Thursday, December 01, 2011

The end of the Smoke-Filled Rooms?

By Bernie Quigley

For The Hill on 12/1/11

“In what all say is an ‘historic’ election, the GOP is fielding its B team while the A team sits in the locker room. Since when does that win the big games?” writes The Wall Street Journal’s talented Daniel Henninger. And he overheard mumbling of late: "Maybe it's time to bring back the smoke-filled rooms."

This was the nearly mythical system of selection in which party leaders and party bosses gathered over cigars, bourbon and branch to pick a candidate "who could win," he tells. “The most famous smoke-filled room pick was William McKinley, anointed for the 1896 election by Ohio kingmaker Mark Hanna (though in fact Hanna got McKinley nominated over the opposition of GOP party bosses).”

No, it persisted longer. When Jack Kennedy first decided to run for office in Massachusetts he presented himself to three prominent Boston Irishmen who pretty much ran Boston. One I knew well; old school . . . a drink in the right hand at any time of day, a cigar in the other, high starched collar and a diamond pin in his tie, a new grey Cadillac every two years. When Kennedy told them he intended to run for office and he needed 16,000 signatures to enter, one of the burghers said they would have them on his desk in the morning. Kennedy said, no you actually have to go out and get people to sign. Which they did. First time in Boston. But there was never any question that Jack would get the job. It was more of an appointment, with a little public performance thrown in of people on the street signing papers. But it was long decided elsewhere that Jack would be their man.

This was the politics of smoke-filled rooms; situations decided by the traditional association of money and men. But the worst-case was the most recent, the election of our very worst president, George W. Bush. This was decided before he was even born.

And that is where all the trouble comes this time around. Both parties have lost the atavistic connection to their Boston families, the Kennedys and the Lodges, playing out today in its end game now with Obama, keeper of the Kennedy dog, and the heartfelt yearning for Jeb Bush. These are birth pains. America is being born.

The level of corruption in the Kennedy mystique, personal and professional, was high and unprecedented in America. The level of professional corruption in the George W. Bush administration was astonishing and immoral. And as per the B team Henninger mentions; Cain, Gingrich come to mind, we have become acclimated to it.

Family politics devolves a republic or even a democracy to an empire by lowering the political dialog to pabulum. Did Sarah Palin mistakenly attribute a quote? Did Rick Perry get the voting age wrong in New Hampshire? The people default to trusting a political family – Hapsburg, Papandreou, Kennedy, Clinton, Bush - because they do not trust themselves or maybe because they no longer care and they find it easy. Then those who desire the rigors of a republican government should separate from them.

If regions want a significant family to identify culturally and spiritually with as England does and Israel will do again in my children’s lifetime, they should appoint a queen and leave governance to an elected prime minister. It works in Canada.

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