Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Personal Asides: Thoughts While Shaving….and the BBC Comes to Town.


Thoughts While Shaving.

Every day that I drive down the Kennedy expressway toward the Loop I have looked forward to full-scale paintings on two sides of a building…I’m sorry, I can’t say exactly where the building is, but you know what I mean—murals that used to be eye-catchingly clever when sponsored by Men’s Wearhouse, one of which featured Dennis Rodman at his career height with the Bulls that it almost literally stopped traffic…then, even more captivating when the murals were done by LaSalle Bank. Now with LaSalle taken over by Bank of America the first effort was superb—showing tutoring of inner city kids…but the latest is depressingly awful: cartoons done so amateurishly that they debase the public taste, of the forthcoming run sponsored by B of A. The fact that workmen are stationed on derricks having to paint this dreadful stuff…makes fools of them for laboring on such mush and artistically is an abomination.


While I’m at it, the very expensive Wrigley gum sign on the Kennedy flashes the company’s chewing wares but some deviate has written supposedly smart sayings under them…as in describing refreshing it says chewing the gum is like sliding down a toboggan slide in winter naked. The copywriter should be fired. But then I might reconsider. I was a hapless ad copywriter for an agency, Simmons & Simmons, from 1951-52. My then client was a company called “Perk Dog Food” and the founder loved a slogan he invented himself and which I had to write around: “Dogs Drool for Perk” with a color drawing of a big slurpy hound with its tongue panting and spewing oozy saliva. Happily the company went out of business and I went on to other businesses including journalism.


One of the most jobs I ever had was each summer during undergrad college when I was a messenger for the old Chicago & Northwestern railroad (circa 1946). It was good because I didn’t have to think and could spend vast hours reading as I rode around the city on those fantastic old red streetcars. Later they “promoted” me to billing clerk which meant that I had to grind out bills of lading in the Chicago avenue freight house. Of course the place wasn’t air conditioned and the bells of the nearby Catholic church rang all day long which enabled me to take stock of the time. I never thought I would visit the neighborhood again—but, happily, I do each Sunday morning when I go to Mass at that church, Saint John Cantius, the mother church of Latin Mass and, more importantly, authenticist Catholic liturgy and theology. The old Chicago avenue freight house…wooden and stuffy in summer…is now, ironically, the headquarters of an air conditioning company.

The BBC Comes to Town.

Not long ago my phone rang at home and I was connected to a woman’s voice from London. She told me that BBC…the most radically left institution on the continent…was coming to Chicago to do a radio documentary on the Chicago convention of 1968. It so happened she had been referred to me by my friend Karl Maurer and that she then read my reminiscences of Hubert Humphrey and Eugene McCarthy in the archives of this website. She was intrigued that I am also a Republican, something that is definitely a “rara avis” to the Brits.

So she signed me up gratis for a 3-hour panel discussion at WBEZ Navy Pier with others who remember those days. Given the BBC’s leftwing proclivities I knew exactly what I would be confronted with. Four elderly ex-hippie radicals including an organizer of SDS which by BBC standards makes it a balanced program. Well, it wasn’t entirely unpleasant.

The senior moderator, a knighted personage, was not born, of course, when 1968 happened. I was then 40. These are some of the thoughts I tried to convey. None of us will know if they were edited out of the final tape or not since the program will be broadcast only in the UK.

1. Contrary to the theme stressed by the elegantly-spoken moderator, 1968 did not show a sickening weakness of the political system in the US. There were two major assassinations…of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy…which rocked the system and produced a tumult that congregated before the International Ampitheatre and in Grant Park. They did their level damndest to destroy all semblance of order but they failed.

2. And contrary to the consciousness of others including the moderator, I reminded them that fighting for peace and against war has a distinguished heritage on the conservative side. My first interest in politics came in 1940 when Wendell L. Willkie condemned our movement to war—and later when Robert A. Taft assailed the illegal pretext of the Korean War which was never brought up for a vote…by declaration but also by resolution…in the Congress. But the point I made was that once we were engaged in war, Taft and others wanted to win it. Not only did they not interfere or criticize the war effort, they supported the strategy embodied by Douglas MacArthur to win it which was rejected by Harry Truman.

3. What made the radicals of 1968 different from the other peace advocates was that the Taftites were loyal in defense of our troops but the `68 radicals were not. In fact they were not patriots. The first break from patriotism came not from Abbey Hoffman or Tom Hayden but from Gene McCarthy who said that it might not be such a bad idea if the U.S. lost the Vietnam War. That was the first time in all U.S. history where a supposedly responsible leader in the two-party system advocated what was almost treason.

4. Gene McCarthy’s near treasonous statement in 1967 was picked up and used by the radicals in the park…and somehow McCarthy is remembered today as a kind of mystic, a deep-thinking secular saint. I can tell you having known the man for 30 years he was not. He was not motivated by opposition to the war at all…but by vengeance for not having been picked for vice president by LBJ—and he was determined to pay LBJ back in spades. When LBJ interrogated the two finalists in 1964--Hubert and Gene—he asked them if they would pledge to support the Vietnam war to the bitter end which he said would be victory. Both of them, eager for the nomination, pledged to do so. When McCarthy was not picked, he turned against his president with a ferocity that characterized his entire career.

He after all was the one who would not accept the congratulatory handshake of the woman he defeated for the senatorial endorsement by the DFL in 1958. He was the one who stayed sulking in his room when Hubert was placed in nomination for the vice presidency in 1964. He was the one who came down to a cocktail party in the hotel in Atlantic City after the convention and made a roaring ass of himself by assailing Hubert…the world’s worst bad loser. He was the one who not only turned against his party but caused its defeat in 1968 by holding off an endorsement of Humphrey until hours before general election. He was the one who sought to defeat Jimmy Carter by importuning me and other Republicans to get some PAC money together to fund some commercials for him as an independent candidate in key states (his own chance for election nonexistent) to elect Gerald Ford against the nominee of his own party in 1976. He was the one who solicited the aide of Mike Deaver in 1980, cut a deal with Deaver for a job, and then endorsed Ronald Reagan against Jimmy Carter.

He was the one who later turned against Reagan when the job he thought he was promised wasn’t speedily forthcoming (it was ambassador to the UN).

He was the one of whom his estranged wife Abigail said that Gene has always had trouble being loyal to anyone—including her.

Neither Hubert Humphrey nor Gene McCarthy were what I call genuinely great men. But Humphrey achieved lasting reform by having the guts to stand up in the middle of a segregationist party convention…in which southerners were key…and by one speech triggered a walkout which made his party the party of civil rights. That was true courage. McCarthy never had any of that.

Finally, the reason 1968 did not prove the political system of the United States was in trouble was that radicals did not win in the parks…Humphrey—a decent man—was nominated by legitimate political processes…and Richard Nixon was elected because the public was confident…rightly so…that the country would not be controlled by radicals under his administration. The fact that it yielded to burglars not radicals with Watergate was still a net plus for the country when you look at it long-range. The burglars went to jail, Nixon was forced to resign and the country went on.

I don’t think much of that will survive the tapes that will be aired via BBC in England this fall, do you?

1 comment:

  1. I don't ever recall seeing Dennis Rodman on the building, when I was on my way to St. John Cantius, but I do recall seeing Michael Jordan. I also though it was kind of cool how they decorated the water tower on the building as a spool of thread...