I’ve always liked the politicians I call boring old white guys when I thought they were sensible and honest politicians. They didn’t have to be anvil salesmen just decent. Jerry Ford, Dwight Eisenhower even Herbert Hoover the man who was so unlucky as to get elected in 1928, and even Barack Obama (who’s half white).
I think FDR was one of the most important presidents but I’ve always found his mercurial properties a bit off putting. Lyndon Johnson was just important but for crying out loud he was one hell of an SOB. Even Teddy Roosevelt was too flamboyant for my taste.
Lincoln, of course, is my all time favorite president but his times prevented him from being merely a boring old white guy. He wanted to be sensible, tried desperately to be sensible but as Bobby Dylan said, The times was a changing and he never got the chance to be boring and sensible. All he got was sensible and his sensible was one hell of a big anvil – tear the country apart to keep it together and end slavery – if need be.
Ah but I’m getting ahead of myself.
I’ve liked the same sort of politicians on the local level – boring old white guys. I tried very hard to be one. But there is one thing that grates on me about too many boring old white guys. They have a terrible penchant for needing to fit in. What bother’s me about this is that fitting in often requires turning one’s back on the truth or if not turning one’s back to it ignoring it. I can’t do that easily.
Given the chance to avoid an argument I’ll not slap people with the opinions I have that I know will offend them. About half of the American public is a little bent out of shape over the subject of abortion for instance. Anyone who has read my blog knows this. Anyone who read my old Reader columns knows this. All one has to do is go to the right hand column of this blog and click the abortion link and every post of mine on the subject will present themselves. Still, if I suspect someone is opposed to all abortions I have no desire to tell them I think they are wrong. Its only when they make their opinions public that I’m likely to disagree with them.
When the Red Plan first emerged, even before it had a color I was suspicious about it but I had stepped off the School Board a few years earlier and felt no compulsion to stick my nose into the planning. The most I’d done was to call my old friend Tim Grover, who was back on the Board, when I read the remarkable claim that the District was thinking about implementing a major construction program without putting it up for a vote. He told me that the District thought the law would permit them to do this. I was unconvinced that this could be true but that’s all I did about the question for the next three or four months.
By this time I had also retired from my four year stint as a columnist for the Reader Weekly but my old publisher gave me a call one day and asked me to write about this school building plan. I tried to demure but he laid a guilt trip on me. Harry, he told me, you served on the School Board. You have some knowledge about this important subject. You have no right to keep your thoughts private. You owe it to the public to let them know what you think.
I haven’t put this in quotes because I don’t know the exact words of our conversation but this essentially how it transpired that I wrote my first opinion piece on the Red Plan. One thing led to another and I was eventually one of the leading voices demanding a vote on the plan. That meant three years of fight and, once the fight was lost. three years of interminable “I told you so” from me mostly in the blog but also with a few letters to the editor.
I know that I’m unpopular with a lot of people in Duluth. That’s not very helpful for someone with political ambitions. Until the Red Plan folks might distrust me because I was a Republican because in the old days a lot of liberals tended to think Republicans were what they’ve become today – self righteous, paranoid, fiscal bomb throwers. That wasn’t true. Sure the George Wallace types had migrated into the Party but it was still the party of Eisenhower, Jerry Ford and even a pretty moderate Ronald Reagan who had signed pro abortion legislation, raised taxes and mostly played the skeptic where liberal pronouncements were concerned.
While I was fighting the Red Plan most of my detractors didn’t get in my face but I did get a few glimpses of what I stirred up by fighting both the Chamber of Commerce and Big Labor. Big Deal was one of best portholes to the musk oxen I was challenging. He had been in the legislature (I’d helped him put up lawnsigns) He’d helped me in return in some of my legislative races. He is a member of my church. He was a fiscal (or so I thought) conservative. He once started an anti tax organization in Duluth. He’d been a heavyweight in the Chamber of Commerce.
We have always gotten along well. During the Red Plan Fight, however, I caught two unplanned glimpses of what I faced in the larger community from Big D.
On the first occasion I happened to be following D down to our church’s basement after the service. D didn’t know I was behind him and began speaking rather vociferously about how folks didn’t realize how important the Red Plan was because they were in a delusional sticker shock about its cost, one he obviously thought was merited. He’d never told me this to my face and I held back so that he would not realize I’d over heard him saying that my anti-Red Plan point of view was stupid.
Disagreeing with me was one thing. Holding me in contempt was quite another and I found out just how far down I’d sunk in his opinion the following year with the Red Plan still a hot topic in town. I had to call D up for some reason, church, politics, I can’t recall at the moment although its quite likely I was looking for donations to a fund some anti-Red Plan activity.
He was on the phone with someone else when he picked up my call and told me he had to put me on hold to continue his previous conversation. Remember call waiting? I’m glad its a thing of the past. Almost immediately he was back on the phone to me and explained that he’d just gotten a call from some “asshole” he had to deal with. When I began speaking he suddenly realized his other party had hung up and hurriedly attempted to explain away his comment. I played along as though I had no idea he was referring to me. Anvils and assholes. As Meredith Wilson knew they had a lot in common.