Feast of St. Lawrence*
It occurred to me the other day that it is indeed a cold birthday when you have to celebrate it by yourself—even worse when you have to do share it with Oprah Winfrey (well nobody will float rumors over that)…which led me to wonder if somehow there’s trouble in the White House Paradise? I mean I’ve been married 50 years…51 this coming October…and neither one of us wouldn’t consider not being around to mark our spouse’s birthday. Not only that but Michelle took Sasha with her to Spain (her sister being also away) which made it an unforgettably chilly birthday.
But then who am I to mention trouble in the White House marriage? But I do remember when the media were speculating about the Nixons when the Watergate issue…I refuse to call it a scandal…was closing in. Saturday Night Live even featured Jane Curtin playing Pat walking around drunk.
Of course the hideous expense of the Spain vacation…a chiaroscuro at this time of economic hardship for so many…was explained away by the White House cosmetician, Lynn Sweet of the Sun-Times. Never fear: Lynn explains it all very logically for you. I was going to write: that’s what she’s paid to do…but it’s not. She does writes pro-Obama as a labor of love.
As one who made my wages as a partisan in the `50s…speech-writer and publicist for the Republican party of Minnesota…I developed a cast-iron stomach—I thought. But this latest from Kirk that tried to tie Giannoulias to the Butcher of Baghdad causes me to upchuck, almost. He says that because a Saddam Hussein henchman got a loan from his family bank, Giannoulias may have ties to…egad!..this mass murderer most foul! Too much. But then I thought this--.
The reason I’m in Illinois (land of my birth) rather than a permanent resident which I thought I was on the way to becoming, of Minnesota was due to a dirty trick by Hubert Humphrey—for which I shall be eternally grateful. Had not Humphrey descended to the lower basement of ethics and exaggeration, I would have stayed up there. Instead, being kicked out with my boss by losing reelection as governor by 91 out of 1,250,000 votes because of this trick, I took it upon myself to respond to an ad and got a job at Quaker Oats which was the best good fortune I had since marrying my wife.
This is the unutterable dirty trick Hubert Humphrey played. My boss the governor of Minnesota was the embodiment of what has been called since asMinnesota Nice. No bad words about your opponent, just a measured series of statements on what were truly revolutionary accomplishments in reviving the state’s economy. It looked like we were going to win when Hubert rushed back to the state in late October and called a press conference at the airport.
Oh, God, he told the press, it is my bounden duty to inform you of a scandal so large and so earth-shattering that generations of Minnesotans will have to pay tithes and delay their grandchildren’s education because of this horrible Republican governor. You know what he DID?
The press leaned forward. Did he kill someone? Did he sexually abuse a child? Did he strike his wife with a croquet mallet?
Worse! You know, of course, that under his governance Minnesota is building new superhighways across the state.
The press said: Yes! He’s been touting it as an accomplishment.
Hah! Accomplishment! Now listen to me. On an off-ramp of Interstate Highway 35 leading to the town of Hinckley, Minnesota there are 17 feet of improperly poured concrete. And do you know why that 17 feet of concrete was improperly poured?
The dean of the Minnesota press corps said: “Oh com’on Senator. For chrissake, is this why we were called to the airport at 9 a.m. Sunday morning to hear about 17 feet of improperly poured concrete?
Listen to me! Listen to me! That 17 feet of improperly poured concrete was poured in sub-zero weather! Concrete should not be poured when it’s cold! It was poured in a rush…you know why? It was poured in a rush so that the governor of this state could dedicate it and use the dedication for his own paltry, unforgivably partisan purposes!
The dean of the press corps said: Hubert, if you think you called us here to cycle up a b. s. story like that--.
I’m not through! I’m not through! I am reliably informed by the U. S. Bureau of Public Roads in the Commerce Department that this may not be the extent of it. Indeed, I can announce today that an investigation is being pursued as I speak of the miles of Interstate Highway which may have been rushed to substandard completion because of a sickening, revolting partisan wish to dedicate these highways before election!
The dean of the press corps picked up his hat and pulled on his overcoat. “Hubert, call me when you really have something…”
I’m not through! As you know Interstate highways are constructed as part of a partnership with the federal government…90% federal, 10% state! The secretary of commerce, Luther Hodges, no less, has informed me that because of this shoddy construction the federal government will abrogate its share of that 17 feet of off-ramp and that the taxpayers of Minnesota will have to foot the bill for its repair…MOREOVER…
…MOREOVER he told me there is a very real possibility that an entire reexamination of all highway construction in the last two years will be studied by engineers of the federal government in order to see that due to the same alleged misfeasance and malfeasance of this Republican governor all these highways…hundreds and hundreds of miles of them…may have been rushed to completion for dedicatory purposes due to the crass, vindictive partisanship of this Republican governor…and the people…the taxpayers…of Minnesota may well have to fork over hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to repair substandard construction!
The dean of the press corps doffed his hat, took off his coat and said to his assenting colleagues: Now this is one helluva story. Tell it to us again, Hubert…slowly.
And so the stories ground out in the papers, on television, radio and the wires…the Minneapolis version reading in heavy black type across the front page:
STATE TAXPAYERS MAY HAVE TO PAY SCORES OF MILLIONS OF HIGHWAY REIMBURSEMENT DUE TO GOVERNOR’S HASTE, SAYS HUMPHREY!
We had been ahead in the polls but when we explained the highway off-ramp was not rushed to completion and in fact the only highway we dedicated was 18 months earlier…who cared? We called the Secretary of Commerce but he…the Honorable Luther Hodges, former governor of North Carolina…was not available to take the call. His assistants vacillated and weaseled. We had our state experts deny it, we had private engineers say it was implausible…not all the highway concrete was poured at substandard temperatures for God’s sake!
Nothing worked. And as Minnesotans went to the polls the banner head of the St. Paul newspaper read:
AS VOTERS CAST THEIR BALLOTS, QUESTION CONTINUES: WILL ALL OF US HAVE TO PAY FOR HASTE IN HIGHWAY CONSTRUCTION?
It took four straight months of recounting to ascertain the result. When my governor finally conceded defeat by 91 votes out of 1,250,000 cast, Hubert Humphrey was on a fact-finding trip to Sierra Leone. Four months later the Bureau of Public Roads declared all the highways in Minnesota to be in excellent shape. The private contractor repaved the 17 and a half feet of the off ramp on Highway 35 leading to the town of Hinckley at a cost of $276.54.
It was the cheapest, most low-down dirty trick I ever had played on me in politics…but it did me a world of good.
I would have stayed up there for life otherwise. But viewing the prospect of being out of work with a wife and three kids to support, I landed a job with Quaker Oats: a wonderful job, very satisfying and we moved back to our hometown of Chicago.
That was fine for me. Thanks, Hubert, you old rascal wherever you are! And the governor who was defeated by 91 votes? What happened to him?
He returned to his job as CEO of a industrial adhesive plant in St. Paul and unleashed his entrepreneurial juices, becoming one of the most wealthy civic leaders and philanthropists in state history, was chairman of the Board of Regents of the University and lived to the age of 95, dying revered as the greatest Minnesotan of his time. A year ago I went to the University to participate in the unveiling of a library named for him to which he donated $30 million…only a fraction of his estate.
THANKS, HUBERT. YOU WERE AN OLD SONUVABITCH WHOM I HATED FOR YEARS…BUT NOW IN THE TWILIGHT OF LIFE I UNDERSTAND THAT BY YOUR DIRTY CAMPAIGN TRICK YOU DID THE BOTH OF US…THE GOVERNOR AND I…A GREAT FAVOR.
*: St. Lawrence [circa AD 258]. Or Laurence as it is sometimes spelled was a deacon and early martyr for Catholicism in Rome. Legend has he was martyred on a gridiron and placed on it when it was at white heat…but he was so unafraid that he called out “Let my body be turned. One side is broiled enough!” but of course it is a myth. He was a deacon, one of only seven who served the Church at that time. But some of his great works among the poor have been preserved by St. Ambrose. Those were terrible times but the living saints who were martyred gloried in giving their all for God and His Church.
As Pope St. Sixtus was being led to his execution, Lawrence ran after him, brushed the soldiers aside and said: “Father, where are you going without your Deacon?” The Pope answered: “I do not leave you, my son. You shall follow me in three days.” Indeed Laurence did. Ambrose writes that Laurence was filled with joy that he would be martyred and join Christ. He spent the three days doing the corporeal and spiritual works of mercy and when the time come he was beheaded, offering his last words for the conversion of Rome.