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My Way or The Highway: Obstinance as a Political Philosophy

Thomas F. Roeser 30 June 2009 2 Comments

Richard Viguerie.

The word “betrayal” is hardly ever used in politics these days except by a scarce genus of conspiratorial Republicans who think they taste fluoride in the drinking water… usually a few rich entrepreneurs who feel they’ve bought title to the brand after working in the vineyard during the parched years and chafe that they haven’t been sufficiently revered for their output of money.

Nationally, the leading protagonist of Republican “betrayal” is a cranky has-been: Richard Viguerie. He was a direct mail king who made a fortune from Republicans-starting with Barry Goldwater for president and then for countless conservatives running in state contests. I knew Viguerie when he and I were members of an outfit called the Council for National Policy. Whenever we met, Richard had identified yet another Republican who “betrayed” the him and/or the movement which he meant was the same thing. Actually the reason for his anger was that conservatives weren’t willing to do exactly what he thought they should do… to the iota no deviations.

Richard helped start Barry Goldwater on his way to the 1964 nomination. But when Barry Goldwater lost Richard said the loss came because he listened too much to Denison Kitchel, his campaign manager, and not enough to him or to Clif White. So, Kitchel was a betrayer. And then after Goldwater continued in the Senate, Goldwater himself was a betrayer (too much influenced by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan when they were senior leaders of the Senate Committee on Intelligence). Gerald Ford was a betrayer by being too soft on the Soviets and for making Nelson Rockefeller vice president. When Ronald Reagan ran against Ford in 1976 Viguerie decided Reagan became a betrayer by choosing Sen. Richard Schweiker as his potential vice president. Schweiker while pro-life didn’t toe the line with Viguerie. In 1980 Viguerie went with Phil Crane for president but Phil complained about the cost of Richard’s direct mail fee to me and others so to Viguerie Crane was a betrayer as well.

Viguerie said Reagan would never win the presidency because he had betrayed principle by naming George H. W. Bush as his running mate. Well, Reagan did, by 489 electoral votes to 40, carrying 40 states. Reagan hadn’t served in office two months when Viguerie said he was convinced Reagan had betrayed the cause and the country yet again saying “I am disillusioned with a president that [sic] walks away from the Soviet Union.” Meaning not going to war with it. Viguerie said: “Just like Jimmy Carter gave conservatives the back of the hand [sic] we see the same thing happening in the Reagan administration.” He told the Associated Press (1/27/81): “Almost every conservative I have talked to in the last two months has been disappointed in the initial appointments to the Reagan cabinet.” He said he wouldn’t vote for Reagan in 1984. Of course Reagan won handily over Walter Mondale in 1984, with 58.7% to 40.5%, carrying 49 states (Mondale won only his home state of Minnesota and the District of Columbia).

In December, 1987 Viguerie was saying: “Many longtime conservative activists are not buying Reagan’s rhetoric. The emperor has no clothes on; just about every conservative I know is now acknowledging it.” To the “Los Angeles Times” he said “In other important matters he [Reagan] has changed sides and he is now allied with his former adversaries, the liberals, the Democrats and the Soviets.” “Eight years after Reagan’s nomination for president the conservative movement is directionless.”

The “changing sides” and going over to the USSR resulted in Reagan’s winning the Cold War, as Mrs. Margaret Thatcher declares. Not a word from Viguerie. He probably thinks Thatcher betrayed the conservative movement as well.

After Reagan left and the beauty of the conservative record was clear, Viguerie was still dissatisfied. He wrote a book entitled-you guessed it-“Conservatism Betrayed” which excoriated Bush I. “Sixty-five months into Bush’s presidency,” wrote Viguerie, “conservatives feel”-what? “Betrayed.” He said the party was betrayed by Bob Dole in 1996 and was outraged when it chose George W. Bush in 2000, saying it would be betrayed again. Four years later he said Bush deserved to lose because he had betrayed the party-well, he didn’t. In 2008 Viguerie hated John McCain and said the party would be betrayed by him. Despite a war and seeming depression, McCain lost by 4 points to Barack Obama. But to Viguerie, McCain has still betrayed the party.

Also Tom DeLay betrayed the party along with Denny Hastert and Newt Gingrich. It’s the same old story and has been since 1964, Now no one listens to Viguerie except Bill Moyers and the “Washington Post” who want to publicize their liberal aims by citing a so-called angry conservative token who says he is disillusioned. Viguerie has declared the following Republicans as betrayers: Mike Huckabee the former governor of Arkansas Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty. He likes only Sarah Palin but she had better watch her step or she too will be a betrayer.

And oh yes, Viguerie has another book out. Guess what it’s called?

“Betrayed: How George W. Bush and Other Big Government Repuiblicans Hijacked the Conservative Cause.” In it he identifies the betrayers as Fox News, “The Weekly Standard” and other successful organs of the media.

Figuring out Richard Viguerie is easy. He’s an embittered old man who orders conservatives and the Republican party to follow his way-or the highway… and ends up standing in the middle of the street as traffic goes by heedlessly. He’s called the Little Tyrant, who is mad that his every whim hasn’t been followed. Those who don’t agree with his every suggestion have betrayed conservatives and the Republican party. He has forgotten nothing but learned nothing about politics since 1964… and doesn’t remember that while he’s been prognosticating betrayal and defeat, he himself hasn’t been elected and hasn’t led the party to victory-ever. He’s a lonely, embittered old man with no successes but a string of bad predictions to his credit.

Doug Ibendahl.

In Illinois we have a junior version of Richard Viguerie, Doug Ibendahl. Doug works for a self-made entrepreneur, a brilliant engineer, Jack Roeser of Carpentersville. I’ve interviewed Jack for the “Sun-Times,” had him as a guest on my radio show, had him guest lecture my political course at a downtown university. Jack’s a philanthropist with a social conscience-and like all of us, he’s not perfect… and in politics his inclination is to insist the party either follow him or take to the highway. That’s okay. All of us senior citizen types have that inclination. But few maim their party by declaring internecine war on its leaders. And very very few have supported candidates with money and once a candidate loses, demands his contribution back because the candidate didn’t follow his program exactly. That’s Jack.

Jack and Doug have elected nobody to a major post–ever. Doug writes fiery tirades against any Republican who dares to question his boss… and him. The other day Doug urged Republicans to get rid of Tom Cross in the 84th district. Tom Cross is the House Republican leader. Tom and I don’t agree on everything but Tom’s done things Doug Ibendahl and Jack Roeser haven’t: and that is get elected to something.

While the remainder of the Illinois GOP is just starting to imagine that with the terrible record the Democrats have produced, it may just be possible to elect a Republican governor… and maybe a U. S. senator… Jack and Doug have a better idea. They’re going to defeat Tom Cross if they can. Now Tom Cross and I don’t agree on a few things-but having been active in Republican politics in two states… and having elected two Republican congressmen and a governor in what was, like Illinois, a solidly Democratic state… I figure you might want to hear my side on Tom Cross-and why the Jack and Doug effort to defeat Cross is nothing more than anger at not been heeded-by anybody. How dare Republicans fail to salute!

Jack, like Richard Viguerie in his old age, believes that conservatives have only one choice: Jack’s way or the highway-with a string of defeats along the way… with the excuses that the party has been betrayed, betrayed, conspired-against, all by people who don’t agree with Doug and Jack. I’m a senior citizen like Jack but I’m lucky to be married to another senior citizen who says I’m not right about everything: thank God for her; she saved me a lot of goof-ups. I don’t know much about Doug: he’s not married so I’ll just leave that issue alone. But there is Jack just like Viguerie, standing in the middle of the highway flailing his arms, shouting “betrayal” while the traffic goes heedlessly along. Jack has only one major follower: Doug whom he pays.

Doug writes fulsomely about how Tom Cross betrays Republican principles. He calls him Tom “Double Cross.” He implies Tom Cross has sinned with a crimson “A” on his back because he doesn’t support each item in the Republican platform… almost as if the platform is engraved on tablets handed down by God on Mt. Sinai. (I’ll tell you later on who supported the Republican platform when it was wrong-and who didn’t, determining to be right rather than lip-synch views on a piece of paper).

Jack and Doug write that Tom Cross hasn’t done this and hasn’t done that-but this I know: As House Republican Leader Tom has withstood pressure from unions and special interest groups, the liberal media and the toughest opposition Mike Madigan could hurl at him to join them in raising taxes. And there has been no tax hike largely because of Tom Cross. Tom led his caucus in providing property tax relief. He has fought to pass a constitutional amendment requiring… get this… a three-fifths vote in each chamber to increase taxes.

Now Jack and Doug have laid down the dictum that if you don’t support the Republican platform on every single item you have betrayed principle. I happen to support the platform on every item but I would remind them that it’s not a capital sin to dissent from casting a blind loyalty oath on every item. Take ERA. They probably don’t know that support for the ERA or Equal Rights Amendment… bad news for social conservatives… had been in every GOP platform from 1940 until 1964-even though there were those of us who feared the oncoming of legalized abortion in the states would presage acceptance of the practice as a bogus “right” supported by the platform. The Taft forces tried to dump it in 1944, 1948 and 1952 and failed. In 1964 almost all the Republican presidential candidates-Goldwater, Rockefeller and Scranton-supported keeping the ERA in the platform… but one candidate didn’t: Walter Judd of Minnesota whose aide I was at the San Francisco convention. I supported Republicans anyhow. In 1972 ERA went back into the platform. In 1976 Ronald Reagan, then contesting Ford, supported continuing ERA even though at that time Roe v. Wade had been enacted by the Supreme Court three years earlier.

Jack and Doug pronounce that anyone who does not support the platform is a betrayer, a traitor to principles. I didn’t support ERA then which means I wasn’t loyal to the platform-but I worked my heart out for Republican candidates all the same. Phyllis Schlafly lost the fight to remove ERA in 1964, the year she wrote “A Choice Not an Echo.” Am I to infer that she was a disloyal Republican when she worked for Goldwater and Nixon who supported ERA? And for Ford in 1976 who supported ERA? I don’t think so. So Jack and Doug should drop this balderdash about who’s loyal to a piece of paper and who’s betraying whom. What they will never understand is what Henry Hyde said so long ago-politics is making choices… and if you have to settle for a sandwich rather than a full meal and there’s no alternative, you take it. Jack and Doug have never understood that. This is why they don’t understand politics… and which is why their influence is zilch. Z-i-l-c-h.

Instead they ought to recognize that even though they disagree with him on some things-as do I–Tom Cross has done an outstanding job of organizing and leading his caucus. I know because I have seen Republican legislative leadership in two states, recognize who’s a leader and who’s not.

Basically, Jack is basically a nice old man who’s been so spoiled by saluters like Doug that he just can’t abide people not saying “yessir” “yessir” on everything-not unlike Dick Viguerie. Jack Roeser and I aren’t related; we have the same surname; we both lived at one time in the same suburb; we’re both Catholic. We’ve even been friendly at times. Coincidentally enough, we both have sons named Tom and daughters named Jeanne Marie. And we’re both octogenarians so we aren’t going to be around forever… maybe, who knows, not to see the next election. It’s time for Jack to call off the dogs… realize that like the rest of us he’s not always 100% right… that he doesn’t need to be saluted constantly to salve his ego… and turn his octogenarian energy to defeating Democrats, not Republican leaders-in the hope that before we check out we can turn this thing around.

I entertain some meager hope that Jack will call me and at least we can talk about it. I have no hope… none… that Doug will-but I don’t really care since he’s a hired gun.

**

Tom Roeser is the Chairman of the Editorial Board of the Chicago Daily Observer

2 Comments »

  • Cathy said:

    Doug Ibendahl has a good response to this smear piece at:

    http://www.championnews.net/article.php?sid=1959

  • John Powers said:

    Hi Cathy,

    Thanks for the link.

    Doug’s piece is interesting, but certainly points to the reasons why Republicans aren’t being elected to statewide office. The circular firing squad isn’t all that effective is it?

    I don’t think we ever get 100% on anything political. Tom Cross is recognized as a leader against taxes, not only by Tom Roeser, but also by the Illinois Policy Institute, hardly a pro-tax group.

    I think it is long past time to identify the real vex (The Democrats) in Illinois government and work to stop the menace, rather than blaming one faction or another of the Republican party for problems clearly caused by the party which controls both legislative houses, the executive office, The Cook County Board, and the Mayor of Chicago.

    Doug, a guy of your standing carries a lot of weight in Republican politics. How about looking for a 75% solution and working towards an 80% solution rather than wretched 10% solution we are getting today with the lefties in control?

    JBP

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