Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Men's Room Club

Senator Larry E. Craig's (R-Idaho) arrest and guilty plea after soliciting sex from a cop in a men's room in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport last June brings to mind, as many have pointed out, numerous like incidents in the recent past particularly among Republicans. While I deplore hypocrisy--Craig was a typical "family values" guy, opposed to any type of equal rights for gays--I can't help but feel sad at a world in which these poor shlubs, wearing their American flag lapel pins, are driven underground and into the steely hands of undercover thugs. Craig had been Idaho's Republican state chairperson and liaison with the Romney campaign and Mitt's comments on the incident only prove him, once again, to be the creepiest candidate out there, somewhere right up there with two-time Republican presidential nominee Thomas Dewey in slick meanness.
Historians of dirty tricks will recall another incident in a men's room way back in the contentious Barry Goldwater-Lyndon Johnson contest of 1964. In October of that year, Johnson's top aide, 46-year-old Walter Jenkins, married with five children, attended a Washington party, drank five martinis, and then repaired around the corner to the basement men's room of a YMCA, where he was in the midst of having sex with another man when they were surprised by a plainclothes cop and arrested.
Johnson tried to claim Jenkins was framed by the Republicans, but when it turned out his aide had been arrested on the same charge--and in the same men's room--some five years earlier, he cut him loose. Jenkins spent time in an institution and then went back to Texas where he worked as a CPA, doing Johnson's tax returns year after year, but never again returning to Washington in any position of power--something bemoaned by many, who felt that without Jenkins's leavening influence, Johnson began to take the country deeper into the Vietnam War.
Barry Goldwater's comment on the whole affair--delivered way-off-the-record on his campaign plane--was: "What a way to win an election, communists and cocksuckers!"
In a tragicomic epilogue, routine White House tape recordings later released under the Freedom of Information Act caught LBJ ruminating over Jenkins with none other than J. Edgar Hoover, FBI Director.
"I guess you're gonna have to teach me about this stuff," Johnson said to Hoover. "I swear I can never recognize [gay people]."
To which Hoover, long rumored to be gay himself, as Johnson must certainly have known, replied reassuringly: "There are some people who walk kind of funny that you might think may be queer. But there was no indication of that in Jenkins's case."

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Playing Checkers

Sunday AM with the wife and kid away, just me and the cat--a tiny ten-week-old terror named Mimi, found by a friend under her hydrangea bush--and the New York Times, where I learned from Jodi Kantor's piece that there are a lot of tiny terrors running around the campaign trail, too. These are children, not felines, all under the age of ten, who belong to John Edwards, Barack Obama, Chris Dodd, Sam Brownback, etc.
Observe the video of John Edwards putting the hammer down on his sulky son, Jack--Edwards' reaction seems a little extreme, given the provocation, but most parents will recognize this as a classic "tip of the iceberg" response, in which the kid has been driving you crazy for about a week now, so the slightest thing makes you blow, particularly if he's embarrassing you in front of the Times.
Campaign trails are no place for kids, but I'd prefer these young louts to the older variety as represented by the five Romney boys. I hesitate even to link to their "fivebrothersblog." Here is a representative entry, from Josh: "I kept busy all day doing about 10 television, radio and print interviews. It's pretty exhausting, I still have no idea how my dad is able to do it day after day. Here's a shot of me with Tom and Austin from the Liddy and Hill show."
Whew. It's pretty exhausting just reading that, Josh.
But no politician has ever used his kids like Dick Nixon did in the Dwight Eisenhower/Adlai Stevenson contest of 1952, during his famous "Checkers" speech on national television. Nixon, then the Republican vice-presidential nominee, had been accused of being the recipient of an 18000 dollar "slush fund" set up for him by a rich Republican businessman. Nixon is absolutely insane during this speech, introducing his wife, Pat ("My wife's sitting over here. She's a wonderful stenographer. She used to teach stenography") and himself as ordinary Americans struggling to pay off simple debts and make ends meet.
But he really kicked it into high gear when he talked about his girls, Tricia and Julie, and the little dog an admirer had given them. “It was a little cocker spaniel dog in a crate that he'd sent all the way from Texas. Black and white spotted. And our little girl-Tricia, the 6-year old-named it Checkers. And you know, the kids, like all kids, love the dog and I just want to say this right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we're gonna keep it."
Nixon was so worked up at the end of the speech that he kept on walking towards the cameras, talking and pleading, even after he had been given the "cut" signal. He only seemed to come out of his trance when he literally banged into the camera, at which point, according to his director, he began to weep copiously. But, hey, America loved him and Dwight Eisenhower, although he didn't like it much, kept Nixon on as his veep.
Would Edwards et al ever be so crass as to use their kids in such a fashion? Heaven forbid, right?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

F**k the Farmers!

Is anyone else getting a little sick of Republican and Democratic candidates wandering round the sticks trying to suck up to the hicks? Of course, this has been a staple of presidential contests ever since 1840, when Whig contender William Henry Harrison--a Virginia aristocrat who owned about 2000 acres of land-- grabbed the presidency by pretending to be a "log cabin and hard cider" candidate, a guy who hung out with the coonskin cap boys and ploughed the back forty with his own two begrimed hands.
And, actually, Harrison is not so much a stretch as a country boy as the likes of Mitt, Rudy and Hillary. Romney has been all over Iowa with his idiotic "three-legged stool" metaphor-- take one leg away and, jeez folks, it falls over! Last week in Iowa, Rudy told a group of would-be voters that New Yorkers experienced rural life by going to...Staten Island. And Hillary wandered gamely around various state fairs sucking down huge ice cream pops that Bill would have tackled and pinned her for, had he been there. (For my comments in an interview with on her "Bill" problem-- and it will get way worse before it gets better-- click here.)
Fortunately for all concerned, our candidates are gradually leaving rural America as Labor Day approaches and we'll be spared, at least for a short while, their country pandering. And, who knows, they may be relieved as well. As John Kennedy muttered to an aide after one too many state fair appearances during the 1960 campaign: "Well, that's over. Fuck the farmers!"

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sartorial Inelegance

In the New York Times yesterday, Jodi Kantor wrote glowinglyabout Hillary Clinton's unwrinkled attire and cool demeanor at the blazing hot Iowa State Fair earlier this week. The story has been castigated as a piece of puffery, perhaps rightly so, but Hillary isn't the first candidate whose clothes have been given a good going-over.
John Quincy Adams was perhaps the worst-dressed Presidential candidate--although Abraham Lincoln (whose socks, it was bandied about by his Democratic opponents, stank to high heaven) was a close second. But Adams, running as the Republican candidate against Andrew Jackson in 1824 and 1828, was seen as a highly eclectic dresser, to say the least. When he couldn't find a cravat, he would simply tie a black ribbon around his neck. He sometimes wore mismatched shoes. He often forgot handkerchief, gloves, cane, hat--all the accoutrements of the early 19th century gentleman. To make matters worse, he was short, fat, bald and had a constantly running eye, probably from conjunctivitis.
Adams won in the disputed election of 1824 and lost badly to Jackson in 1828, and the whole experience of being attacked for everything from his sartorial inelegance to the fact that his wife was "foreign" (she was English) scarred him thereafter. The worst part, he said, was that people smiled to his face: "My complaint is not that attempts were made to tear my reputation to pieces," but that such slanders, "were accompanied by professions of great respect and esteem."

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Karl Rove and Lee Atwater

It is the job of the Dirty Tricks Detective to remind one and all that history continually repeats itself. Today the topic is Karl Rove, who resigned yesterday after successfully engineering George W. Bush's two campaigns for President. Pundits are generally in agreement that Rove is now a liability, not just to the President but to the GOP, though mainly because of his overreaching his brief to become involved in matters of White House policy.
But most scribes give Rove a ruefully admiring nod for being an innovator in the game of dirty, hardball politics and what the New York Times calls "simple, often negative messages." But while the Rover certainly played hard, he is only one in a long line of political hurlers adept at delivering the doctored fastball. Who can forget George H.W. Bush's fervent assault on Michael Dukakis in 1988 in which campaign manager Lee Atwater pursued a strategy of "raising the negatives," particularly in regards to Willie Horton, the black criminal paroled to commit yet another crime while Dukakis was Governor of Massachusetts. As Atwater so famously commented, re Dukakis: "I'm going to strip the bark off the little bastard and make Willie Horton his running mate."
Nicely put. The 1988 Bush campaign also claimed in an ad that if Dukakis were elected president, he would release Chicago mass murderer John Wayne Gacy from jail, prompting an irate letter from the serial killer himself: "It's an insult to the voting public that [Republicans are] exploiting the name of John Wayne Gacy to scare people into voting for George Bush."
Karl Rove no doubt has any number of good smears tucked away in his Dirty Tricks portfolio, to savor on those long, rainy nights ahead, but if you haven't gotten a serial killer clown really angry at you, you still haven't made the big time.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The perils of being....Unitarian?

Anybody see this past Tuesday in Iowa where Rudy Giuliani bridled when asked about his Catholic religion at a forum of Republican presidential hopefuls? He told the questioner: ‘My religious affiliation…and the degree to which I am a good or not so good Catholic, I prefer to leave to the priests.” (Speaking strictly as an ex-Catholic and not in my Dirty Tricks Detective mode, I might advise Rudy not to leave that particular determination up to the priests or he’ll be reciting “Hail Mary’s” at the altar rail for the next decade)
Rudy in particular has been bedeviled by religious questions, because he has been three-times married and because he’s pro-choice (well, kinda, sorta). But questions have hit Republican candidate Mitt Romney, as well. On Wednesday, on his way to his predicted victory in the Iowa Straw Poll, Mitt lost it when a talk radio host questioner kept probing his Mormonism, in light of Mitt’s admission that he was “effectively pro-choice” in 1992. Mitt replied testily: “My religion is for me and how I live my life. So don’t confuse what I do as a member of my faith and what I think should be done by government.”
Mitt will, it is rumored, make a speech this fall directly addressing his religion. This is a page taken from the playbook of John F. Kennedy, who managed to successfully defuse the issue of his Catholicism during the 1960 campaign by making a passionate address to a prominent group of Protestant ministers in Houston.
The issue of religion was not nearly as tough for Kennedy as it was for Democrat Al Smith in 1928. Smith was the first Catholic candidate to run for president. During the campaign, Republican operatives distributed literature claiming that the Holland Tunnel, dug while Smith was Governor of New York, really ran straight under the Atlantic Ocean to the Vatican, where Smith held secret chats with the Pope.
And Kennedy—like Romney, when he excoriates talk show hosts—wasn’t above playing the victim to garner sympathy. Long after the issue of Catholicism was defused, Kennedy operatives would ask voters: “Do you think they’re going to keep Kennedy from being president just because he is Catholic?”
What about religious issues for the current crop of godless Democrats? None so far, but a page from Anything for a Vote (you can preorder here) should stand as a warning to them. In 1908, as William Howard Taft, then Teddy Roosevelt’s vice-president, was running for president, he was attacked savagely because he was, of all things, a Unitarian. One religious newspaper thundered: “Think of the United States with a President who doesn’t believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, but looks upon our immaculate savior as common bastard and low cunning imposter!”
Things got so bad that Teddy Roosevelt was forced to publicly attend Unitarian services with Taft, in the hopes, he said, sweetly, “that it would attract the attention of the sincere but rather ignorant Protestants who support me.”