Tuesday, May 8, 2007
Personal Asides: Jim Thompson at the End of the Trail er Trial Mercy! Mercy! Hillary Clinton Speaks at a Mercy Funding Luncheon but Dont Worry, Its not a Political Stop says the Cardinal Mark Kirk Likely Treading the Path to a Primary Challenge.
The Sun-Times photo told it all: Jim Thompson sitting dejectedly on a bench outside the federal courtroom waiting to testify in the Conrad Black trial, before he acknowledged that he skimmed important documents admitting he wasnt told about more than $31 million to Black although Thompson was chairman of the Hollinger Board audit committee stating that he asked for an industry precedent for executives being paid personally to sign non-compete documents with the buyer and, receiving none, signed off anyhow acknowledging that in 2002 and 2008 he signed financial disclosure statements that said individual directors had approved $15.6 million in non-compete payments to Hollinger executives from U.S. sales when they hadnt.
Asked why he signed a document that was not true, Thompson said, because I didnt see the paragraphnoting that he had only skimmed the documents although as a director he was paid $60,000 a year acknowledging that Hollinger International had paid to send Thompson and his wife on an expensive junket to London where they stayed at a luxury hotel.
The questioning was rude and personal. It centered on a charge that may well have spelled the answer, that Thompson was too dazzled by serving on the same board with Henry Kissinger and Richard Perle and wanted to look good in their eyes. My own view is that Thompson is incredibly lucky in the whole embarrassing messthat he should have been one of the defendants in the case. The mystery is how a man once acclaimedand correctlyas a brilliant U. S. attorney with the intellectual capacity to be a great governor and beyond, including president could have fallen to such a low estate. On my radio program Sunday, Brad Cole, mayor of Carbondale who comes from what would be charitably called the moderate wing of the Illinois GOP (Cole was deputy chief of staff to George Ryan and was untouched by the experience as well as brave enough not to stab his old boss in the back to save himself) said that in his estimation it is obvious Thompsons once keen intellect was failing in recent years.
Others who have known Thompson over the years seem to have devolved another theory. I knew Thompson fairly well as U. S. District Attorney when he cooperated extensively with Project LEAP (Legal Elections in All Precincts) on vote fraud cases and spoke often at our briefing sessions and fund-raising efforts.
Then he was rightly seen as more than a formidable candidate for governor but as one who, with superb political, oratorical and forensic gifts, could go all the way and at least make a powerful case as a candidate for the presidency at a future time. After all, he won a conviction against former Governor Otto Kerner, Jr. for his benefiting from improper influence from the racetrack industry. He tried and convicted many of Mayor Richard J. Daleys top aides including the enormously powerful and influential Tom Keane, chairman of the Finance committee, on various corruption charges. He made his clean-up bipartisan by convicting the Cook county Republican chairman and Cook county commissioner, Floyd Fulle, state Senator Ed Scholl and supposedly a rising star of the Illinois GOP, William Rentschler. He married late in life coincident to his first campaign for governor to lawyer Jane Thompson who had been an assistant to state attorney general Bill Scott, and the couple had one child, a daughter.
Thompsons debut to the governorship was helped by the Cook county Democrats torpedoing of their hated governor Dan Walker in the Democratic primary in favor of stolid machine regular Michael J. Howlett. Howlett was never an effective candidate for governor. Thompsons celebrity and his ready wit got him elected governor at age 40 with 65% of the vote and reelected in 1978 with 60%.
In 1978 Thompson seemed to come to the conclusion that he would not run for president or vice president although publicly he had been listed as an incipient presidentas every successful Illinois governor had been William Stratton, Dwight Green, Adlai Stevenson, Frank Lowden (Stevenson and Lowden were active contenders). It was an ironic decision to forego the effort since his childhood and early youth seemed to have been bound up in his running for president; indeed his high school yearbook noted that the presidency was his dream. True, 1978 had a pile-up of Republican candidates (Reagan, Bush, Connally, Dole, Baker, Anderson, Crane) but at his young age, 42, Thompson could have been in the running for vice president. Moreover, with Reagan and G. H. W. Bush he could have been considered for the cabinet, say Justice.
Why he seemingly foreclosed these opportunities has never been stated not studied. But it is clear that 1978 was the year he abandoned thought of national office it for personal reasons. Unlike the case with other governors, there were no side trips to New Hampshire, no heavy speculation. The matter of the presidency was a dead issue as was any prospect that he was interested in the vice presidency or cabinet post.
It was at that time that he took on two anti-political characteristics: (a) rather impetuously liberal and un-circumspect, laying aside governmental thrift and efficiency and launching expensive spending projects akin to the Egyptian pharaohs and (b) deciding that he would make the savor the maximum comfort and status of the job and hugely enjoy its luxuries.
In 1978 when his first term ended (of two-years duration as Illinois moved to offyears for gubernatorial elections), he had an easy time cruising to reelection over a nonentity, state school superintendent Michael Bakalis. Four years later after improvident spending, U. S. Senator Adlai Stevenson III challenged him. The race was hot and it bore down on Thompsons spending, his use of his office as a traditional harbor of largesse, his rather flagrant personal habits in lifestyle, his acceptance of Teamster money which had been delivered in cash which he then turned back. For a time, it looked like Thompson would lose. Stevenson came within 5,074 votes of defeating Thompson. Even then the outcome was not clear and was decided by a ruling of the state Supreme Court where a Democrat, Seymour Simon by casting his vote for Thompson (an odd occurrence that seems to defy an answer) short-circuited the Stevenson case. None other than Jane Byrne, who was mayor, told me that she cooperated covertly to swell the Thompson vote margin. What the word swell meant was anyones guess. When I asked what she meant, she declined to specify.
Once reelected, Thompson continued to rule sloppily and irresolutely which negated future national attention. He hid the sad shape of the Illinois economy and budget but once returned to power yet again hiked taxes, regarded by most observers as a cynical dodge. Emboldened, Stevenson tried again against Thompson with Mike Madigan as his campaign chairmanbut a wild card misfortune entered the play as followers of Lyndon Larouche, a radical sect of paranoid politicians mixing left and right, captured key slots in the Democratic ticket. Stevenson was forced to abandon his partys ticket and accepted the nomination of a third party, the Solidarity, which guaranteed his defeat. After his reelection, Thompson, according to formula, veered back from his earlier declaration that the condition of Illinois government was sound to declaring that it was now in a fiscal emergency. He asked for and received two state income tax hikes plus an assorted hike in liquor, gasoline and highway taxes. In 1989 in a surprise switch, the unfathomable Madigan, Speaker of the House, rammed another temporary income tax hike through which Thompson signed.
Thereupon Thompson made no pretense of being different than run-of-the-mill liberal governors and relied on his ingratiating personality and campaign skills to accommodate himself. He was mediocrity personified. Throughout his early gubernatorial career, his personal tastes centered on the tony life including collecting art and expensive antiques. His taste in architecture was surreal-ugly, unrealistic, extended to the construction of a garish, glass ultra-modernistic new state office building, initially impossible to heat in the winter and keep cool in the summer without expensive overruns. The building, abstract in the extreme, is fashioned along the lines of the psychedelic with a white doughnut shaped sculpture standing outside which he grandly named after himself in the style of Suleiman the Magnificent.
Sloppy in personal ethical behavior became his identification: he accepted four gold Kruggerrands from a labor leader which he had to turn back, vetoed at midnight a legislative pay raise which he had planned would be overridden (a crass gesture worthy of a low rent ward boss), pushed for his wifes application for a federal judgeship while he was governor, not willing to admit her legal qualifications were less than sketchy, support he was forced to withdraw when bar leaders objected.
As a political leader, Thompson neglected his party with almost wanton disregard. The entire Reagan Revolution lower taxes, reliance on middle class virtues, upstanding conservatism passed without any application in Illinois. There was never a philosophical statement in a Thompson administration other than routine acquiescence to that of regular Democratic practice. He shunned reform, espoused patronage (which he restated at the funeral of his great friend Donald Stephens). Under him, careerists moved from law firms to state posts and back to law firms where they lobbied shamelessly, fitting in the two parties without any ideological differences. When he retired to the Winston & Strawn law firm, Thompson himself set the tone by becoming the states most influential lobbyist, taking on clients without much regard for circumspection. He got involved in a questionable deal to benefit a liquor client in Chicago; he contributed funds to Democrats while still regarding himself as a Republican leader.
His last significant Republican action was to steer the nomination and election of George Ryan, his lieutenant governor, as governor. Taking a leaf from Thompson, Ryan campaigned as an all but hollow vessel where he appealed to publics from all sides but mischievously had cut the cards with liberals on key policy issues without telling his old allies. The ruling party philosophy was lurid pragmatism, the jettisoning of social values and concentration on patronage, jobs and contracts.
When Ryan ran into trouble on the issue of commercial drivers licenses as secretary of state in a scandal that maimed his subsequent election as governor he called upon Thompson to help him. Thompson as chairman of Winston & Strawn allowed more than $20 million of the firms resources to be spent on Ryans pro bono defensetying up the firms biggest rainmaker almost exclusively on Ryans behalfleading many to question if Ryan was holding something over Thompsons head for that unnatural act of supreme generosity by the law firm Thompson headed. Thompson continued the pro-bono work for Ryan while in the next gubernatorial election contributing money to the Democratic nominee, Rod Blagojevich. After Blagojevichs election, Thompson served as co-chairman of the Democratic transition committee. When Blagojevich ran into ethical trouble in his term, his administration hired Winston & Strawn for counsel; Thompson then formally separated himself from any support for Republican candidates. He contributed to Hillary Clintons Senate campaign and Jane Thompson has been a major contributor to Barack Obamas presidential effort.
After George Ryan was convicted on major counts despite all that Winston & Strawn could do, Thompson stepped down as firm chairman, purportedly in response to pressure from his fellow partners, yet joking all the while that he had served enough and didnt want to stick around until he were to be carried out. In the meantime, his service as chairman of the Hollinger audit committee was questioned; sloppiness again was charged as he traveled on behalf of the company but didnt say a peep about supposed looting of the newspapers parent company.
Disillusionment and mysterious abandonment of a goal that he had set early on for himselfthe presidencyled to disillusionment that precipitated excess, a love of influence and trappings that have soiled a once brilliant career. If there is any idealism remaining from a once illustrious career, it is hard to visualize. I am sure in Jim Thompsons private thoughts he feels his potential has been wasted by either unavoidable circumstances or his inability to change them. The mystery of why he abandoned thought of high office which led to his sad denouement is unanswered and will always be so.
Mercy! No Politics Here in Hillarys Speech!
Democratic presidential aspirant Sen. Hillary Clinton, a fore-square supporter of abortion rights including partial birth abortion (whose ban by the Supreme Court she denounced) spoke at a fund-raising meeting in behalf of the Mercy Home for Boys and Girls Monday as Catholic Citizens of Illinois and other pro-life groups protested. Despite a policy document issued by the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that called on Catholic institutions not to have pro-abortion speakers at their formal functions, the Mercy Home solicited Sen. Clinton to speak on education. Fr. Scott Donohue, its president, has been regularly soliciting Catholic donors to support his institution. But Fr. Donohue is not alone in upholding the abortion senators appearance. Cardinal Francis Georges office said the prelate asked about her appearance, evidently had some doubts, but approved it because, as his spokesman said, this was not a political stop. As often occurs with the cardinal when he tries to reconcile a caving in, the response flies in the face of credulity. Facile of tongue but unfathomable nonetheless, he assumes he can bull it throughbut the answer lies in a timidity, a deferral to secular authority that is ingrained through many years of practice and cannot be changed.
If you believe that Mercy is not a political stop with Sen. Clinton criss-crossing the nation in the company of political reporters, image-makers and commentators recording her effort to win the nomination if you believe that her appearance at Mercy Home was not a political stop you have already indicated any pat answer will satisfy you so long as it comes from a spokesman who succeeds in keeping his face straight. A spokesman for Mercy (double entendre intended) said that he is pleased that a high profile person as Clinton would address the organization.
What does the flagrant exception to the ruling of the U. S. Conference of Bishops mean? Simply that the archdiocese believes no principle should be allowed to stand against pragmatic political accommodation. It will be of no use to write the Cardinal: letters will go into the parsing machine where sophistry reigns. Rather, I would suggest that those Catholics who read this rather contact Fr. Donohue who has the responsibility for running the place and raising the money to make it go. He is where the problem began in the first place. Tell him that for the time being maybe for longer than he would imagine there will be no future contributions from you. The withholding of checkbooks is the only retort he is capable of understanding and in the last analysis bank balances and deficits will accomplish more than your angry letters to the Cardinal. It is a tragedy that those who will make the sacrifice will be the kids but perhaps it wont be too long when the message comes home to the accountants and they have to dip into the royal treasury to pay the bills the lesson will be learned.
Congressman Mark Kirk had a tough time getting reelected over the Democratic opponent, Dan Seals who looks like a re-stylized Barack Obama who is a blunter speaking version of Bambi. He frightened Kirk to death last year when he appealed to wealthy North Shore white liberal narcissists i.e. not because they are so liberal but by supporting Seals people will think more highly of me so that I will be identified more surely with upper social class to which I passionately aspire. Rather like joining the right country club. For one thing, Seals has something going for him that Obama hasnt. Seals speaks with firmness and precision, not emitting vaporous dreams of being let us all grimace to think of it being black in Hawaii! Being black in Hawaii as Obama was in his youth: how awful!
In order to position himself properly in his socially liberal district, Kirk bought into abortion and gay rights. He was not just for embryonic stem cell but supported creation of a bio-med program for it in his district. Some people were ready to cut him some slack on the issue if it balanced a prudent position on foreign-defense policy. This used to be the case: no more. So frightened was he by his close call in the election that once the votes were counted, Kirk announced he would not support the presidents surge in Iraq. Now he has defected not just from the Bush foreign policy but has signed on as co-author of the politically correct throttling of the 1st amendment, the hate-crime measure passed by the House that extends coverage to people victimized by criticism of sexual orientation, gender identity or disability which is attracting opposition from Christian leadersand which the president has promised to veto.
The onus of the Kirk bill is clear. If a pastor dares criticize the sin of homosexuality and it can be alleged that violence occurred from such a sermon the pastor can be silenced and a chill of political correctness will descend similar to what has happened in Canada. Kirk says this wont happen but any allegation can be leveled and the pastor indeed the Judeo-Christian tenets can be placed in severe jeopardy. All this because Mr. Kirk is worried about saving his neck and has offered himself as willing token to the politically correct lobby.
The bill passed the House 237 to 180 with Illinois Republicans Judy Biggert and Ray LaHood voting aye; the conspicuously rich Biggert has always been a social liberal; LaHood is slowly turning that way. But no one has moved farther leftward than Kirk who is a proud co-sponsor. He is also very dumb in that he is making the same mistake many overweeningly ambitious Republicans make when they ignore their base deciding they dont need conservatives and are moving heaven and earth to co-opt liberal support. Three wannabe statesmen who yearned to stand tall in Georgetown come to mindChuck Percy who ignored his Republican base to woo more exotic groups and who got for himself a costly primary in his last go-round which contributed to his shattered front allowing Paul Simon to triumph John B. Anderson who veered leftward, picked up costly primary challenges, then became an independent and is now a cranky Democrat in Florida retirement and Paul Findley who became a wild-card on foreign policy, weeping for the Palestinians so copiously that he resembled Arafat, splitting the base and leading to a national Jewish subscription of funds prompting the rise of arch-opportunist Dick Durbin.
All the factors are in place for Kirk to get tough primary opposition next yearand he has brought it on himself. Not that a primary battle that unseats Kirk would result in one who might beat Sealsbut there is something about an incumbent who jettisons principle that produces a chemical reaction in a constituency like Kirks that alienates liberal independents as well as conservatives. If this happens to Kirk, he has himself to blame.