Sunday, March 20, 2011

Mike Royko, Patron Saint of Columnists

Mike Royko: A straight talking columnist

The only way the late Chicago Tribune writer Mike Royko could ever be considered a saint is that he is the Patron Saint of columnists.

Mike Royko columns were syndicated in more than 600 newspapers across the country. He was a man of the common people and had a keen sense of justice. He was gritty, real and considered a plague on conniving or shady politicians or disreputable bureaucrats. His words were not always liked, but were always respected by most readers.

The conversation, if we can call it that, of today’s America, appears to be scrapping the bottom of the barrel of communication. Instead of self-restraining exchanges in politics, religion and social gatherings, there seems to be a spirit of one-up-man-ship. Calling each other names. Splitting hairs over inconsequential matters. Seeing the worst in anyone’s words or views (not our own), now rules the day.

In 1968, when the war in Vietnam was heating up, in the paddy fields there and the main streets here, the rhetoric could not be heard for its volume. Lots of heat but little light. Add to that the emerging civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson wanted out. His announcement said it all: “I shall not seek, and I will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your president.”

Mike Royko wrote a column that year which is as up-to-date as if it were written this morning. Here is an excerpt of that column from Richard Ciccone’s book “Royko.” Ciccone is a veteran Chicago newsman. Three paragraphs of a Royko column still timely after 43 years is re-printed in Ciccone’s book:

“Unrestrained hate has become the dominant emotion in this splintered country. Races hate, age groups hate, political extremists hate. And when they aren’t hating each other, they have been turning it on LBJ. He more than anyone else has felt it . . .

“Maybe he wasn’t the best President we might have had.

“But we sure as hell aren’t the best people a President has ever had.”

Royko found universal truths in the lives of the people of his Chicago. He took up their causes with a spicy, sarcastic, sardonic but always with his own wit and humor. For those who missed out on his five columns a week for more than 30 years, many are reprinted in book form, such as “Early Royko: Up Against it in Chicago,” “For the Love of Mike: More of The Best of Mike Royko” and “One More Time: The Best of Royko.”

“His columns could make a person laugh or cry, sympathize or agonize, but they were always a joy to read” – Polish American Journal.

Some of Royko’s quotes that will live forever:

“Hating the Yankees is as American as pizza pie, unwed mothers, and cheating on your income tax.”

“I never went to a John Wayne movie to find a philosophy to live by or to absorb a profound message. I went for the simple pleasure of spending a couple of hours seeing the bad guys lose.”

“It's been my policy to view the Internet not as an 'information highway,' but as an electronic asylum filled with babbling loonies.”

And now, 14 years after his death the ‘electronic asylum’ is filled with his babbling --- only of a much better quality – the quality of a saint who knew his way around.

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