And my response is:
1) It’s a Scottish thing, you wouldn’t understand!
2) Only someone on the receiving end of a politician’s unethical actions is likely to remember them and point them out later. Since the best predictor of future behavior is the past, prior evidence of some character flaw by a politico can be very relevant to their current doings, even if it’s from years before.
3) A lot depends on whose ox is being gored, i.e., if it’s someone from your side of the political divide whose previous shady dealings are being revealed, you’re more likely to pronounce: “What’s past is past!” “No use beating a dead horse!” “Time to move on!”, even though the person in question is still very much in the news.
(These sayings, of course, people do not apply to themselves. Recall all the attention on the Left in recent years to documentaries and “news” stories on Richard Nixon’s harassment of John Lennon circa 1969, Dan Quayle’s alleged marijuana use in the 1970’s, race riots in the 1930’s, lynchings in the 1920’s, and mistreatment of Muslims by Christian Crusaders in the 13th Century.)
Well, “liberal” and “moderate” and “progressive” readers out there in the blogosphere (I almost said; “Boys and Girls out there in Televisionland!”, echoes of a youth spent watching “Whizzo The Clown” and “Torrey Southwick”!), your time has come. Fellow right-wingers, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy flight.” (With apologies to Bette Davis in “All About Eve”)
For the first 10 years of Sam Brownback’s political career, I was his “little buddy.” (Source: “Gilligan’s Island”) I contributed and raised money for his campaigns for the House and Senate. I served for three years as the Republican National Committeeman: traveling the state, giving speeches, and attending political functions. In short, I did everything I could to help the party and its candidates. Moreover, with the encouragement of Brownback’s staff, I ran twice (in 2000 and 2004) for the Kansas State Senate. Since I was running as a conservative in the most socially liberal district in the state I predictably did not win but made respectable showings. (I should add that in neither race did the help promised by Brownback’s people ever materialize.)
In 2004, during my second attempt, it became clear that statewide the conservatives were likely to win back control of the party organization in the primary. The State Republican chairmanship would open up. The party was broke financially, in disarray organizationally, and badly divided between the moderate and conservative wings. Nonetheless, I told a number of people in the conservative leadership that I would be interested in running. I also discussed at length with them specific ideas on how to rebuild the party. At that point, no one else had any interest in the job.
The week before the primary, I received an unusual phone call. A leading political operative in the conservative wing of the party, who I had worked with extensively over the years, called me on behalf of a group that he ran. He asked me to fax him a questionnaire as soon as possible that I’d filled out for the Christian Coalition, answering questions about my stands on various issues. He said that I needed to send him a copy of my answers in order to get his group’s endorsement and organizational support.
The reason I say it was strange was because at that point the operative’s organization had already endorsed me. They’d already done a comprehensive lit drop, covering all 15,000 households in the state senate district, and had asked for and received enough campaign literature to do a second one the weekend before the August primary, which was only a few days later.
It was unusual in another sense in that his organization was separate and distinct from the Christian Coalition. While they shared many of the same goals, they were different groups with different leadership. While both were integral parts of the conservative movement that had revolutionized politics in the state, neither necessarily deferred to the other as far as endorsements, positions on specific issues, and election tactics.
I now realize the operative had heard from someone at the Christian Coalition about my response to the questionnaire. He thought if he got it directly from me he could use it later against me without implicating anyone there as the source. He knew of my interest in the chairmanship and was already gathering ammo if I needed to be stopped.
All these events from 2004 came flooding back to me a few days ago.
In the July 23, 2013 issue of The Weekly Standard, the conservative magazine from Washington, there was a book review of a new biography of William Alexander Percy, a Southern writer from Mississippi who died in 1941.
A lawyer and plantation owner by profession, a poet by nature, and an essayist by choice, Will Percy was an eloquent defender of Southern traditions. He and his family risked everything to fight both Reconstruction and the Klu Klux Klan!
A gifted writer, whose autobiographical “Lanterns on The Levee” was given to me by a relative of mine who grew up with him in Mississippi, Will Percy is likely to be remembered ultimately as the adoptive parent of Walker Percy, the novelist and philosopher, whom he adopted after Walker’s parents died in tragic circumstances.
Will Percy was a bachelor who took on the responsibility of raising his cousin’s three sons when no one else would. He gave them excellent educations. One son (Walker) became a doctor; another was an attorney, and the third ran the family plantation. He instilled in them a strong sense of duty to their community and love of learning (which would have been unusual for any time and place but was especially so for Greenville, Mississippi in the 1930’s). And, by the way, he apparently was homosexual, according to this new book.
When I answered the Christian Coalition questionnaire in 2004, I knew from people who knew the family well that Will Percy was probably gay. I also knew that Will and Walker Percy were outspoken conservatives. (Liberal columnists were still denouncing Will in 2005 for a speech he’d made in 1927. Walker, both as a philosopher and physician, was outspoken in the pro-life movement.) As an attorney who has handled adoptions I’m also very aware of the hoops that one has to jump through to adopt a child, even within your own family. Finally as a father, son, and grandfather, I have nothing but admiration for the burden Will Percy shouldered by agreeing to raise three young boys who otherwise would have ended up in an orphanage or foster home. So I was in a serious quandary on how to answer; “Do you believe homosexual individuals or couples should be permitted to adopt children?” I marked it “unsure,” but made a mental note to explain my dilemma if anyone cared enough to ask.
I forgot about the operative’s phone call and the questionnaire itself in all that was going on in August 2004 in my own life. Nothing happened regarding my bid to become State Republican Chair for three months. During that time, no other candidate emerged. The incumbent moderate leadership approached me, in fact, about taking over the reins of the party early since they regarded my selection in January 2005, by the new conservative majority on the State Republican Committee, as a fait accompli.
The party organization meetings took place in November after the general election and, sure enough, the conservatives prevailed in all four congressional districts. I began to hear disquieting rumors, however. I learned that Brownback’s people were actively seeking someone to run against me, settling on former House Speaker Tim Shallenburger, another ally and colleague of mine. (The operative mailed out Shallenburger’s announcement letter, incorporating all my ideas for rebuilding the party.)
As part of the reorganization process to select delegates to the State Committee, this same political operative dispatched young aides to run things at these meetings on behalf of his organization, though none of them had any ties to those districts. So tight was the operative’s grip on things that his hand-picked slates were rammed through with little or no opposition.
Even more disconcerting were the calls I was getting from all over Kansas from friends and allies who’d previously pledged their support. The operative’s young aides were telling them that I would soon be “forced out” of the race because of “highly personal” information that would soon be revealed. In language reminiscent of Joe McCarthy (and Ted Kennedy’s staff in the Clarence Thomas hearings), they told people they had “written proof” that would lead me to withdraw and people shouldn’t consider supporting me for that reason.
As “Kansas Day” drew nearer I noticed anonymous postings on conservative web sites, attacking me and urging others not to support me for State Chairman. (I traced one back to a Brownback staffer.)
People who’d previously promised to back me called, asking me whether I’d taken bankruptcy, paid for a woman to have an abortion, used illegal drugs, been disciplined as an attorney, been arrested for a DWI , etcetera. It was infuriating because no one could ever tell me exactly what I was accused of doing, so they were reduced to guesswork and asking offensive and baseless questions.
To add to the pressure, some of my local supporters abandoned me and told me that they were afraid to even place my name in nomination, let along vote for me as State Chairman.
The day before the State Convention I found out that the “highly damaging,” “very personal,” information was my answer to the Christian Coalition gay adoption question.
By then it was too late.
I couldn’t give an explanation since most of my supporters had already abandoned me. I called a conservative leader and offered to withdraw if asked and if the conservative leadership would find a role for me other than State chair. He refused and said any decision to withdraw would have to be at my own initiative.
Now I was in a real dilemma. If I went ahead and withdrew, it would indeed look like I had something to hide and was fearful it would come out. If I went forward and allowed my handful of friends to put my name in nomination, I would go down to humiliating defeat. (Those who were still undecided wouldn’t even listen to me because of the operative’s whisper campaign.)
I realized that, “I’d seen this movie before.”
I know this is a popular phrase nowadays but I mean it literally. The movie was called “Ten North Frederick” and it starred Gary Cooper, playing a Republican lawyer in Pennsylvania in the 1940’s. The young lawyer is enticed by party leaders into underwriting the party’s finances, running for the legislature, traveling the state, etc. in return for their promise of the nomination for lieutenant governor. At the last minute, party bosses call him into the proverbial smoke-filled room and tell him he will not get the nomination as promised. Oh, and by the way, if he doesn’t withdraw there’s the little matter of his daughter’s illegal abortion that they will disclose. Be a good boy, and we’ll let you sit at the head of the table at the banquet tomorrow night when the state convention is over.
Even though I got the same offer of a seat at the head table, unlike Gary Cooper I did not withdraw. I went ahead, had my name placed in nomination, got four votes (one from each of the four congressional districts) out of one hundred twenty-five members of the State Republican Committee. I walked out of the meeting secure in the knowledge that I’d given the best speech of my life and that I had not let myself be blackmailed.
I’ve talked to two of my friends, both of who have served in the U.S. Congress, and they tell me that they have since received identical treatment. I spoke to Sam Brownback when called me and asked for money when he ran for governor in 2010. I simply asked him why he would do what he did to someone who was one of his oldest and staunchest supporters.
He blandly denied having involvement in—or even knowledge of—what happened, laying it all off on staff. I asked him why, ethics aside, for sheer pragmatic reasons, he would risk losing the time, energy, and money I expended on his behalf? He had no answer. I later realized that he simply didn’t care, that I was expendable and that a new round of suckers could be recruited, used, and discarded in turn. (This from someone who claims to be guided by Biblical morality!)
The other irony is that his operative friend, equally shameless, had used homophobia to discredit me among the delegates his organization had recruited. A rumor that I was “endorsing the homosexual lifestyle” was spread by someone who lived with another (younger) man, who had been his roommate and business partner for years.
Neither the operative nor his partner had ever been married, or ever been seen in the company of a woman in all the years I’d known them both. I, on the other hand, who have been married for forty years and have children and grandchildren, stood accused of “promoting the gay agenda.”
Upon reflection, maybe there is a core principle at stake, one that trumps loyalty, honesty, and honor. Perhaps the conviction that drives Brownback and his operative friend is the simple one that power is indivisible. Power shared is power lost. The corollary is that you don’t want someone with experience, with contacts, with political standing of their own, in a position of any authority because they might not unthinkingly do your bidding. (Brownback later picked a 20-something college girl as state Republican chair.)
This may also explain the governor’s forgetfulness about the importance of an independent judiciary and the doctrine of separation of powers. (Like fellow former law professors Woodrow Wilson and Barack Obama, only someone so knowledgeable about the Constitution feels he can ignore it.) To quote Pete Townsend of The Who, whose words I used in my 2005 speech:
“Meet the new boss,
Same as the old boss,