Monthly Archives: January 2007

>OP ED: Being a conservative ain’t easy

>Being a conservative is not easy … never has been. I am not referring to the drubbing of the GOP and the ascent of the strident left-wing leadership in the Congress in last year’s election. I am not referring to the unabated conservative bashing by the national press cabal.

I AM referring the idiocy in the ranks of the right. Cases in point:

1. Congressman Virgil Goode (R-VA) goes bonkers because Congressman-elect Keith Ellison (D-MN), a Muslim, prefers to be sworn in with his hand on a Koran rather than a Christian bible. This is a no brainier. As a conservative who believes in individual rights, I could care less if a congressman-elect want to be sworn in on his college term paper. We have too many examples of official malfeasance to believe that the bible or the oath produces moral legislators. I also believe that by laying his hand on his own religious text, it has more meaning. To make him swear on a book outside his belief nullifies the implication of the oath. It is a fraud. So, how can we be a conservative if we do not respect the individual right of a Muslim congressman? Though I am not likely to agree with the new Muslim legislator, I think it says a lot about America that we can elect a Muslim to high office in an atmosphere that would just as easily promote prejudice and intolerance. Please delete the very bad Virgil Goode from the register of bonafide conservatives.

FOOTNOTE: It was decided that Congressman-elect Ellison will be allowed to swear in on a Koran owned by Thomas Jefferson. It will be walked over from the vault of the Library of Congress for the ceremony. Oddly, I AM bothered by taking a national treasure from safekeeping for the indulgence of a freshman legislator. He should certain be allowed to swear on the Koran, but let him bring his own dang copy. This has all the earmarks of a public relations stunt drummed up by the new House leadership.

2. Then there is Pat Robertson. I have a great regard for religion and the religious. However, I am not compelled to believe that everyone who has “reverend” in front of his or her name is automatically a pious theologian. If you have read my blog, you know that I think the REVEREND Jesse Jackson is a Machiavellian, power-hungry, racist grandstander. My feeling towards the REVEREND Pat Robertson is not so precise. I just think he is an egomaniacal nut case. In his latest idiocy, he claims that God has told him (apparently God talks to him a lot) that there will be a major terrorist attack on the United States late in 2007. Duh! If I wanted to play fortuneteller, that is one prediction I would make. Of course, Robertson admits that he has been wrong in the past. However, he does not explain how the infallible God gives him the wrong info. In one instance, he claims God told him that a devastating tsunami would hit the United States in 2006. First, we do not get tsunamis. That is an eastern hemisphere phenomenon. We get tidal waves. I would think God would know the correct term for his vehicles of wrath. Tsunami? Tidal wave? No matter. The prediction was a wash out. Robertson notes a bit of flooding in New England as a “partial” fulfillment of his prophecy. So… if some time in 2007 a small grenade goes off in front of a Wal-Mart in the middle of the night, THAT would be a “partial” fulfillment of Robertson’s God-given warning. His prediction skills are on the level of newspaper horoscopes … interpretation is everything. So, here is my dilemma. Either God is not infallible, or Robertson is delusional. Please excommunicate Robertson from the role of the righteous right.

3. As a conservative in a multi-theological nation, I think we have to separate religious beliefs from conservative principles when the two come into conflict. Gay rights. It is certainly permissible for any religious group to define sin for their voluntary membership. However, no self-respecting conservative is going to deny basic civil rights of individual freedom to any group. I think gays should be allowed civil unions (leaving “marriage” to the religions to perform or deny). All marriages in America are civil unions, protected by a body of law. It is just that some of those civil unions are sanctified as marriages by the religious community. I say, let adult human couples decide who they want to partner with in a civil union, and let the churches decide who they will bless with a religious rite. If we were as tolerant as good conservatives should be, we would not find it so remarkable that Dick Cheney has a gay daughter, and we would not find it incomprehensible that she loves and supports her father. So … please kick the pain-in-the-ass homophobic gay bashers out of the conservative closet.

4. I think burning a flag or two is one of those “inalienable” rights the conservative founders had in mind. It is a form of protest that is currently protected under the all-important First Amendment. That is why the fascist conservatives need to amend the Constitution to make it illegal. It is a bad, un-conservative concept dragged into the public spotlight by the nationalist element of the body politic. I am a flag waver, but the flag I wave in pride can be flown upside down to indicate distress, warn as a bikini as a means of avoiding indecent exposure, and burned to ashes in peaceful revolt – the kind Thomas Jefferson so well understood. Our constitutional government has survived quite will with an occasional burning of Betsy Ross’s needlecraft. So … let the flame of freedom drive the nationalists from the conservative campground.

Some may say that my desire to cast the philosophic heretics out of the conservative movement will destroy the coalition that provides the core power base. I prefer to think of all the people who would join our ranks if it were not for the lunatics who too often characterize … nay … mischaracterize our cause.

>EULOGY: The Jerry Ford I knew.

>President Gerald Ford is laid to rest. The nation remembers his reputation for fairness and decency. His sense of being a common man was reflected in his favorite self-effacing retort, “I’m a Ford, not a Lincoln.” In reality, he was more like America’s justifiably most revered President than Ford would admit, or even believe.

Both were men whose road to the Presidency was most improbable. Though Lincoln was elected, his victory required such a convergence of unlikely events that no Victorian odds-maker would have bet on his early potential. Ford’s ascent was astonishing. He was the first, and perhaps the last, President to come to office without ever having been elected President or Vice President. Thanks to the newly minted 25th Amendment, President Nixon had the opportunity to nominate a person to fill the vacancy in the office of Vice President occasioned by the resignation in disgrace of Spiro Agnew. Soon afterward, Nixon, himself, was felled by the political maelstrom know simply as “Watergate.” While it is unfair to call Ford an accidental President, as he has been dubbed, it was an outcome beyond reasonable anticipation.

Both Lincoln and Ford came to the office in a time of Constitutional crisis and deep political divisions. Neither brought with them an elitist pomposity that is too often found in those who rise to great heights of fame and power. Both were considered simple men, more likely to depend on common sense than academic acumen. If they were good communicators, it was because they both understood plain-speak. In fact, Lincoln transformed public oratory from the prolonged flamboyance and dramatics of such people as Edward Everett to the simpler style and form we find to this day. Lincoln ended the era of orators-as-entertainers, and nowhere more convincingly than at Gettysburg.

Ford and Lincoln were genuinely respectful of those with whom they disagreed. More importantly, they were magnificently forgiving. Had he lived, Lincoln would have issued general pardons to the military and political leaders his armies defeated. He saw no benefit to expose the nation to an era of trials and hangings. Ford sacrificed his political future to spare the nation the agony of placing a former President on trial. Both Lincoln and Ford believed that reconciliation could best be achieved through forgiveness.

It is said that Lincoln was an easy man to know. People felt comfortable in his presence. He was an engaging conversationalist, eager to listen and quick to quip. His conversational style did not change, whether he was in the presence of a common citizen or a prominent person.

I cannot know from experience whether the characterization of Lincoln is fact or fable. I can say from experience that those qualities at least attributed to the 16th President are very much the traits of Ford. Among the number of Presidents I have been privileged to meet in person, Jerry Ford (as I knew him) stands out as among the kindest and most descent men in politics.

My first contact with Ford came in my days as a consultant to the White House during the Nixon administration. As Minority Leader of the House of Representative, there were a number of occasions where I was invited (sometimes ordered) to meet with Ford at public forums or private meetings in his office. I was impressed by two qualities of the former President. After our first meeting, he never failed to recognize me by name in any setting, and had no problem referring to past conversations – whether the subject of critical policy or some anecdote of my personal life.

I also was impressed by the fact that when speaking to a person, he was fixed on the conversation. His eyes did not dart around the room looking for the next encounter or more important personality, as is a very common trait of politicians.

And then there was that Lincoln-esque casual friendliness. In the presence of Ford, one never felt awe – and lest not after a moment or two of conversation. It was more like meeting a nice guy at a local tavern. I sometimes wondered if this was not to his detriment. Maybe all those inaccurate parodies and mockeries of his intellect and physical facility would not have been so easily rendered if it had not been for his commonness. Some have even contended that the Chevy Chase comedic rendition of a stumblebum President Ford cost him the election.

During my years in Washington, and for a time following, I remained in modest friendship with Ford. On the occasion of the birth of my first child, Ford visited and brought flowers for my wife. He attended a number events to which I invited him. Two occasions stand out in my mind. The first was a Smithsonian Institution reception in recognition of a collection of cast iron toys donated by Sears, Roebuck & Co. He was then Minority Leader. The other was after he took over the Oval Office. He accepted my invitation to be guest of honor at a charitable event in Chicago (see photograph).

As a lobbyist for Sears, and before gifts to legislators were the subjects of scandal, I recall giving the President an Olympic tie. Sears was the outfitter of the Olympic team that year. After the Olympics were over, Ford returned the tie back to me as a personal memento. It was a tie he wore frequently.

I was also a participant in an incident involving Ford at the 1976 GOP National Convention – an incident in which he most likely never knew of my role. I was there as communications director for the Illinois delegation led by former Governor Dick Ogilvie. To add to the festivities, I convinced a friend at Whamoo to give me 500 Frisbees to add to the convention floor festivities. They were inscribed, “I flipped my Frisbee over Ford.” It was a site, as hundreds of Frisbees took to the air before and after his acceptance speech. As the President was coming to the podium, or receding from the podium (I was never told which), one of my flying saucers bounced off the President’s forehead – much to the chagrin of the Secret Service. I was later told that my most lasting contribution to the American national political conventions was the banning of Frisbees and other airborne objects.

Apart from the tie and a Frisbee or two, my most cherished Ford possession is a series of three letters in which Ford responded to my congratulations on his ascent to the presidency. The content of the letters, and the fact that they are written on the respective letterheads of the United States Congress, The Vice President and the President, make them cherished documents, personally and historically.

It has not been many years since I have enjoyed his company, but the memories will never dim. I feel grateful as an American to have lived through those difficult times with my friend Jerry Ford at the helm. More personally, I have been most fortunate to have had the pleasure to know such a good and decent human being. Jerry Ford was a giant of a man, but never looked down on anyone. God bless him, and may he rest in the peace of eternity he so well deserves.