Friday, May 30, 2008

Personal Asides: A Federal Solution to the Blagojevich Problem…In the Chicago Way, the Fr. Pfleger Problem Hits the Party First, then the Church.


The Agnew Solution.

A former high-up federal prosecutor whom I talked to the other day told me that in his estimation the feds will arrive at “an Agnew” solution to the Blagojevich problem.

Vice President Spiro Agnew was formally charged by the feds with accepting bribes totaling more than $100,000 while Baltimore chief executive and Governor of Maryland, receiving some of the money from past favors while holding the office of vice president. After a deal with the U.S. attorney, Agnew pleaded no contest on October 10, 1973 to a single charge that he had failed to report $29,500 of income received in 1967 and as part of the deal resigned as vice president.

My source says that the Agnew solution would be applied to both Rod and Patty Blagojevich in this manner. There is a thick tissue of probes involving his possible corruption…a leasing deal reached for occupants of a remodeled Illinois Tollway oasis…the Illinois Department of Transportation…the Illinois Department of Corrections…thje Department of Children and Family Services…a letter sent to Attorney General Lisa Madigan from U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald that the feds are looking into “very serious allegations of endemic hiring fraud” in the Blagojevich administration…that Blagojevich had accepted a $1,500 check from Mike Ascaridis, described as a close Blagojevich friend two weeks after Ascaridis’ wife received a state job, she receiving the job despite having failed a hiring exam, Blagojevich says the check was written as a birthday gift to his oldest daughter and then that it was given for his younger daughter’s christening…that a company contributing nearly $120,000 to his gubernatorial campaign in 2002 won a no-bid contract, awarded by the Illinois Capital Development board that reports to the governor. And all this before we get to Tony Rezko.

As we all know Blagojevich fundraisers Antonin Rezko and Stuart Levinme were indicted and are on trial for participating in a scheme to obtain kickbacks from investment firms seeking business from two state boards, Levine pleading guilty and testifying against Rezko.

On top of this the feds are investigating the fact that Patricia Blagojevich was a business partner of Rezko for at least a decade and in 2004 received over $38,000 in real estate commissions from him…that as a licensed real estate broker she received $113,700 in commissions from Anita and Amrish Mahajan. Anita Mahajan owns a urinalysis company that has been given a no-bid contract with the state Department of Children and Family Services and Amrishajan is president of a bank that has had two requests pending before state regulators to acquire two out-of-state banks…that Melvyn L. Weiss, a lawyer was indicted after having made a $10,000 contribution from his firm which “Friends of Blagojevich” returned…that Blagojevich did not return another $40,000 from Melvyn Weiss and other lawyers in Weiss’ firm…that Weiss paid $5,000 toward lodging, meals and entertainment for Blagojevich and others with him during a December, 2003 trip to New York.

Moreover that Blagojevich campaign adviser Chris Kelly was indicted on federal charges of tax fraud unrelated to either the governor of political work but Kelly has been listened as a “co-schemer” in court filings related to the Rezko fcase and that prosecutors say he was involved in pressuring prospective state contractors for “finders fees” or political contributions…that Blagojevich is widely acknowledged to be “Public Official A” in the Rezko indictment…that a federal district judge named the Blagojevich campaign and Blagojevich as the intended beneficiary of at least one of Rezko’s extortion attempts…that federal prosecutors sought to prove that his top advisers were involved in kickback schemes…that Levine mentioned Blagojevich by name at least 30 times in opne day of testimony, declaring under oath that the governor told him “[Y]ou stick with us and yhou’ll do very well for yourself,” that Levine testified Blagojevich was aware of a shakedown involving a film producer Tom Rosenberg in 2004…

In addition, that Joseph Cari, Jr., the former finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee testified Blagojevich was at one time trying to form a national fundraising presence in order to run for president, the governor tellilng him that “contracts, legal work and investment banking work” would be awarded to “people who helped”…that the former head of the Illinois Finance Authority, Ali Ata, became the first person to accuse Blagojevich of personally offering a position in his administration in return for campaign contributions…that having met Rezko several times regarding fund-raising efforts for Blagojevich’s campaign and discussing a job with a state agency in return for contributions,” Ata subsequently being appointed to the IFA post…that a federal judge confirmed Blagojevich was indeed “Official A”…that a “$25,000 Club” has been probed in which 75% of businesses, unions and individuals that give $25,000 donations to the Blagojevich campaign fund received benefits from the state, including state contracts and appointments to state boards…that “Friends of Blagojevich” received a $10,000 campaign from an elevator constructors PAC in the same month that three union officers received appointments to the Illinois Elevator Safety Board.

Blagojevich and his press spokesmen have consistently denied his involvement in all these matters. Nevertheless…

…in view of all this, the former federal prosecutor told me the feds are expected to offer a deal to both Blagojevichs. The governor will take a plea of an indeterminate lesser nature and resign in return for which his wife shall either not be prosecuted or receive a confinement sentence, allowing her to continue to care for their two daughters.

Thus endeth the insight of the former prosecutor. Political types are moving into speculation.

The Emergence of Pat Quinn as Governor.

If he accepts as Agnew did, the resignation would propel Lt. Governor Pat Quinn to the governorship. The types I talked to maintain that Attorney General Lisa Madigan would likely not move to challenge Quinn rather than become governor with such enormous state fiscal problems to solve—preferring to wait for a better opportunity. But Quinn would be challenged for the Democratic nomination on the grounds that as part of the Blagojevich administration he has inherited the taint albeit he has been vociferous about opposing the governor.

Quinn is seen as a seasoned campaigner and brilliant media strategist who would make the most of the ability to try to bring order out of chaos but highly unpopular with the Democratic party regulars.

Fr. Pfleger’s Embarrassment to Party Trumps Church.

Roman Catholic pastor Fr. Michael Pfleger has led a charmed life as pastor for life at Saint Sabina’s, having cowed the Chicago archdiocese…a pillar of Jello anyhow…with the threat that if he would be removed for term limitation as many other pastors have to observe…he would raise a ruckus and start his own church. Oh no-no-no! What terrible press that would cause!

Last night, as the nation has seen on television, Pfleger went to Trinity United Church of Christ and put on a display against Hillary Clinton and Caucasians generally that elicited a thunderous roar of approval by the largely black, hate-whitey audience. Pfleger loves a show and he relished his clowning around, affecting Hillary sobbing into a hanky and prancing around as a performer for the relish of the crowd.

The speech should have been the last straw in a series of Pfleger insults to his Church and the IRS, making a mockery of its supposed stance against mixing politics with nonprofit church worship. If this had been another priest who had gone to a church, blistered Obama and his black following, you could bet that he would be hauled down to the chancery and silenced…sent to a rehab center because of mental imbalance (a favorite prior archdiocese punishment to some authenticist priest dissenters) before the day is over. But in an archdiocese where ecclesial leadership comes in the form of parsing over performance, where lay public relations specialists hold sway, that is not likely to happen. But still, Pfleger’s near-lunatic conduct has shocked even the staid Democratic party adherents who plan to occupy many of the posh offices that used to be Quigley preparatory seminary which they have now assigned to themselves.

Now as before, the archdiocese, fearful of its own shadow, trembling in its deference to the largely Irish bloc of hack, pro-abort Democratic politicians who guide much of its fundraising, doesn’t want to encourage a racial confrontation over removal with the white Pfleger the darling of black activists, leading the Church to be perceived as…horrors!...authoritarian, seeking to censor the fiery pastor for political activity in behalf of “civil rights” so treasured by the oligarch one-party (most of whom nominal Catholics) that has been in power in Chicago longer than the USSR existed from Lenin to Gorbachev.

Previous archbishops were themselves simpatico to calming the waters with the local Dems. Now the job has been handed over to the de-facto CEO of the archdiocese, Jimmy (his baptismal name) Lago, the lay chancellor…formerly Ed Vrdolyak’s best Democratic precinct captain. Lago more than anybody else understands that Pfleger is far more than just another hyperbolic racial demagogue. He is a key operator in the Cook county Democratic party, and is every bit as bright a light in the Democratic party firmament in his own way as are the Democratic Catholic Daleys, the Madigans, Emil Jones, the Hynes, Eddie Burke, the Stroger clan et al, not to forget that great layman Dickie Durbin. And then you get to the black Protestant wing: Barack Obama and the three Jacksons. Jimmy Lago understands that to make Pfleger a martyr ruptures the archdiocese’s indissoluble linkage with the Democratic party, the party of abortion and gay rights and secularism. That tie-in now goes right up to the probable (the election is his to lose) next president of the United States, Barack Obama

Although Obama has issued a statement chastising Pfleger for his wild and frenetic appearance at Trinity United Church of Christ…and Pfleger himself has expressed contrition for acting much like a drunk on a spree…, Pfleger still has an enormous following among blacks and is in fact, word and deed a major Democratic party leader.

If this had happened to a Roman Catholic pastor in, let us say, Deerfield who entertained a crowd with prancing about insulting Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama in favor of John McCain, a heavy hand bearing the ecclesial ring now bequeathed to the chancellor would smack him upside the head and he’d be on a long-long sabbatical.

Pfleger should be unhorsed as pastor tomorrow, chastised officially, not given any further pastoral appointments while he undergoes prolonged suspension. He truly is one of the very few Catholic clerics who has earned his trip courtesy of the mental health budget to the funny farm for psychological counseling. There is one very slight chance some of these censorious actions would happen. Not because he has harmed the Church. Mercy, no. If he has indeed harmed the Obama campaign so seriously…by resurrecting the specter of a loony rogue pastor ala Jeremiah Wright…that Pfleger’s future service to the Democratic party has ended. That just could be. Obama really has been put at a disservice by this clerical clown, a disservice that Obama didn’t ask for, doesn’t deserve and could, if continued, haul him down. This could kick up Jeremiah Wright, always jealous of competition, for a repeat.

But I don’t think Pfleger will be unhorsed or even seriously criticized by Church authorities. Pfleger will appear chastened either at the archdiocesan office or in his rectory and will stay that way until the very next opportunity to misuse his ministry for partisan political advantage while the archdiocese turns its back and raises its eyes in hypocrisy.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Personal Aside: When an Ex-Press Secretary Defects.


Scott McClellan.

Eugene McCarthy had a series of press secretaries who quit during his 1968 run for the presidency…both of whom turned against him—one of whom wrote a salacious book about him. His comment to me: “You should never care when a press secretary quits. They’re a dime a dozen. But when the driver quits, that’s terrible.”

McClellan didn’t quit as George W. Bush’s press secretary—he was relieved of command, the successor being Tony Snow. Therefore the wrath of someone let go from a highly visible post usually is something to behold. Presidential press secretaries…with the exception of Jim Haggerty (Eisenhower’s)…are usually well down the totem pole but they insist they aren’t (for example, Pierre Salinger was a kind of buffoon with JFK and his people), although they must inflate their closeness in order to maximize their influence with the media. I was a press secretary to a Minnesota governor and two congressmen. Only one of those would I say I was so reasonably close to that I could interpret his thought processes in any meaningful way: that was the governor to whom I was the last to speak before I went to bed every night and the first one (except my wife) to speak to on arising, Elmer L. Andersen. For the other two I was a variant of a well-treated go-fer, Walter Judd taking me into his confidence only on occasion.

The job is arduous enough if you’re going to do it right that there is no time to be a serious policy adviser (and I was a public relations adviser solely with Andersen: how will this story play? If you do this, the press will treat it such-and-such). Therefore I would put down as personal pique McClellan’s version that we went to war on Bush’s zest to be a wartime president. When the time comes and Condeleeza Rice, Dick Cheney. Don Rumsfeld, Bob Gates, Tony Snow and others write their reflections…as well as Bush himself…historians will have the grist to form their judgments. They will assuredly take McClellan’s views into consideration—but there will be many other points of view to add to the schema. Billy Herndon who was a junior law partner of Abraham Lincoln was responsible for the canard that Lincoln’s marriage was unhappy and that Lincoln went to a prostitute who, as Lincoln was undressing, said she would charge him $10…whereupon Lincoln put his clothes back on and said he had better use for the money.

Presidents have to live with this sort of pettiness. My own view is that Scott McClellan has a good bit of personal rehab to do since he looked ill-at-ease and transfixed by position papers when he met the press. His defection has been timed for the maximum political effect…to help Barack Obama and to make himself a sizable chunk of dough in speaking fees. We do not necessarily have to depend on Scott McClellan for an assessment of the role of Bush in history. M view is that George W. Bush will go down as a latter-day version of Harry Truman—heavily unpopular at the end of his term but who will grow in stature with every passing year. I would rather rely on the judgment of Bernard Lewis, the 92 year old expert on the Middle East, about the salutary effect of Bush’s standing up to Islamo-fascism than the reflections of Scott McClellan…and McClellan will be regarded as a very-very insignificant factor in history.

Although he will be greatly useful to Barack Obama right now.


This week’s column in The Wanderer, the oldest national Catholic weekly newspaper.

By Thomas F. Roeser

CHICAGO—A two-fer.


Cinque Henderson, an African American writer for the liberal New Republic, wrote a highly educative piece last week that said even today most blacks think O. J. Simpson is innocent. So, “and at times like this when a black man is out front in the public eye [as Barack Obama is] black people feel both proud and vulnerable and as a result scour the earth for evidence of racists plotting to bring him down.” Henderson adds: if Obama had married a white woman not one who is an outspoken black nationalist as Michelle Obama is, his popularity with African Americans would be in single digits. Thus he says, Obama is a genius at having it both ways: moderate in TV sound bytes and properly revolutionary to the Left when his words are reduced to cold, hard print.

But as we know through this Wanderer series, Obama (whom I’ve interviewed several times) is closer than any other Democratic presidential nominees to sounding like the kookiest college faculty lounge Marxist. Why? He favors confiscatory tax hikes on the rich not because of budget balancing but “elementary social justice.” He believes negotiations with Iran and Syria need no conditions but not so with Hamas, despite the fact that all three agree on terrorism. But, he says, Hamas should be ordered to accept conditions pleasing the pro-Israel contingent in the Democratic party, part of a miniscule 2% Jewish population nationally but which votes 89% Democratic.

On life issues, he opposes even continuation of life for live babies born from botched abortions (something no other liberal senator in the U.S. Senate does including Ted Kennedy and Barbara Boxer). While he talks a good game about re-writing NAFTA because its robbing domestic jobs from U. S. labor, he circuitously sends a private Chicago messenger to the Canadian embassy here telling them not to pay attention, everything will continue just as it was.

All these and more show him as duplicitous (which he indubitably is but let’s face it, not much more so than other politicians, given half a chance).. But hold on! On one issue he has genuinely and satisfyingly made a singular mark in American history for which I credit him. And I kid you not—this is not said in irony or sarcasm. This is the issue of campaign funding.

For it is a certifiable truth that Barack Obama has done what no other presidential candidate has yet done in American history…and has done what John McCain has trumpeted he will do and has not. He has raised a quarter of a billion dollars thus far by largely tapping small donors, many of whom are unconnected entirely from the usual centers of vested power. And nothing remotely smelly like auctioning off a Lincoln bedroom or handing ambassadorships to rich dolts who don’t deserve them, as they have done in Republican and Democratic administrations. His staff, unlike McCain’s, is notably free of special interest lobbyists. And still he has all this money. How come?

Refining the question, how a virtual unknown, who has served only a half term as junior U.S. senator done this, raising $234 million--outdistancing Hillary’s $189 million when she had a decade plus to do it with her husband Bill, using every trick in the book? How has he spectacularly outdistanced such Democratic veterans as —and the number following the numerals here is in millions, latest figures from Biden, a senator since his early 30s (12); Chris Dodd, senator since his early 40s and son of a venerable senator ($17); John Edwards, mega millionaire trial attorney ($51); Bill Richardson, former congressman, ex-UN ambassador and now New Mexico governor, (22). How did this happen?

Now we get to the Republicans. How is it Barack has topped mega-millionaire Mitt Romney ($104)? Fred Thompson, ex-senator and TV actor ($23)? Rudy Giuliani, ex-New York mayor and 9/11 hot media idol ($57)? Also: ex-governor, ex-HHS secretary Tommy Thompson a lowly ($1.2)? The only Republican surprise has been Ron Paul with $34.4 million (who applied Barack’s fund-raising strategy). But again: How did Barack do so well? And so effortlessly not requiring personal appearances to money-plead? And do it, obviously, without violating ethics, not spending much of his valuable time on the phone wangling dollars from contributors? That is the theme of today’s epistle, dear reader.

The intriguing answer is this: He used the new rules laid out under the McCain-Feingold act which even the law’s major author, McCain failed to understand. During last February he raised $55 million, $45 million of which was done without lifting a finger or making a phone call—but over the Internet. At the same time, McCain is so strapped that he will have to resort to federal financing (which Barack evidently will disdain) plus the use of $120 million from the Republican National Committee.

Funds made to a political party are traditionally not sparkling and special interest-free. Major donors to the RNC will be able to write single checks for $33,100—of which $25,500 goes to the party and $2,300 to the McCain’s pre-convention fund (technically legal so long as Ron Paul stays on as a competitor). As the father of a misbegotten finance “reform” law, McCain is in such bad financial shape that he will agree to take $84.1 million in federal funds and limit his spending to that amount. But in bill, there still will be plenty of money available through the GOP and outside advocacy groups known as 527s, commercials dealing with hot-button issues but which don’t plug a candidate’s election. The 527 provision both McCain and Bush denounced at the time, notwithstanding that one 527 saved Bush’s neck in 2004, the devastating ads run by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

There was a time before the small donors plan was seen to work that Obama indicated he would accept federal financing and tried to shame Republicans to do the same, charging that they were the party of big money. But he hasn’t repeated this recently since it is extremely likely he will turn down federal financing since he has had a spectacular fund-raising year on the Internet—unlike McCain.

Every corporate exec with a special interest angle will be pumping money into the GOP coffers under the relaxed rules given McCain’s sparse fund raising—while Obama continues to reign as the pure of heart (saying he won’t take PAC checks but he does take individual contributions from executives from companies with PACs: a neat Obama-esque distinction).

Still, how did it happen that Obama, who only a few years ago was an unknown Illinois state senator, picked up so much smarts as to top pros like Hillary Clinton who has been raising money for decades… and old pro John McCain?

What’s Barack’s Secret?

The answer: four things. Let us acknowledge he is, in fact, a gifted politician by almost any yardstick so he was able early to tie the excitement for him in dollars and voter turnout.

Then, (1) he shrewdly used McCain-Feingold to expand the number and kinds of people including millions of first-timers to enter the political process: a net plus for the country. And (2) he saw northern California i.e. Silicon Valley, as a fecund source of money while Hillary Clinton and the other Democrats were napping. Then (3) the Iraq War which energized the liberal wing of the Democratic party. And (4) he found the right people in the Silicon Valley to tap the rich vein of gold ore for him by appealing to the small donor, a group the Democrats never really were at ease with.

He was dismayed to see traditionalists of his party looking to the tired old fat cats who had always participated—getting them to cocktail parties and picking their pockets for the maximum the law allows, $2,300 apiece for the primary and another $2,300 for the general…then also lining up 20 people in a private club who had already given $100,000 each to the party and asking them to round up similar prospects…and later 50 or so in somebody’s living room for the candidate to woo at $5,000 apiece (meaning the candidate is expected to make the pitch when he should be out campaigning, becoming a terrible drain on the candidate)…the candidate fielding requests for favors from hiring one’s brother-in-law to an ambassadorship.

In contrast, the Obama people recruited a team of post-industrial but age 40-something entrepreneurial liberals to run Silicon Valley with names no one else ever heard of: Mark Gorenberg, John Roos, Nadine North and Steve Spinner.

Gorenberg was discovered by David Axelrod, Obama’s media guru and ad hoc manager of the presidential campaign whom I’ve known for many years ever since he was a political reporter for the Tribune. Gorenberg and his team are like Axelrod himself, believing but non-too-observant Jews. Like Axelrod they are muti-millionaires and as unlike standard political hacks as you can find. They will view with contempt any overture to get them into government jobs in reward after election. For one thing, they became too wealthy on their own as entrepreneurs to be bothered with measly (to them) $100,000-plus jobs as White House functionaries.

As The Atlantic reports this month, Gorenberg, engineer-trained and a multi-millionaire from his own company, works as a full-time enthusiast for Obama motivated by a labor of love in a converted warehouse on the Embarcadero, the stylish eastern waterfront roadway that sits atop a seawall overlooking spectacular San Francisco Bay. A partner in a venture capital firm, he wears the standard computer wonk uniform of blazer and open-throated Brooks Brothers shirt (no tie) and was relatively liberal but agnostic in politics until the war blossomed. Drawn to the 2004 campaign of John Kerry, he became disgusted with the typical Democratic fund-raising event that gathered a bevy of regular contributors and pleaded with them to raise $100,000 each.

So in addition to collecting from them, he swung his computer and the computers of his pals into action, creating a fresh network to churned up a huge list of people who could give $2,300 each with no trouble and those who can afford less: from $200 to $25. Sheer numbers won out and by the end of the campaign that Kerry lost, Gorenberg with his new names all giving smaller amounts was Kerry’s number one fund-raiser in the nation.

Rather than being disillusioned at Kerry’s loss, the defeat re-energized him and he had become a part-time political fund-raising junky. He teamed up with the very wealthy Nadine North who owns a head-hunting firm finding techie execs for computer firms and they attacked the next project with great zeal: trying to elect a Democratic Congress in 2006. That’s where Axelrod, who was running Obama’s senate campaign, was tipped off that something revolutionary was happening in Silicon Valley i.e. not courting the biggies but wealthy younger people who can easily fork over $2,300 each without pain.

Gorenberg and North added John Roos, a buttoned-down, corporate-style CEO of a Palo Alto law firm. Just then Axelrod told Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the San Francisco Big Mama, later to become Speaker, about them. Pelosi, Axelrod and the computer trio sat down and picked from 10 to 15 House seats they needed to win control. Gorenberg discovered that software companies hit hard by the Internet bubble bust and unable to sell expensive systems, favored a subscription model that charged smaller incremental fees for software access which he jumped at.

Voila! Gorenberg and North didn’t ask for big checks up front but invited each of the 15 House candidates to come to the Bay Area to meet them and their trendy Silicon Valley supporters who could be encouraged to give recurring but smaller checks. First-time contributors loved brushing shoulders with new candidates and in a short time the list of 15 candidates grew to 30 and beyond. The exciting denouement came when, on election night, 2006 Democrats recaptured the House and, as North told The Atlantic’s Joshua Green “many of the candidates were ones we had supported! It really brought the national political landscape home to Democrats in the Bay Area.”

Meanwhile, back in Chicago, Axelrod knew he had a winner in Obama who had swept to victory in the Senate. He started pushing Obama for the presidency and reached out to the Silicon Valley team, lining them up. Now Hillary Clinton’s people made a big mistake. The Internet was still largely a novelty when Bill Clinton was president. He and Hillary had concentrated on the old way of raising money with the Lincoln bedroom and lavish parties (plus ambassadorships) for favors. They both figured Obama as a flash in the pan. She thought Barack’s slender resume would do him in: too insignificant for the presidency.

But a slender resume means nothing to Silicon Valley where billionaires are born seemingly overnight. These swinging execs are young themselves with scant resumes, hitting the big time, the same kind of people who started Google and YouTube. Tell them a fat resume full of Washington beltway experience is required for running the country and they’ll laugh out loud. Hillary decided to concentrate on the old California gang: actors, producers and Hollywood types, leaving Silicon Valley, richest region of the richest state in the nation for Obama. Summarizes The Atlantic’s Green: “The hottest start-up in the Valley right now won’t make anybody rich but it might put the next president in the White House.”

Axelrod’s vision is more than money-raising. He sees Obama as a brand of a $250 million presidential industry. Millions of new names from the website, tens of millions of volunteers including $200 donors and much smaller—and some who can’t afford to give money at all-- means that, to his mind, once Obama gets in the White House these tens of millions of volunteers can be activated to lobby the Congress to get Obama’s liberal program through. The Congress, he confides, isn’t aware of the huge Internet army now but once Obama gets in and the emails rush in an avalanche on Washington, the Congress won’t know what hit it.

Compared to the Obama campaign, the McCain effort is strictly file-cabinet and 3 x 5 hand-written cards. Indeed, the only people on the Republican side who got the same message Obama did are the Ron Paul people who capitalized with grassroots dissatisfaction on the war and big government, building a small donor file that produced a haul which made GOP history.

And the irony is that the man who crusaded for McCain-Feingold and got it passed, forgot to take advantage of it for smaller donors the way the Obama people have.


Every army has defectors and pro-life is no exception. One is very usual--an old school pol who merely plays the angles. Democrat Ray Flynn was mayor of Boston from 1984 to 1993, serving during Bill Clinton’s first term. He was an All-American basketball player at Providence College, was most valuable player in the 1963 national invitational tournament during his senior year and was the last player cut from the then-World Champion Boston Celtics. He won his spurs in the Democratic party by representing the South Boston neighborhood in the legislature during the busing crisis of the 1970s.

He got elected with a socially conservative platform as mayor but kept his eyes open for possibilities. Although publicly pro-life he worked for pro-abort Bill Clinton’s election in 1992, winning reelection as mayor that year. Promptly, President Clinton named him ambassador to the Vatican in 1993 and Flynn went to Rome as a kind of anomaly: a pro-lifer who rose above principle to support Clinton and in return became Clinton’s man in the Vatican.

When Clinton left office, Flynn ran unsuccessfully for Congress in the 8th congressional district seat vacated by Joseph P. Kennedy but lost the Democratic nomination: the Dems were still pro-abort. As a private citizen, Flynn returned to the official pro-life stand, supporting George W. Bush in 2000. No reward was in the offing after Bush’s two victories. But Flynn became a major league pro-lifer celebrity, president of the Catholic Alliance, a national Catholic political advocacy group; and president of another lay Catholic group, Your Catholic Voice, then started Catholic Citizenship in 2004 where in 2007 he became national chairman. He was featured talk show host on Catholic Family Radio and has gone around the country on a speaking tour collecting honoraria. Pro-life had its first media-star Democrat, huzza!

In 2007 he was named grand marshall of the 246th New York St. Patrick’s Day parade., Flynn endorsed former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and stressed Romney’s conversion to pro-life. Romney lost the nomination to John McCain as we all know.

Lo and behold, not long ago pro-lifer Flynn was back at the old Democratic stand, endorsing Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president. Hillary Clinton as the world knows is pro-abort. Rumors abound that once she officially loses the nomination to Barack Obama as is widely expected, Flynn will—hold on to your hat—consider endorsing John McCain. Huh? And nobody’s catching on?

The other defector, Doug Kmiec, is a far different case, and it is stunningly sad, far more so than that of Flynn. A top-quality, blue-chip, pro-life lawyer, Kmiec is a constitutional scholar, Caruso Family Chair and Professor of Constitutional Law at Pepperdine University. He is former head of the Office of Legal Council holding the rank of assistant attorney general for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. He was a member of the law faculty of Notre Dame, directing the Thomas White Center on Law and Government. He was a White House fellow, a Fulbright scholar and published books on the constitution. He headed the Romney for President committee on the courts and constitution in 2007. He was regarded as one of the great advocates of pro-life and social conservative doctrines.

Prominent as he was, Kmiec wasn’t named by Bush to senior judiciary posts as was expected by many (including this writer). A few months ago, he announced he is backing Barack Obama for president. Once again: The very same Barack Obama who opposed the Born Alive bill in the Illinois legislature to defend babies’ lives when born after a botched abortion.

Why did Kmiec endorse him? Rumors abound that if Obama gets to the White House, Kmiec would be in line for a major judicial position. Moreover, a story was just floated on the Internet the other day that Kmiec says he was denied Communion by a priest because of his pro-Obama stand. This may well be regarded by the Democrats as a plus, martyrdom for liberal causes gaining great favor these days which would be regarded as a definite asset by a Democratic senate that is needed to confirm.

Ray Flynn and Doug Kmiec: Is this a great country, or what?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Personal Aside: Ted Kennedy’s Good Fortune…er Fortunes.

[Original story appeared in The Chicago Daily Observer—with considerable additions in this version].

No, I have not lost my mind. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s inoperable brain cancer that will inevitably claim his life is seen in secular circles as a tragedy—but Catholics learn early that since death is inevitable, the chance for what theologians call the
”grace of a happy death” can be gained if…as all of us devoutly wish…there is time before the grim reaper comes is put to good use—which applies to all of us…saints, sinners and those in between…for contemplation, contrition, penance, prayer and calm resignation.

Thus it can be said, in theological terms involving repentance and forgiveness for sin, that the 76-year-old lawmaker is incomparably better off than were his three brothers: Joe, 29, who went down in a B-24 Liberator on August 12, 1944 near the village of Blythburgh, Suffolk, England…John, 46, the 35th president who died immediately in assassination on November 22, 1963 in Dallas…and Robert, 45, the New York senator who met death instantly early on the morning of June 5, 1968 as he walked through the kitchen of the Ambassador hotel in Los Angeles having won the California presidential primary.

I had a most unusual and pleasant experience with the youngest Kennedy scion. In 1977 I was recommended for a fellowship at the John F. Kennedy Institute of Politics, Harvard, with the approval of Newton Minow, JFK’s former FCC chairman, Abner Mikva my congressman and Andrew Young, ambassador to the UN. For a conservative Republican I thought these supporters have enough liberal ballast to get me in to the Democratic-run think tank.

But no. I was blocked and was told by Doris Kearns Goodwin, then a functionary at the Institute, that under no circumstances would I be able to get the Fellowship. Why not? Was the miniscule Harvard quota for Republicans already filled? No. But the Kennedy Institute had its standards and by no means would a corporate lobbyist be admitted. Corporate lobbyists were vermin. So-called “public interest” lobbyists would be admitted i.e. Ralph Nader. Labor union leaders were given a pass. Black civil rights activists were, as well. But corporate lobbyists were seen as so dishonorable that by no means were they allowed to pass through the portals.

The door was closed. However, I was told: if I wanted to pursue the matter, Sen. Kennedy interviews all potential Kennedy Fellows and he would agree to see me…if I wanted to return to Cambridge the next week. I decided what the hell, why not? So I flew back. No sooner had I entered his spacious office at the Institute than I reminded him that in my past I had traveled across the state with the legendary Everett McKinley Dirksen who was a special friend and ally of John Kennedy and Robert. That was the smartest thing I ever did aside from marrying my wife. We swapped Dirksen stories for an hour and Kennedy laughed at the old man’s scatological tales until the water rolled out of his eyes. Especially Dirksen’s frequently uttered view of the current state Republican chairman that…and you’ll pardon me for the scatology…the gentleman “was as dumb as dog-shit.”

Kennedy roared and said excitedly: “That’s where my brothers got that expression!”

Further, I told him that when I decided to try to get congressional approval for affirmative action as an assistant Commerce secretary working for Nixon, I asked Dirksen if this would be a popular idea in the Congress.

Dirksen said: “Yes, very popular. About as popular as a case of crabs in a bordello.”

At the end of the hour, Ted Kennedy stood up, extended his hand and said the stories I told reminded him of ones his brothers had chortled about over drinks with Dirksen. And he offered me a drink—which I took. Before I left, I asked if I had been accepted.

“Accepted?” he said. “For what?”

As a Kennedy Fellow.

“You go out there and tell the dean that you are head of the class,” he said. That was just about the last time I talked with him.

I am indebted to Ted and liked him that afternoon hugely. But few have been as fortunate as he. Even with this malady.

For he will have ample time to mull over many-many things during this interregnum…time others haven’t had. I particularly would advise him to review two (of many) episodes.

First, the meeting he and Bobby called for the family estate at Hyannisport in 1964 before abortion had become a federal issue. But the issue was moving front and center in state legislatures and the meeting was called to provide advice for Bobby who was running for the New York senate seat—but also for future Kennedys like Ted who wanted to follow Bobby in the presidency.

Smoothing the Way for Catholic Abortion Acceptance.

Attending that huddle in Hyannisport were Fr. Robert Drinan SJ (later to become a pro-abortion congressman from Massachusetts); Fr. Charles Curran, a non-Jesuit whose writings against Humanae Vitae were condemned later by the Vatican; Fr. Joseph Fuchs, SJ, a professor at Gregorian University, Rome; Fr. Richard McCormick, SJ, later to become the Rose Kennedy professor of the Kennedy Institute for Bioethics at Georgetown and after that a theology professor at Notre Dame; Fr. Giles Milhaven, SJ who later figured in the early operation of “Catholics for Free Choice” and Fr. Albert Jonsen, SJ.

According to Philip Lawler in his brilliant new book about how Catholicism receded in Boston, “The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston’s Catholic Culture [Encounter: 2008]”, the hireling theologians worked for two days to develop a rationale for the Kennedys to handle the issue. “Eventually they reached a consensus, which they passed along to their political patrons. Abortion, they agreed, could sometimes be morally acceptable as the lesser of two evils. Lawmakers should certainly not encourage abortion but a blanket prohibition might be more harmful to the common good than a law allowing abortion in some cases…President Kennedy hads already laid the foundation for the argument that a Catholic politician must not attempt to enact his private religious views; now his brothers were prepared to take the next step forward. They were ready to explain that they were personally opposed to the abortion ban, but…”

From that time on, a smattering of Jesuit theologians provided a cover for that effort, writes Lawler including after “Roe” Ted Kennedy’s front-and-center support for abortion rights and his vote even for partial birth abortion—though stopping short at supporting the “Born Alive” ban (which Barack Obama personally endorsed while a member of the Illinois legislature, differing from such worthies as Kennedy, Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein). Tacit acceptance by Catholicism’s first Democratic family paved the way for the later pro-abort triumphant procession with the entire supposedly Catholic Massachusetts congressional contingent, extending now all the way through the Catholic wing of the Democratic party including Mayor Richard M. Daley, Dick Durbin et al.

Nineteen-sixty-eight could well have seen the second Kennedy made president. At the Democratic national convention in Chicago in 1968 with his brother Robert dead, Eugene McCarthy failing to pick up the liberal slack and Hubert Humphrey unattractive to the peace delegates, Mayor Richard J. Daley privately joined with powerful California state house speaker Jesse (Big Daddy) Unruh to try to draft Ted Kennedy at the last minute for the nomination. Ted could have gotten the nomination without a struggle since McCarthy had expressed to this writer and others that he would withdraw in Ted’s favor (“which is what I wouldn’t have done for Bobby”)—but Ted turned it down. His tender age, 36, wasn’t a problem, McCarthy told me later since most of the founders were young men when the Constitution was ratified—Jefferson, 43, Madison, 35, Hamilton, 36.

If Kennedy had said yes, the emotion of the country was such after the murders of two Kennedy brothers that he would assuredly have defeated Richard Nixon who had the dark visage of Richard III. Ted decided he could wait until the disruption engulfing the Democrats over Vietnam was settled. He would run in 1972. Wrong. By then he couldn’t.

Then Came Chappaquiddick.

The second: Chappaquiddick. Less than a year later, on July 18, 1969 came what has ever since been known as the Chappaquiddick Incident and the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, a former campaign worker for Robert Kennedy whose dead body was discovered inside an overturned car belonging to Ted Kennedy in a channel on a small island adjoining Martha’s Vineyard. No satisfactory answer has ever been supplied by Kennedy or his supporters for the tragedy. An unconscionable delay in reporting the accident caused Kopechne’s death. Kennedy passed four homes with telephones after the accident and didn’t call the police until the next morning, the 19th. In the meanwhile, the overturnbed car was found in the pond by two fishermen who called police.

A diver was sent down and discovered Kopechne’s body. At the inquest, the diver, John Farrar, testified that Kopechne’s body was pressed up in the car in the spot where an air bubble had been presumably formed. The inquest said the bubble could have allowed her to breathe for two hours afer the accident. Farrar testified: “Had I received a call within five to ten minutes of trhe accident…and was able as I was the following morning to be at the victim’s side within 25 minutes of receiving the call…there is a strong possibility that she would have been alive on removal from the submerged car.” Kennedy’s dithering, cowardice and emotional paralysis…fear of political retribution…led to the stall, most say.

Mary Jo had an estimated two hours, trapped in the upturned car, to contemplate: max.

The Only Possible Answer.

Not long ago, a friend of mine told me a very interesting thing. He is now a prominent educator at Harvard, tenured, fashionably liberal, in his 60s—and in 1968 he was a young staffer to Bobby Kennedy…a close friend of the “Boiler Room Girls,” the females who worked Kennedy campaigns with single-minded dedication. He then served as a staffer to Ted Kennedy.

He dated Mary Jo Kopechne. He filled in a blank space on that episode that makes sense. Relatively few know the Kennedy background that this balding professor know…and we spent a good deal of time as he worked through with me his conjecture on how Chappaquiddick happened.

Understand, he was not present at the July 18, 1969 reunion of six women known as the “boiler-room girls” who had served in Robert’s 1968 presidential campaign—but his theory seems to me to be water-tight if you’ll pardon the implication.

First let’s review the facts: The party was held at a borrowed facility, Lawrence Cottage, on Chappaquiddick island, adjoining Martha’s Vineyard and connected to it by ferry. Present were the six women, Ted Kennedy, Joesph Gargan, his cousin, Paul Markham, a friend of Gargan’s who would become U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, Charles Tretter, an attorney and John Crimmins, Ted’s part-time driver. Kennedy was competing in the Edgartown Yacht Club Regatta, a sailing competition which was taking place over several days. Among the women present was Kopechne. Rumors have been flying around ever since the incident that she was a sexual playmate of Ted. Not so, says my friend who had dated her casually. In point of fact, Mary Jo was the opposite of a sex object, a kind of ever-loyal female nerd, the opposite of a vamp, who hardly dated, never had a romance (my friend’s association with her was platonic), who was ever-loyal and ready to do the grunt work. She was kind of like everyone’s kid sister. My friend makes no bones about that. She was the kind of girl who ran around in a circle—not a high cheek-boned beauty but a gawky, freckle-faced kid sister everyone sort of protected.

While the others were distinctively party-girls, Mary Jo was not. She would take one drink, maybe a watered down cocktail or a glass of 3.2 beer…and as the party would liven up, she would kind of slip out and get in the back of a car owned by the one who brought her, curl up, dose and wait for the driver to come back to take her home. Not that she objected to the liveliness of a party but that she was kind of an oldish young girl, not endowed with looks or charm but just a loyal, dependable type, a kind of younger sister to the boiler-room girls.

She came to the party in Ted Kennedy’s car, along with a number of other girls, most of whom were attracted to the Kennedys, especially the senator and who were quite used to the ways of the world with the family, he says: Kopechne being the only odd-exception. There was no doubt that there was ribaldry, drinking and joshing of a sexual innuendo nature that went on…as well as promiscuity… between the men and the attractive young women of the world, he says—as he had been with them at other outings in the company of the Kennedys. According to testimony of the other party-goers, Kennedy left the party at about 11:15 or 11:30 and Kopechne asked for a ride back to her hotel.

At this point, my friend, who talked extensively with other party members following the inquest has an important amendment. As was her style, Kopechne had one drink and slipped out to take her accustomed spot, curled up in the back seat of Kennedy’s car, his mother’s 1967 Oldsmobile Delmont 88. Kennedy was feeling no pain nor was his female escort. They gabbed a lot as the half-inebriated senator maneuvered the car, evidently planning a tryst for himself and the girl with Kopechne knowing about the possibility or asleep.

Here I stopped him. I asked: Planning a tryst with Mary Jo in the car?

He said: “You don’t understand how Bachannalian the Kennedys were, from the old man, who brought Gloria Swanson on the Queen Mary to Europe with him while he traveled with Rose, to John who fooled around with Jackie’s press secretary, Pamela Turnure and scores, literally scores, of others whom Jackie had to know about.” He is right. All you have to do is to read Sally Bedell Smith’s “Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House,” a book notable for its explicitness but also its annotation, one that has been cited by most scholars as revisionist-authentic. Kennedy men were reared to be womanizers in imitation of Old Joe—and John Kennedy was one of the worst, often disappearing in social events with a young woman for hours at a time while Jacqueline, as Ethel Kennedy had counseled, was expected to understand. Bobby was less so; Ted was more so.

Back to the Chappaquiddick incident as reported by my friend—again, who was not there but whose close acquaintance with those who were has given him a special insight.

He added: “Knowing about the possibility was de rigeur with boiler-room girls who protected—and sometimes participated in--the Kennedys’ vaunted womanizing…with the exception of Mary Jo who wasn’t interested, nor were the Kennedys attracted to her. But she was expected to `understand’ the promiscuity and sexual indulgence that would go on. The Kennedys behaved like British kings from the time of Henry VIII. Everyone knew who the concubines were and assented as did Mary Jo.”

The story resumes. Inebriated, Kennedy was searching for a place to conduct the tryst with his attractive and willing female companion in the front seat while Mary Jo, curled up in the back seat, understood the drill from many other occasions with both Bobby and Ted. Both Kennedy and his tryst-object were so tanked—and Mary Jo on many other occasions like this one, so silent and acquiescent—they forgot she was present. Kennedy was trying to find a place for seclusion with the female companion. A deputy sheriff testified at the inquest that he saw Kennedy’s car on Dyke Road at 12:40 a.m. and that the driver sped off when he approached it.

Now as all agree, Kennedy made a wrong turn onto an unlit dirt road that led to Dyke Bridge, a wooden bridge angled obliquely to the road with no guardrail, and drove over its side. The car plunged into tide-swept Poucha Pond and came to rest upside down under water. Kennedy and his front-seat boiler-girl companion were able to swim free of the vehicle and both were immensely relieved to have escaped death, forgetting in their alcoholic haze about Mary Jo in the back seat. Still inebriated they decided to get out of there, believing that while they were the worse for wear, they had survived.

Kennedy claimed at the inquest that he called Kopechne’s name several times from the shore, then tried to swim down to reach her seven or eight times—doubted by my friend. His story is he then rested on the bank for several minutes before walking back alone to Lawrence Cottage where others of the party was still feting. My friend says the two of them walked back to the Cottage. Their walk took them past at least four houses which had telephones where he could have summoned help—but no call was made. His story is that he summoned Markham and Gargan to come to the pond to help him. Both reported they tried to dive into the water to save Kopechne many times. Then, Kennedy’s story continues, when the diving attempts failed, he told them to return to the college, “take care of the girls and I will take care of the accident.” It is their story that they assumed Kennedy would inform authorities once he returned to Edgartown and so they did not do so themselves.

My friend’s story makes more sense. Kennedy and the boiler-girl escort who had been seated next to him in the front seat of the car, zapped out of their minds with booze, managed to escape from the overturned car in the pond and stumbled back to Lawrence Cottage, completely forgetting Mary Jo’s having been in the back seat—understandable since her and others’ presence at romantic rendezvous and trysts were always understood—and at the time, dismissed. In fact, Kopechne’s presence was blotted out for a time since the harrowing episode almost cost their own lives. To them, not remembering Mary Jo’s presence, since they had escaped, the event was merely an automobile accident—something that could be reported the next day rather than in the middle of the night to police.

When they got back to the Cottage, they told the group and only then somebody said, “where was Mary Jo?”

Kennedy and the boiler-room girl both said almost at once: “GOD! She was with us! We remember now!”

The boiler-room girl dissolved in tears. The other girls hugged themselves and sobbed at the grisly thought of Mary Jo, trapped in the car and dying.

Finally Gargan shouted to them: “Stop it! Stop it now! We can’t help her. We’ve got to protect the senator!”

They all agreed.

What to do now?

A curtain of silence was imposed on the group by Kennedy and the two other men. Boiler-room people had long appreciated that confidentiality was mandated for Kennedy activities. A huddle was called between the three men and a rough plan detailed. By now Kennedy and his boiler-girl escort remembered firmly--Mary Jo had indeed been in the car. But now it was adjudged now too late to save her: the crucial thing was to save Kennedy from embarrassment and prosecution which would end the Kennedy idyll. They never could settle on a plan. It was too complicated. . There was an argumentative struggle over whether or not someone else should take the blame in order to protect Kennedy: but since this would mean prosecution, no one volunteered. But all agreed that the police should be notified. Who would do it? Kennedy insisted that one or the other of the two men do it—he was vociferous that he should not do the reporting. Neither of the two men, understandably, wanted to report something they had nothing to do with.

This much they agreed to: Kennedy would go back to his hotel in Edgartown and call the police from there. Some discussion ensued as to whether or not it might be possible to suggest that Mary Jo had taken his keys and had driven his car, overturning it in the pond—but that was vetoed. There was no semblance of a general agreement on how to handle the problem. Obviously it was too late…and all were in too bad a shape…to reach a coherent strategy. What they did agree to was that Kennedy should get the hell out of there and go to the hotel in Edgartown. The girls went home and Kennedy was driven by Gargan and Markham to the Edgartown-Chappaquiddick ferry which connects Chappaquiddick to the rest of the island.

But once there, more complications. The ferry was down for the night. As the three stood there wondering what to do, Kennedy said he would at least solve this dilemma. He swam the 500-foot channel back to Edgartown, went to his room, got into dry clothes and fell asleep on his bed at about 2 p.m. The two other men left. There always was the question whether he took off his shoes for the swim. Of course: he would have to. But strangely, that detail was not remembered when my friend questioned around.

At the hotel, Kennedy didn’t call authorities about the accident as he had indicated he would do. Instead, he decided he had to invent a scenario that would say he was at the hotel that night. So at 2:55 a.m. he went downstairs, presented himself to the hotel clerk and others and complained that he had been awakened by a noisy party. This was to certify that he was in the hotel. He returned to his room, stayed awake for a time, then dozed. Then at 7:30 in the morning he made it a point to talk casually to the winner of the previous day’s sailing race—again as to establish his whereabouts. Still no phone call. But by then, unknown to him and the others, two fishermen had discovered the upturned car in the pond and called authorities. A diver was sent out to discover if anyone was in the car.

Back in Edgartown, at 8 a.m. Gargan and Markham came to the hotel and were astounded to discover that Kennedy still had not notified the police. They got into a heated conversation over why he had not done so—and what to do now. Then all three of them took the ferry to Chappaquiddick, where at a pay phone near the dock Kennedy made a series of phone calls to some friends asking for advice and to Kopechne’s parents reporting her likely death. Now events that were clearly out of control had taken over the operation.A diver, John Farrar, was sent down and discovered Kopechne’s body. He testified at the inquest that her body was pressed up in the car in the spot where an air bubble would have formed. He later concluded that “had I received a call within five to ten minutes of the accident occurring and was able, as I was the following morning, to be at the victim’s side within 25 minutes of receiving the call, in such event there is a strong possibility that she would have been alive on removal from the submerged car.” The car was hauled up and the license plate was identified as belonging to Rose Kennedy—but, of course, a follow-up showed it was driven the night before by Ted Kennedy.

When Kennedy finished making his phone calls, he was informed that the car was hauled up and the body discovered, he crossed back to Edgartown and went to the police station to report the accident. The Kennedy scenario was that Gargan then told the boiler-room girls what had happened: my friend says they knew what happened when Kennedy had returned from the accident. Kopechne’s parents did not allow an autopsy to be performed on their daughter. They did not bring any legal action against Kennedy but did receive a payment for $90,904 from him personally and $50,000 from his insurance company—pretty paltry pickings for the enormity of the tragedy that happened to them by Kennedy’s taking the life of their daughter. The Kopechnes later explained “we figured that people would think we were looking for blood money.” Their attitude changed later. There were public recriminations by them. Then they shut up. My friend says they were…let us say…adequately dealt with.

The vast Kennedy crisis machine swung into action. On July 25, seven days after the incident Kennedy entered a plea of guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of an accident after causing injury. He wore a neck brace, worn on orders of his lawyers, my friend says, to show he was injured in a serious way—a public relations symbol of a sort to ward off belief that he had not suffered. The Kennedy clout fixed the verdict so that he received a sentence of two months in jail—suspended—and lost his driver’s license for a year. Later on TV he announced it was “indefensible that I had not reported the incident to the police immediately.” He said “I was overcome, I’m frank to say, by a jumble of emotions—grief, fear, doubt, exhaustion, panic, confusion and shock.” He denied he had been engaged in “immoral conduct” with Kopechne or that he had been driving drunk.

District Attorney Edmund Denis was granted a hearing on petition for exhumation of Kopechne’s body based on the funeral director’s claim that blood was found on the body and clothing. But there is little evidence to corroborate and the finding is uncertain as to whether she was injured in the crash or in a frenetic struggle within the car. An inquest into her death took plce in Edgartown in January, 1970. Kennedy’s legal team got the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial court to order it be conducted in secret. A 793-page transcript was released four months later. Judge Boyle concluded that Kennedy and Kopechne did not intend to return to Edgartown when they left the party, that Kennedy did not intend to drive to the ferry slip and that Kennedy’s turn onto Dike Road was intentional. He said “negligent driving appears to have contributed to the death of Mary Jo Kopechne.” While under Massachusetts law, Boyle could have ordered Kennedy’s arrest, he did not. Denis chose not to pursue Kennedy for manslaughter despite Boyle’s findings.

Do you think anyone but a Kennedy would get off this lightly?

And, while we are not given to judge, it is mark of singular good fortune to him that Ted Kennedy will have time to ruminate about the things he did, both good and bad, in his political and private life…

…as well as contemplate the lesson his Church has always taught about the purpose of life—specially the folly of elevating fame, riches and political power so as to disvalue the pursuit of holiness.

Hang in there, Ted. In more ways that men can count, you’ve been and are a lucky man.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Personal Asides: Obama is Surely Goofing Up His Campaign by Taunting McCain on Issues that Stir Up McCain’s base…The Hillary “Gaffe.”



Unless I am far wrong, Barack Obama is blundering terribly in this presidential campaign by stirring up his opponent’s base. Remember McCain has been having trouble with his conservative base all along: the base being apathetic about McCain’s views on immigration and what it sees as his wishy-washyness.

Earlier Obama took umbrage at Bush for Bush’s comments on appeasement of Iran although Obama’s name wasn’t mentioned—prompting McCain to take advantage of the national security issue where McCain is strong and Obama is weak. Thus the headlines read “Obama Denies He’s an Appeaser.”

Next Obama went on television to unintentionally re-ignite the image of his wife, a well-educated lady who evidently cannot forgive the help she got going to two Ivy League universities without a scholarship but with white philanthropic support. He said “leave my wife alone!” which draws attention to Michelle…rather than counseling her privately to tone down her stuff and draw herself out of the line of fire. Michelle Obama is an essential part of the campaign for the black vote. This may have revved up the black vote but for heaven’s sake Obama has those. If Obama had married a white woman, let’s face it, he’d still be in single digits. Michelle is an asset to the black vote but the name of the game is to use her singular black militant status without allowing her to dominate the political conversation—which Obama has just done, returning her front and center. By bringing up Michelle he draws major attention to the disadvantage she brings to him to get the white votes…including the immortal statement that while now in her 40s she, for the first time, can be proud of America. A stupid blunder. Headlines called attention once more to Obama’s wife: “Leave My Wife Out of This!: Obama.”

Then, on Friday, strolling the stage waving his hand mike, Obama went after two key figures who are very-very lukewarm about McCain but who are keys to the base McCain needs to excite: Rush Limbaugh and Lou Dobbs of CNN, on the illegal immigration issue. Blaming Limbaugh and Dobbs is like McCain blaming two very different black preachers from Jeremiah Wright. There’s no point in it. More and more it seems that Obama may be the George McGovern of 2008, throwing scattershot against prime media figures rather than his opponent, allowing Limbaugh and Dobbs to enter the fray on an issue ripe for exploitation, an issue McCain is weak on: illegal immigration. Headline: “Obama Rips Limbaugh, Dobbs”—two very-very cool non-allies of McCain.

After which, this: there’s nothing like going to Miami and appearing before a Cuban gathering in which Obama says he will meet with Raul Castro. The fact that there are some younger Cubans who are less concerned with Cuba than their fathers and mothers is a fact but overwhelmingly the Cuban-American vote is hotly anti-Castro.

Finally, this ridiculous anti-lobbyist business. Every lawmaker deals with lobbyists and to attack them generically is kindergarten stuff. Predictably, a “Newsweek” investigative reporter shot back yesterday with the fact that David Axelrod, Obama’s guru, has a shell firm named ASK in which his surname is prominent, that turned out commercials and grassroots strategies for Commonwealth Edison, the giant Illinois energy company, fighting legislation to force rate reductions which was before the Illinois legislature. Axelrod’s answer: oh, I never contributed money as lobbyists do and I never worked the Washington, D. C. mill as a lobbyist…meaning there’s a new definition of lobbyist, excluding the multi-millionaires like Axelrod who design commercials and grassroots strategies. As a lobbyist who recognizes Axelrod is a very good strategist in shaping public opinion for his clients, I say: give me a break, David.


Hillary Clinton’s supposed gaffe by daring to bring up the fact that Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in June, 1968 which changed the nature of the Democratic pre-convention campaign, has been chalked up by the national media as a great gaffe…they implying that she meant Obama could be assassinated which would change everything. She shouldn’t not have gone there but the very-very sensitive pro-Obama media…especially in Chicago…murmured not a word until some reporter who had not even attended the Sioux Falls “Argus-Leader” editorial board session decided that it was a terrible inducement to some nut to kill Obama.

The interesting thing is that no one has thought to condemn the flagrantly pro-Obama Father Andrew Greeley…he who has announced in his shamelessly Democratic partisan newspaper column that “I work for God [sic]”…twice mentioned that someone could knock off Obama—all without a word of protest and without editing from Michael Cooke’s scandalously politically prurient, notoriously left-wing careless “Sun-Times.” The likely reason: Greeley suggested that the assassin would be a far-right-wing kook which fit the Cooke marketing plan very well.

I am one who believes it was an innocent Hillary mention of an historical event (which had been passed over by the politically correct media twice earlier when she had recited the event in other gatherings). It was not a gaffe but only seen as such in retrospect when the ultra-sensitive pro-Obama media jumped on it. Nor was it a dishonorable attempt to incite assassination. One need not be a harm-seeker against Obama to bring up the incontrovertible fact that in 1968 Robert Kennedy’s death changed everything…proof that once again, “events, my dear boy, events” always dominate in politics—meaning it is only prudent for Hillary to stay in the game. As my good friend Frank Penn brought up at breakfast Sunday, the myth nurtured by the media and our insatiably attention-seeking partisan priest friend with a “Sun-Times” column, that right-wing Republican assassins kill presidents and high level liberal candidates has been largely disproved by the facts.

Robert Kennedy was killed by Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian whose diary shows he was enraged by RFK’s support of Israel in the 6-day war in 1967.

Lincoln was assassinated by a Democrat opposed to everything Lincoln stood for. Garfield by one Charles Guiteau, a one-time stalwart Republican outraged after having been turned down for a job in the Garfield administration, concluding that Garfield’s death “was a political necessity.” William McKinley by an anarchist, Leon Czolgolsz. The assassination attempt on Franklin D. Roosevelt in Miami Beach that killed Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak was by an Italian immigrant, Giuseppe Zangora, a lefty anarchist (and no it wasn’t the old canard that holds it as a Mafia attempt to kill Cermak: that job could have been taken care of in Chicago without such notoriety).

Finally, the murder of John Kennedy was carried out by a certifiable pro-Communist, Lee Harvey Oswald. The assassination attempts on Gerald Ford came from Lynette (Squeaky) Fromme, a disciple of mass-murderer Charles Manson and Sara Jane Moore, a left-wing political activist. Not a far-right kook in a carload.

Somebody ought to understand that in his heart, Andy Greeley is a fiction writer even when he dabbles in political analysis—and a pretty bad fiction writer at that--who wouldn’t sell his recycled trash if he didn’t purvey “Desperate Housewives” tales tied up in ribbon as religion and pose on the book jacket with his clericals on (and in one case in formal vestment regalia ready to dispense sacraments).

Flashback: Operation Breakout Begins with Two Lucky Breaks. Then a Memorable Evening, a Brilliant Choice of Options When Danger Looms and the Denouement.

More than 60 years of living written as a memoir for my kids and grandchildren.

“Two items of good news,” my Saint John’s roommate Kenneth said on September 25, 1946, two days from my breakout. Being a child prodigy, he spoke in just those precise, legalistic (even literary) terms—“two items of good news.” We had hardly exchanged words since his condemnation of student nurse Mildred Murphy as one decidedly inappropriate for dating since she was too experienced in observing the male physiognomy, as absurd an objection as I ever heard.

I didn’t respond. I had decided he was hopelessly immature…just passed sixteen, turning seventeen a few weeks earlier (having been promoted two grades as a kid)—although a near genius in math, knew his towering IQ score which he told everyone who would listen, also an accomplished pianist--…and his callowness warranted no response from me. But he recited them anyhow.

“First, The Bull of the Woods will be gone, out of town on Wednesday, the night of your breakout. There’s a note on the bulletin board that the substitute prefect for that night will be Fabian. No one better for you than he.”

(“No one better for you than he.” That’s how he spoke, with grammatical exactitude).

But that was TRUE! It cheered me immensely. My biggest worry had been the Bull of the Woods and now he was out of the picture. That meant the breakout should be duck soup, a phrase we used to say and which Kenneth disdained. The sub would be Father Fabian Weigleitner, OSB young, newly ordained cleric who worked in the university’s accounting office, a pushover who wanted all to like him. Soft, pliable, shy, meek, wanted to be a pal to the students. As unlike the Bull of the Woods as was possible to get. Odds are he would be in his room holding a bull session with some of the brown-noses on the floor who like to ingratiate themselves with all Benedictines (the Bull of the Woods discouraged brown-noses which at bottom is why I couldn’t help liking some of his qualities). Fabian would be gratified with the attention, would get his Office prayers out of the way early so as to have time slinging the baloney with the students…definitely not pacing the corridor sentry-fashion like the Bull of the Woods. That will make it easier for me on the break-out.

What’s the other good news?

“Wednesday’s a big night on the radio so everybody will be listening, including Fabian. It’s the night of the Zale-Graziano fight.”

EVEN BETTER! Fabian was a jock enthusiast so he’d get his Office prayers said early and the corridor would be empty for my breakout as everybody on 2nd floor Benet would be listening. Tony Zale, the middleweight champion of the world, would be fighting a very tough challenger, Rocky Graziano, broadcast on a national radio hookup. Everyone will be huddled around their radios and the corridor will be empty which should be perfect for my breakout. Fabian would undoubtedly host a group of them in his room, smoking cigarettes and cigars to listen and cheer while the fight was on.

“Kenneth,” I said, “thanks for that news. I guess I should not be mad at you anymore so let’s shake hands. You only just turned seventeen and you can’t be expected to understand the need of a man to go to the movies with a girl.”

“And I probably never will if I continue thinking about the priesthood,” he said. We shook.

Then he added: “That doesn’t mean I favor the breakout. Just trying to be helpful.”

Understand. Where has the Bull of the Woods gone?

“Supposedly to South Dakota. Somebody in his family has been sick.”

EXCELLENT! With those two good items, I re-calculated how much money the breakout would take. Those reading this who are not from the era will be stunned at the paucity of an amount needed to make a breakout successful in 1946. To shore up money reserves for the date, through the month. I had avoided buying sweets, cigarettes (smoking cigarettes was entirely acceptable…in fact de rigeur in college with men--although not women who were viewed as cheapening themselves if they did it. Smoking for me was encouraged at Saint John’s, for students as well as clergy, the view being that this was a particularly acceptable form of male diversion…the only rap on them was that it got you winded easily if you were an athlete. Otherwise, smoking was assiduously welcomed on campus: pipes for the intellectuals and professors, Roi Tan cigars soaked in rum at 10-cents apiece for the jocks, cigarettes for the ex-GIs and the rest of us. I smoked cigarettes as an affectation, inhaled but never got addicted thankfully so giving them up…Chesterfields cost 25 cents a pack…was easy. But I resolved to take a pack with me to smoke when I took her out because it was acceptably sophisticated.

In addition, I forfeited one Saturday night’s trip on the Johnny Blue Bus to Saint Cloud to conserve money, watching an unforgivably dull movie circa 1944, Nelson Eddy and Charles Coburn in “Knickerbocker Holiday” for pre-div’s (pre-divinity students) in the Auditorium. So I had about $22.50 in pocket now, more than enough. My Mom would send me $5 one week and $10 the second. Tomorrow there should be the $10 check in my post-office box in Benet basement. So I would be flush--$32.50. Obscenely rich! The entire episode shouldn’t cost more…tops…than $15. At the most. Free hitchhike to Saint Cloud. A cab to the nurse’s residence to pick her up and then to the theatre—let’s say $3.00 with 30 cent tip. The show $1.50 apiece.

Two hot fudge sundaes @ 75 cents. Then a cab back to the nurse’s residence. I walk back to the center of town and hang around until the 2 a.m. Greyhound for $1.25. Duck soup. No Bull of the Woods to tyrannize me and make it difficult to slip out on the night of the 27th. So, flush with money, it couldn’t be better.

Perfect Timing on the Breakout..

All systems go on the evening of the 27th. Missed dinner in the refectory (which you could do if you wanted to study and planned to grab a sandwich at the Snack Shack later, but you had to tell the Prefect—which I didn’t because the Bull of the Woods was out-of-town and Fabian wouldn’t be eating with the faculty in the refectory so he wouldn’t notice an empty place). Grabbed a sandwich. After changing into a suit on the second floor Benet at 3:45 p.m. before dinner was called, I slipped down the corridor and made it `round the bend to the stairway. I strolled out on the grounds, largely unobserved. It was a mild, Fall afternoon with russet leaves on the ground as I walked until I lost sight of the abbey’s twin towers, then jogged part of the way. Got to Highway 52 at 4:30 p.m. Stuck out my thumb to the ongoing traffic and got a ride within 30 seconds: traveling salesman who was going right to Saint Cloud. Dropped me off right at the Saint Cloud hotel at about 5:30 p.m.

I was rather early; didn’t want to get to the hospital before seven, so I sat in the lobby and listened to the piano playing coming out of the Golden Pheasant lounge off the lobby. At 6:45 p.m. I got the cab and drove to the hospital’s nurse’s residence, arriving there a few minutes after seven. She was there and—huzza!—the nun on duty at the desk was her close friend Sister Camille, OSB, who winked at the curfew hour.

Like my date, Sister Camille (whose surname was Wallek) had a Stearns county Germanic accent despite her Polishness, saying “nort’” for north, “sout’” for south. Real-real Stearns county talk could be heard from the oldster retired farmers who sat on a bench near the bus stop on Saint Germain street who, when you asked them where Weibel’s beer stube was, said: “Weibel’s iss in block ver postoffice ist,” which sounded like a sentence in German but was Stearns English. They used plenty of Ja’s or yah’s for yes.

Mildred Murphy had a touch of the Germanic but not much. With slim waist and a figure that you could describe as fulsome, amplitude of aspect. With blue-black hair, unaffected which she tied up under her nurse’s cap but unloosed when out of uniform, she would wrinkle her nose and burst into laughter when she felt like it and she more than made up for it with brown eyes deep and unfathomable.

We got in the cab, chatted cordially as we rode to the Paramount. In the cab she said she had put on a new perfume and would I take a whiff to see what I thought…whereupon she brought her slender wrist to my nose. Excellent: not the perfume so much as her familiarity. The cab driver, a country boy from Avon, said,. “Hey, can I get a whiff, too?” so she put her wrist to his nose and he approved. Her gaiety and light-hearted chatter was refreshing and bode well for the evening. The only mark of sadness came later when she said that Father Malachy, her favorite brother and one to whom she was very-very close, was at Saint John’s in the monastery so that she and the family could not see him often—but she would write him ceaselessly.

Once in the Paramount, I was going to buy two boxes of popcorn but she dissuaded—one which she would share with me would be sufficient. . Helped her off with her coat which she and I tucked around her shoulders. Opened the popcorn box and our fingers touched often and got slippery with the butter on the corn as we fumbled with the box—I gentlemanly allowing her first dibs. Before the feature there came a clutter of commercials for local Saint Cloud businesses—Fandel’s department store, Carl Fritz’s photography, Ace Bar and Grill featuring ribs in East Saint Cloud, the O.K. CafĂ© (Chinese restaurant), the Gladstone bar and restaurant on the main street, Saint Germain and Bert Bastion’s GM dealership owned by a former U of M football star for Bernie Bierman.. Then the inevitable slides: please, no loud talking during the film…Coca-Cola, popcorn and candies will be available until the end of the evening. Then, ta-ta! The main presentation.

The film with Johnny Mack Brown was boring so we chatted in whispers, I telling her how absolutely perfect the occasion was to be with her and how superbly easy it was to get out of Saint John’s due to the boxing match. There was a chorus of “shhhhh’s” so we put our heads together to whisper. Excellent. Making a point, she put her hand on my arm and left it there for a good half hour during the film: excellent. She said she was impressed with how I had planned the Breakout, appreciating the logistics from her brother’s experience. I said, “did he try to do that when he was studying for the priesthood?” She laughed and said no but just from what he had heard. She said, “I really-really am impressed with how you did it.” As the film wore on, I made a move—putting an arm around her shoulders and she put head on my shoulder: excellent.

After the show we had the hot fudge and then she suggested we walk, not take a cab, to the nurse’s quarters which was excellent since we held hands, fingers, still buttery, interlacing (the very first time I had done so with a girl although in William Howard Taft high school I had greatly envied the jocks who strolled the halls with their “steadies”; now I had one who was incompoarably better looking than theirs, if only they were around to see me). The walk made the evening last longer and also saved money. It was the first time I ever kissed a girl my age other than a cousin obligatorily: excellent, lasting longer than expected. We walked around the grounds of the hospital for a long time, she pointing out the various portions of the building. We sat on a recovering patients’ bench in the yard and talked in low voices and some deeply heartening tender moments.

. At midnight, she thought it was time to go in and so I walked her to the desk where Sister Camille was gently nodding, half-asleep. A final kiss at the door which she prolonged holding my chin in place until completed.. EXCELLENT. On the walk back to the center of town, I adjudged that it was a perfect one: and I was immensely proud of myself for executing it.

Then—Crisis! Necessitating a Change in Strategy.

I was about to bound into the Greyhound bus depot when I saw through the glass door an ominous figure. The Bull of the Woods, hat down over his eyes, in his black clerical suit, with his bag propped up on his lap, sound asleep—waiting for the same bus as I was to take at 2 a.m. going to Collegeville road (and beyond: Avon, Albany, Melrose, Sauk Centre and ultimately to Butte, Montana). THE BULL OF THE WOODS! He was coming back from South Dakota or from wherever the hell he had been! He had not seen me. Now, what to do? (1). Should I avoid the bus and try to stay in town? No, impossible. I had some pop quizzes in philosophy early in the morning. (2). Should I chicken out, drop the suspense and shake him out of his slumber and confess all? After all, he was a priest. Hell, no. The evening had gone too well through my machinations and was not going to end on that note of abject failure and cowardly surrender.

Option 3— should I hang on beyond Collegeville Road and go all the way to Butte—or at least Avon? Impossible. Option 4 clearly looked like the best one. I would sneak onto the bus as quickly as possible before the Bull would see me. The stop before Collegeville Road was Saint Joseph—known as “St. Joe”--population roughly 400. That’s where the girls’ school, Saint Benedict was located. This would have to be the only viable option.

Executing Option 4.

How to sneak on without him seeing me? I didn’t enter the bus depot door but went around to the driveway where the buses were parked. It was theoretically possible to buy a ticket from the bus driver if the depot counter was closed—but it was open. I tried a bluff. I got on the bus and asked the driver if I could buy a ticket from him. After all, it was nearly 2 a.m. At first he said no, but then the hell with it and he sold me a ticket. So I went to the very last seat and slumped down.

Soon after, the scratchy loud-speaker sang out “Greyhound 42 for Saint Joseph…Collegeville Road…Avon…Albany…Melrose…Sauk Centre boarding now.”

A few passengers got on including the very last one, the exhausted hulk of the Bull of the Woods. He grabbed a seat midway near the window, scrunched down, pulled his hat over his eyes and went to sleep. The driver turned the lights out in the bus, turned his headlights on and started out.

As we traveled out of town I planned how to get off the vehicle without the Bull spotting me. I couldn’t get off at Collegeville Road and walk in with him, that’s for sure. I would get off at Saint Joe, the small town (population 400) where the girls’ school Saint Benedict College was located. The town would be fast asleep by the time the bus would get there at about 2:40 a.m. One advantage: the interior of the bus was darkened so passengers could sleep. I would somehow have to move up front in the darkness and jump out the door at Saint Joe, making sure that the Bull of the Woods didn’t see me.

Once in Saint Joe, I’d go to Linnemann’s hardware store where the Linnemann family, the First Family of Saint Joe whose great-grandfather started their general store. The family lived above the store. The scion of the family, Skip, was a classmate of mine in philosophy, Skip drove the Saint Joe taxi. I would ring the bell, awaken the family and suffer their displeasure and get Skip up and ask him—as a buddy to whom I would be permanently in his debt--to drive me in his family taxi to Saint John’s for which I would to pay him dearly for this inconvenience even if I had to exhaust much of my reserve.

Knowing Skip, he would agree since he was working his way through school driving the family cab which was part of the operation of the family’s general store. We would pass the solitary figure of the Bull of the Woods walking to the university in the middle of the night, carrying his heavy bag. I would lie on the floor of the cab, ask Skip to step on the gas and roar past the Bull of the Woods. I’d race into Benet Hall, go to bed and pretend to be asleep when the Bull would come to the floor to go to his room. Yes, that’s what I would have to do.

Which worked brilliantly. The bus ground to a stop at Saint Joe and I exited without the driver turning on the floor lights so I had moved up to the door in perfect darkness. I jumped off quickly and the bus rolled on to Collegeville Road carrying the sleeping Bull of the Woods. Thank God I was out of his clutches.

Waking up the Linnemann family with the doorbell was not as bad as it could have been. Hermie Linnemann, Skip’s father, now the patriarch, said that he had been driving cab to Saint John’s in the middle of the night for many years and, with a wink, he was awakened often by late arriving Saint John’s students like me but the cab fare would have to take that into account. Agreed. . Skip, my age, rubbing sleep from his eyes, hopped into a pair of dungarees and a light coat and we started out in the St. Joe cab. There ahead of us, tottering slowly down Collegeville Road carrying his heavy bag, was the solitary figure of the Bull of the Woods. “Now, get down on the back floor,” said Skip, “while I gin this thing up.” He stepped on the gas while I crouched on the floor and the cab roared by the solitary clerical figure, kicking exhaust and light gravel in his face.

I paid Skip good money and a very good tip and raced up the darkened stairway to my room, pulled off my suit and hopped into bed, congratulating myself on the neatness of execution of the entire evening, falling asleep to dream of my beloved as the heavy bells tolled off the remainder of the morning.

When I awoke, Kenneth was already shaving, hardly needing to, since he was only seventeen. As I stirred, barely awake I noticed a note pinned to my pillow. A handwritten note: “Roeser, see me first thing this morning. Adelard, OSB.” I was sickened.

I asked: “Was the Bull in this room last night?”

Kenneth was dumbfounded. He studied the note. He said, “he must have come in here after just a few hours ago. Did you hear him? I sure didn’t!”

How did he know I was on Breakout? Was he pretending all the while…pretending to be asleep in the bus depot and on the bus? Or was this note a bluff?

“No,” said Kenneth in his precise way. . “Of course not! He must have been feigning, pretending all the while in the bus depot and on the bus that he was asleep. He must have spied you looking in the door.

“Let me tell you this from the vantage-point of a seventeen year old, to an elder. You will be expelled; maybe suspended if you’re lucky. Or campus’ed for a year, a whole year with every Saturday seeing movies in the Auditorium with the pre-div’s. I hope it will be expulsion which means you’ll be going home to your beloved Chicago and tell your parents who have sacrificed to try to educate you that you frittered it away on some girl in pursuit of carnality. You will live with that fact all your life—and with you gone midyear, I will have this room all to myself. I’m going to Mass. You better get up now and see him. You know how ferocious he is when he gets angry and you made him walk in from the road a mile and a half carrying a heavy bag with your cab kicking up exhaust in his face at 2:30 in the morning. You know how he likes sneaks! Lots of luck. See you!”

He allowed the door to slam loudly.

Kenneth was still sadly immature, just past sixteen. I vowed that if I were not expelled I would find a new roommate mid-year. He derived joy from this experience. He was not manly at all. As I dressed and shaved I wondered if Kenneth himself had not told Fabian that I broke out and Fabian had left a note for the Bull of the Woods. But that would have been violation of the honor code where one was sworn to protect miscreants out of plain simple morality and fairness. Although true, Kenneth was a hot convert to rectitude after the session with Dismas Clark, S. J.

Still, it was hard to imagine Kenneth would be so disreputable.

He then reopened the door.

“By the way, you missed a great fight. We thought Zale was done in the second round when he went down for the count of five but he pummeled, virtually killed, Graziano in the fifth for the count of ten. I’m going to Mass. Bye again!”

I responded by calling him a vulgar name for a piece of excrement before the door slammed again. After showering, shaving and dressing, I steeled myself to face the Bull of the Woods and my punishment which could well be expulsion, the Bull famous for exacting his own death sentences which no one in the front office was man enough to countermand. I strode down the corridor to the Prefect’s door, knocked lightly.

The deep voice inside ordered: “Come!”

The final installment which changed my life at Saint John’s will be next.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Personal Asides: Lobbying as a Moral Vice…and Immoral Hypocrisy.


Lobbying as Moral Vice.

I first started as a lobbyist…for Quaker Oats…in 1964 and continued until retirement in 1991. The beautiful thing about that job was the first day I started the CEO asked me to tell them what the company should be lobbying for or against. I drew up a list which, surprisingly, squared with my conservative values…and theirs. First, the company should lobby against high price supports in the farm bill which would cut the cost of the grain they bought but also coincided with consumer interest.

Second, it should oppose creation of ever-more regulatory agencies. Third it should oppose an industry plan to allow creation of a eunuch so-called Consumer Protection Agency, the 38th such body designed to protect the consumers—but a CPA that would have very little power to protect consumers and would be toothless, so as to be a sop to public relations and the public misconception that we were progressive and make a hit with Ralph Nader. Some companies sign up for a tough regulatory bill in order to get good press and a salute from Naderites and then behind Nader’s back reach out to conservative lawmakers and have them eviscerate the agency and pass it as a shell in name only.. For a company to acquiesce in creation of an impotent agency at a cost of $125 million just to make the world think we were progressive would be immoral.

Third, the company should take an even greater role in personal participation in politics by its executives including Democratic politics if the executives were partisan Democrats. But the overwhelming number of them were Republican—so across the company, from Cedar Rapids, Iowa to Rockford, Illinois to Pascagoula, Mississippi and throughout the 28 states we were engaged in, our managers would take the initiative to invite members of Congress from their districts to the plant, have lunch with the executives and share their views with them.

Fairly innocent beginning. Now I am amused that Sen. John McCain is ridding himself of anyone on his staff who has an interest in lobbying. How in the world can a presidential candidate understand the private sector unless he has access to lobbyists? I can understand why a staffer should not at the same time be a lobbyist…for he cannot serve two masters…but I tell you I am sickened by the rank hypocrisy of Barack Obama who raises his hands in holy horror about lobbyists. He ought to discover that David Axelrod has a unique shell company that is run under the aegis of a shill that lobbies extensively in Chicago using the contacts Axelrod has cultivated by electing candidates to office. Axelrod is now not just the image guru of the Obama campaign but the one who along with Michelle Obama, Valerie Jarrett and Obama himself runs things entirely. This Obama hypocrisy has got to stop.

Another duplicitous thing. Obama makes a big swoon about how he refuses to take PAC checks from corporations and other special interests. But he takes private checks from corporate executives who belong to the same corporations that have PACs. One reason I am so cynical about reformers is that when I ran a PAC I would hear from federal candidates all the time thusly:

“Tom, my friends are holding a fund-raiser next Monday at the Madison Hotel but I can’t take PAC checks. Why not? Oh the damned reformers are howling and my opponent is watching me like a hawk. Can you do this for me? Can you get a guy who is ready to kick in to your PAC and tell him to hold off and give it individually to me instead? Make it payable to `Citizens for--.’ Thanks old buddy and anytime you want to talk about legislation, give me a call. You know what I mean?.”

I well remember the latter day reformer Ralph Metcalfe, the 1st district congressman who was also Democratic ward committeeman…who would announce that PACs and donations from corporate executives were not acceptable to him…but would call up and say this:

“Tom, my ward’s Democratic committee of which I am committeeman as you well know, is holding a fund-raiser this Wednesday. You can give corporate money to it which can be used for the benefit of the Democratic party in the ward and the spending will go to organization which will help me almost as directly as giving it to me by check with the added benefit that you won’t have to announce you’re giving to Metcalfe and I won’t have to say I’m getting it from Quaker Oats, you see what I mean? I hope you can make it and if you can we can talk about legislation, you know what I mean? “

Flashback: The Exacting, Careful Planning for the Breakout, My Date’s Willingness… and a Roommate’s Objection.

Fifty-plus years of memories written for my kids and grandchildren.

Making Sure Every Detail is Covered.

Determined to execute a daring slip…a breakout… to the world outside mid-week from the pre-Vatican II Saint John’s (September, 1946) in order to take a raven-haired nurse-in-training, Mildred Murphy, to the movies, I resolved to make plans with utmost care. I couldn’t imagine being expelled for such a venture (although given the discipline at the school this was not impossible) but suspension would be dreadful in that my parents back in Chicago would be informed. With luck (were I caught) I would be campus-ed but I resolved not to let that happen either. I called her on the phone from the phone booth in the monastery porter’s office. The layman, an elderly garrulous layman named Ted the Porter, had to place the call for me as per custom—to the switchboard at the nurse’s residence at Saint Cloud Hospital. He cupped his ears to hear so we had to speak in code.

I talking to the hospital switchboard at the hospital, looking at him: “My name is Roeser from Saint John’s. There’s a nurse there waiting for this call.”

Nun at switchboard: “Yes, Mr. Roeser, she’s been waiting for a while. Mildred Murphy. Mildred, a call for you! [To me] “She’s a lovely girl. My favorite. Here, Mildred.”

She: “Hi! Good to hear from you!”

Me: [Pause] Same here. The nun likes you, huh?

She: “We’re old friends, aren’t we Sister? Sister Camille. She wants me to become a nun, don’t you, Sister?”

Sister Camille breaks in on our all: “Yes, indeed! She would make a lovely one!”

Me: “But I would be very sad!”.

Much giggling and the nun hangs up.

Me: “About the event we discussed in our correspondence, what would you say to reading the page in the text under date of September 27?”

She: “What are you talking about? Oh, I get it. September 27 did you say? A week from Wednesday?”

Me: “Yes. The portion in the text that deals with 7 p.m.”

She (chuckling softly): “Say, this code is brilliant of you. That’s Chicago-style, isn’t it? You say seven p. m. on the 27th? A week from Wednesday., right?

Me: : “Right.”

She: “Perfect. Since you can’t talk, I will. Come to the nurse’s residence at Saint Cloud hospital. You know where it is? 1406 Sixth avenue north. I think you’ll have to take a cab.

Me: “Yes, wait a minute. I’m copying it down.”

She: “The nurse’s residence is right next to the Emergency entrance. You’ll find it. Go to the desk where Sister Camille here will be at the switchboard. Ask for her. If she’s not and somebody else is, remember this: The rule is that only a member of the family can call on me on weeknights. Sister Camille here understands [more giggling] but not the others. Sister Camille will know you. If she’s not here for some reason, tell the nun who is that you are a relative of the family, she will call me and I’ll come down. Better yet—I’ll be here when you come in. You know, this is really funny—the name Roeser is well known in Saint Cloud. You’re not related to them, by chance?”

Me: “No.”

She: “I meant to tell you at the dance as soon as you told me your name. There was a judge by that name so you won’t have any trouble. They’re well known in Stearns county. Gee, that’s funny.”

Me: “On your mother’s side.”

She: “Yes. How clever. We’re related on my mother’s side Okay, thanks for the call. You’re being overheard, I imagine.”

Me: “Very much so. Wait, what time do you have to be back there on that night?”

She: “Depends. If it’s Sister Camille who I think it will be, there is no deadline since we’re friends. With anyone else, it’ll be 11 p.m. on the dot. But I’m sure it will be Sister Camille. Who’s overhearing you there?”

Me: “Oh, I don’t--.”

She: “Must be Ted the Porter. My brother (Fr. Malachy Murphy, OSB) tells me about him. See you on the 27th. Looking forward to it. Should be fun. `Bye.”

Me: “Wait-wait-wait!”

She: “Yes?”

Me: “The name you just mentioned.”

She: “Who? My brother? Fr. Malachy? Are you worried he knows? Of course not, silly!! Don’t you think I can keep a secret from him?

Me: “I hope so because if not, I’d be dead.”

She: “Never fear, my dear. You’re safe with me. Always. Just pray that Sister Camille will be on duty. I think she will so no worry. This is exciting!”

After hanging up, I paid the Porter for the call (25 cents) and said: “

Ted the Porter said: “Who died?

I said: “No one. Just a figure of speech.”

On the way to my room, I was still concerned about her brother, Malachy Murphy, OSB. So on the way to my room, I saw the lineup of monks before the abbey church door, waiting for the Abbot to arrive to lead them to Compline. There was the Bull of the Woods. He noticed me and I nodded. Let him think I’m so religious I’m going to Compline. I decided to inspect Malachy Murphy, OSB so I slipped into a pew in the back. The entire community walked in with Abbot Alcuin, carrying the crosier with curved head in the form of the shepherd’s staff. Toward the end of the line came the slight form of Malachy Murphy, pencil-thin, shy, singing with the rest of them, dark haired, brown eyes like his sister. The monks took their places in the two choir stalls across from each other. I stayed a while, then slipped out, thinking to myself: this is a dangerous-dangerous thing you’re doing, all for a woman, Roeser. Foolhardy but it’s too late now.

Planning the Breakout.

Philosophy…and I was a philosophy minor…took up a major part of the first year’s academic regimen. I had ancient, properly Medieval old Ernie (Fr. Ernest Kilzer, OSB) for Logic—a wonderful break since many of the freshmen took it from Godfrey Diekmann, OSB who made it appear that the Church is an exhilarating, free-form, hugely inventive organism that cannot be tied down by the bureaucracy or machinations of men. For Ethics I had a layman, Emerson Hynes, father of nine, a disciple of Aristotle and Aquinas no holds barred, with no innovations, paradoxically a confidant of Eugene McCarthy who wound up as his legislative assistant and adviser in the Senate during the climactic `60s. For Aristotle’s Politics, there was Fr. Oliver Kapsner, OSB, a man like Ernie who had spent his entire life translating brittle, yellowing, parchment documents from the original Greek for the abbey library. He had haunted eyes that made you believe he had seen everything with them and would be surprised at nothing more.

In Oliver’s class as he extolled the wisdom of Aristotle, I scribbled the plan for the breakout on the 27th. As he went on, I took my mind off the breakout blueprint when he said how wise Aristotle was in contradistinction to Socrates in his view of young people. What Oliver said has stayed with me my entire life. Aristotle warned that young men are incapable of listening to lectures on political philosophy. Why? Because they are doubly disadvantaged: First, they are overflowing with enthusiasm for changing the world and, said the Philosopher, they are incapable of doing so because they know so little about it. Because of this, second, they fall for cerebral, utopian schemes that have them believe that things can be changed in short order. Which is why, Oliver said, Aristotle never imitated Socrates in speaking the philosophy of politics with the young. The young men Socrates talked to ended up endorsing tyranny over reality. I thought that one over for a long time. As I was young myself—18—it seemed Aristotle was right in refusing to talk politics with the young. We are naturally led to radical things.

Radical things like what I was planning: a breakout.

Breakdown of the Breakout.

The entire scheme was complicated. I would obligatorily go to dinner with the community at 6 on the 27th.

After this there would certainly be (1) gatherings of people in each other’s rooms to hear the promos for the big fight. My roommate, Kenneth would have been informed of my plans some days earlier, and of course would be pledged to keep it quiet—not lie if asked for that would be too much to ask because it could get him campus-ed (along with me were I to be found out)--but he could certainly play along with the game, notwithstanding the fact that he had been so influenced by Dismas Clark’s retreat that he was seriously thinking of entering the Benedictine Order. But he had a lot of time—he was 17. a year younger than I.

While my colleagues were gathered in one or another’s room for the big fight, (2) I would move my freshly pressed suit down the hall to a colleague’s room near the end of the corridor. (3)--then the pacing of the prefect, the Bull of the Woods (Fr. Adelard Thuente, OSB) while reading his breviary which contained prayers for the Office would begin. His squeaky shoes would signal the pacing. (4)—I would saunter down the hall in my regular school clothes, corduroy trousers, SJU shirt, sneakers and pop into the colleague’s room where my freshly pressed suit was hanging. Under my sweater I would be wearing a white shirt with tie already in place.

(5) I would swiftly change in my colleague’s room and wait for the squeaky shoes to pass as the Bull of the Woods passed by. If the Bull were to knock on my colleague’s door and enter, seeing me in a suit, I would say I was just trying it on. He could doubt it but no proof and so all bets were off and I would have to go down to the Porter’s office, place a call to her at the hospital and say all bets are off—sorry. But I doubted that would happen. (6) When the squeaky shoes passed, another colleague would stick his head in the door and say Adelard’s back is to us and he is midway down the hall going the other way. With my own shoes in hand, I would then sprint like a deer in stocking feet to the opposite end of the hall and round the bend where I would not be observed. (6.). I would put on my shoes and gallivant down the stairs to the outside.

(7). Once outside, there would be a mile and a half walk to the highway leading to Saint Cloud. I could make that jogging in, what? twenty-five minutes or so? Maybe longer as I’m not in shape and I’ve never gauged the distance before. (8) I would flag cars—hitchhike—on Highway 52. Usually cars stop to pick up student hitchhikers. (9) I would get out in downtown Saint Cloud at the Saint Cloud Hotel where taxis are lined up. (10). I would take one to the Saint Cloud hospital, directly to the nurse’s residence next to the Emergency Exit. (11) Pick up my lady love and we would take the cab to the Paramount theatre, part of the Saint Cloud hotel building where the feature movie would be playing—which unfortunately would be “Rustlers of Red Dog,” starring Johnny Mack Brown, an ex-football player from the U of Alabama turned cowboy. But who cares? Just to be with her.

Continuing: (12) Hold her hand during the movie, maybe put my arm around her in the seat, her head on my shoulder as we watch Johnny Mack Brown. (13) Take her to Dan Marsh’s drug store/restaurant and soda fountain where we would have either a hot fudge sundae (50 cents) or something else. (14) Take her back to the hospital in a cab. (15). Now this might or might not work. We get out of the cab and stroll around the grounds. (16). Who knows? We can stroll, possibly sit on a bench and relate to each other. (17). Then I take her to the door and (18) walk back to the center of town. (19). It’s now quite late. I walk the ½ mile or so to the main part of town and go to the Greyhound bus depot to catch a bus for Collegeville Road. The last bus will have left for Collegeville Road at 10:30 p.m. If things go well, I will not arrive at the depot in time to catch the bus but will have to wait for the next bus to Collegeville Road which leaves at 2 a.m. (20). I walk the mile and a half back to the university, slip in the back door. The electricity will have been turned off since 10:30 p.m. so I would have to make my way upstairs in the dark to my room on 2nd floor Benet. (21). Do not disturb my roommate and go to bed, prepared to arise at 7:30 a.m. or so.

Terribly Cumbersome Process, but--.

The first task was to tell my roommate Kenneth. He was, 17, brilliant, precocious, a gifted scholar, in pre-Med but now thinking seriously of becoming a monk since the retreat. And he is not impressed with my plan..

“Let me tell you what I think,” he says. “I think she is not worth the risk you are getting yourself in for. She could well be an Occasion of Sin.”

That is absurd.

“Do you remember what Fr. Dismas said about dirty girls?”

What the hell are you talking about?

“Dismas said that he would tell the GIs the same thing he told us-- that if they had to date a dirty girl and couldn’t get out of it, they should go up to her door, pull a rosary out of their pocket, ring the bell and when she answers hold the rosary in front of them and say, `I am here for our date, but I will not let you rob me of my virginity, dirty girl! A boy’s virginity is his jewel! Remember that, dirty girl!’”

Don’t you realize that he was talking to ex-GIs who are used to going out with Texas girls they would pick up in say El Paso or across the border in Juarez, Mexico or girls in San Diego or across the border in Tijuana, Mexico. This is a girl from Cold Spring, Minnesota who went to Catholic grade school, Catholic high school and is taking nurse’s training at a Catholic hospital, whose very brother in a Benedictine monk!

“I’m not through. I don’t know the girl but this I know—we are encouraged, to the extent that we go on dates, to date the girls from Saint Benedict College. Why do you think that is? Why don’t the monks here say take out the girls who take nurse’s training a Saint Cloud Hospital?”

I don’t know.

“Because women who study to be nurses KNOW THE DETAILS OF THE ENTIRE MALE BODY! She probably has seen more male nudity than even you have—in labs, in textbooks where the anatomy is shown in detail, in making the rounds of the hospital. In bathing male patients. I have an aunt who is a nurse. They do autopsies of dead bodies including male ones. Each nurse has to be intimately familiar with the male physique as well as the female before she is accredited. Did you know that?


“She knows your body—what makes it react.”

This is the most nonsensical thing I ever heard.

“I’m not through. You told me about the night you met her—at the Coliseum dance hall where the old time band was playing. She came there with a man, did she not? She was dancing with that man when she saw that you didn’t know how to dance Old Time. So what did she do? You told me. She left this guy in mid-dance and went over to you and right then and there without knowing you or you knowing her you two were partners all evening while her other guy was left to himself. I ask you: what kind of woman is that? Is that any example of loyalty? Is that behavior usual? A man here and another one there.”

Kenneth, what I think was, she came there with a group of girls and some guys, not dating but in a group and she wanted to dance with me—what’s the matter with that?

“I’m not finished. When it was time to go home, you wanted to take her home in a cab without hardly knowing her and she was willing to let you without hardly knowing you. But you couldn’t afford the cab so she scooted over to the guy she came in with and left with him—but she could have gone home, back to the hospital, with you. Does that qualify for Dismas’ description of a dirty girl…at least one of questionable morals-- or not?”


“You know what you’re getting in to? An Occasion of Sin. That you know about, don’t you? Don’t you remember Dismas’ description of it. Don’t interrupt me, I’m not done yet. Moreover she has a nun pal who allows her to break curfew. How many other times has she been out with men until all hours of the night—maybe until early morning? Mark me, nurses are worldly. More worldly than you or me. Also, she has a brother who is a Benedictine priest here you said. If anyone should know about the rules at Saint John’s it should be her. How is it she is inviting you to break the rules? Why do you think she’s doing this? She is not acceptable wife material, Roeser and you know it!”

I am not interested in getting married.

“Of course not. Not now. Nor is she, probably. All right. I won’t interfere. But don’t ask me to lie for you. If the Bull of the Woods comes in here on the 27th and asks where you are, I won’t say you’re in the library. I’ll say I don’t know. And when I say this, he will turn this place upside down to find you, I guarantee that.”

That’s the chance I am going to take. Your views of this entire thing, Kenneth, are grossly inflated. Occasion of Sin? There is no possibility that bad things can happen to me or to her either in the Paramount theatre where we will be watching Johnny Mack Brown or the Dan Marsh drug store where we will be eating or the Saint Cloud cab or on the grounds of the Saint Cloud Hospital.

“I told you I shall not interfere. But I am sorry that your carnality has returned—possibly never left--so soon after the retreat. That’s all I will say about this issue but remember this. This could be the day you decide to become a kind of outlaw, violating the curfew rules here and other rules later.”

With no vestige of guilt, I went to bed in the upper bunk, listened to the heavy bells toll the hours and reviewed the plans in my mind.

Kenneth was a 17-year-old wild, raving descendent of Savonarola of Florence who burned articles of art and ruined everyone’s fun until he was burned at the stake and quite properly, too. The important thing is: . I had at last found a young woman who was interested in me and I would take the risk that she would be an accomplice in my flight from virtue. I was sure she would not be. And after all, would I be just putty in her hands? Then I fell asleep.


Have I drawn this out too long? Well I haven’t. As you will see when there’s more—next.