Mike Royko, Art Buchwald, and the old Mayor Daley Walk into Ben Franklin’s Bar to talk about Chris Christie
Scene: an old-school neighborhood tavern, with MIKE ROYKO and ART BUCHWALD sitting on their stools nursing a couple of beers and BEN FRANKLIN washing glassware behind the bar. A neon sign in the window proclaims the name of this heavenly establishment — “Poor Richard’s Pub — and a smaller handwritten sign is taped up beneath it reading “No Editers Allowed.”
BUCHWALD: I tell you, Mike, it’s weeks like this that make me wish I was still writing my column for the Washington Post.
ROYKO: Naw. Not me.
BUCHWALD: C’mon. You don’t look at Chris Christie and get the urge? You and me, we covered two of the biggest corrupt politicians of the 20th century, and what we could have done with this would have been epic.
ROYKO: You can’t have an epic with a main character who is a minor league buffoon. Christie’s nowhere close to Nixon and Daley’s league. He’s a lightweight at this.
BUCHWALD: Having his aides use the Port Authority — excuse me: “allegedly” [makes scare quotes with his fingers] use the Port Authority. . .
[Both laugh and take a drink]
BUCHWALD: . . . to screw up traffic for four days, all to make life miserable for his political enemies, is “minor league”?
ROYKO: Absolutely. You of all people ought to realize that. Look at his tactics. Nixon didn’t send the FBI to break into the Democratic National Committee Headquarters. He sent a bunch of freelancers, so he could express outrage if they were caught. By using the Port Authority, Christie insured that there would be memos and emails and phone logs that would lead folks like you and me right back to his office.
BUCHWALD: I see what you mean. And the bigger the traffic mess, the more likely an investigation would be.
ROYKO: Right. But on the other hand, there is a certain Nixonian element to it. I’m surprised Christie didn’t work your old columns into his press conference denials. Instead of the Captain Renault “I’m shocked — shocked I tell you!” nonsense that he tried, Christie would have been better off with the approach you laid out in your Watergate columns.
[BUCHWALD spits his beer across the bar]
BUCHWALD: My columns?
ROYKO [grinning widely]: Yours. [Takes a long pull on his beer to finish the glass.] You had that running joke about a screenwriter trying to sell a script to a Hollywood mogul about a President up for re-election with a huge lead in the polls sending a bunch of Cubans, trained and led by a crazy ex-CIA nutjob and a alum of J.Edgar Hoover’s finishing school for goons with badges, to break into the national offices of his opponent’s party. The more the screenwriter tries to pitch the script, the more the mogul shakes his head. “Too outlandish. Too ridiculous. There’s no way anyone would buy the basic premise of a plot like this.” That’s what Christie should have said.
[FRANKLIN brings two new beers for BUCHWALD and ROYKO]
BUCHWALD: Yeah, that would have been hilarious. It wouldn’t have worked, of course, but it would have been hilarious to watch.
[The door opens, and RICHARD J. DALEY enters. He takes the stool next to BUCHWALD, sticks his tongue out at ROYKO, and accepts the beer that FRANKLIN puts in front of him without a word being spoken.]
BUCHWALD: It’s Da Mayor! We were just talking about you!
DALEY: I heard. And as much as it galls me to say it . . . Royko’s right.
[BUCHWALD’s jaw drops and ROYKO falls off his bar stool. The phone behind the bar rings, and FRANKLIN answers it]
FRANKLIN: Hello? Oh, hi, Satan . . . It’s frozen, you say?
DALEY: Yeah, I said it. For once in his after-life, and as much as it kills me to say it, Royko is right. Christie might be on par with that guy from Minnesota, but he wouldn’t have lasted a week as an alderman in Chicago, let alone mayor.
BUCHWALD: Well how would you have handled things?
[DALEY pauses, and ROYKO jumps in]
ROYKO: Let’s start with what he wouldn’t do. He wouldn’t screw over the whole region. Lots of Christie supporters also got screwed over waiting the cross the bridge. Instead, Daley would have been more . . . not subtle, but . . .
[DALEY spits his beer across the bar]
DALEY: No, I am definitely not subtle.
ROYKO: Da Mayor would have been more targeted, more focused. Money for whatever his opponent wants would suddenly disappear. Appointments to local boards would suddenly not be made. State projects in that guy’s district would be put on the back burner. No ribbon cuttings. No one in the state house would return his phone calls. He wants something, and you make sure the request is either denied or goes to the bottom of a very large pile of folders. “You want a parade in your town? Sorry, but no one from the state can make it that day, and you can’t close the state highway for the parade anyway.” Then he would have a word with the friends of his target, and make it clear . . . wink, wink, nudge, nudge . . . that they should distance themselves from this guy, lest they begin to receive the same treatment. And most importantly, he’d make sure that everyone would know about it. You don’t throw subordinates under the bus — you drive the bus right over your opponent. Not over the ordinary folks, but over the guy who got in your way.
DALEY: Right. Keep the people happy, with the trash picked up and the snow plowed away, and they won’t care about one politician sticking it to another. Hell, they’d buy tickets to the show.
ROYKO: Christie has been so focused on moving to DC in 2017 that he’s making dumb mistakes and stupid bush-league moves in New Jersey. [ROYKO gestures to a plaque on the wall behind the bar] He’s proving old Ben right, every damn day.
[All eyes follow ROYKO’s gesture, and the camera zooms in on the plaque]
Ambition often spends foolishly what avarice had wickedly collected.
— Poor Richard
FRANKLIN [raising his glass]: To ambitious politicians, who keep folks like us in business!
[ROYKO, BUCHWALD, and DALEY raise their glasses, ding them together, and drain the contents.]
ROYKO (to DALEY): I want that “Royko was right” in writing, so Ben can put it up on the wall.
h/t to radiobread for the photo of the glassware used in Poor Richard’s Pub, and used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. This kind of theological wisdom is why Franklin was given the honor of tending bar in heaven. More of old Ben’s wisdom can be found here.