Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Personal Aside: “Events, My Dear Boy, Events!”: The Spitzer Affair and Others.

Events Nobody Can Predict.

Throughout it all the un-calibrated, unexpected, improbable, impromptu and thoroughly vexing manifestations of the human condition…what British Prime Minister Harold McMillan called “events, my dear boy, events!”…change history more than any plotting or strategizing. And so: was what happened to New York Governor Eliot Spitzer yesterday confounding? Spitzer was found to be a patron of an expensive prostitution ring in Washington and was captured on tape negotiating with a woman with whom he was to meet at the Mayflower hotel. Which gives new meaning to the phrase coming over on the Mayflower, as my blog friend Frank Nofsinger has ruminated.

Again, was Spitzer’s action incredible? By strict reason alone, what would prompt a ruthless but effective reformer who burned with such zeal to instill ethics into New York business and government to be so reckless with his career as to patronize a prostitute? Answer: alas, it is the human condition. In short, despite threats to prestige, political power and reputation, carnality has no conscience. But it is wise to consider that this event has been duplicated by others in our time. MacMillan who coined the world-weary phrase in politics was himself stunned and tossed out of power by an event that was entirely beyond his power to prevent.

His secretary of state for war (while outside the cabinet still a member of the Privy Council) John Profumo had several sexual encounters with a courtesan Christine Keeler who at the same time was conducting an affair with a Soviet military attaché in London. The fear was that valuable secrets would be transferred. MacMillan’s career was irreparably jolted and ended. The event-my-dear-boy will always be linked in history with this successful prime minister’s loss of power.

A good friend of mine…many years older than I, Orlin Folwick by name who was grinding out the same precarious existence as I in servitude to a wire service—enough to convince me I had better change my career ambitions or end up like he. Still he had one memorable joust with U.S. history. It was an extremely good break. He had been a junior reporter with the wire service and covering the 1936 Democratic convention in Philadelphia when he felt an unyielding urge to go to the bathroom. The press office bathroom was in use so he ran down four flights of the Philadelphia arena vexed that he was interrupted in his quest for former New York Governor Al Smith, the 1928 Democratic presidential nominee who was at enmity with President Roosevelt. FDR was trying to give him a big job and Smith was disdainful. But the betting was Smith would be bought off and support the New Deal.

On his way out the office door, his manager shouted “Anything on Smith yet?” My friend shook his head and the manager glowered. Now this urgent call of nature had interrupted his search and he was sure his competition, very aggressive, would score.

Orlin rushed into Men’s and stood at the gurgling basin, one of a long line of slab-faced men chomping cigars, savoring the relief but nevertheless cursing this interruption of his duties. Then he looked at the man with a cigar standing next to him. It was former Governor Smith! As they washed their hands, Orlin asked how the negotiations with FDR were going. “Going nowhere,” said Smith. “As a matter of fact, I’m leaving right now. Going home. I’m taking a walk!” Then he vowed eternal opposition to Roosevelt. Folwick asked why; couldn’t he get a deal? Smith said; “Did you ever try to nail oatmeal to a wooden door?” That said it all. Smith’s final break with his party and eventual support of the Republicans was the story of the year and Folwick had it—all due to the pressure exerted by his bladder. What convinced me to leave journalism was that notwithstanding his breaking the national story, Folwick was not promoted. So I said the hell with it. I moved out of news coverage to active participation in politics: the best decision I ever made.

Events, my dear boy.

Calvin Coolidge had a vice president he didn’t particularly care for—well that’s not news…most presidents ignore their vice presidents (the current incumbents excepted). But Charlie Dawes of Evanston was a pain in the neck because he was about as popular as the president and was a colorful maverick the people warmed up to. He was a political genius, bringing order from chaos as a campaign manager who helped William McKinley win. He was a brilliant comptroller of the currency, stemmed a bank crisis and longed for a U. S. Senate seat from Illinois. He was promised McKinley’s help but…events my dear boy…intervened and McKinley was assassinated. Dawes made a couple of million or so in banking in Chicago and then volunteered for the Army Corps of Engineers in World War I. He was a phenomenon there. He supervised logistics, saw that guns and armaments got to the troops quickly where before they were lagging.

When Harding got elected, he made Dawes the first director of the budget. Harding had a lot of trouble with Teapot Dome but Dawes made the administration look brilliant with the first unified budget. Big things were in the offing for Charlie Dawes with Harding—but Harding died in office. Events my dear boy. Nothing about Dawes endeared him to Calvin Coolidge who succeeded to the presidency on Harding’s death. When Coolidge ran for his own term, he wanted passionately to avoid public pressure for Dawes to run with him. He choose Illinois Governor Frank Lowden but in a stinging rebuke, Lowden turned it down. Events my dear boy. The convention pleaded for Dawes. Coolidge turned a blind eye to this and chose Idaho’s Senator William Borah. Stunningly, Borah turned it down! Events my dear boy. The convention wouldn’t be denied and insisted on Dawes. Coolidge gritted his teeth and said okay. Dawes was nominated and both were elected. Dawes became the public’s favorite. But that was the beginning of really bad blood.

Charlie Dawes could possibly have been the acclaimed successor to Coolidge instead of Herbert Hoover but for one thing. Dawes was bored with the vice presidency and his role of presiding over the Senate. So with nothing happening one day, he sneaked over to the Willard Hotel nearby to take a nap. Just then the nomination of Coolidge’s choice of Attorney General came up and Coolidge wanted this guy to clean up the residue of Teapot Dome. The nose-counters saw that the Senate would be tied on the nomination and the Republicans sent a messenger over to the Willard to get the vice president. But while Dawes was racing over to the Capitol by cab, the Democrats switched a vote “aye” to “nay” and the nomination was killed. Coolidge was furious.. So there was no objection to the man who emerged…who though brilliant has been regarded as one of the most fallible presidents in history…Herbert Hoover. All because Charlie Dawes wanted to take a nap. President Hoover named Charlie Dawes as head of the new Reconstruction Finance Corporation to save ailing businesses. Charlie did well until he perceived that his own bank, National City of Chicago, was on the ropes. He quit and raced back here where he saved the bank. Events my dear boy.

All the same, Charlie Dawes vowed never to take another nap in midday. No, that’s not quite right. At the age of 86 he was a ranking greeter of General of the Army Douglas MacArthur who returned to the U. S. having been fired by Harry Truman. MacArthur came to Chicago, rode in an open car with Charlie Dawes and placed a wreath on the Bataan bridge over the Chicago River. Then Charlie Dawes went to his home in Evanston and, tired from it all, allowed that he would take a brief nap. It was April 23, 1951. He never woke up.

Events my dear boy.


  1. (From Blog Dad29)-

    Government Spending

    You have to hand it to Government employees.

    When $100.00 will do, some choose to spend $5,500.00

    posted by Dad29 @ 8:56 AM

  2. Does anyone remember when Lisa Murray Madigan promised to model her administration of the Attorney General's office after the activist role played by Eliot Spitzer? Maybe she will be denying that quote today.

  3. Since Tom and Frank & others here are experts on "moldy oldies", would they like to name Mr. Dawes' hit?