By Betsy Rothstein - 11/18/08 06:43 PM EST
Some boys bond with their fathers over football.
Daniel Ballori, the communications director to Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuño (R-Puerto Rico), became closer to his over politics. His father, Eduardo, once a state director in Puerto Rico for then-Sen. Bob Dole’s (R-Kan.) presidential campaign, sneaked his son onto the floor at the 1996 Republican convention. Daniel was 13.
To this day, the memory still touches him deeply.
“While many people grow up watching football, Dad would sit us down to watch CNN, NBC and mostly Fox,” Daniel says. “I remember sitting in the living room during the [President Bill] Clinton indictment proceeding and him explaining how it all worked.”
With Fortuño’s gubernatorial win, Daniel will soon become his adviser; he’ll stay in his Washington office or move to Puerto Rico.
But over lunch at the St. Paul Grill this summer at the Republican National Convention in downtown St. Paul, Minn., father and son came together again to bond over politics and their shared joy of debating the day’s most controversial topics.
This time, however, they would do so together, as Puerto Rican delegates to the same convention. Before they were delegates supporting the same ticket, Daniel chaired a primary committee for Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), while his father chaired a committee for former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.).
Eduardo, 65, has a stalwart way about him, an attitude that indicates he has seen a thing or two in his lifetime. “I read someplace that politics is not the most important thing — it is the only thing,” he says. “Quite frankly, [for] those of us who have been privileged enough to live in a democracy that is better than the others, nothing is ideal.”
Daniel, 25, wiry, energetic and full of opinions, interjects, “That’s why we’re here, representing our constituents and neighbors to elect a man we think should be president.”
Eduardo admits, “It’s a special experience. Every good parent enjoys spending time with his child. The convention? It’s a rite of passage, a little romantic. A man is concerned with what he leaves behind. To do something you think is going to have a lasting value — that sense of permanence is a pleasant thought.”
Daniel nods. “Now I feel like I’m a part of [history] with my dad,” he says. “It’s a great feeling.”
Another great moment for Daniel was seeing his father out late, dancing in a nightclub for the first time at one of the convention parties.
“I’m not much of a going-outer,” Eduardo concedes, adding with a laugh that his dancing may not have been up to par. “Dancing, or whatever you think passes for dancing.”
After Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980, Eduardo met with him. “I was mesmerized by the man,” he says, noting that he had been asked to put together a group of Puerto Ricans who supported the Republican National Committee. He recruited 11 “Republican Eagles” and began getting invited to the White House.
“Everyone sold him short because he was an actor,” he says of Reagan. “I got to know him and admired him a lot. I thought he was much more than an actor.”
Though father and son are aligned in their political views, there are generational differences. For example, while Daniel likes the brashness of Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly, Eduardo, who owns his own advertising firm in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, prefers old-school journalism.
Daniel: “Bill O’Reilly? He likes to stir things up. He’s proud of his ideology. He’s willing to have a significant number of people not like him to stand up for what he believes. You’ve got to admire a man like that.”
Eduardo? Not so much.
“To be honest, all these talking heads have become a type of journalism that is more show than journalism,” he says. “I don’t like him [O’Reilly] or not like him. They’re all too intense for me.”
Newsman Walter Cronkite is more Eduardo’s style. “He was more civilized than we have now,” he says.
Daniel jumps in: “I like Winston Churchill, people who take strong stands.”
Eduardo says, “Don’t get me wrong. I like that too.”
The generational sparring resumes.
“In this society, there’s a lot of noise and sometimes you have to scream,” says Daniel.
Eduardo finishes his son’s sentence: “And sometimes that is unfortunate.”
Onto the subject of Alaska governor and vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
“This lady has such an appeal,” remarks Eduardo, who launches into a tirade about how he feels for Palin’s pregnant teenage daughter, Bristol, and doesn’t place blame with Palin. “My first reaction is one of compassion, not judgment,” he says.
Daniel agrees, but more vehemently, and perhaps with a hint of anger.
“I think she has been a good mother, but I don’t think she’s a perfect mother,” Daniel says. “My parents aren’t perfect parents. If you’re going to question her, are you going to question [Sen.] Hillary Clinton [D-N.Y.] for letting her husband cheat on her?”
A pall falls over the table where Daniel sits with his father, mother and fiancee as the comment settles and everyone picks at their meals. It’s clear the father and son are in basic agreement on Palin, but a line appears to have been drawn in the sand: Eduardo, older, wiser; and Daniel, younger, eager, more willing to spark at a moment’s notice.
Recapping how he feels about being in St. Paul with his dad, Daniel says, “Just a lot of joy.”