Monday, June 30, 2008

Personal Asides: Ed Meese was a Guest in Chicago at Closed Luncheon…Fred Barnes Is Proud His Son Wants a Political Career (God Help Us!).


Ed Meese

The 75th attorney general of the United States was guest of an organization I serve as program chairman, “Legatus,” a group of Catholic CEOs who meet in the Chicago area for dinner with their spouses once a month. Meese was introduced by a good friend of mine, Ed Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D. C. where Meese serves as Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow. He spoke to us on the recent decisions of the Supreme Court, something many other CEOs would have given their eyeteeth to hear.

As Meese’s remarks were off the record, not to be quoted but able to be paraphrased (the way White House correspondents summarized an interview with the president, showing no direct quotes), let me summarize some of the main points he made but again they must not be taken as verbatim.

On the decision of one of his top former aides, Douglas Kmiec, to endorse and campaign for Barack Obama. There has been a good deal of countervailing opinions about the Kmiec decision from people who worked with him. Given that Kmiec was such an intensive opponent of “Roe v. Wade” and foremost Catholic scholar and definitive defender of unborn life, his coming out for just another abortion rights crusader…not just one who voted against the partial birth abortion ban…not just one who voted not to confirm the last two Supreme Court justice…but as one by reason of his status as judiciary chairman of the Illinois state senate tops all other members of the Democratic Senate in his opposition of the “Born Alive” bill which would allow born baby victims of botched abortions to receive needed emergency medical attention….the turn-around is indecipherable. For reasons of comparison, try these (with some hype but equally shocking to those of us who have followed Kmiec):

Augustine leaves his bishopric in Hippo and returns to his mistress and their illegitimate baby, saying he had re-thought the whole thing and having been a pro-family Manichean wasn’t half bad.

Thomas Aquinas says that on reexamination his proofs for the existence of God are goofy and he’s going to embrace the Big Bang theory but as to what produced the Big Bang he shrugs and says who knows?

Mother Teresa says she’ll retire and go to Vegas where she’ll buy a penthouse condo from the subscriptions of well-wishers and launch a new career as a flamenco dancer.

These things would first call into question their mental stability as it does only to a slightly lesser degree with Doug. The word is that insensate ambition for the judiciary is behind it…but behind THAT is nuttiness.

Second, what happens with some Supreme Court nominees that no matter their vetting, turn sour? Dwight Eisenhower later said the worst decision he ever made was to name Earl Warren as chief justice. John Kennedy rued his appointment of Byron (Whizzer) White, one of his top advisers in the campaign and who was close to Bobby Kennedy, who after he was appointed turned right and became one of the mainstays of the conservative side of the Court. Reagan named Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy who were supposed to be conservatives but who ended up being swing votes, tipping things to the Left. True he appointed Antonin Scalia was named a justice and William Rehnquist chief justice along with the excellent appointment of Robert Bork whose nomination was defeated by the Democratic Senate. This was not construed as a criticism of Meese or Reagan by me but a simple question over what went wrong. I asked: did they lie?

The answer seemed to be no, they didn’t lie but reaffirmed something that people have long believed about the human condition and have written about extensively. The Washington, D. C. social mill is insidious and some people, once they hear the siren call of the opportunity to Stand Tall in Georgetown with the liberal intelligentsia, the “Washington Post” and “New York Times,” fall susceptible. As soon as they cast a vote that is to the liking of the intelligentsia the news media report “they are showing growth in office.” It is as fallacious to try to ferret out this indication to be liked by one’s liberal peers as it is to repeal the multiplication table. It comes down to the human condition.

Scalia and Clarence Thomas were approached but did not get tempted. Harry Blackmun, named by Nixon, had a wife who was hot to trot in the Georgetown social circle; it meant very much to her to be lionized there and she took Harry by the hand and he meekly went along. That and the fact that Harry was chafing as being seen as the slow-witted half of the “Minnesota Twins”—joined at the hip with Warren Burger. That desire for praise and insecure feeling at being taken for granted caused him to try to Stand Tall in Georgetown. Aside from barring a justice from going to cocktail parties, there is no foreseeable way of obviating the human condition. One can only try to see ahead by studying the potential nominee’s weaknesses. Kennedy evidently was seduced when he accepted a commission to teach overseas and gratified intellectuals over there by accepting an international code of law that is not ours…despite the fact that Kennedy had been hard-line.

Third—somewhat surprising but gratifying—the long disused provision of the Constitution to have both Houses vote on a formal declaration of war is troublesome and has been caused by the Left’s often refusal to support war…something unknown before Vietnam. The formal declaration should be returned however and there are ways to do that consistent with immediacy.

Fourth—the Supreme Court decision overturning Louisiana’s enactment of the death penalty for raping a child was an abrogation of Court power. The decision should have been left to the states—but one must understand that the legislation itself is a complicated one…in that coming from the experience of law enforcement authorities, when a person is confronted with the inevitability of getting the death penalty if one is caught, the temptation is to go ahead and kill the child since nothing worse can happen. Makes sense.

Fifth—confirmations to the Supreme Court and the federal judiciary have turned controversial since the abortion decision has been so inflammatory. Traditionally the Senate always regarded the job of confirmation to center only on the nominee’s qualifications for the job, not his or her philosophy of the law. The situation turned ugly with the confirmation battle over Abe Fortas’s nomination as chief justice of the United States—but the situation turned on certain payments Fortas received from a foundation that were made while he was a Justice for very little work which looked suspiciously like a payoff. No ideology or philosophy was challenged there but Fortas withdrew after it was clear he could not win confirmation.

Then the see-saw battle devolved into legal philosophy with the fights being waged over abortion although often the issue wasn’t raised. Robert Bork was “borked” and the Republicans were enraged. It is significant to note that when Clinton named Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the high court Republicans accepted her credentials while disagreeing with her stridently liberal views but she was confirmed easily. This did not happen with George H. W. Bush or George W. Bush.

Fred Barnes.

I forgot to report something that struck me, at least, as interesting. When Fred Barnes spoke earlier at a Chicago meeting of Heritage, he said that if he had to do it over, he would embrace a political career…by which I assume he means a career leading to elective office…than a journalistic one. And second that he is proud that his son now in college is pointing himself to a career in elective office.

Shows how different we are. I have steadfastly and until now successfully discouraged my kids to even think of running for elective office. Not that anyone has—but I would regard that choice the same way as I would if my boys told me they were about to work on a riverboat casino…or if my girls told me they were thinking of being interns to ex-president Bill Clinton. Not that I don’t want them knowledgeable and even involved in the political process in volunteer or even staff positions if they wish—but that should be the extent of it. Reason: without being too churchy about it, I think pointing oneself to elective office is running perilously close to having to make compromises with money and principles as to lose one’s soul. With look and if I am still around, I should be able to dissuade great-grandchildren to do the same thing. It strikes me that for all his sophistication as a journalist, Barnes who has never been involved in a campaign first hand and has only covered them, doesn’t understand the first thing about the bargaining that goes with politics.

My own experience as campaign manager, publicist, staffer in party, state governmental, federal and corporate life has led me to this conclusion since as I approach the age of eighty I have seen enough to split the planets and to make the patriarch Abraham an infidel. The best advice I ever had in my life came when I was importuned to run for congress in Minnesota many years ago and I went to my old boss, Elmer L. Andersen, who had been a very successful governor of Minnesota. A self-made multi-millionaire businessman and entrepreneur, he had served one very memorable term, having lost reelection by 91 votes out of 1,250,000 cast (largely paper ballots). He asked my net worth which was then lamentably insignificant. He said something I shall long remember: elective office is very perilous to the soul (he was a Lutheran) and he did not venture out as a candidate until he had a net worth of some $20 million (which by 1952 standards would amount to about $70 million today). His reason is that to forage around for money is to endanger your very integrity for what you will feel constrained to do to pay the campaign bills.

I have seen candidates rent huge chunks of their souls this way over 50 years…seen them in two states. The ones who did not merchandise their souls were all multi-millionaires, including Peter Fitzgerald one of the most integrity-filled in either state. I once told a very promising young man now in university who wants to do this that he should first make $50 million in the private market. This doesn’t mean he shouldn’t serve in volunteer capacities, on candidatorial search committees and fund-raising assignments, research and speech-writing activities…anything BUT candidacy. But as for himself being a candidate without those resources, he is courting moral as well as economic disaster and probably incipient jail-time. That is why I will not support anyone for major office in this state in 2010 with my endorsement…insignificant as it may be… who does NOT have the wherewithal to finance his own campaign and hence be free of morally crippling conditions that would involve him/her in Faustian bargains. For openers: the George Ryan career and the Rod Blagojevich career. Enough said?

1 comment:

  1. Ah, yes. Ed Meese. Remember Iran-Contra, which cast a pall over the Reagan years? And the Wedtech affair and other lapses in judgment and ethics?

    THAT Ed meese.