By Michael Miner
So it's finally over," said Bosco. "After a conspiracy so immense..."
I wasn't sure what he was getting at. All I'd read about for months was Clinton's duplicity, Clinton's concupiscence, Clinton's willingness to bend with each vagrant breeze.
"You shouldn't have read anything about him at all," Bosco grumbled. "He's a sick, sick person looking for attention. When we give it to him all we do is encourage him."
My view was that when the president of the United States runs for reelection it's a hard story to ignore. But Bosco has a keen eye for massive plots everyone's in on but himself. He slapped last Wednesday's Sun-Times onto the bar.
"Novak, Roeper, Rowan. Same paper, same message--'Dole has no one to blame but himself.' A coincidence? I don't think so. What you see here is the local Thatcher crowd trying to rewrite history before it happens."
In my experience columnists rarely cook up schemes together, mainly because most of them loathe each other. But as Bosco pointed out, the situation changes when the little guy is the tool of larger forces. "Mere pawns," he explained. "Pawns of the international media barons, monarchists, papists, socialists, Bilderbergers, Trilateralists--the whole One World crowd. They all wanted their boy Clinton back in. That's why you never read word one about a solid America First statesman like Phil Crane."
Was Crane even in the race? I asked.
"How the hell would I know when the media won't cover him?" said Bosco. "Talk about self-fulfilling prophecies!"
My heart went out to him. It's one thing when only publishers and atheists--the usual suspects--are in on the conspiracy. But when its tentacles have reached into your neighborhood, down your block, and through the front door of your next-door neighbors, there's much to fear.
"I can't believe the American people are such idiots," Bosco muttered. "Some alien spore must have infiltrated their bodies while they slept."
I told him the same thing happened in 1984 and in 1972. Back then some of us concluded we'd become a nation of pod people. I didn't add that many who arrived at that conclusion and never found reason to amend it were later active in the Clinton campaigns.
I glanced warily around the bar and motioned Bosco closer. "This wasn't the only conspiracy this autumn." I drained my pilsner. "Surely you know all about the big Bears cover-up."
I sensed that in his heart an alienated lumpen prole like Bosco couldn't care less who'd been elected president, but smoke would billow from each nostril at the whiff of a plot against his beloved Monsters of the Midway. "This one reaches all the way into City Hall," I told him, "to the inner sanctum of Richie Daley, fern lover. Daley wants to humiliate Mike McCaskey over the stadium deal. Reinsdorf and Wirtz want to ice the competition. The media want to cut the Bears' nuts off 'cause they need the space to cover girls-under-12 soccer. So it's in everyone's interest to spread the story that the Bears are a lousy team."
"But they are lousy," he moaned. "I just saw them on TV in an epic matchup against the even lousier Tampa Bay Buccaneers."
"I haven't been to any of their games and neither have you. All we have are so-called eyewitness accounts and what the liberals like to call virtual reality. So I believed the papers. But then I began to hear these rumors about the amazing Otto Schadenfreude."
"Sensational rookie. Burly, cat-quick running back out of the Goethe-Institut. When the papers refused to mention him I knew my worst suspicions had been confirmed."
"What did you do next?" asked Bosco.
"Called Rush Limbaugh. He said it didn't smell right to him either. Suggested I search the Internet."
Bosco was hanging on every word.
"Finally logged onto the Ursine Brotherhood home page and found out what's really up."
"They're undefeated, of course. I hope this is some consolation after the defeat of decent, God-fearing Americans by the forces of darkness. Schadenfreude is running wild."
Who's Sorry Now
After a vacation that lasted longer than some careers, Mike Royko returned to the Tribune last week and produced a vintage column on the media's persecution of Richard Jewell. Royko thought it interesting that the New York Times had called the media's behavior "regrettable" but the FBI's "the real abuse." The FBI, whatever its sins, had a duty to investigate a fatal bombing, Royko pointed out, while the media had no duty to send up helicopters whenever an unindicted, never-arrested suspect made a trip to the supermarket. Regrettable? "Vile, disgusting or obscene would have been less regrettable word choices."
Royko also ridiculed his own paper for an editorial that insisted, "For the most part, the press merely reported the truth." Truth is way over the heads of reporters, Royko wrote, but if reporters camped outside the Jewell home had taken a stab at it, they'd have admitted they didn't give a damn about Jewell's feelings. They'd have said, "Truth is, I'd sell my granny for an Emmy award."
The only problem with this column was that Royko had written about Jewell before. Last July, when the story broke, he'd blamed the "pudgy nobody" for his sudden notoriety. He said Jewell made himself a suspect--by appearing so often on TV to describe how he alerted the police after spotting a suspicious green knapsack. Royko wrote, "Fringe characters in a disaster--and that's all he really was--seldom push themselves so persistently onto center stage."
So whether Jewell's guilty or innocent, Royko observed, he'll "have more than his share of that which he seemed to crave since the bomb went off--fame." If he's guilty, "well, in a way it would be good news." Instead of a genuine terrorist "what we'd have is kind of a klutz....And if it turns out that Jewell is just an innocent mope, he and others might learn a valuable lesson. Don't be a publicity hound."
The mopes and klutzes and pudgy nobodies of the world have been able to read Royko and feel like someone understood them. Jewell just had to wait three months for comfort.
Howard Tyner has accused this column of vending "conventional wisdom," and I have no defense. Two weeks ago Hot Type attempted to explain the Tribune's Dole endorsement on the pedestrian grounds of institutional integrity. The Tribune, I wrote, laying on conventional wisdom with a broad trowel, is a paper "that every four years measures the Republican candidate by traditional Republican principles and constructs the best argument that can be made for electing him. The Tribune helped create the Republican Party a century and a half ago. It has never endorsed a Democrat for president in its history."
The Tribune's disappointed editor immediately called to set me straight. How, Tyner wondered, could I possibly have forgotten 1872?
I don't know. I guess my mind went blank. Of course 1872 was the year that blows my assertion to smithereens. To recap, President Grant was running for reelection over the objections of the Republican Party's liberal wing, which included Horace White, editor of the Tribune. The liberals were ready to bolt, and White recognized the danger: splitting the Republicans could elect a Democrat, while inviting the Democrats into a coalition with the liberals could alienate the Tribune's Republican readership.
White's solution was a masterstroke. He declared the Democratic Party dead. ("Splitting the Republican party could not prove harmful since no opposition party remained," Lloyd Wendt explained in The Chicago Tribune: The Rise of a Great American Newspaper.) He then dispatched himself to the first (and last) Liberal Republican convention in the dual capacity of reporter and kingmaker, intending to arrange the nomination of Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois. But the obstreperous delegates nominated Horace Greeley. So the Tribune then endorsed Greeley, though White had once dismissed him as "eccentric and ill-balanced" and the moribund Democrats nominated Greeley themselves. With all this support Greeley lost to Grant in a landslide, and he died before the month was up.
Thus the Tribune found itself supporting a Democratic candidate. Today the paper rationalizes this travesty by arguing that Greeley wasn't really a Democrat, and besides, it backed Greeley before the Democrats claimed him. Even so, it was a harrowing experience, and the Tribune has never come close to repeating it.
Last week Linda Bowles offered a list of reforms sure to be resisted to the last breath by the "radical left-wing that controls the Democratic Party." These included term limits, tax reform, deregulation, and "reform of government schools." Bowles reminds us that those freshly painted classrooms beckoning to neighborhood kids each September are actually the long arm of the state at work on pliant minds.
Her sobering warning deserves wide application. Here in Chicago we drive on government streets, brake like sheep at government red lights, boil eggs in government water, sun on government beaches, and worst of all, at a time of crisis dial 911 and throw ourselves on the mercy of government gunmen. Yet we think of ourselves as free.
Lock and load, saith the Lord. Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, appearing in the Tribune, said a Clinton victory would force "conservative religious believers" to make a hard choice. "They can abandon their political interests and claim resident alien status in a land that has forgotten their God." They can keep working within the system to restore their God to power. Or they can renounce their citizenship.
Thomas said former Nixon aide Charles Colson laid out these alternatives in a recent "important essay." The good news, I guess, is that "so as not to incite militia groups, Colson frames his argument with admonitions against violence....Colson does not believe we have reached the point of grabbing the guns. But he thinks 'a showdown between church and state may be inevitable.'"
When Al Salvi misidentified James Brady as a former "licensed machine-gun dealer," I realized that after a year of running for office Salvi--and surely not Salvi alone--must be absolutely exhausted. If Salvi had thought even once about what he was saying, he'd have realized the allegation was idiotic--because it couldn't possibly be true and because it would immediately come back to haunt him. Licensed machine-gun dealers don't exactly grow on trees, and given the long, controversial history of the Brady Bill, if Jim Brady had been one of them we'd all have heard about it years ago.
In New York the producers of Les Miserables just decided to fire the cast because they decided the show was stale. The same thing eventually happens with elections. For a long time they provide wonderful fun. Kids hold mock votes and write essays on the nation's hallowed principles, while cosmopolitan grown-ups discern mendacity so blatant it can be seen from Mars. But Salvi's blunder served notice that the show had finally worn out. It was time for the hopelessly unalienated to go vote in a government election and close the curtain.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Illustration/M.K. Brooks.