My Turn: Mr. Dooley was a bit of an optimist

Posted: Sunday, December 08, 2002

Frank Murkowski was sworn in as governor of Alaska recently. Every time I hear, "Oh, how did this happen," I recall the sage Mr. Dooley's observation that, "Th' dimmycratic party ain't on speakin' terms with itself."

With the passage of Homeland Security, the Democrats have just about completed the sellout, heart, party and soul, but still they stand around in the same old smoke-filled places, pockets and old wallets stuffed with check stubs and business cards from fat cat lobby firms, IOUs and chits from the long dead and defeated, forgotten ideals scrawled on stained cocktail napkins and crumpled slips with borrowed ideas for the same time next year. They grip one another on the shoulder, hang their heads, mutter about how they just can't understand it.

In the rowhouses, feed stores, union halls, teacher's lounges, and blue collar bars of the country, the party's image is getting clearer all the time.

They became the old guys in the back that have been there so long they just come in to go to lunch and swill martinis, slap backs, pump hands and arrange tee times.

When they do get back to the office, it's already too late to do anything - even if they could remember who hired them or why, so they sit and stare at the empty lines in their day planners, scrawling an occasional new idea on the back of an old speech card only to remember that the other side already used it. Wadding them up, they rimshot the trash basket, and sit staring at a floor littered with so many other failures.

Then the afternoon papers come in and the rumors of pink slips start circulating like urban legends on the Internet.

From a bottom desk drawer they take out a pair of kneepads, slip them into the pockets of their worn tweed jackets and shuffle over to the opposition to stand in line on the sidewalk, counting heads between them and the doorway, checking their watches and hoping it isn't too late.

With the cold rain of public opinion running down their necks and filling their expensive loafers with the run down heels, they turn up their collars and pull their heads down, hoping that no one has recognized them.

They think about a time when they could stride in through the lobby and breeze through the closed doors of the big corner offices upstairs and the deals were fast and sweet, washed down with enough good single malt to cover the terrible taste they left behind.

But then the numbers began to change - nobody seems to remember exactly when or how it happened - and it wasn't so easy any more.

Now they find themselves sitting in waiting rooms with the other minorities, drumming their empty attachés, staring into the past to avoid the bleak and familiar faces lining the other walls, and dreading the deals they're so desperately willing now to make.

One more compromise that won't get a six o'clock sound byte or a front page face time photo, but, if they're not too pushy, too desperate, might buy inclusion in the back row of a "looks on as" shot of an ugly bill being signed and, with a little luck, get their name spelled right.

They sit and nervously finger their business cards, glancing at them constantly. They've been in so many of these rooms so often and for so long that it's easy to forget exactly who they are today and what they're here for this time.

Gazing out the window at a Hare Krishna march on the street below, they wonder where to look for that kind of color, cohesiveness, leadership and dedication to principles. It just doesn't seem possible any more.

Then the mind-numbing, throat-parching moment, as the receptionist, with a knowing smile and the face of Katherine Harris, is calling across three decades: "Excuse me, sir. Just who is it you represent?"

Phil Greeney of Juneau can be reached at

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