Tugwell.

She said, “Rex is too embarrassed to tell you this but I will. At his age of 83, he has to go to the bathroom at least once every half-hour. Your class lasts for 2 hours and he is ashamed to give you these details.” Accordingly I called him back and said, “Dr. Tugwell, let me ask you to reconsider but as I do so, I want to tell you about our class. You see the people in the class are young business types who have an attention deficit. Therefore Bob Choate and I usually hold our classes in half-hour intervals so as to keep the attention of the class. That’s the way we run the course. Now having said that, I still wish you’d reconsider.”

You could almost hear the old man emit a sigh of relief. He said he would reconsider; then five minutes later called me and said he had reconsidered and that he would attend…and would certainly respect the half-hour durations of the class. He would lecture for a half-hour…there would be a break…then there would be questions for another half-hour…then a break…then a renewal. We agreed and he flew out there.

I have the tape of his remarks and they were singularly revelatory about the struggles within the Roosevelt administration in the 1930s. The Wharton School experience lasted two years; then I took the course to the Kellogg School of Northwestern University. After that: the Kennedy School, Harvard; the Woodrow Wilson school, Princeton; Loyola University of Chicago; DePaul University; the University of Illinois (Chicago) and Roosevelt University.

When news got out in Philadelphia about Tugwell’s forthcoming appearance, I received a call from a reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer who wanted to cover the event. He showed such a knowledge of the New Deal that I said sure, come ahead, wondering how old this guy was to have such an incisive knowledge of times long before his birth.

He showed up and had the face and shyness of a boy.

His name: Steve Neal…later to become the White House correspondent for the Chicago Tribune and the political columnist of the Chicago Sun-Times who wrote several excellent books on history which were originally researched…including a landmark contribution on relations between Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower (which was far what conventional wisdom has held) and a thoroughly enjoyable candidate-by-candidate replay of the memorable Democratic national convention of 1932 which nominated Franklin Roosevelt. He was more than a commentator but a dynamic participative force—exceeding the role of journalist-- for liberalism in Chicago. I am not sure I ever met a man…in academia, journalism or politics… who was more intimately acquainted with more fascinating, unknown pieces of political history than he.

Steve Neal’s tragic death at an early age was a great loss to Chicago journalism. That meeting began a friendship which was improbable…Neal a liberal Democrat and I a conservative Republican…that lasted to his untimely death.


Nineteen-seventy-two was the year Mother died. She was 76. The photo of us was taken at my Commerce swearing-in. She was in many ways the politician in the family. Born in 1896, she was so eager to get in a career that she quit high school after only two years…getting her parents rather upset. She landed a job as a steno at J. Walter Thompson and quickly moved up to the point that when she left to get married, she ran the Production Department there…which supervised the production of a print ad from the time the Creative Department got the idea…through the writing stage…following through to see that the necessary art was produced…sending the art out for transference to engraving…checking the engraving when it came back…running it by Creative and copy-writing…then out to the publication—this done many times each week.

She was an instinctive Democrat whose party left her. In her seventies, as a widow, she landed a job with the Cook county treasurer as paymaster for the county. I was in Washington, D. C. when she was found dead in her home, the phone off the hook (she was obviously attempting to call us). When Lillian checked, the telephone company reported that the phone was not off the hook but that in fact “the line is in use” which delayed us seeing what was wrong. But autopsy showed she was dead before she hit the floor. She was a natural partner for my father, a gifted writer who was always sure pestilence and disaster was about to strike; she was happy, optimistic, witty, brilliantly pragmatic, a risk-taker. Who do I take after? More her than he, I am told.

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