Disgracing Ronald Reagan’s Legacy in his Native Illinois

By DOUG IBENDAHL • November 10, 2005


President Ronald Reagan created a “commandment” for Republicans. It states that no Republican shall speak ill of any other Republican. Reagan created the 11th Commandment to promote unity and to minimize dissension within Republican ranks.


But what about Republicans who stray from ethical behavior or the law? What about “Republicans” who don’t act like Republicans? Did the Gipper really mean that a Republican can never be taken to task in the name of positive change and reform?


Don’t forget, Reagan challenged a sitting Republican President, Gerald Ford, in the 1976 Primary. Presumably he launched that campaign because he thought the GOP could do better, and surely he had to make that case. Can one make a primary challenge against an incumbent without ever mentioning why that incumbent needs to go? Of course not, and that’s exactly what Reagan did. He nearly got the Party’s nomination in 1976, but the Reagan
Revolution would have to wait four more years.


The Gipper would be appalled at the way his teachings have been perverted and co-opted in his native Illinois – by a few who have rarely followed Reagan on any other issue. Let’s get one thing clear. Reagan intended for his 11th Commandment to apply to unfair personal attacks – like when the clear choice of Republican voters is undermined by a smear campaign from a few jealous old Republicans over unsubstantiated allegations made during a contested divorce.


Reagan certainly never said that Republicans should turn a blind-eye to behaviors from within their ranks that are destructive to the Republican Party and its prospects for advancement. Reagan was a reformer, and he understood that one certainly can’t seek change unless you can explain the problems and set-forth solutions. Perhaps if certain Illinois Republicans would more often adhere to the original Ten Commandments, they wouldn’t always be trying to hide behind the new one.


Topinka and her remaining Old Guard pals disgrace President Reagan’s legacy when they run behind the Gipper’s mantle to hide truly bad behavior that has destroyed our once proud Illinois GOP. Their pathetic attempts have little relationship to Reagan’s 11th Commandment, and more resemble the Chicago Outfit’s Code of Silence – as in, “if you know what’s good for you, you’ll shut-up about our shady friends.”


When they are asked to comment on true ethical lapses within their ranks, they act like cockroaches that scurry all over the floor when the lights are turned on. Their visceral reaction to light causes these cockroach-Republicans to frantically rush in every direction, looking for a safe nook or cranny. But anyone outside of their little family of influence peddlers is fair game for attack.


While Topinka’s views diverge from Reagan’s on almost every level of policy – she’s all-onboard when it comes to the 11th Commandment. Here she was last year preaching to others on the topic: “Ambassador Keyes should follow the (11th) Commandment that Ronald Reagan put forward, which is ‘Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican. I would suggest he do that, follow that dictum, because I always do.”


Oh really? So Topinka personally abides by the 11th Commandment? Well, actually it appears that Topinka’s completely shattered Commandment #9 here – that pesky one about bearing false witness against one’s neighbor. Topinka’s simply not being honest with any of us when she claims she doesn’t speak ill of other Republicans. In fact it would be hard to name a more vicious attacker.


For example, here’s what she had to say about Jack Ryan last year: “No, I don’t think there is any way that a party that runs on family values could have had Jack Ryan and his experiences and even-and I know what happens in custody battles-but even if his wife said half of what she said under Oath-there was just no way you could sell him as a candidate, no way, I mean he [Jack Ryan] did not pass what I would call the “Ick,” factor, and that was very important.”


Topinka on the conservative base of our Party: “I swear these people have a death wish. They would rather be right, they would rather keep their own opinions and their way of doing things solidified and never to compromise.”


On retiring Senator Peter Fitzgerald last year, Topinka’s paid spokesperson said: “We wish Peter Fitzgerald well as he begins a new life in Virginia. We’re thinking of sending the Virginia Republican party a bottle of aspirin. He’s their problem now.” Topinka was asked to condemn the comment of her spokesman, but refused to do so.


Topinka as quoted by the Chicago Tribune last year, commenting on the tenure of Gary MacDougal, her conservative predecessor as State GOP Party Chairman: “Judy Baar Topinka likes to tell the story about how she found only $9,000 in the bank and two staffers working in the headquarters when she took over as its chairwoman in 2002.” This has been proven to be more false witness on Topinka’s part, and in fact it was Topinka who left the State Party in the red when she stepped down as Chairman after another disastrous election for Illinois Republicans.


More bashing by Topinka of the conservative base: “But it [Illinois Republican Party] cannot be turned over to a handful of people who, just because they’re noisy, get attention that hides their individual agendas.”


And this: “We have our zealots on each end that I think are a lot noisier than their numbers.”


Regarding Topinka’s departure as State Party Chairman, one paper quoted her this way – again blasting the Party faithful: “Topinka said Friday that the new chairman will have a strong base to build on and criticized party members focused on single, social issues that are not representative of the whole GOP.”


And finally, Topinka on Alan Keyes: “He has his own agenda. He doesn’t necessarily work within the confines of the Illinois Republican Party.”


But sometimes the character of a person can be even better judged by what a person doesn’t say. When a member of the State Central Committee, a well known conservative critic of Topinka’s policies, tragically passed away – this was a line typical in the reporting by several papers: “Topinka declined to comment on Meyer’s passing when asked.”


Maybe what Illinois Republicans really need is a 12th Commandment, just for Topinka and her cronies: “thou shalt practice what thou preaches.”


Doug Ibendahl is a Chicago Attorney and a former General Counsel of the Illinois Republican Party.


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