When I search for words to best describe the political circus that brought Maryland resident and conservative radio talk show host Alan Keyes to Illinois to carry whats left of the Republican Partys banner in the Senate race against the Democrats charismatic newcomer Barack Obama, the names of two old TV shows came to mind: Lost in Space and The Gong Show.
The GOP, once a powerhouse in the Land of Lincoln, now makes the Three Stooges look like a precision drill team.
Funnyexcept in the process the GOP hierarchy suppressed a strong, popular self-financing immigration reform candidate, thus ensuring that the issue will continue unmentioned in one of the six top immigrant-impacted states.
And much of the blame has to be laid at the feet of House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who represents a district just outside Chicago.
Here is how the most recent Republican calamity unfolded:
After defeating seven other primary candidates with nearly 40 percent of the vote, the GOPs immaculately groomed and photogenic Jack Ryan began what everybody conceded would be an uphill battle against Obama.
Normally, the choice would be the candidate who finished second, with 23 percent of the vote: Jim Oberweis, whose family owns a dairy in Aurora, Ill., and a number of ice cream shops around the state. But Oberweis was doomed because, unlike the other candidates, he publicly criticized President Bushs proposed amnesty for millions of illegal aliens. [See Outcry on Right Over Bush Plan on Immigration, By Rachel L. Swarns, NYT, February 21, 2004]
Hes trying to demagogue the immigration thing, Hastert told a local newspaper prior to the election.
Ironically, during his Congressional career but before becoming House Speaker, Hastert had consistently supported immigration reduction legislation. But apparently loyalty to the White House came first.
Chicagos media, including the Chicago Tribunes veteran political writer Rick Pearson (e-mail him) rarely missed an opportunity to zero in on the anti-immigrant bulls eye that Hastert had hung on Oberweis.
By far the meanest attack on Oberweis came from Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown in a March 11 column that ran under the headline Oberweis serves up 10,000 scoops of bigotry.
Brown attacked Oberweis faulty TV ads, which claimed that 10,000 illegals entered this country each day. The accepted figure is about 1 million annually, i.e. maybe 3,000 a day, although nobody really knows. Oberweis apologizedbut Brown failed to acknowledge that Oberweis still deserved to be heard about immigration.
Oberweis appalling public mistreatment began almost immediately after Ryans exit. The 19-member Republican State Central Committee, chaired by State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, brushed him aside and turned to third-place finisher (20 percent) Stephen Rauschenberger, a state senator from Elgin.
But Rauschenberger suddenly backed off, citing pressing legislation in Springfield that apparently required his attention. This took many by surprise, since only a few hours earlier in the day Hastert said in Washington that Rauschenberger was his guy.
More names of potential candidates emerged and, just as quickly, disappeared. Among them: former Illinois Govs. Jim Thompson and Jim Edgar; former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka; former State Board of Education chairman Ron Gidwitz; and state Sen. Kirk I can beat Obama, Dillard, (R-Hinsdale.)
The icing on the cake: Dr. Andrea Grubb Barthwell, who quit her job in July as a White House deputy drug czar to become eligible to replace Ryan, was officially reprimanded for engaging in lewd and abusive behavior during an office party in late 2002. Her offense, which required her to attend sensitivity training, (apparently they have sensitivity training in the Bush White House) boiled down to an off-color remark about a colleagues perceived sexual orientation.
On Sunday, August 8, the search ended. GOP party leaders and honored guests gathered in a hot hotel meeting room in Arlington Heights, IL, to pay homage to Keyes.
Being an outsider in Illinois is never easy (unless you are Mexican President Vicente Fox). But Keyes, a skilled wordsmith, quickly moved to allay the fears of us local yokels by insisting that where he comes from is not nearly as important as his belief in truth, justice and the American way.
As he stood at the podium, sweating profusely, Keyes told those huddled around him:
We must continue to assert and stand tall to defend the great principles of Gods authority and unalienable rights on which this nation is founded. If, indeed, that land is still Illinois, then I have lived in the Land of Lincoln all my life . . . and I will be proud to call Illinois my home.
(Speaking of sweat, here is something even goofier than the rest of this story: A napkin soaked with Keyes perspiration was offered at auction on e-Bay.)
Needless to say, Keyes never mentioned immigration.
Hastert didnt attend Keyes announcement because he was busy lying during his appearance on NBCs Meet the Press. Hastert said that he personally worked for five weeks to find homegrown replacement for Ryan but couldnt find any takers.
Hastert knew, of course, that Oberweis was available.
Naturally, nobody with the Illinois GOP brain trust is eager to talk about the partys shabby treatment of Oberweis.
Jason Gerwig (e-mail him), the Central Committees communications director, told me,
Ms. Topinka isnt giving interviews at this time. The party has put this behind them and is moving forward.
Forward to oblivion?