Bonnie Bell, Clare Crawford, and Barbara Kleban
September 11, 1978 12:00 PM

Move over, Mom! Make room, Apple Pie! Here come the Crane boys, three God-and-country patriots who threaten to turn the House of Representatives into a family reunion. All three have doctorates from Indiana University: Phil, 47, got his in American history; Dan, 42, is a dentist; and David, the youngest at 41, decided after becoming a physician and psychiatrist to go through law school. More unusual still, all three have given up their professions, at least temporarily, for the hurly-burly of national politics. Dan and David are running for Congress—from downstate Illinois and Indianapolis respectively—and Phil, already a four-term representative, last month became the first Republican to announce as a candidate for the Presidency. Once the Cranes shrank from being touted as a possible “new Kennedy dynasty”; now they find the notion vaguely beguiling. “I guess the only difference,” says David, “is that we come from a basic working-people background.”

Well, not the only difference. The Crane brothers are fourth-generation Grand Old Party-liners whose political territory is to the right of Reagan’s. Phil, who is chairman of the American Conservative Union, was named by critics both “the meanest” and most frugal member of Congress this year for his votes against education, welfare and consumer bills. His brothers are just as uncompromising. Still, they avoid wild-eyed rhetoric in favor of homespun conservative themes: less government, more free enterprise. “I’ve always felt my life was something for God’s use,” says Phil, and his brothers echo him. “For 20 years I’ve had the feeling I have something very important to do, a moral obligation to fight for what I believe in.”

What crucible forged these iron convictions? The sons point to their father, Dr. George Washington Crane, 77, a curmudgeonly trumpet of the right all his life. A psychiatrist and a devout Methodist, Dr. Crane wrote a widely used college text on applied psychology and founded an early computer mate-matching service. (“In 22 years we’ve had 10,000 happy marriages,” he says, “and a divorce rate of only half a percent.”) He is perhaps best known for his advice column, syndicated in 300 newspapers, called “The Worry Clinic.” In it he dispenses his accumulated wisdom in blunt language: Welfare recipients are unregenerate idlers; wives are “frigid” by nature; television is distracting its viewers to the point of slowing the birth rate. As for the column’s impact on the political fortunes of his sons, David observes gamely: “It’s something we have to live with.”

Anyway, it wasn’t so much ideas their father imparted to them, say the Crane boys, as values and fortitude. They grew up in a working-class neighborhood near the steel mills of Chicago’s South Side. “We never had much except for a wonderful family,” says Phil. “We were made to work for everything.” Even when they could afford more, the family bought only used cars, the kids got no allowances and their clothes were hand-me-downs. “My teachers,” cracks David, the “baby,” “used to know what I’d be wearing 10 years before I did.” During post-Depression summers in Hillsboro, Ind., where Dr. George bought the farm where he now lives year-round, they all sweated in the fields cutting nickelweed. By then—and later, when Father made them all work their way through college while he subsidized Burmese and Nigerian medical students—thrift was a matter of principle. “I tried to teach them not to worship money,” says the patriarch, “and that life isn’t a free pass.”

He also taught them his passion for politics. Phil remembers handing out Alf Landon sunflower buttons as a 6-year-old, and a blackboard always sat in the dining room so George could diagram his arguments. “He tolerated challenges and differences of opinion,” David remembers, “but I’d have to call him a benevolent dictator—he had the final say.” All his boys recall the sound of Dr. Crane unbuckling the paternal belt when he had had enough of their unruliness. “Dan and I never got it,” says David, “but Phil did and he told us about it. Whenever we heard that belt click, there was silence.”

The three brothers retain warm family feelings, and all have big broods of their own. Phil and his wife, Arlene, are the parents of eight children (seven daughters and a son), Dan and Judy have five, and David and his wife, Joan, have four. Lately politics has laid ruin to their home lives. None of the brothers claims to be a natural politician; David admits to early queasiness about walking up to strangers and shaking their hands; Dan says, “I’d sooner be home with my kids,” and Phil professes continual amazement that he is running for President. He has learned to nap easily to the whine of jet engines, while his life in McLean, Va. is reduced to “sleeping, eating and trying to discipline the kids.” “I don’t complain anymore,” says Arlene, but her tolerance is dutiful. The other brothers and their wives are in similar straits. “I’m happy for the country that the boys are in politics,” says their father wistfully, “but getting together as a family is gone.”

Why do they do it? Their sister, Judy Crane Ross, 44, a housewife and mother of four in Chicago, says it’s partly because of the brother who isn’t there. The oldest of the Crane children, George Jr., was 26 when his Marine jet crashed on an exhibition flight in 1956. “We never worshiped movie or sports stars,” Judy says. “Our only hero was George. He was like John Wayne—once he was there everything was fine. Especially for Phil. They were closest in age. When George died, Phil lost not only a brother but a father confessor and a hero. I think today Phil almost leads two lives—one for George and one for himself.”

For that reason and the others, the Kennedy parallel is compelling—if premature. Both would-be congressmen handily survived primaries but are running hard in dead-even races. Phil is in little danger of losing his seat in his plush district north of Chicago, but there are at least eight or 10 Republican hopefuls who seem better positioned for a run at the White House than he. Given the uncertainty of their prospects, the campaign seems thanklessly wrenching for three brothers who claim their hearts are at hearthside. They say they haven’t a choice. “One of the basic teachings we all absorbed from my father,” says David, “is that you owe something back.” Phil invokes a higher authority. “God knows what He’s doing even when we don’t,” he says. “My only concern is being in tune with what He wants to do with me.” Before the organ swells, Phil Crane relieves the solemn moment with a joke. Isn’t he really setting himself up to run in 1984? “Well, yes,” he admits, “I’m not ruling out ’84.” Pause. “I’ll probably be going for my second term.”

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