Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Book Reviews: From political histories to bad comics, to bad comics of political histories. And the occasional rant about fiction and writing.

Mimsy Review: For the Love of Mike: More of the Best of Mike Royko

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, September 22, 2015

Mike Royko remains funny as hell, and I laughed a lot while reading this collection. But the problem with a collection like this is that it juxtaposes articles that the author must have hoped would never be juxtaposed. Consistency was never one of Royko’s qualities.

For example, in 1968, when an anti-Israel nutcase named Sirhan Sirhan killed Bobby Kennedy, Royko blamed it on violent movies. In 1981, when Nancy Reagan blamed Hinckley’s assassination attempt on violent movies, Royko blamed it on Reagan.

Not all of his contradictions are reprinted. For example, when Bush chose Dan Quayle there’s an article on the horrors of a vice presidential candidate who was a draft dodger, in which he shoots down the idea that the zeitgeist of the sixties was for draft dodging; but they don’t reprint his later article absolving Clinton of draft dodging because, after all, the zeitgeist of the time was for draft dodging. It makes Clinton a sixties guy, and is a “badge of honor”, not a minus.

But get past that, and he’s still a brilliant writer for his time, joking about high rises, race relations, and especially Chicago politics.

Reading this now, while Donald Trump is high in the polls, it becomes a little easier to understand why Trump is high in the polls. A lot of people like Daley-style politicians who speak unfiltered and openly graft. I can easily see Trump saying something like “The policeman isn’t there to create disorder. The policeman is there to preserve disorder.”

And despite complaining about Daley a lot, Royko liked that style, too. He complained about the son—and then when the same came around to run for mayor, he supported him.

In fact, one failing Royko might have had is that he was so steeped in Chicago-style politics he had no idea that winning isn’t the only thing in politics.

In November of 1995, in preparation for the 1996 presidential election, he wrote an article about how Republicans had voiced so many worries about Colin Powell’s disagreements with Republican principles that Powell decided not to run for President against Clinton. Powell, Royko correctly writes, was a sure thing that year, there was pretty much no way he could have lost. However, while I don’t actually know much about him, simply because he didn’t run and get scrutinized, the way Royko describes Powell, the guy was practically Bill Clinton without the draft-dodging. Name a conservative position and, according to Royko Powell was on the Democrat’s side, from abortion to quotas to gun control1.

Now, the fact that Powell would have2 advanced the left’s positions rather than the right’s didn’t even rate a mention. Powell would have won; therefore, Republicans were stupid for not running him.

So, perhaps, Royko would be in favor of Donald Trump, too, but I suspect he’d find some reason to be against Trump, and then blame that on Republicans, too.

Reading the older articles, it highlights how important it was to the media to have an information monopoly. In his March 4, 1976 article he rails against “racists like George Wallace” and then “Wallaceite or a Reaganite” who “it didn’t bother them that American citizens could be barred” from public places.

He writes as if Reagan and Wallace were the same people from the same party. But Wallace was a racist Democrat who remained a Democrat and fought for racism. Reagan was a Democrat who became a Republican and fought against racism. Far from not being bothered by racism, he worked both personally and on the campaign trail with and for blacks. In 1976, Reagan was probably less racist than Jimmy Carter, who still appealed for segregated neighborhoods. None of that, of course, shows up in the article, and there was no Internet in 1976 to quickly check on newspaper factoids or browse through past news reports.

But this book is not all politics. While it’s not as good as the earlier book about reprinting purely local stories involving the little guy against the big guy, there are a few, such as the woman who was charged with child abandonment—because the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services assumed that the person who did abandon it was telling the truth about her name, and just went through as many phone books as they could find until they got a match.

Or the business owner in the Southwest Side’s Hispanic community, who came under fire from the EEOC because, even though his employees were all Hispanic and Black, was fined over a hundred thousand dollars because he didn’t hire a particular black woman.

And then there’s his anthropological experiment as High-Rise Man, and his campaign against Indiana, then later Iowa. His recommendation that everyone deduct the cost of their used underwear on their taxes, after the Clintons did it3, to his love/hate relationship with the Cubs, when he is on his game he is really on his game.

If you don’t have The Best of Mike Royko: One More Time, get that one first. This book basically collects the leftovers that didn’t make the cut for the first book. But if you’re a Royko fan, you aren’t going to want to turn this one down either.

In response to The Best of Mike Royko: One More Time: If you’re looking for a grand overview of Mike Royko’s essays, this is a great place to start. It includes his very first essay from September 6, 1963, and provides some of his best works from the sixties, seventies, eighties, and nineties, ending with his very last column from March 21, 1997, which was, fittingly, about both the Cubs and Sam Sianis of the Billy Goat Tavern.

  1. Royko was also stuck on Chicago when it came to gun control, saying in this article that the “majority of Americans” supported it, and yet, reading this with the benefit of hindsight, over the next twenty years the voters consistently voted for candidates that rolled gun control back in favor of effective self-defense laws—and consistently voted against candidates who opposed self-defense, which didn’t even require hindsight on Royko’s part: it had happened in a big way a year earlier in 1994, to the House.

  2. I’m just repeating Royko’s description here, not agreeing with it. Like I said, I don’t know. The point is that Royko believes it.

  3. Not during a presidential election, of course—but in 1994 when a newspaper could still hope that their obligatory anti-Democrat piece would be forgotten after a couple of years, only to be remembered when they needed to show that they were bipartisan.

For the Love of Mike: More of the Best of Mike Royko