It's like when the kids leave home ... it's like when the dog dies or your favorite restaurant shuts down. The way you feel amid such desolate circumstances is the way you feel when two political figures you helped to raise announce retirement after productive and distinguished careers.
Helped to raise? Oh, all right. Helped to identify, celebrate and move forward in their godly vocations -- would that be OK?
It was the privilege of the present writer, years ago, to mark down as political comers two men no one then knew much about -- Prof. W. Philip Gramm of Texas A&M and Prof. Richard Armey of North Texas State. Whereupon the present writer set about to widen public notice and appreciation of the two. More to the point, when they ran for office, he worked hard for their endorsement by a newspaper with which he had some influence, The Dallas Morning News.
As we know, W. Philip Gramm became just good old Phil Gramm, senior senator from Texas, and Richard Armey became Dick Armey, majority leader of the U.S. House -- a pair of political aces if ever I saw one. At this point, to toss them face up on the table ... don't get me started!
Phil first sat down in my office in 1974. He had a free-market vision for dealing with an energy crisis he correctly understood as the byproduct of government stupidity. The way forward was deregulation. Durned if he didn't have it exactly right. The Dallas News editorial page, for which I then labored, was damning and blasting government regulators who failed to understand the necessity of profits for energy producers. Phil, I saw immediately, was flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. Moreover, he wanted to be in Congress. All right -- I'd see if we couldn't get him some attention.
I did. Not that he wasn't out there expertly tooting his own horn at civic clubs and the like. I have a letter from him, dated Oct. 8, 1974, in which he says: "I have done eight half-hour shows with Joann King on Channel two in Houston and I have received some excellent feedback from those appearances. In fact, twice while I have been in Houston, I have had people recognize me from having seen me on one of those eight shows."
I sometimes marveled at Phil's world-class immodesty. Nonetheless, you couldn't help liking a man who spoke his mind so plainly, and with such charm.
Phil's wonderful track record in Congress likely heightened my interest when, through the good offices of a Dallas businessman, I met another free market-minded economics prof with his sights on a House seat. Like Phil Gramm, Dick Armey was the genuine article: smart, capable, devoted to the right principles, namely, the principles that undergird freedom. This one, I must have said. This one.
Dick, when he interviewed with the editorial staff, nervously talked through his fingers. He was, nonetheless, clearly our guy -- a rootin', tootin' conservative and free marketeer. No liberals for us, if we could help it!
His complacent Democratic opponent, a sitting congressman, made out as though he had been traduced. The News hadn't even sought to interview him. Well, it had, too -- with a certified letter receipt to prove it. Even had the gentleman duly shown up at 508 Young St., I'd have argued for Dick Armey 'til the cows came home, because Dick Armey talked like a man who wanted not just to be somewhere but to do something. So -- as with Phil -- it came to pass.
These are men of my own generation, stepping aside voluntarily before the sun goes down. I wonder if their like will come again soon. When that time comes, if it does come, it will be up to someone else to do the heavy journalistic lifting in behalf of freedom's budding exponents. Been there, thank you, and done that. And it was a pleasure, Phil. An honor, Dick.