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The Long and Winding Career of Sen. Charles Percy; Sneed Snoozes through Recent History

Thomas F. Roeser 23 April 2010 4 Comments

Chuck Percy was a guy not unlike Mark Kirk. Both were North Shore…Percy the decided disadvantaged one, was born in Florida to an unsuccessful car salesman and was reared in Rogers Park and lived near the El tracks. Had an abounding interest to stand well with the gentry just a few miles north…Evanston, Winnetka, Wilmette, Kenilworth. And so he adopted the trademarks that were then fashionable in the `40s.
Including a tony phony eastern accent. He became a self-made multimillionaire by conning a Christian Scientist owner of a small factory named Bell & Howell who had no kids of his own and adopted Percy as a surrogate son. Percy auditioned for the job at Bell by teaching kids at a Christian Science Sunday school as the old guy looked on, beaming.

Give him credit, he took over the company and got it involved to the hilt in federal contracts during World War II. He got himself exempted from service because he was running “an essential company to the war effort.”

Most of the CEOs of his time were Harvard Princeton imports and spoke not with affectation but legitimately Eastern since they came from families from that region. But Percy was so wary of his hateful poor-boy background that he was ill-at-east with average folks–if they were white and born with credentials like his. Give him blacks, Hispanics to moon over. Media loved it.

Anything that smacked of old-fashioned values was outsky. It was trendy to be pro-choice so that’s where Percy was.

With blond hair smoothly coiffed and a developed baritone voice he picked up after lessons in projecting run by a radio announcer, he became what Time said was the epitome of the well-cultured, sophisticated GOP leader of the future. He had some disadvantages. He was lousy at legislating: meaning drawing consensus. Another: he was by no means a political natural.

He was made chairman of the 1960 Platform Committee by Richard Nixon…was too liberal…made long-winded speeches about destiny and made such a botch of it that Nixon had to call Mel Laird in and ask him to take over the gavel while Percy prenned for the cameras.
Elected to the Senate in 1966 over an aged and faltering Paul Douglas who true to his conscience remained one of the few Senate liberals who supported winning the war, Percy fudged whether he wanted to win or lose by changing the subject and calling for an “All Asian Peace Conference.” When he went to the Senate it was clear he would be a show-horse, not a work-horse.

Dirksen, an original work-horse, despised him and told me so. Percy had his eye on another prize: prestige, wealth, honor. It was no surprise then that he endorsed New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller for president over Nixon in 1968. Rockefeller did zip but Percy became the leader of the midwestern wing of the Rockefeller movement and so maneuvered it that the proudest day of his life was when his daughter Valerie married Jay Rockefeller, the governor’s uncle.

Percy told me once he thought the most important aspect of his job as senator was to recommend to the Republican White House people for the judiciary. And appointee to the Supreme Court can transcend the work of many term-hobbled politicians and presidents. Right he was.

Then as now the senior Republican choice for judge was usually honored. When Justice William O. Douglas, a radical, retired Percy promoted John Paul Stevens. Stevens by Percy’s reckoning was a natural: a rich man, heir to the old Stevens hotel, a Brahmin. President Gerald Ford nominated Stevens and that’s what we got today…
Percy’s revenge…his lifelong struggle to be one of the elites, to shuck his past, to be a statesman…from his elevator shoes to the top of his sandy, slightly turned graying hair. By advocating John Paul Stevens, who today refuses to say whether he is still a Republican, Percy got to force change from the Left.

Only trouble is Percy doesn’t know anything about it—and nobody can tell him, as his health has deteriorated over his 91 years.  But all the same, it’s the culmination of revenge…revenge for once being poor, a member of the working class…which he excelled by every measure of standard. Except one.

No one ever figured out the real Chuck Percy and what he once was.

And that, my friends, is what you have to worry about when you determine to vote for a RINO because…well as the saying goes…the other guy would be so much worse.

Really? Worse than Percy?

Sneed, a woman whose name is Michael, writes a gossip column in the Sun-Times. The things you have to remember about her are two. One: She has a definite “in” with the U. S. attorney here…and two she has an airy-filled mind that is so cluttered with important things …who George Clooney was dining with at “M” the stylish Chicago restaurant, what time they left and what they ordered…that it has no room for history. Every so often this airy space is allowed to escape and you’ll see her make a fool of herself—and it happened yesterday.
Her bulletin read: “Yipes! Former GOP veepmate Sarah Palin jokingly referred to the cheering crowd at Washington, Ill. last Saturday as people who “probably cling to your guns and religion”!’

As if this was a badly placed gaffe by Palin.

But the Washington, Ill. crowd knew the origin of the reference if Sneed does not. Anyone with a rudimentary, passing knowledge of the 2008 presidential race knows that Palin was referring to one of the low-points in the Obama campaign where on April 10th, at a supposedly off-the-record elegant dinner of San Francisco elites who were raising big bucks for him, the statuesque one said:

“You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they felt through the Clinton administration and the Bush administration and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are going to regenerate and they have not.


That was the genesis of Palin’s reference to people “who probably cling to your guns and religion.” Of course since the copy desk is populated largely with ill-educated university liberals just off the intern pool whose alpha and omega began with Obama’s election and continues to today,

Sneed would get no help with her gaffe. Hillary Clinton would win that Pennsylvania Democratic primary by 9 points and this was Obama’s way of preparing an answer. The rubes were stuck on god and guns and not on him.

It squares with Thomas D. Frank’s analysis of why people in hard-pressed rural areas are conservative. Frank can’t accept that people see religion and gun ownership as legit values. You see it’s the standard liberal line: they have subsumed interest in religion and guns because the poor things have never been acclimated to the comforts of life that San Franciscans have. It’s covered in Frank’s What’s the Matter With Kansas?

No, Sneed hasn’t heard of Thomas Frank either.


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


  • John Powers said:

    Fine tale Tom, but begs a few comments…

    Percy graduated from New Trier, so he must have been in that area by the time he was 18 or so. He also graduated from the University of Chicago, which has a well-earned reputation for intellectual snobbery in contemporary uselessness with the East Coast countryclub/universities.

    My impression is that Percy took up the role of Thurston Howell III at a very young age (took me till middle age to get a crested blazer, and move to New Trier so I am behind).

    I think you capture the utter confusion of the wealthy on how to assist poorer people. It seems simple enough that poorer people get wealthier by making more money, by working at places like Bell and Howell.

    Promoting job-killing Lefty subterfuges like Stevens may have been a guilt ridden penance, but certainly did little to nothing to help poorer people with the myriad wrong headed programs enacted by the Left and upheld by the likes of JP Stevens over the years.

    And please tell us, just what is the “real Charles Percy”? Seems sort of like stepping on a shadow after a while.

    Enjoyed the article!


  • John Powers said:

    Didn’t Percy also go to Senn High School before New Trier, which in its day had a full blown Greek Letter Fraternity system going…?

    Rogers Park had its share of hoity toity types as well.

  • Dan Kelley said:

    In doing some research, I am frequently surprised by the things that I learned while looking for something else (the late columnist Sidney Harris used to collected these bits of trivia discovered in the same manner and publish the results as an occasional column). I was genuinely shocked to find that Rogers Park, now the home to David Orr and Joe Moore, routinely voted for Republican candidates and frequently had Republican elected officials until well into the Fifties. Now, the area prefers to vote for Bolshiveks.

    At one time, Rogers Park, which was reliably Democratic throughout my lifetime (the major power struggle was between the party regulars and the progressives following Neil Hartigan’s abdication as committeeman — the leftists won that fight), and its neighbor, Edgewater, routinely had Republican representation in Springfield and functioned like an adjunct of Evanston. At some point, the wealthy residents packed it in and moved out and the area took on more of a blue collar atmosphere for a time.

    Much has changed in a half century, but many of the wards close to the city limits used to be Republican turf. As such, Percy could have been exposed to the GOP while still in the city.

    One of my memories of Percy’s final re-election campaign in 1984 occurred when Bob Jordan was doing a remote broadcast from a tavern as the Cubs had won their division and were heading to the playoffs for their first postseason series since 1945. From the back of the mob came a whirling dervish in search of the camera and microphone, shouldering and elbowing other patrons and revelers out of the way. It was, of course, Percy trying to cash in on the celebration in search of votes.

    Paul Simon managed to edge Percy in the election despite Ronald Reagan’s landslide. Percy never learned the lesson from his narrow victory over Alex Seith in 1978, Illinoisans wanted him to focus on state issues and stop playing to the inside the beltway crowd. After being spared once, Percy was dumped at the next election.

    John Paul Stevens was a poor selection for the US Supreme Court, but it should be remembered that President Gerald R. Ford was looking for a quick confirmation process without a struggle. Ford shares the blame for choosing Stevens simply to avoid acrimony in the Senate confirmation hearings.

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