The Next Best Thing to Reagan
The ideological spectrum that the local dailies now provide us with ranges from the Tribune's endorsing George Bush while holding its nose to the Sun-Times's endorsing Bush by kissing him on the lips.
We hate to see the Sun-Times trash its dignity that way. The Tribune will always be able to do a better job of being the Tribune than the Sun-Times can.
"A Bush presidency is more likely to feature the continued reduction of the role of the federal government in regulating, interfering with and generally trampling over the rights of citizens to make a living and be happy in America." That's the true-blue Tribune spirit, rung out by editor Jim Squires, who thinks that when newspapers forget who they are as institutions they stop being much of anything. "It's not the best editorial for the inner-city minority worker," allows Squires, who wrote it. "If I were them I'd vote for Jesse Jackson."
"Abysmal," "embarrassing," "demagoguery," and "silliness" all decorated the Tribune's evaluation of George Bush's presidential campaign; "lousy running mate" summed up Dan Quayle. Squires wasn't nicer in conversation. "I don't think the guy has ever really accomplished much or initiated much in his career," said Squires of Bush. "He's always been more of a presider."
Still, Bush got the call. You're giving him the benefit of the doubt? we asked Squires. "I think we are," Squires said.
Squires twice spared Bush what we think he has coming to him. First, when Squires blamed Bush's "campaign imagemakers" for the low road he's traveled, even blaming them for picking Quayle. Second, when the endorsement got down to issues.
"Naive is a kind characterization for [Dukakis's] statements on sensitive and complicated matters such as . . . where he might cut the Defense Department budget," wrote Squires. "Nor has he made a substantive case that he has anything other than simplistic or outmoded ideas for dealing with domestic issues involving productivity, competitiveness and economic growth."
As Squires readily admits, Bush hasn't had anything useful himself to say about these issues. But heck, he's had eight years to study them under the master.
"We basically endorsed the continuation of Ronald Reagan," Squires said, "and hoped Bush would be more sensitive to human needs. The problem with Reagan is he pretended there were no poor in America and basically didn't do a damn thing for the cities."
Squires said, "If you knew George Bush, he never was in person the kind of guy whose image is in the Garry Trudeau comic strip. He was not an absent man. He was forceful and a nice man. And a man who wanted to do the right thing. In 1980 he learned his lesson--if you don't play tough you lose. And now we're beating the shit out of him for playing tough."
At least beating the shit out of schemers like Roger Ailes and Lee Atwater, who put together what the endorsement called "the embarrassing campaign of flag-waving and mud-slinging." But Bush went along. So does he have any spine? "He let somebody jam Quayle down his throat," Squires mused. On the other hand, "He makes that decision and stands by it. He made the commercials and ran them. It took courage to do that."
So there you are.
Squires's personal vision of things is that the Republicans will keep winning--and ought to--until hard times run them down. "I think Mario Cuomo may have realized it's four or eight years too early for a really good election to pit the haves against the have-nots." Apparently, that exciting hour "when there are more have-nots than haves," is coming no matter what, and until then the GOP deserves the White House.
Let's say you have your doubts about this line of thought. Is there a newspaper for you? The Sun-Times? Wear your hip boots. "His campaign," said Chicago's second paper, "has demonstrated the strength of leadership and self-confidence capable of guiding the country toward a new century with steadfast determination of purpose."
Did a journalist write that? Did Roger Ailes?
Finding the Bush campaign beyond moral reproach; the Sun-Times gratuitously insulted people unhappy with it as "smug critics" and "elitists." Unlike the Tribune, the Sun-Times dwelt on the national debt, but only to distort the subject. "As a percentage of total national wealth, our public debt is less than half what it has been many of the last 40 years."
Which is true, especially the years right after the Depression and World War II (neither turned a profit). The federal debt, measured in debt per dollar of national income, was $1.14 in 1946 and sank steadily to 26 cents in 1980, when Ronald Reagan rescued the American economy. Now it's up to about 43 cents. We owe these figures to Harvard (yeah, we know) economist Benjamin Friedman, writing this month in the New York Review of Books.
Half the $1.1 trillion debt the Reagan era has run up is owed to other countries. The Sun-Times did not even mention this obligation, any more than it mentioned Dan Quayle or mentioned Iranscam. But you know what? The Tribune hardly acknowledged the foreign debt or Iranscam either, even though Squires told us, "The only bad thing you want to beat Bush up for is you know he lied on the contras."
Presidential races are pretty easy to call when they're reduced to a referendum on the White House record of a guy who doesn't have one.
Michael Butler believes the 1960s now occupy a warm spot in America's heart.
"Even those people who were really upset about it realize it wasn't as unpleasant as they thought it was," Butler told us. "I think even somebody like Richard Nixon is a little more mellow about hippies than he was in those days. They haven't turned out to be the scourge of the nation."
Butler's the prominent Oak Brook polo player and impresario whose revival of Hair, which he originally produced on Broadway, opens at the Vic next Tuesday. He was speaking to us by car phone. "There's a major feeling I have, and I'm not alone--I feel that what really happened is the people of the movement in the 60s discovered flower power was not going to work, it couldn't work--
"Hold on a second while I go through this toll booth--somebody just gave me the finger!" Butler exclaimed.
So much for flower power, we said.
Butler agreed. He brought his black BMW back up to speed and recovered his train of thought, "So I think that a lot of the hippies and people in the movement went into a 'me' period, a period when everyone was very concerned about getting their act together. They didn't know how to function within the system.
"Those people have not forgotten what they went through in the 60s," Butler went on. "This is a major chance to make a lot of changes, and I think the 90s are going to be very exciting because of that. The pendulum always swings. It's got about as far right as anyone could have a nightmare it could go, and I think it's going to start swinging back again."
We wonder when. What the 60s bequeathed America was two nearly solid decades of Republican presidents. Two decades going on three. "I don't think it's a backlash against the Democrats," Butler reflected. "Certainly not for the 60s. If anything, it's a backlash against Carter. The Democratic party has just been in serious trouble for a long time."
That it has. Jimmy Carter is the one who gets pummeled, but his term was a historical accident and a historical blip. The 60s remain the watershed, and a Hair revival is one of many things that keep coming along to make us remember them. The celebrated new book A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam carries this thumbnail description of one of the decade's most important men:
"[Secretary of Defense Robert] McNamara was admired for his capacity for decision-making at a trot. His staff once calculated that he made 629 major decisions in a single month. The fact that he never seemed to worry about the possibility of a mistake and never looked back afterward was also regarded as a virtue."
America has a long memory of the brilliant fools assembled by the Democratic party who took the nation into war. And that, we think, explains the extraordinary tolerance of the boobs and opportunists who have waved symbols and played at government over the last eight years. After Vietnam, symbols will do.
At one point we were pretty excited about seeing Hair again, but that was weeks ago. Weeks ago, we were expecting Michael Dukakis to be elected president a few nights later.
Striking a Deal
Forbes recently printed the impressive news that the Tribune Company has cut its payroll from 3,600 to 3,000 employees and boosted its profits by 23 percent. Considerable human travail accompanied these gains. So we are pleased to report that the Chicago Typographical Union, one of three unions to strike the Tribune on July 18, 1985, and the company are close to terms.
The strike originally was over lifetime job guarantees that the printers believed the Tribune was violating. The newspaper got along fine without these tradesmen, and when the printers gave up the strike seven months later took back only 63, a third of the ones who'd walked out. Seeking greater relief than that, the CTU went to court.
A year ago, Washington mediator W.J. Usery thought he had a settlement. But the CTU executive committee put it to the membership without a recommendation, and it went down five to one. This time the terms are better, the union leadership is different, and everyone's a year older. If the deal goes to a vote as expected on November 20, the rank and file will be asked to accept it.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marc PoKempner.