Thomas Roeser | Bleader

Thomas Roeser



Casting about for the right words to say about Thomas Roeser, I discovered that I'd chosen them already. Fourteen months ago I began a column about his latest adventures with this: "Give me three words to describe Tom Roeser and they'd be conservative, Catholic, and curmudgeon."

That column described a feud between Roeser and Cardinal George that was seriously distressing Roeser's allies at Catholic Citizens of Illinois, an organization Roeser chaired that was dedicated to "traditional Catholic values." Roeser had called George a "fashionable liberal old duffer...whose hands are soft as a woman's," also a "smallish balding ex-university professor."

There is nothing wrong with being smallish, or balding, or a former professor, but Roeser made the combination sound shameful, contending that "never having worked a day in the private sector and nurtured in the then hot-house seminaries sheltered from the world, George and his vintage haven't a clue in the world."

In response, George accused Roeser of "hate mongering."

The exchange found Roeser past his prime. (At about the same time he was amusing himself by calling the president "our Kenya-born Half-Blood American Prince.") But it had been some prime. I identified Roeser, who died Sunday at the age of 82, as a "former president of the City Club of Chicago, a former vice president of the Quaker Oats Company, a former public affairs director of the Peace Corps," and observed that he wrote the "most fully realized blog I know." On another occasion I elaborated on why I thought this:

"What turned my head were his reminiscences — prefaced as 'Fifty years of politics written as a memoir for my kids and grandchildren' — tart and canny, on characters of considerable heft he'd known or observed from the era the turn of the century has left firmly behind, in particular, Hubert Humphrey and Eugene McCarthy, familiar to Roeser from his years in Minnesota...

"Blogging is dominated by the young, who tend to write as if they're throwing paint at a wall. But their parents will eventually discover what Roeser [discovered], that it's the perfect canvas for the more meticulous brushwork of the old. At the family dining table they might feel uncomprehended and marginalized, but a blog gives their ruminations all the time and space in the world."

Here's Roeser on Humphrey: "Hubert’s philosophy was pie-tin shallow and entwined with the psyche of an uncomplicated small town drugstore liberal who could hustle through the Depression and who wanted very much to go as far as he could in the political milieu including to the presidency. A patriot whose eyes could mist over when he saw a pumpkin pie cooling on a window sill (thinking of the old days in South Dakota), he was a Babbitt, imbued with a Rotarian’s upward ascendancy. His religious background was strictly Horatio Alger with Norman Vincent Peale thrown in. Born a Lutheran, he switched to Methodist, then Congregationalist, finally dying as a member of Dr. Robert Schuler’s televised evangelical “Crystal Cathedral” where it you feel good about yourself you save your soul (very simplistic but not far off from Gene’s more convoluted nihilistic New Age Catholic modern theology ala Godfrey Diekmann OSB, actually). About himself and America Hubert was a die-hard optimist."

Here's Roeser on McCarthy: "Gene’s nature was to be unreliable, dilatory and disloyal (bound to only one vision—his own). He was disloyal to Hubert to whom he owed a great deal to Hubert and didn’t recognize he did. He was disloyal to LBJ who pushed him from Gene’s earliest days in the Senate and didn’t recognize he did. He was emotionally immature, very passive, far from a hard-worker and in a clinch couldn’t be expected to make a quick decision, had no real absolutes…as it proved even on the war in Vietnam."

And here he is on Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, the subject of his last blog post, May 16:

Q. What’s this? A spouse decides whether one runs for president? Has this ever happened before?

A. No. Of course not. I think it’s a joke and makes a laughingstock out of Daniels who on a number of fronts…budgetary expertise, excellent governor…is a well-qualified candidate. The proper way would be for the couple quietly to make that decision up or down and then either go for it or no. Throwing the ball to Cherie in public to make the decision for Mitch makes Mitch a sad joke of the GOP candidates—the weenie runt of the litter...

What we have here, friends, is a wimp who has proven he isn’t worthy of serious consideration for the presidency because all by himself he has blown it.

Read backwards from this post and find Roeser tearing into Mitt Romney, Daley, Obama, and various journalists and church figures, while speaking well of the mid-last-century conservative Republican senator, Robert Taft. Again, I ask you, why should the blog be the plaything of the young when it so perfectly suits the dyspeptic ruminations of the old? Tweeting was invented, perhaps, to clear out the big arena for the pros.