Wednesday, March 16, 2011


       Ninety-two years ago, in 1919,  Republicans were within a year of a presidential contest to replace a partly-paralyzed, stroke-ravaged Woodrow Wilson…and the list of GOP contestants ranged from dull and competent to charismatic, progressive, terse, non-committal  and highly oracular.
     The top ones were Illinois Governor Frank Lowden who could be compared to Mitt Romney of today—meticulous, competent, good administrator, lots of financial resources.  He married a lot of money—the daughter of George Pullman. That dough enabled him to draft a great number of civic leaders to implement an historic state government reorganization for Illinois that got a lot of journalistic plaudits.
      Then there was Gen. Leonard Wood, a physician to presidents, hero of the Spanish-American war, close pal of Teddy Roosevelt (who died earlier that year), charismatic speaker with a handle on oratory, fervent patriot.  Stem-winder Wood struck some as too ideological...having supported Wilson’s AG who had hunted down Commies and allegedly deprived them of their civil rights.  He was a fire-breather: put him down roughly with Mike Huckabee. People came to hear him and got excited somewhat but inside they thought he was a bit much. 
     Sprinkled down the line were some progressives, vestiges of the TR era: Fighting Bob LaFollette of Wisconsin, pro-labor ex-House member, ex-Governor, ex-Senator who didn’t make much of a dent until he left the Republicans later and started his own Progressive Party.  He’d probably could be equated with Newt Gingrich in terms of spraying peppery,  innovative ideas (remembering that LaFollette’s were liberal and Newt’s conservative: but both species were exciting)…
       …Then came California’s Sen. Hiram Johnson, much like LaFollette, progressive—also an isolationist but intermingled with progressivism. Nobody’s much like him today but John B. Anderson, the sharply-turned liberal…who when he advocated political reform and opposed Vietnam sounded like an Old Testament prophet.   Like Hiram Johnson who steadfastly opposed FDR getting us into World War II, Anderson touted his independence.
        Followed by the great Dark Horse, the apostle of “don’t make waves, speak in generalities and aim down the middle” receptive to Sinclair Lewis Babbitt country (where I spent some formative years in the `50s near Lewis’ “Main Street” aka Sauk Centre, MN, near St. Cloud where I newspaper’ed.  Analogies are never perfect, are termed  either apt or lame but just as Babbitt represented the middle conservative ground and Lindbergh pere and fils were isolationists, so was Warren G. Harding.   He could be compared roughly…very roughly…to white-thatched Sen. John Cornyn of Texas…bland, a smiler, a consolidationist—if you can imagine Cornyn running for president.     
      Then out East was…believe it or not in contradiction to today’s political fiction…one of the most exciting candidates of all—though he was a flat speaker: Gov. Calvin Coolidge of Massachusetts.  A little guy,5 foot 9 with chiseled features, hair once red but now turned sandy, born a Vermonter.  It was Coolidge who earlier that  year halted the Boston police strike in blunt, cold Puritan prose.  Because he captured much excitement for what he had done rather than the speeches he had made, his friends launched a favorite son  presidential campaign for him in Chicago where he amassed a total of 34 votes.  He resembles Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana in looks and physical stature—but in actions…as I’ve been following him in Wisconsin over the past weeks… he seems far more aggressive than Mitch. As Bush’s budgeter Mitch was known as “the Blade” but never have I heard him compared to Hitler or Mussolini…and never have Indiana lawmakers fled from the capitol there to deny a quorum to vote.
       But then Mitch, you see, ended collective bargaining in his state by signing an executive order…approved under Indiana law… which he did without much fanfare.   Coolidge had the issue pop up on him and he got into a dog-eat-dog fight with none other than Samuel Gompers the early labor union pioneer and founder of the AFL—to the clash of hot black headlines…Gompers arguing that there at least ought to be discussions about public unionizing and Coolidge saying no-no-no-no-goddamit-I-say-no-the-cops-aren’t justified to strike-against-the-public-safety-anywhere-anyplace-anytime.”
        The whole point of this very imperfect series of analogies is that the 1920 Republicans were torn between candidates but inside they felt strongly that the so-called leaders weren’t quite right.  Gen. Wood and Gov. Lowden rode around Chicago for hours in a car trying to settle who would head the ticket and who would be veep.  They couldn’t agree. They both had lots of delegates—Lowden the country clubbers, Wood the red-hots—but somehow the residue that could carry either over the top weren’t satisfied.
        So as you know in a smoke-filled room of the Blackstone, they settled on the compromise—Harding the accommodationist…not too much this way,  not too much that way.  God, one survivor of that negotiation told me later when I was doing a graduate paper, Harding had all the stimulation of a mashed potato sandwich. Now who would they pick for veep to add some zest…some yeast?   Harding had an idea. He told the smoke-filled room: Listen, I’m pretty stand-pat and there are a lot of people out there who miss Old Teddy.
        They got excited: You want Leonard Wood to run with you if he agrees?  Well, no, said Harding. He’s a nut.  He’s got the Germans mad at him because he endorses the Palmer raids.
      They badgered:  You want Fighting Bob?  Harding reportedly said: God no!  Can’t stand him!
      Okay, they said: How about Hiram Johnson?
     Harding said: We’d never get along. I’d wake up every morning and pick up the paper to see if he’s topping me.
     All right, they said—who?
      Irving Lenroot.
      Lenroot was a politically correct…safe…mushy moderate…senator from Wisconsin…a foe of child labor…on the other hand not a wild man, warmly appreciative of business…sort of a male-counterpart of the League of Women Voters. 
       Here’s the genius of this thing, said Harding.   See, he’s from Wisconsin like Fighting Bob but he’s no-ways a pain in the ass like Fighting Bob—but he’s got the Wisconsin connection. He’s safe I tell you.  He’s not going to embarrass us.  Also he’s got a shirt-tail relationship through his wife to Len Wood.  See the genius of this thing.
         Yeah, everybody groaned,  my long-dead source told me, this ticket is going to rush along like a dead creek (he pronounced it “crick”). We got a bland go-along nominee saddled to a safe vice presidential nominee.
         When Harding trundled out at 3:34 a.m. to go back to his room, take a shower, shave and prepare his acceptance speech, his campaign manager, Ohio’s Harry Daugherty relocked the hotel room door and said:
        The hell with that.
       They said: What do you mean?  The nominee has spoken!
       He has spoken, said Daugherty…and somebody had better go see Lenroot first thing and tell him he’ll be placed in nomination at the express order of the nominee.  And while you’re at it—find out who Warren wants to make the speech for Lenroot.   But--.
       But what?
        We gotta save Warren from his-self.  We got to leave with some excitement here or we’ll have spent this entire week losing the election!
         They chorused: We can’t lose the election, Harry!  Wilson is down the drain and so’s Cox and Frank Roosevelt!
       Daugherty said: Unlike you smarties, I’m not sure. I want somebody to place in nomination Governor Coolidge of Massachusetts.
        They shouted back: Harry—HARRY!  Too damn controversial! Gompers has passed the word he may be with us!  He hates Coolidge!
       Then Daugherty made an obscene reference to Gompers…suggesting a mass round of sexual abuses to him.
       When they adjourned they all agreed.  Harding’s choice would be placed in nomination---but to bring the red-hots to their feet and screaming, they’d see to it that Harding would be repudiated in his choice…for the first time in two generations…and the floor would nominate Coolidge.
    My point here is plain.  Scott Walker has achieved a stunning victory. He is not inexperienced.  He was Milwaukee county executive for eight years, a State Rep for ten. The old-old list of possible nominees is largely dull.
      Romney is almost a joke—has started out a liberal pro-abort…no now he’s pro-life…look quick he’s got RomneyCare…no, now he want to repeal ObamaCare and believes he can sell the people on the difference.
     Palin spends her time becoming a celebrity, making a bundle, twittering her enemies…all the while Bristol is known for her long mesh stockings and dancing with guys on TV…having first told Greta that it is impossible for a teen to practice abstinence…then changing and saying no-it’s-not.
    Huckabee the blue-jawed orator Baptist minister looks more like a candidate for the next host of “Grand Old Opry” than president as he strums his 3-string guitar.
     Mitch has ruled out reference to all social issues…which means thousands of evangelical and conservative Catholic volunteers will go 3rd Party…all the while Obama will use the frenetic pro-aborts and gays to rally the troops.
      And even if Mitch gets the nomination, he can’t escape social issues.Here’s a guy who a few years ago his wife left him…left him and their three young daughters…to get a divorce and marry a doctor in Californial.   Now for the first time since the Andy and Rachel Jackson bigamy issue, you have a grossly embarrassing marital situation…a presumptive First Lady who left her husband and kids. Mitch says…I love this…it all worked  out okay—she’s back!
       Rot.  Here’s the party of family values replete with a possible First Lady who voluntarily abandoned her kids.  At least Happy Rockefeller was denied custody by the court. This one freely gave them up!
        Do you remotely think the liberal pro-Obama press will eschew this…that Axelrod will?  It’s tailor-made for Axelrod to play the Obamas as truly pro-family.
       Republican leaders: Give this party a break. Encourage a Scott Walker candidacy….spur a Chris Christie draft…goose up the Tim Pawlenty drive…encourage a drive for Ohio’s Gov. John Kasich, who when he was House Budget chief under a GOP congress forced Clinton to sign welfare reform…and who when Kasich left the House had paved the way for a$190  billion budget surplus.
       In short, the choices before the party are insufficient.  We must widen the purview.  A twittering ex-governor who gave up her post…a  Baptist minister pursing up his lips like Cheetah as a coaxes cornball music out of a gee-tar…a jowly Mississippi governor with a mouthful of hominy grits that sounds like “you’re in a heap-a-trouble, boy!” next to a Sidney Poitier-llke drawing room creation made possible by a complaint press.  A forlorn governor with a returned runaway bride.
      Please!   Think of what we’re doing to ourselves.                        

1 comment:

  1. "Think of what we're doing to ourselves..."

    Not for nothing is the (R) Party often called "The Stupid Party."

    So sayeth Sobran, so say I.