Monday, September 13, 2010

Personal Asides: Clarification on Paid Monsignori…So It Looks Good for the GOP? Let It Watch Out for These Danger Signals that Caused the Collapse of 2006.

 Feast of St. John Chrysosatom*  
            Susan Burrit of the Catholic archdiocese of Chicago emailed me to clarify the letter written by Fr. Thomas McQuaid to his congregation at St. Leonard’s in Berwyn carried in the Sun-Times article on 9/9 from to-wit: There are no expenses involved in the Vatican creating Monsignoris other than $150 scrolls prepared for the designation in contradiction to what Fr. McQuaid wrote. So that settles that. I think reviving the domestic prelature of Monsignor is a good idea by the way but that’s not the point.  
                                       The Generic Difference.         
        The news is good—almost too good to believe.   In state after state Republicans are leading in the polls.  And moreover, Tea Partyers are upsetting staid old establishment GOPers which presages a dramatic change in philosophy for the next Congress and a string of governorships.  
        In addition, the most amazing news involves generic party tracking. Gallup’s tracking poll that kept candidate’s names out of it and merely asks: “If the election were today, would you vote for a Democrat or Republican for Congress?”   
       Fifty-one percent of registered voters say they will vote for an unnamed Republican candidate for Congress this fall compared to 41% for the Democrat. That’s a 10-point lead, the biggest in history. It’s the fifth straight week Republicans have led Democrats in the generic.  Meaning that in most case, registered voters are inclined to vote for an unknown, Joe Doakes, over a Dem.  
      A second generic drastically slimmed the odds but the earlier Gallup was the biggest division in the 68 years the question has been asked. But now comes The Washington Post with a 13-point generic GOP lead. The best thing to do is to take this stuff with as grain of salt.  It may in fact be inflated…although the trend is underway for the party to control the House sometime soon.  The Senate?  Maybe—who knows?   
          Still, when Republicans had even a slightly smaller edge than the first poll predicted, in 1994, they produced a 54-seat swing that captured the House and a 7-seat swing that took the Senate. A New York Times prognosticator, Nate Silver, has through an ingeniously complicated series of arithmetical projections predicted that Dems in Illinois will lose Congresspersons  Halvorson (11th) Foster (14th).  He indicates the 10th, Kirk’s old seat, will go to Democrat Seals which I don’t believe and he sees a landslide for Democrat Hare over Bobby Schindler in the 17th which I don’t believe.  .      
       But lest you bask unduly in this generally good news, here are some rules to observe if…as  expected…the GOP takes over Congress.
             Rule #1: Tea Party Tops Both Political Parties.  Don’t Diss It.
      For God’s sake, don’t get the idea that the Republican party is popular. Both parties are desperately unpopular with the voting public—and the Tea Party dwarfs both in voter support. Which means: If Republicans goof up in Congress this time, they can easily become as hated as they were after Hoover left in 1931…through the `30s…half of the `40s until Roosevelt’s death.  With a brief interregnum in 1946 they allowed Harry Truman to make hash of them in `48.  Except they had a national hero named Eisenhower in `52.  No national hero appears possible in the future since the country is sour on heroes. Conclusion: If the Republicans dismiss the Tea Party consciousness for the old fashioned country club, they’re dead meat.  
        I know what Republican professionals are saying. They’re saying the Tea Party’ers are full of women who are fighting with themselves. Some of these women would rather fight than eat.  But understand these women also have the drive to get out the vote. 
       Important: Don’t confuse the Tea Party’ers with the old Moral Majority types that helped elect Reagan in `80.  You need those MM survivors too, undeniably.  But like all Gaul which Caesar divided into four parts, the GOP consists of (1) angry anti-Big Government types, anti-taxers (Tea Party’ers).  (2) Social conservatives, church-going people whom the Katie Courics of this world titter at.  (3) Business types including libertarians and here, yes, you include the country clubs and the chambers of commerce.  (4.) The independents…here today gone tomorrow types… who are propelled not so much by issues as events. 
        It was Harold MacMillan who at the height of his popularity as Prime Minister was asked if he ever thought things could turn sour for him.  He said yes indeed.  His question pursued it: “What could impel, say, your defeat, Prime Minister?”  His answer was immortal: 
        “Events, my dear boy events.”  
       At that very moment although no one knew it, a certain beauteous courtesan, Christine Keeler,  was bedding down with his Secretary for War, John Profumo before she would bed down late-night with a Soviet spy.  Profumo denied his involvement to the full House of Commons but later had to apologize for lying.  He resigned and the MacMillan government came under severe attack. MacMillan could have staved off a vote of confidence except that at the same time he was given dire news by his doctor that his prostate cancer gave him only a few months to live.  He lived a long time after that—and in the fullness of health—at age  92 in 1986.   
         British history would have changed had the brilliant MacMillan not been given a wrong diagnosis for which the West can thank the incompetent British nationalized socialized health service doctors. Which again proved his statement right on the button:  
         “Events, my dear boy, events!”  
         This is a given: the Republican party is highly unpopular as a party but the Democratic party is far worse.  That’s why you don’t dismiss any of the coalitions that brought victory.  And especially you don’t let victory go to your head.  As Rule 2 brings out.     
             Rule #2:   Republicans--Don’t Get Cocky.  
       In 1994 Republicans took control of the both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years—and the House made Newt Gingrich Speaker,  He was definitely not a “good old boy” like Bob Michel, his GOP predecessor who valued playing golf with Tip O’Neill at Burning Tree in order to get a few crumbs from the table.  Gingrich was a real revolutionary, in thought and action.    He had been a skilled insurgent infighter, an orator, a scholar, a former professor, having developed the genius idea of “The Contract with America” which gave congressional candidates the same general format on which to campaign. 
       But once Speaker, victory went to his head. The GOP Senate under Bob Dole as plodding, mediocre but the news was dominated by Newt and his rash cockyness. The media and the Dems…often the same…lay in wait. .   
           Brilliant, irascible, thin-skinned and highly unstable, Gingrich was the embodiment of Winston Churchill…and just like Churchill (as one member of the WWII war cabinet told me when I lectured at St. John’s College Oxford)…he was “50% genius and 50% nuts.”  “Our most formidable task,” he said, “was to sift through the chaff to wind the wheat.”   Oddly the same description of Newt was given to me years later off the record by Henry Hyde who said “he’s 50% genius and 50% nuts.”  
         As Speaker, he was on TV almost every day spouting ideas…many  imaginative…that were not checked with anyone—at least not with his fellow Republicans.  You turned on TV almost fearful of what he’d say. 

         For example, on “Meet the Press” one Sunday, he suddenly urged the nation to bring back orphanages as a far better substitute, if run correctly, than chaotic non-families.  He was right but he launched the idea before talking to his House Republicans. Liberals and the media charged purposefully wrongly that Newt was heralding a return to the Age of Charles Dickens with little Oliver Twists pulling their forelocks and holding their soup bowls aloft saying “Please sir, more?”  
        The idea was dropped suddenly.   Too bad because with proper safeguards children in a disciplined but loving environment can make out far better than in chaotic, fatherless households which lead them to find their “leadership” in gangs.    
            In the meantime, Newt was writing a book! Imagine! Notwithstanding that a previous Speaker…Jim Wright…wrote a book and used bulk purchases to evade the limitations of personal speaking honoraria which Newt capitalized on and secured the resignation of Jim Wright…now Newt was himself writing a book!  That he had the time for this puzzled many.  It backfired. No wonder liberals and the media charged Newt was a hypocrite.  
           …Following which Gingrich decided to do a DVD college course on government and get subscribers to take the course on a for-profit basis. This led the House Ethics committee to cite him with 81 separate counts of violations.  Later reduced to one, the Ethics Committee fined him $300,000 and issued a formal reprimand. 
          Next Newt resolved to bring Bill Clinton to account for spending too much, a good idea, Gingrich let most appropriations to run out and threatened to shut down the government while it ran day-by-day on a continuing resolution.   The nation was fascinated. It was to become a game of chicken between Newt and Clinton.  (Two baby boomers who had the same unstable childhoods: Clinton, born with a different name, having to deal with an alcoholic, abusive father and Newt as a kid changing his name to square with his mother’s second husband and bouncing all over the country as an army brat).  
         But Gingrich blew the game of Chicken by running his mouth to the press—a frequent occurrence for him.  He implied that among the reasons he was unhappy with Clinton and trying to shut down the government was that on the way back from Yitzvak Rabin’s funeral in Israel on Air Force One Gingrich and Dole were relegated to back seats!    
         That did it. The perceived pettiness of that admission undercut Gingrich’s role in trying to bring the Clinton administration to account for excessive spending. The blunder turned the country against Gingrich and Clinton won the game of chicken.  It was one of the worst mistakes of his career which Gingrich later admitted in a book Lessons Learned the Hard Way.     
         Nor was it his last mistake. The incredible, incredulous thing that next happened was the icing on the cake.  While blistering Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky and leading the House to impeach him in 1998 for lying under oath, at the same time, Gingrich was conducting a secret extra-marital affair of his own and preparing to divorce Wife No. 2 to marry No. 3…his divorce announced to No. 1 while she was in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery.  Wouldn’t you wonder what he was thinking of when he knew his own behavior was culpable?  Promptly Gingrich appeared  on evangelical Protestant radio shows to confess his sins.

        This brazen half genius half nut is now preparing to run for president.  And wonder of wonders, he has become a Catholic after which he was invited to address a convention of Legatus…the group of CEO Catholics…trumpeting his conversion.    Small wonder  Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has said Gingrich would be the last Republican he’d support.   
           Understandably after Republicans lost a good number of seats in successive elections, a group of leaders rightly blamed Gingrich and got him to resign…as Speaker and as House member (after which he formed a number of foundations and embarked on tours as a big-bucks honoraria speaker…and unburdened with administrative detail which was his bugaboo, became a bigger celebrity than ever).  
       The turmoil to succeed Gingrich bypassed Texans Dick Armey (retiring), Tom DeLay (probed by a prosecutor who later dropped the charge years later) and Bob Livingstone, (R-La.) Appropriations chairman.  Livingstone would have been an ideal Speaker but after being selected, he bowed out because he had been conducting a number of affairs including one with a female lobbyist.  His wife told him he must not only bow out but resign from the House, which he did.    
       This seemingly left only one man standing in the leadership—J. Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois), known to everybody as Good Old Denny. The idea that the Speakership had to devolve on Denny or nobody was fatuous.  There were many better choices—but the Bush White House and a group of Republican plotters decided on Denny.  There were many more desirable candidates around but unaccountably…maybe understandably because he was so malleable…they settled on Denny.               
                    3. Don’t Dump Conservative Economic Principles.      
          Denny Hastert, a former restaurant fry cook and high school wrestling coach,  was actually for a time in a political science class I taught years ago at Loyola for teachers who wanted to broaden themselves.    
        He was likeable enough but a nonentity in my class as well as in the legislature and Congress.  He traded on the fact that his high school wrestling team was All-State.  And he had a fund of funny stories.  Often he’d move his lips as if he was on the verge of saying something memorable—but then would seemingly dismiss the idea. When he became Tom DeLay’s assistant as deputy Whip in the House he specialized in soothing hurt feelings that were caused by Delay’s brusque manner.   
      When a coterie of Republicans put him up for Speaker, they had checked with the White House. Everybody told him the heavy intellectual lifting would come from the White House. All Denny had to do was wield the gavel and obey orders.   
        That was perfectly okay with Denny—but that was the danger signal.  He was tabula raza. non-ideological, indecisive when confronted with big problems, who wanted to take no risks and imitate the time-tested machinations of careerists to keep the GOP in power.  
      It worked for a while—long enough for Hastert to attain the record of the longest-serving Republican Speaker (1999-2007).   But he was docile, listening to orders—from the “W” Bush White House and careerist House colleagues. Many of the careerists had the Illinois disease: pitch a big tent, give everybody something and avoid controversy.  
        Armed with that non-philosophy, they passed:  
        A massive education bill which expanded federal involvement in education, a failed attempt to get Ted Kennedy on board supporting vouchers but which in the end boosted spending and was stripped of almost all reform initiatives.  Republicans thought that would get them liberal teachers’ votes.  Didn’t work. 
        A farm bill that returned to subsidies, replacing the “Freedom to Farm” Act that had sought to return to free-market principles—this one creating new subsidies.  Republicans  thought that would get them more of the rural vote. Didn’t work. 
        A new prescription drug benefit sure to boost spending by $1 trillion over 10 years plus a mandate for mental health coverage due to drive up medical costs.   Republicans thought along with Bush it’d get them “compassionate liberal” votes.  Didn’t work.  
        All the while, they fell victim to deals with venal lobbyists like Jack Abramoff who went to jail for cutting deals with members and rewarding their floor votes with campaign contributions and paid up vacations.  Vacation trips were arranged by Abramoff where some GOP lawmakers were flown to posh vacation resorts, expenses paid by a make-do “foundation” grant where the congressmen were supposed to make speeches to justify the trips..but they were a front for recreation. Naturally, scandals ensued.  Not a word of condemnation seemed to come from the Speaker.    
         Then a bachelor Florida GOP congressman was recorded importuning a number of young male House pages.  Nothing happened but the importuning was captured on voice-mails and emails. Rather than reprimanding the congressman, House Republicans swept it under the rug until it became too late and his actions were blown up into a national scandal.  He didn’t lay a glove or a finger on any of the kids but the Democrats howled bloody murder…forgetting that one of their own—Barney Frank of Massachusetts—conducted an affair with a male prostitute who turned Frank’s condo into a bordello while Frank was at work.   But the GOP member’s emails and phone tapes to the young male page was the scandal of the era.  
       No wonder Republicans lost the House in 2006.
      After Republicans lost the House, Hastert resigned from Congress rather than serving out his final term—in order to become a full-time lobbyist.  His vacancy forced hard-strapped Illinois to foot the bill for a special election (in which a Democrat was elected).  
                            4. Stay Firm on Social Issues. 
         Understand this: Flaccidity and “Big Tent” temptations won’t seduce the Republicans on spending or taxes.  They have capitalized too much on the sins of the Democrats to let that happen.  But moving to embrace the “Big Tent” will likely turn on social issues.   Don’t count on Tea Party people per seto serve as a buffer against this.  It’s not their style as a group.  
        Invaluable as Tea Party people are, they are first and foremost concerned about spending and taxes and are not necessarily as involved in social issues as they are with fiscals (this is a generalization: Obviously some are).  
       But another segment of the voting electorate on which conservative victory turns has been and will continue to be church members, authenticist Catholics, evangelicals, strait-laced rural folks and seniors who are solidly pro-life and supporters of traditional marriage.  
         What will be the arguments from those who will seek to pitch the “Big Tent”? From the media engendered plea for public toleration via legislation, court decrees and ordinances of homosexual practice.  It has already come from the country clubs which “moderate” Republicans frequent. But also, shockingly, from some conservative leaders (see below). 
         And frankly it sounds so-so-so “civilized.”  After all, no one earlier or now prescribes treating homosexuals like lepers with a guy running ahead of them with a bell and shouting “Unclean!  Unclean!”  Gays maintaining their privacy have achieved much in public life since the founding of the republic. To list only one of many: Sumner Welles, FDR’s undersecretary of state who was married—and whom whether he was or not was incidental because of his great value as an anti-Soviet strategist in the State Department.  Regrettably Cordell Hull the secretary of state, jealous of his aide’s influence over Roosevelt, leaked a rumor that Welles was homosexual 
         But the professionally active “gay community” has decided to imitate the civil rights movement and has recruited not just media but brokers from the Right.  Just as there was a Rosa Parks and the Selma bridge, we are told that murder, suicide and social persecution wrack the civilization of the United States against gays.  
            So in order to cleanse themselves against bigotry, much of the country’s media pontificate espoused not just absence of violence but affirmative action for them. Illustrative nonsense: The Democratic party which invented the quota system has injected into state convention delegations the requirement that a certain number of delegates be gay. 
          That kind of nonsense goes like a dagger to the heart of traditional Judeo-Christian morality which cites that homosexual practice is strictly forbidden and rendered anathema in Revelation and Christian teaching. Again the mandate is not to abjure homosexuals but abstain from the false “toleration” that recognizes the practice as merely an acceptable alternative to heterosexual practice, no matter what Judeo Christian teaching for 5,000 years has been.  
        DIGRESSION: The most famous case of this nihilistic pragmatism in Illinois Republican circles is the non-gay Judy Baar Topinka who having switched from pro-life and anti-gay-practice toleration some years ago to riding as a celebrity and token Republican in Gay Pride parades as do a host of Democrats has been near-canonized by the professionally gay community.  
       DIGRESSION CONTINUED: The fact that she has gotten away with it without criticism from her party is due to the massive support for it from secular media.  She is running for Controller now, having been State Treasurer, GOP nominee for governor, state GOP chairman et al.  She affects a penny-pinching Tugboat Annie aura.  Penny-pinching she is with her own personal spending, she  is not so with the public purse. She’s been on the public payroll for decades, never missing a chance to draw a paycheck from the taxpayers: she’s now a fully paid member of the RTA. Starting from 1980 when she was elected to the state House, through state Senate, state Treasurer until today with the RTA that’s almost 30 straight years on the public payroll.  END OF DIGRESSION.
          Topinka is a raucous exception to most Republican candidates. But the thing that concerns me is the number of prominent conservatives who are treating gay rights as almost inviolable, stemming from the false conclusion that gay-ness is an inherent condition, like the color of one’s eyes—having nothing to do with sin. In recent weeks alone, this kind of laxity and heresy within the conservative ranks has manifested itself in many important ways.   And it pains me to list them because they are invaluable in other ways to the conservative movement—not should they be discounted because of this one variance: 
          Ann Coulter is a stunning exemplar of conservatism including defense of life, witty, a wordsmith, vividly telegenic, a brilliant debater—but she is willing to speak to Republican “gay rights” supporters which underscores her recognition of their practices as justifiable.  It must mean a lot to her because when called to account for it, she becomes vehement. Rush Limbaugh saw nothing wrong with paying Elton John more than $1 million to entertain at his 4th wedding (well, that in itself tells you something, doesn’t it?)
        Glenn Beck who has gained widespread conservative acceptance—and in my view justifiably—has said publicly that he sees nothing wrong with same-sex marriage.  
       Former GOP national chairman Ken Mehlman has formally announced that he is gay and is joining with other leaders to fund gay Republican activities.                                                            
       The drive to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” for military recruitment has picked up a good number of Republicans and is popular with media and in some affluent suburban country clubs.
       And powerful Republican congressional leaders attended a recent fund-raiser for the gay-rights-supporting Log Cabin Republicans who include active homosexuals.  Leaders attending have non-gay voting records but they were there anyhow: Congressmen Pete Sessions (R-Texas), chairman of the GOP Congressional Campaign committee; Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), chairman of the GOP Senatorial Campaign Committee; Rep. Ilena Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.); Cong. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) and Grover Norquist a leading conservative strategist.  The master of ceremonies was Tucker Carlson, a Fox News commentator. 
          And it’s not just the Big Tent. It takes in those who say that social issues should not be mentioned…as if it’s anathema…in campaigns. Look, I’m the first to say the big issue of 2010 is the deplorable state of federal spending, taxation etc.  But for candidates to dodge, bob and weave, stammer and bloviate trying to avoid the social issues is stupid and cowardly.  It’ll interest you to know that none other than Gov. Haley Barbour, chairman of the National Republican Governors’ Conference has taken this position: stay away from social issues whatever you do!  Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana and a potential candidate for president has urged that social issues be taken off the table by the next Republican president who says there should be only one focus of concentration: restoring the economy.  
          I ask you: how can social issues be taken off the table by the next Republican president?  How utterly stupid!  A Supreme Court vacancy comes up and what should the Republican president do: ignore a nominee’s social record?  What about embryonic stem cells?  Do we imagine that our liberal and Democratic friends will give us a pass on them?  Barbour and Daniels ought to be told straight from the shoulder: Your advice is cowardice, evasion and the counsel of duplicity.   It is also dishonest. No one mandates campaigning with social issues foremost any more than Reagan ran for president that way.  But to counsel making a deliberate effort to obfuscate one’s position on these issues is unworthy of the Republican party.
                                  The “Big Tent” Fallacy.  
         Inevitably whenever conservative Republicans win control of a seat of government there come forth from under the rocks the wispy sages who counsel that it is wise for them to “broaden the big tent”—i.e. adopt ideas antithetical to conservative principles.  The pro-life, pro-abort internecine battle for the GOP soul seems to have been won—at least temporarily—by the pro-life forces.  Hear me out: The next assault will come from inside the GOP from those who say social issues are of little or no concern, that we must be “tolerant,” that we must “adapt” and “accommodate” our gay friends because they vote too.  That’s the siren call of the Sage of Riverside: Judy Baar Topinka.    
          My advice to this generation of conservatives who rightly cheer their coming ascendancy in Congress is this: Watch out for the writhing, plotting serpent in the Garden who wriggles from under a rock and who will snicker and emit a forked tongue with the advice: “Com’on, let’s get with the 21st century! Compete for the gay vote and you’ll win forever!”  
   *: St. John Chrysostom [347-407].  Archbishop of Constantinople, born the son of an army officer and his wife at Antioch, he received the best education money could buy both in classics, scripture and law. He lived as a monk in a mountain community near the city and nearly ruined his health permanently through austerities and the damp conditions of his cave hermitage. Returning to Antioch he was ordained deacon(381) and served the church until he was ordained priest (386). He became the bishop’s assistant both for administering alms to the poor and spiritual instruction.  
      He became famous as a preacher and commentator on the Gospels of Matthew and John.  He gained political stature as well in 21 sermons delivered against the Emperor’s high taxes.  Times changed and a new Emperor requested that he become archbishop of Constantinople (in those days regrettably the Emperor’s sanction was required). Once archbishop, Chrysostom assailed the laxity and loose morals of the court. A jealous rival who had competed for the job of Constantinople archbishop, Theophilus, ran to the Empress and was instrumental in having Chrysostom accused of treason for calling her “Jezebel” and led a cabal of other bishops against him. 
      Theophilus took his charges to an Arian council at Antioch and Chrysostom was banished, exiled first to Cucusus in Armenia and then to Pontus where he died as result of travel in bad weather. Thirty years later his body was taken back to Constantinople.  In the West he is hailed as one of the Four Greek Doctors of the Church (with Anastasius, Basil and Gregory of Nazianzus) and is considered one of the premier doctors of the entire Church.


  1. Postscript on John Profumo. I recall vividly the scandal involving John Profumo in 1963. It was luridly splashed about the papers in Britain for months. While MPs were no strangers to scandal and extramarital affairs, the knock on John was that he had lied to Parliament when he denied the affair. Lying to Parliament - not infidelity - was the ultimate sin. He resigned and disappeared from public life.

    Fast-forward twenty years and it is discovered that John Profumo had spent the intervening years working among the poor in London’s East End. This was recognized in 1975 when he received the honor of Commander, Order of The British Empire from the Queen.

    He never spoke publicly about the circumstances of his fall, no lurid autobiography, no attention-seeking, no making the rounds of the talk circuit. Nor did his wife – the movie star Valerie Hobson – who stuck by him. Contrast that with recent scandals in public life.

    Profumo atoned for his sins and lived to be 91, dying in 2006 – an example that many others could emulate.

  2. Sumner Welles was busted when he propositioned the Negro porters of his Pullman car while traveling to Washington from Alabama.

    Hull pulled the trigger, but Welles loaded and cocked the gun.

  3. Hastert became speaker in 1998. Bush was elected in 2000. You can blame Bush for a lot of things but not for this decision.

  4. Strange to think that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was a compromise that Bill Clinton accepted as the best deal he could get in his effort to allow homosexuals to serve openly in the military.

    Now social conservatives are trying to preserve what Clinton accomplished.