A former colleague of mine from Fort Wayne, Leo Morris, died Friday. He was an editorial writer, later the ed-page editor of the News-Sentinel, where I was a columnist; we had another friend in common, so he was one of the first people I got to know when I moved to Indiana, and things went on from there.
We were strictly work friends. We didn’t go to lunch, or out for drinks, but every day I’d mosey down to his glassed-in office and we’d have a chat/download, sometimes when he was eating a disgusting “breakfast” from the downstairs vending machines, or putting peanuts into an RC Cola, a snack he’d grown fond of in his Kentucky childhood. I was fond of the solitaire game on his PC, and I’d play it, or leaf through the many political publications the department subscribed to, while he read page proofs. The editorial page was overstaffed and overpaid when I started, with an editor, two writers and a secretary, a holdover from those days when newspapers enjoyed enormous profit margins. The N-S wasn’t as overstaffed as The Columbus Dispatch, but there was always time for solitaire and talking through column and editorial ideas. Also, Leo kept a candy dish in his office, and I like candy, especially those sour cherry balls and Hershey’s Miniatures.
We shared a foundational belief: That we didn’t know what we really thought about anything until we’d written about it. He liked bluegrass music more than I did, but we both loved Warren Zevon. He was a nice guy, even a sweetheart.
Politically, he was conservative, although he called himself a libertarian. In time, I would come to understand libertarians and their philosophy as…well, you know. We’ve all known a few, and it suited Leo, who’d grown up a bookish boy who liked to hold things at arm’s length, and then write about them. It ensures you’ll never have to be disappointed in your side, because your side is ridiculous and never wins elections. I used to tease him that “Being a libertarian means never having to say ‘so help me God,'” i.e. take an oath of office. Only two issues aroused real passion in him: SCOTUS’ Kelo decision, which he seemed to consider equivalent to genocide as a moral crime, and the fact Jane Fonda wasn’t doing a life sentence for treason, treason I say. (He was a Vietnam vet. He never, ever, ever forgave her.)
I was long gone from the paper by the time Trump was elected, and the last time I’d talked to Leo was after the Goeglein affair, but if I’d have been there, I’d have teased him that he was cheated out of a Washington Post contributor’s spot. As you recall, the WP’s embarrassing Gary Abernathy, the bard of Hillsboro, Ohio, was picked to be the paper’s ed-page Reasonable MAGA voice, the Buckeye Salena Zito, after the paper he edited was one of two or three in the country to endorse Trump for president. But the N-S endorsed him, too, and Leo wrote the editorial. I know he did because he was the only one left in the department, and I recognized his arm’s-length style in the argument: They – as in, the editorial We, intoning as one – didn’t like Trump very much, but they hated Hillary and Trump would probably get bored and resign or leave office early, and then Mike Pence would be president, and they liked him very much. Maybe that was too weird for the WashPost, but whatever.
I don’t know when I soured on even being work friends with Leo; maybe it was after my year in Ann Arbor, when I was toiling on the copy desk. In my absence, Leo had started a blog on the paper’s website, which was unmistakably modeled on Glenn Reynolds’, whom you people who remember the ol’ blogosphere know as Instapundit. Fresh from nine months of vigorous intellectual discussions with smart people, I’d lost my patience with Iraq-war boosterism, and ironic conservative detachment. But the paper was circling the drain at that point, so if his heart really wasn’t in it anymore, neither was anyone else’s.
Then we moved to Michigan, the paper folded and Leo started writing for the Indiana Policy Review, a “think tank” that does no thinking, but is instead a welfare program funded by a couple of rich right-wing Hoosier families for the benefit of one man, Leo’s old boss at the N-S, Craig Ladwig. It was part of a Heritage Foundation seed-the-hinterlands project when it launched around 1990, and never did much, although Mike Pence was on the board of directors, and it was there that he wrote the pieces that gained him a fair amount of ridicule in the 2016 election, especially the one where he claimed smoking doesn’t kill. Jane Mayer found the receipts for The New Yorker:
In a 2008 speech, Pence described himself as “part of what we called the seed corn Heritage Foundation was spreading around the country in the state think-tank movement.” It isn’t fully clear whose money was behind the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, because think tanks, as nonprofits, don’t have to disclose their donors. But the early funders of the Heritage Foundation included some Fortune 500 companies, in fields such as oil, chemicals, and tobacco, that opposed health, safety, and environmental regulations.
Cecil Bohanon, one of two adjunct scholars at Pence’s think tank, had a history of financial ties to tobacco-company front groups, and in 2000 Pence echoed industry talking points in an essay that argued, “Smoking doesn’t kill. In fact, two out of every three smokers doesn’t die from a smoking-related illness.” A greater “scourge” than cigarettes, he argued, was “big government disguised as do-gooder, healthcare rhetoric.” Bohanon, who still writes for the think tank’s publication, also has ties to the Kochs. Last year, John Hardin, the head of university relations for the Charles Koch Foundation, told an Indiana newspaper that the Kochs had been funding Bohanon’s work as a professor of free-market economics at Ball State University “for years.”
Guess what killed Leo, a lifelong smoker? I guess he was the unlucky one out of three.
Leo’s weekly column, offered free to Hoosier newspapers, was picked up by the smaller ones, so he still had a readership. I would hit the IPR site for a little self-induced exasperation, but I always figured that if somehow we were still under the same office roof, we could shoot the shit and share some Hershey’s Miniatures, but then I read this and thought, sadly, that nope, that could never happen:
President Trump did not, in point of fact, ask Vice President Mike Pence to reject the electoral votes resulting from the November balloting, therefore Banks and the other Trump-supporting nominee (Jim Jordan of Ohio) were not supporting efforts to “overturn the election.”
The Constitution gives states the authority over the selection of electoral votes, based on state legislatures’ duly authorized procedures. In several states, notably ones Trump lost by dubious margins or under suspicious circumstances, governors or election officials ignored those procedures and made up new rules on the fly.
Legislators from some of the states asked – formally, in letters – for more time so they could determine whether the illegal conduct was enough reason to toss the existing certification of electors and submit new slates more accurately reflecting the states’ votes.
There is not a consensus among constitutional scholars over what powers the vice president might or might not have over electoral disputes, so we can have a legitimate and (we can only hope) respectful debate over the issue. But to be clear: He was being asked to give those legislatures more time. He wasn’t being asked to overturn anything.
JFC, even Mike Pence didn’t believe that. And note that leap from “suspicious circumstances” to “illegal conduct,” and how close margins in swing states are now “dubious.”
So there you go: Another relationship sundered by MAGA.
When I heard earlier this week that Leo was ill, I sent him a note wishing him well. I wasn’t aware how sick he was, and I’m sure he didn’t get to read it. But I meant every word. We all have to die sometime, but gasping for breath is a terrible way to go. This Indiana Policy Review’s appreciation of him is OK, but in the unmistakable voice of Craig, who drops eye-popping lines like “It can be said that Morris was the last real journalist left in Indiana” and uh, whu-?
Oh well. They won’t be around much longer, either. None of us will, in the earth’s time. Which reminds me that Leo was a climate-change denier, too, and I just smile sadly. You tell your young friends, though, that working at home has its advantages, but you’ll never have the unique relationships of work friends, who are some of the most memorable people I’ve known in my life, and I treasure them. Even the ones who are wrong.