Sunday, March 02, 2008

Strickland Country


Playing the Gender Card

As I begin to write this, it is early Sunday morning, March 2, the weekend before the presidential primary, which is on Tuesday, November 4. I now know where Hillary disappeared to yesterday, Saturday, interrupting her campaign schedule without explanation. She was on her way to Manhattan to make an unannounced guest appearance on Saturday Night Live, a program that was very funny twenty-five to thirty-five years ago but in the decades since is too often embarrassingly unfunny. The John Stewart Show is where political comedy is at. But Hillary had already indicated how much political importance she attached to SNL when she referred to it in her debate with Obama in Cleveland on February 26. In a skit on SNL on February 23, the press had been portrayed as pampering Obama, which was music to Hillary’s ears, because that is just one of many things she has been complaining about for months – that Obama is getting a free ride from the press. That is called playing the gender card.

Unfortunately for her, Hillary had to share the SNL stage last night with Rudy Giuliani, which really screws up the gender lines. Rudy’s failed campaign for the Republican nomination has achieved a well deserved notoriety for ineptness and knuckleheadedness. Sharing the stage with Giuliani was unfortunate because that is what the Clinton campaign has been accused of in the last several weeks – of being a bunch of knuckleheads who in the last year blew millions and millions of dollars and a 20 point lead in the polls. Hillary’s co-appearance with Giuliani was embarrassing for another reason: in an effort to create a macho commander-in-chief image during the campaign, Hillary has worn a dress only reluctantly, while Giuliani, some of whose best friends are gay, was willing to wear not just a dress but a gown, in a previous appearance on SNL. Hillary has a closet full of pants suits and Giuliani has a closet-full of gay acquaintances, two of whom he shared an apartment with when his then wife had kicked him out of the mayor’s mansion in New York.

Hillary was willing to put up with sharing the stage with a laughing-stock Republican presidential failure who once appeared in drag before millions of television viewers because she is desperate, and may be on the verge of losing the Democratic presidential nomination that once seemed hers for the taking. Apparently believing SNL was one of her last opportunities to reach younger voters, Obama’s most loyal constituency, she jumped at the opportunity to appear as a hip candidate to twenty-something and thirty-something viewers. The hip Hillary is just one of a number of Hillarys who have been turning up in the last couple of months, along with the tear-jerking, victim-complaining, race-baiting, fear-mongering, and Obama-honoring Hillary. (She had admitted in the February 21 debate in Texas that she was “honored” to be running against Obama, but less than a week later she was shame-on-you-ing him in the Cleveland debate.) Many Americans were not sure which of the various Hillarys was going to show up at a debate or rally, or whether she was going to show up at all. How many people were disappointed not to see her when she took off for her appearance at SNL?

“Mere Anarchy”

Presidential primary elections are won 7/24 on the ground in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and smaller Texas towns like Port Arthur; and in Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and smaller Ohio towns like Portsmouth, and not on Saturday night in Manhattan. When it began in 1975, the cast of SNL was billed as “the not-ready-for-prime-time-players,” and that’s what Hillary unwittingly appears to be rehearsing for, judging by the way her campaign has been mismanaged. Hillary’s non-appearance in Portsmouth would not have been such a disappointment for her admirers if Bill’s appearance had not been such a disappointment. In his infamous appearance on SNL, Rudy had been in drag. Though he didn't wear a dress in his appearance in Portsmouth, Bill was a drag.

Rudy Giuliani on SNL

I did not mention the apparent Clinton campaign disorganization in my last blog, “Go Bucks!” because I was not sure my experiences were enough to draw conclusions from. But I had tried for weeks without much success to find out who in the Clinton campaign was coming to Portsmouth and when. I assumed Hillary and Ted Strickland would make an appearance, since local Democrats are now calling Scioto County “Strickland Country,” as an older generation – and a traffic sign on Route 23 – has for decades called it “Riffe Country.” How could Hillary not make at least a token appearance in Portsmouth, the capital of Strickland Country. I heard a rumor Hillary would be in Portsmouth February 23, from someone who was rehearsing to sing the “Star Spangled Banner” at Hillary’s appearance, but I saw and read nothing to confirm she was coming on that date. When I inquired of well placed Democrats just who was coming when, I was told that the exact date and time was being withheld for security reasons. I thought at the time this was bs and an excuse for the disorganization in the campaign. (Somebody told me security was in fact very lax at the Athletic Center during Bill’s appearance.) Eleven straight primary defeats had reportedly left the Clinton campaign reeling and feuding, not sure what to do next.

As I wrote in a recent blog, “Hillary, Ted, and Neal,” I thought Hillary and Ted appearing in Portsmouth posed political risks for the Clinton campaign, given the corrupt character of local government and the two-bit behavior of Portsmouth’s Democratic mayor, Jim Kalb, in particular. But I doubt that the Clinton campaign had considered those risks in its political calculations about Portsmouth. Hillary’s non-appearance in Strickland Country was more likely a reflection of the disorganization of the Clinton campaign, the kind of disorganization it has shown in other parts of the country, and especially in caucus states, where, when the Clinton campaign was not insulting the intelligence of African-Americans, it was insulting the intelligence of young voters. I won’t extrapolate and say other Democratic party organizations elsewhere in Ohio might be as dysfunctional as our local organization, but if things are this bad in the heart of Strickland Country, what might they be like in other counties?

No Country for Young Men

A recent editorial in the Portsmouth Daily Times by a young reporter, Ryan Scott Ottney, tends to support the impression that the Clinton campaign is guilty of at least generational insensitivity, and tends to give credence as well to my suspicion that the disorganized Clinton campaign, where Portsmouth was concerned, didn’t know what it was doing until very late in the game, and even then appeared to drop the ball. One Democratic insider claimed to know what time of day Clinton would appear, 11:30 AM, but not which day, and another was sure of the day he would appear, February 25, but not the hour. Everyone seemed confused including the Daily Times reporter, who wrote, “I spent more than a week, along with other reporters in the Daily Times newsroom trying to get official confirmation of his visit. I was looking forward to meeting with him, as a member of the press. But as the day approached, the entire event began to fall apart.” Ottney couldn’t get anyone representing the campaign to tell him who was coming when until very late Thursday night, February 21. “That really gave us only one day before the weekend to contact people and write our stories,” Ottney complained. “I really felt marginalized,” he wrote. “I felt like we [the press] were an afterthought.” When the young reporter went to the rally, he found himself and other reporters were being seated well away from Bill Clinton, presumably to avoid the risk of somebody asking him questions that might elicit answers or cause an incident that the campaign would be trying to explain away for the next couple of news cycles. Frustrated, if not disgusted, Ottney went home and watched the rally on closed circuit TV. I who had to stand for almost three hours outside and inside the SSU Athletic Center wish I had done the same. I was standing, along with about a hundred other people, not because it was a standing room only rally but because somebody had decided not to unfold the bleachers behind us, which could have easily accommodated a hundred people or more. Maybe somebody wanted to make it look like a standing-room-only meeting. Or more likely, somebody was not thinking at all. Oh, and I don’t recall hearing the “Star Spangled Banner,” which a group had been practicing for weeks.

It did not help ease my aches when I was later told that the reason Bill Clinton was late was that he was giving a private audience, like the Pope, to about forty admirers, reportedly at a local American Legion post, though he is not a veteran. The press and the general public were not invited to the private audience; no, the general public were kept cooling their heels for an hour at the Athletic Center while Bill socialized and gave photo ops. Is this any way to run a campaign?

“The Centre Will Not Hold”

The Bill Clinton rally in the Athletic Center might be described by rephrasing lines from a famous poem of William Butler Yeats, “Slouching toward Bethlehem”: “Things fall apart; the Athletic Center will not hold;/ Mere anarchy is loosed upon Portsmouth.” If you multiply such screw ups by the hundreds or thousands, nationally, you can begin to understand why the Clinton campaign, with all its political and financial advantages, blew a humungous lead and bank balance. I attended, as an observer, the initial meeting of the local Obama campaign, on February 19, and was impressed as much by the organizational skills of Jennifer Austin, the young woman in charge, as I was by the diversity of people in attendance, in terms of sex, race, and age. There was no confusion about whether Obama was coming to Portsmouth. He wasn’t. Jennifer was clear about that. His schedule was not a coded message that had to be deciphered. But those in attendance were still eager to contribute to the campaign in a variety of ways. Obama’s success in Ohio rests on shoulders of Ground Troops,” a CNN headline read on Sunday, March 2, and that is apparently even true in the heart of Strickland Country.

The young Daily Times reporter Ottney reflected a regional as well as a generational grievance when he wrote about the February 25 rally that “I really feel like the campaign played us for yokels, trotting out a former big-city U.S. president so ‘us hillfolk’ could take a break from our pig farms to say ‘Golly, I reckon we oughta vote fer that nice lady.’” He concluded his PDT editorial by saying he still had admiration for Bill Clinton, in spite of his performance at the rally. “I’m still a big fan of Bill Clinton. But I’m also saddened to feel the campaign was pandering to small towns, hoping to impress them with a brief and uninspiring visit from a former president.” From the viewpoint of the Clinton campaign, the rally in Portsmouth, as far as Ottney was concerned, was a bust. Ottney made it clear he was not going to vote for Hillary. Leaving behind a disgruntled voter is one thing; leaving behind a disgruntled reporter is another, especially if she wins the nomination. There are enough Hillary Haters in the press corps, Hillary has implied, so why increase their numbers?

Ottney is not the only young man with complaints. An angry Shawnee State student, whom I’ll call Jason, attempted to organize other students for the Clinton campaign but found himself frustrated every step of the way by the local Democratic organization. “They treated us like crap,” was what Jason told me. He said the experience left him disgusted with politics and he vowed he would not get involved again. I don’t know what those Shawnee students who showed up at the Obama organizational meeting might finally feel about their involvement in his campaign, but I would be surprised, based on that organizational meeting, if they became as bitter and disillusioned as Jason.

Playing the Race Card

After the Bill Clinton rally, I ran into a sixtyish male acquaintance, whom I’ll call John, who put the primary campaign in disturbing perspective for me. I asked him if he had been at the rally. He said he had wanted to go but had other commitments. He told me he had been uncertain about whether to vote for Clinton or Obama, but he was positive he would not vote for another Republican. I think he may have voted for George W. Bush at least once. But he had seen the photo of Obama in native African dress that had been circulating on the internet, which had convinced him that Obama was a Muslim. I told him politicians visiting other countries in the world often put on some article of local clothing and nobody thinks anything about it. “Well, what about his name?” John asked, as if that was the clincher. “What about Hussein?” I told him it’s a common name, like Smith and Jones are, and it doesn’t mean Obama is a Muslim. John is not a betting man, from what I know of him, but he wanted to bet me a thousand dollars that Obama was a Muslim. In ten years, I had never seen John so agitated. He mentioned something about his minister agreeing Obama was a Muslim. A Protestant, John is a regular church goer, and I know ministers in Appalachia, like mullahs in Muslim countries, have a great deal of influence over their congregations. In the Ohio gubernatorial campaign, Rev. Scott Rawlings was doing what he could to spread the rumor that Ted Strickland and his wife Frances were homosexuals, so it would not be unusual for at least one local minister to be spreading the rumor that Obama was a Muslim. That does not surprise me, but what does surprise is that John would so readily believe it.

One other thing John said flabbergasted me. He said, “They will never let him become president. They’ll do what they did to Martin Luther King.” That reminded me of something I heard recently on the radio. When Obama volunteers were going from door to door in Iowa, one white man, obviously not an Obama supporter, told the Obama canvassers, “So you are the people who want to put a nigger in the White House.” This was Iowa, not Mississippi. It is widely reported that Clinton’s most reliable base in Ohio includes uneducated, blue-collar whites, a group that has more racist tendencies than other whites want to admit. That’s something, I’m sure, that those in the Clinton campaign would not want to admit. Though Matt Drudge reported that he got the photo of Obama in native garb from someone in the Clinton campaign, I would believe an unequivocal denial from the Clinton campaign’s before I would believe Drudge’s avowal, but has the Clinton campaign made an unequivocal denial? I have no doubt that Hillary is going to benefit at least some from racial prejudice in Ohio, so she is going to have to repudiate racist remarks by others more strongly than she has so far if she wants to avoid a racially tainted victory in the Buckeye state. Let us hope that Ohio does not prove to be “No country for young folk or for black folk either.”