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Mark Shields is a nationally known columnist and commentator.

Timeless wisdom of Mr. Dooley


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WASHINGTON (Creators Syndicate) -- Finley Peter Dunne, the Irish-American satirist, created at the turn of the last century "Mr. Dooley," who was a bachelor, a saloon-keeper and an eagle-eyed observer of politics and the human condition.

Dooley's squelch for the outbreak of American imperialism in the wake of the Spanish-American War: "Hands across th' sea an' into someone's pocket."

Possessed of a robust skepticism, Mr. Dooley informed his fellow Chicagoans that "a vote on the tally sheet is worth two in the ballot box."

Thanks go to religious broadcaster Pat Robertson for reminding us, in this presidential year, of the timeless political wisdom of Mr. Dooley. It was Pat Robertson who recently confided to his "700 Club" television audience that he had it on very High Authority that President Bush "is going to win in a walk" in November: "I'm hearing from the Lord that it's going to be like a blow-out election."

It's hard to believe that Mr. Dooley did not have the Reverend-emeritus Robertson in mind when he asked a century ago, "Is there in all the history of human folly a greater fool than a clergymen in politics?"

Democrats and Republicans in 2004 who seem to whine endlessly about imagined or anticipated below-the-belt shots from their opponents or unfair treatment from the ink-stained wretches of the press would do well to remember Mr. Dooley's maxim, "Politics ain't beanbag."

Obviously, generations of reporters have heeded Dooley's throwaway line: "Don't jump on a man unless he's down." How often have we heard (or spoken) Dooley's adage to "trust everybody, but cut the cards"?

Mr. Dooley's skepticism never slipped into cynicism. The underdog was always his cause, and he was always the underdog's champion.

"One of the strangest things about life is that the poor who need the money the most are the ones who never have it," said Dooley, who added, "It's as hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven as it is for a poor man to get out of purgatory."

Finley Peter Dunne, through Mr. Dooley, admonished us to "comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable."

Sanctimonious politicians were inviting his scorn. The pietistic pomposity of President William McKinley earned this review: "Th' proceeding was opened with a prayer that Providence might remain under th' protection of the administration." In this campaign year, that line echoes both timely and pertinent.

Was Dooley able to foretell the appearance of a dark-horse Democrat from Ohio when he wrote, "Most vegetarians look so much like the food they eat they can be classified as cannibals"?

Dooley was never comfortable in the company of self-righteous reformers who often seemed more alarmed and upset by the awarding of a patronage job for an unqualified immigrant than the corporate graft of the "bigger thieves that stole in th' light of day, that paraded their stovepipe hats an' gold watches an' chains in Michigan Avnoo."

But he did support the reform candidates running against Councilman Johnny Powers. Generations of reformers ever since would have been wise (and much more politically successful) to heed the shrewd counsel of Mr. Dooley in that campaign:

"If he is to be defeated, it must be by the use of weapons similar to his own. The candidate who beats him must be:

"A friend of the poor.

"One whom the people can trust to make reform a perceptible benefit.

"One who won't make reform an affliction and a restraint on personal freedom.

"A candidate who can conform to those specifications may beat Powers. For any one who can't, to try to beat him will be a waste of effort."

The shameless, big-time CEO thieves who have lately looted companies and robbed thousands of families of their savings, their futures and their peace of mind recall the admonition of Mr. Dooley to a city councilman with a touch of larceny in his soul: "John, never steal a doormat. If ye do, you'll be investigated, hanged an', maybe, reformed. Steal a bank, me boy, steal a bank."

In 2004, a full hundred years later, Mr. Dooley remains timeless and timely.


Click here for more from Creators Syndicate.

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