Because she loves it down by the water, Carmen Dedeaux sat here one afternoon in August 2005, marveling at how calm the Gulf of Mexico can be. She was comfortable. She often spent summer nights at the beach, sitting on the seawall. She knew that the calm wouldn’t last because the Gulf was preparing to fuel one of the hurricanes that work their way past Cuba, turn in the wrong direction, and suck tremendous amounts of energy from the warm surface waters. They thunder in the Gulf for days, growing bigger and bigger, then slam into the shoreline, sometimes just making a mess, sometimes wrecking everything in their way, and sometimes making a disaster.
“The most priceless thing we own as a nation is our soldiers, and to throw them away and allow them to be killed and maimed on purpose is a crime. . . . The country hasn’t even begun to measure what the cost will be.” —Colonel E. W. Chamberlain III, U.S. Army (Ret.)
It Would Not Take Long for the Iraq War to claim first its hundreds and then its thousands of soldier and Marine casualties. For a time newspapers, networks, and websites published the pictures of the dead soldiers, with stories about how and where they had been killed. But in many cases that eventually ended, either because publishers felt it was too negative or because it took up too much space and time. Of course the war was a central issue from the beginning of the presidential campaign. “Win the war or cut and run.” It was that simply expressed in the vernacular of politics, which boils even the most complex issues into sound bites and Power Point presentations. The complications of either choice were too difficult for campaign trail specifics. Maybe we had forgotten what a war actually costs.
Giving people are hard to find. Some people just send money. Some people send their concerns or their wishes for the best. Some people send their prayers. Birch Burghardt does all of that, but she also sends herself, making her unusual in the firmament of givers. Whether it is supporting after-school programs for disadvantaged children or tackling the biggest of all challenges, teaching in Chicago public schools, somehow she has been there. And if, for the moment, she is not there, she is thinking about being there, about how people can elevate themselves. There are people like this all over the North Shore of Chicago, folks who could sit comfortably back, send a check now and then, and feel just fine about it. But they don’t. The place buzzes with do-gooders, many of whom actually do good instead of just talking about it.
Few citizens are more familiar with what happens when people slip off the legal track and into criminal behavior than E. Michael McCann. Until his retirement a few years ago, McCann, now seventy two, had been the nation’s longest-serving prosecutor as the district attorney of Milwaukee County. He still looks like a prosecutor, with the demeanor of someone you wouldn’t want to cross. He had a reputation for being rumpled at the courthouse, and you get a sense that at least part of this image was cultivated because he didn’t want anyone to think he was putting on airs. He lives in Milwaukee, a couple of blocks from the Brewer’s ballpark, in a house where he and his wife, Barbara, a former newspaper reporter, raised their two children. He decided to live modestly years earlier when he realized that a county prosecutor might need to be able to walk away from a job for a variety of reasons.
Sharing coffee in Maria Smithson’s kitchen in Charlotte, North Carolina, the thought settles as she talks about politics that you would not want to run against her. She is political to her core, a lifelong, determined Democrat. Yet she’s so devoted to raising her daughters, Molly Adele, Chloe Anne, and Nora Grace, that she has passed up chances to run for office. She and her husband of sixteen years, have constructed one of those rare partnerships around a home life centered on children. They work hard at it, and it shows when they gather to watch TV together, study, or feed roasted rosemary-lemon chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans followed by ice cream to a guest. But politics is never far beneath the surface.
Sandy Strauss measures success in small advances because of the nature of her work. As a minister her calling is to lobby the state legislature on behalf of the Pennsylvania Council of Churches. This collection of some twenty denominations is not a muscle-heavy group in a state where the legislature is eager to respond in so many ways to clout, either in the form of simple raw strength applied by the special interests that populate commerce, or in terms of money, which is tossed around with abandon in connection with elections, legislative campaigns, issues, events—whatever presents the opportunity.
Geraghty is a successful man in a tough business, putting together commercial leasing packages in downtown Chicago, its suburbs, and around the country. A faithful follower of everything political, he is an occasional guest on Chicago radio and television programs, eloquently defending his positions. He shouts well too, an asset in modern media. When I set out to write this book, I knew my tendency might be to gravitate toward the emerging liberal majority in looking at this election—it’s easy to reach, eager to talk, and fi lled with anger about the Bush years. I believed Geraghty would help me balance it with his insight. I was not wrong.