Friday, July 20, 2007

Personal Asides: Greg Hinz of “Crain’s” and State Rep. Jack Franks (D-Woodstock) on “Political Shootout” Sunday…A Must-Read: Bob Novak’s “Prince of Darkness”…David Stockman…Now We Get Down to Lugar: The Soul of a GS-18.

Hinz and Franks.

“Crain’s Chicago Business” political columnist Greg Hinz (pronounced “heinz”) and State Rep. Jack Franks (D-Woodstock), chairman of the House Government Affairs committee and designated by Speaker Madigan as chairman of the important Committee of the Whole House, will be my guests on “Political Shootout” Sunday…the program beginning at 8 p.m. on WLS-AM (890). Such questions as Speaker Madigan’s suggestion that the governor should embrace an income tax hike will be discussed.. Should be very good.

“Prince of Darkness.”

I have known and respected Bob Novak since the days I was at Commerce and…human weakness being what it is…he wrote well of me in my fight against Maurice Stans when I—and Bob—were liberal Republicans. I knew Rowly (Rolland Evans his column partner) as well but Bob was always the more available…and less patrician…one. I’ve stayed in touch with Bob through the years, as he and I gradually moved to the conservative side (he becoming a late convert to Catholicism) but I more than he in foreign policy (he, despite Jewish heritage, being a great critic of Israel, I despite Catholic heritage, being a great supporter of Israel). At any rate, I hired Bob occasionally for Quaker doings where he would put on good analyses of politics and brought Quaker executives occasionally to him when we were in Washington where he would instruct us for nothing more than the agreeableness of our company (and our picking up the dinner check).

His book of memoirs, “Prince of Darkness,” is revelatory and consumed with honesty…Bob’s problems with drinking, his love of the University of Maryland basketball (which confounds me), his engaging in occasional post-cocktail party slugging matches when the sauce got the better of him, his religious conversion. It is an autobiography that has great historic significance. At all times I’ve found Bob Novak to be instructive, to be shorn of pomposity or self-inflatedness. Two elements intrigue me sufficiently to call them to your attention. One is a slight reference to then Governor Jim Thompson—a man I consider a great tragedy…consumed with inestimable talents (intellect, personality, wit, charm, stage presence) which for a reason I believe I know full well, he allowed to be overshadowed in a burst of weak character: to make great gobs of money as a lobbyist and celebrity-collector of the rich and famous.

Here is Novak’s brief picture of Thompson pre- and post-Reagan which delineates the ex-governor’s character.

Talking with Governor Lamar Alexander of Tennessee prior to Reagan’s nomination for president in 1980, Alexander said that Reagan’s nomination would do great harm in Tennessee and around the country. “A few weeks later in Chicago, I was having coffee with Illinois governor James Thompson in his suite at the Ambassador Hotel and heard an identical analysis—through characteristically delivered more vehemently/ `I’m afraid we wouldn’t recover politically for a generation,’ Big Jim told me. (I remembered that doleful prognosis twenty-five years later when Thompson, commenting on Reagan’s death, claimed that he had been Reagan’s man in Illinois from the start.” It reinforces my conclusion that Thompson has had everything to make it to the top of his profession—except character…as his coalescence with the Democrats on every issue has shown and his lamentable winking at the Hollinger accounts when the two crooks were robbing the stockholders blind and Big Jim was supposed to be the watchdog, as head of the audit committee.

Bob Novak’s take on Jimmy Carter is notable. To most people Carter was a kind of wishy-wash as president but one who had acute analytical and administrative skills. Novak interviewed W. Michael Blumenthal, Carter’s first treasury secretary, preparatory to the team writing a book about the 39th president for the 1980 campaign (a book that was scotched because both Novak and Evans believed, wrongly, that Carter would lose the nomination to Sen. Ted Kennedy…why they believed that nobody knows). But Blumenthal’s take on his old boss is intriguing…an insight that has not been duplicated. Blumenthal was probably one of the most highly trained government officials…Berlin-born who fled Nazi oppression with his family as a child…a Princeton Ph.D in economics…a thoroughly brilliant economist with training under JFK in the state department and trade. He was one of very few highly skilled cabinet officers hired by Carter…others being Charles Schultze for budget, James Schlesinger for energy and Joe Califano for HEW…in an ocean of mediocrity: Cy Vance (secretary of state as dull, studied and inconclusive as his boss), Harold Brown, (defense, a scientist who had no discernible influence on the bureaucracy), Griffin Bell (attorney general a sweet-talking Georgia cracker but that was it), Patricia Harris (HUD, a sop to the blacks and nothing else), Brock Adams (transportation, a longtime House crony of Tip O’Neill), Shirley Hufstedler (education, eminently forgettable).

Blumenthal told Novak one thing about Carter that registered with me. He told Novak that early in his tenure he prepared a reading list for Carter on tax reform. Carter: “Mike, I’m way ahead of you. I’ve started reading the entire Internal Revenue code.” Wha--? Blumenthal asked why in the world would Carter want to do that saying, “Mr. President, I really don’t think that’s the way to go about it.” Carter looked at him with unblinking cold blue eyes: “But, Mike, I do and I am the president.” To Novak that summed up the Carter presidency. Can you imagine the mind-set of someone…least of all a president…who would read the entire mind-deadening Internal Revenue Code to get an understanding? Unaccompanied by commentary, it would be enough to turn one’s brain to mush.

Later Blumenthal described in off-the-record fashion his observation of the president…remember this is from a seasoned and talented administrator who was well-equipped to be treasury secretary…for a book on Carter that was never written.

“He has a deep sense of inferiority, a very deep sense of inferiority. I discovered it when I began to realize that he confided in no one. Charlie (Chief Economic Adviser Charles Schultze) would have a weekly meeting with him and he would come out and say to me that he had never worked for a man like that before. He never reacts. Occasionally he would ask a question. He never debates. He never disagrees…He doesn’t want strong people. He ruled out [John] Dunlap [for secretary of labor] and he ruled out George Ball [for secretary of state].l He ruled out when he knew the people were strong, aggressive, confrontational personalities. He didn’t from Adam. Had he known me, he would never have invited me in…

“He dislikes people who are very strong and successful. That is why he doesn’t like major businessmen, bankers or people who run big labor unions. You have to watch him and he is very uncomfortable with them. He has this outward sort of politeness and gives his little spiel but his eyes glaze over and later on he frequently makes derogatory comments about them. He feels very put on by these people, and it is essentially that he is afraid that they know more than he does…I could see increasingly that flattery went very far with him—a person who does not recognize when he is being shamelessly flattered and enjoys it…He briefs very quickly with sort of a veneer of knowledge and he can give back in an orderly fashion but he doesn’t retain it for very long….I think…when he came into office he was a very inexperienced and poorly informed man.”

This is just a foretaste of a powerfully interesting and historic book. Not that I agree with my friend Bob on everything. A supply-sider he is (as am I) but he remains powerfully bewitched by one whom I believe is a charlatan on the issue with a depth of a matchbook and an ego of a prima donna…one who came late to ideas after having been a football quarterback too long…Jack Kemp. I think it’s the football aura that gets Novak. Novak is an outright dove on the Middle East…is, if anything, an Arab-ist where in the Cold War he was a hawk (I am pro-Israel and have been called a modified Wilsonian). He is too soft on China. I don’t think he appreciates the reservoir of inner strength that is within George W. Bush. But he is the ranking political journalist of our time; a patriot and great American. We will miss his coverage when he is gone.

David Stockman.

In his book, Bob pegs David Stockman right. He fooled a number of people…Bob as well…including me. I knew David better than Bob, having met him first when he was John B.Anderson’s chief of staff in the House Republican Conference. There is no doubt about David’s intellectual acuity from the time he gained national attention with an article written for Irving Kristol’s “Public Interest,” called “The Social Pork Barrel.” For the first time, David computed the truism…reinforced with statistics from the budget…which had been hinted at by conservatives much earlier: that the Great Society made it much more profitable for the poor to receive benefits…food stamps, aid to families of dependent children and other benefits…rather than getting jobs. Stockman’s brilliant analysis became the underpinning of what was later to become the Reagan Revolution.

He used that article to become the darling of conservatives and get elected to Congress. As a member of Congress, he became a convert to supply-side but…and few know this (but I do having talked with him during that period)…he desperately wanted John B. Connally to get elected president, a big government-big corporation man who was antithetical to supply-side.

Like Jim Thompson, David had…has…all the equipment—intellectual and charm…plus communications skills…to be a success. But like Thompson he has one great flaw—lack of character. Thompson had no stomach to concoct a working philosophy of government that was differentiated from the regular Democrats’ because (a) it would take work and (b) to get it sold would risk unpopularity. In public and with a book he wrote, David embraced supply-side economics with the messianic belief of a new convert but placed in the role of deliverer of the philosophy…OMB director…he preferred to sell-out his philosophy and actively consort with the opposition (in this case William Greider of “Atlantic Monthly”) who used David to blast Reagan. It is again the case of wanting to Stand Tall in Georgetown. Now that David is very likely to go to jail for alleged manipulations, he sees what his chase of temporary fame has got him.

Dick Lugar, the GS-18.

I have been writing of some of the Republican Senators who, unaccountably, have left the president’s side on Iraq…and are pushing him to withdraw troops, to make the decision even before the verdict is in on the effectiveness of the Surge. One was John Warner, a malleable individual or pomp and little more than pretense, who was built with a constitutional inability to withstand pressure. Warner also wants…even at age 80…to STIG: Stand Tall in Georgetown, repository of the media and liberal elites in the nation. That goes for Chuck Hagel too, of course. But does it go for Dick Lugar, the ranking Republican on Senate Foreign Relations…one who has come by a reputation as a serious, thoughtful lawmaker.

He is all of that and he is not infected with STIG. I met with him on many occasions…one when he was the bright young mayor of Indianapolis…and several times as senator (when Quaker had plants in his state, notably our purchase of the Gatorade business). Few people appreciate that representing a company that has extensive holdings throughout the country can get an enterprising lobbyist…particularly one whose interests are more universal than the well-being of oatmeal or Gatorade…to meet with lawmakers in both parties, with them setting aside enough time to talk equivalent to the time they would reserve for, say, newspaper correspondents. Many of them, Lugar included, were surprised that, as he once said, talking to me was not unlike talking to a newspaper correspondent who was also a partisan (Quaker had a distinctively Republican orientation that appealed to him). No great surprise since I was one and like to think that the skills of correspondent and political analyst never left me. (At least I hope not. Who knows as one approaches 79).

No, I decided early that with Dick Lugar you get a man of perspicacity and knowledge who is at heart a GS-18…the highest rank a civil servant can attain in the federal government (the rank I held and then was actually promoted from at Commerce, incidentally after which I became a foreign service officer FS-4). What do I mean when I say he has the heart of a GS-18? A GS-18 is a person intimately familiar with the details of his assigned craft. Bright, aware, quick, detailed and aware of any contingency. He first gained attention in Washington as a young Naval officer when he was an intelligence briefer for Admiral Arleigh Burke, then chief of naval operations. He did that job so splendidly that he was sent over to the White House to brief President Eisenhower because his briefings were so superb…which didn’t bother Admiral Burke a bit since he was an old sea-dog who preferred action.

Lugar the briefer, the quiet-spoken thorough analyst of the pros and cons who does not rise to any ideological status. Because Lugar is instinctively a compromiser or synthesizer, a philosophically committed Jesse Helms, chairman of Foreign Relations, would leave Lugar off conference committees. And for good reason. With Lugar you’d get half a loaf. But Helms wanted more than this: he was a resolute old Cold Warrior and he detested watering down anything. Lugar was born to water down just as a GS-18 is born to weigh and sift the evidence and arrive at reasonable but non-ideologic opinions.

There’s nothing wrong with that and a good deal right with it. You cannot have a legislature filled with Jesse Helmses or with Dick Durbins (although, assuredly, behind the scenes, especially with appropriations, Durbin is not the screaming ideologue he resembles as the Senate’s number two Democrat). But constitutionally, Dick Lugar cannot.. and will not…be a lawmaker whose passion burns for change. He is a GS-18.

Let me elucidate. In the American Revolution, Dick Lugar would start out a Tory—a quiet critic of George III who would prefer to settle for taxation with representation. He would say to John Hancock and the Adams boys (the hot blooded Sam and his cousin the acerbic John): Why don’t we try to get a better Governor General over here? I have some London contacts that argue this can happen. Or…eventually moving from Tory to patriot…let us see if Lexington and Concord won’t convince the British to sit down with us…rather than be a hot-head who would argue for complete independence.

With the Mexican War, Lugar would be an opponent…to the contrived preemptive war and to Polk who insisted that the nation include California and Texas. Would Lugar be remembered and venerated as an opponent of that war? I think not. Polk is even now coming into his own. We wouldn’t have had California or Texas without him.

In the debate before the Civil War, Dick Lugar would be an abolitionist but one who would allay war…rotating between Breckenridge and Seward rather than Lincoln (Lincoln would be too oracular for the dogged briefer Lugar) and see if with a President Seward, war could not be averted and a gradualism could be made on the Supreme Court that would replace Roger Taney, author of Dred Scott, with someone more…more…in Lugar’s constant word…reasonable.

In the fight over World War I, Lugar would be inestimably right—insisting that we stay out. The same in World War II but all the same he would have voted for Lend-Lease. That’s the GS-18. Make a satisfactory conclusion to the conflict.

There’s nothing bad about this man or bad about having the soul of a GS-18. But he is no one to “go to the well with” in the old Senate phrase…no one to stand with those who are solitary in defense of change no matter what. His persona also fits the GS-18. Dull, scholarly with a passion not for action but for analysis…such deep analysis that almost makes one go mad to hear him…he belongs in the Senate…and he is certainly not afraid of losing his seat because Indianans reelected him to his unprecedented seventh term with 70% of the vote.

He has tried to run for president before—notably in 2000. It was short-lived. Dick Lugar is no one to sit in the cockpit seat of action that is the presidency today…beset with terrorism and conflict…without practicing his old GS-18 status. Fortunately God has seen to it that he remains the Senate’s GS-18…a favor to Dick Lugar…

…and the nation.


  1. Tom it is time you were given a blind man's white walking stick. Your ignorant blindness on Iraq is that of a Lemming. You are so willing to jump off the cliff with George Bush and the neo-cons in their failed war in Iraq. You simply can't see the depth of the religious divisions there and how our actions in the name of "democracy" have empowered the more radical shiites and emboldened Iran. Giving the kids Oreo cookies simply doesn't cut it!

    You blame the Republican senators who have come to their senses about this war with convoluted ill-conceived logic gleaned from Rupert Murdoch's neo-con rags like the Weekly Standard. They must pump your computer full of this tripe on a daily basis!

    To put it bluntly Tom, you are blind to the actual situation in Iraq. You are blind to the pandoras box that the neo-cons opened up. Is it because you put your friend Rumsfeld so high on a pedastel that you can not see the mistakes that he made or the mistakes of the neo-con intellectuals that filled the Pentagon and sold us this war?

    Tom, you simply can't take the logic that applies to a judeo-christian culture such as ours and apply it to the eye for an eye region in the Middle East. To make it simple for you, watch the movie, Lawrence of Arabia. Talk to anyone of Serbian decent or Greek Decent about the Muslim religion and years of war. When Strongman and non-democratic Tito was OUT what came back? The centuries old ethnic hatreds came back! Such hatreds defy our western sense of logic. American forces are still there keeping these people apart.

    Likewise, Tom, there is simply no "founding father" aspect to Iraq. Where is the Iraqi George Washington? etc. You act like the Catholic missionary that was eaten by the cannibal!

    The area simply defies western intellectual platitudes and ideals!

    The neo-cons have cleverly connived the United States into making their wars OUR wars! They have told us to polk sticks at the radical muslim rattlesnakes.

    England spent decades trying to tame the Middle East. AND FAILED! Get it Tom: FAILED! Are you and the neo-cons so arrogant to think you can do better?

    Sadly if you want to deal with this region, you have to be brutal which is the only mindset that these people understand. Again to make it simple for you, look at Lawrence of Arabia. In the beginning he was appalled at the brutality of killing a man at the well but by the end he had to adopt the very viciousness and brutality he resented because that is what was understood and respected in the region which is more tribal in ideology.

    Our form of govenment will not tolerate what is really needed to win in the Middle East. We are hamstrung by politically correct rules of engagement and rules of so called "humane treatment" that make us look like sissies to these people. Simply put we have to act more like a warrior than a missionary! If we do not have the balls for that, than we should get out! Tom it makes me sick that we have marines up for court martial for DOING THEIR JOB!!

    Obviously you don't care about these Marines that had to fight in your neo-con politically correct mamby pamby Iraq war...... which has devolved into a nation building police action...

    Conservative? I SHOULD SAY NOT!!!!

    And such blindness is causing the Republicans to lose it All!

  2. The following quote is from today's Washington Post:

    "WASHINGTON -- President Bush signed an executive order Friday prohibiting cruel and inhuman treatment, including humiliation or denigration of religious beliefs, in the detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects."

    While "THEY" behead our people... we act like Percy Dovetails and ask, "Dear, Mr. Terror Suspect, please oh please tell us why you hate us. Please oh please tell us what you are planning".....

    Damn it Roeser.... don't you now see the PC mamby pamby crap way Bush is handling this so called war!!!!! IT was just this kind of crap that ruined the Vietnam war!!!!!

    Best President, my ass! Go on heap all the neo-con praise you want on him and his policies and then sink with his sinking poll numbers! You fool!

    What every happened to the Tom Roeser of days past? The one who had guts and played Kate Smith's "God Bless America"?

  3. I have never been able to stand Greg Hinz, now reporting on politics for Crain's after years of employment at the Lerner/Pulitizer newspapers. This unabashed liberal views everything through the prism of his gay rights agenda. He is as objective as Rick Garcia.

  4. Tom,

    To be able to see both sides of an issue is not a definition of a bureaucrat. It is a mark of wisdom. By the way, Lincoln also opposed the war with Mexico.