The Imus Slate
BY JOSEPH PLANTA
Monday, 30 October 2006
VANCOUVER - My barometer, for better or worse, when it comes to American politics, is the Imus in the Morning program. Fronted by radio legend Don Imus, the show features his craggy and sometimes temperamental personality front and centre, interlacing his persona with a coterie of political and media heavyweights who make serious political discussion accessible and sometimes even fun.
Because it's of the I-Man's concern, it seems that only a few races seem mildly interesting as we await the midterms of November 7th, when the entire House of Representatives, a third of the Senate, and a number of governorships are up.
Imus's dear friend Kinky Friedman, the remarkable country singer and writer (a bon vivant without the pretension, if you ask me), is seeking the office of Governor of Texas. In a fascinating four-way race, Friedman is running as an independent as Sam Houston once did. His opponents are the incumbent Republican Rick Perry, Democrat Chris Bell, and Republican, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who is running as an independent. Strayhorn is the mother of former White House Press Secretary, Scott McClellan.
Friedman is flamboyant and notable for his previous career as a politically incorrect troubadour, who wrote some memorable country ditties such as "Get Your Biscuits in the Oven, and Your Buns in the Bed," and my personal favourite, "They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Anymore." He's been branded a racist by his opponents, for using racial epithets in jokes and songs, but that is clearly a sign of desperation, because Friedman's entry into the governor sweepstakes has seriously upset the establishment's apple cart.
Some consider the Friedman campaign much like that of Jesse Ventura's in Minnesota, and the comparison is apt, in that Friedman has employed many of his political and campaign tactics, not to mention retained some of Ventura's strategists. Some of the issues he is trumpeting are prayer in school, improving education and literacy, and dewussifying Texas, whatever that means. He doubtless brings colour to an otherwise lacklustre campaign, but that doesn't preclude him from being a substantive candidate.
Whether Friedman makes it to the governorship is doubtful at this point. He's wildly popular, but apathy is a particular killer in politics, and may hinder Friedman's chances. One suspects Perry retaining office, if only for the four-way split. Otherwise, Friedman would win if voter turnout were high on Election Day.
Not a Corker, a Ford
Harold Ford Jr. has been a frequent guest on the Imus program, ever since the ban was lifted on members of the House of Representatives. It is Imus's estimation that members of Congress are usually individuals of low-self esteem, crooks or sexual predators (i.e. Jim Traficant, Mark Foley), or politicians who want to be senators.
Ford was first elected to the House 10 years ago, and though only 36, he has been on the radar screen of many political observers since he was the keynote speaker at the 2000 Democratic Convention. He is obviously a gifted speaker, a sincere politician, a dogged and determined advocate for his constituency, and a remarkably dynamic presence on the national political scene. You might recall that Ford challenged Nancy Pelosi for the House Democratic leadership in 2002.
The Congressman seeks the open Senate seat in Tennessee, which Republican House Majority Leader Bill Frist vacates for retirement, if not a run for the presidency in 2008. It has been a campaign of national import if only that it highlights the battle for control of Washington as waged by Democrats and Republicans. Ford's opponent is Bob Corker, the former mayor of Chattanooga, who has been thus far feckless.
The controversy this past week has been that of a salacious, silly ad put out by the Republican National Committee.
The ad, which has been described as racist, suggests that Ford is weak on terrorism, that he supports higher taxes, he took money from pornographers, and that he partied at the Playboy Mansion. The hint of racism comes from the flirtatious white woman who urges Ford, to "Call me." Yes, even in 2006, in a southern state like Tennessee, the race card is very much dealt and played.
Corker proved ineffectual when he stated publicly that the ad was in poor taste, and that if he could, he would take the ad down. He said he couldn't because it was an ad that was paid for by the RNC and not his campaign. Imus wondered how effective he would be as a United States Senator if he couldn't get his own party to pull down the ad. The He Said/He Said continued, when Ken Melhman, the RNC Chair, appeared with Tim Russert on MSNBC, to claim that he didn't have the authority to pull the ad
The ad was since taken off the air, but not before creating an uproar, that had the commercial repeated nationally. It highlighted a statewide campaign with national implications, not to mention indicative of the mudslinging had in races throughout the country.
With Imus supporting Friedman in Texas and Ford in Texas, Imus is also throwing his support behind Joe Lieberman in Connecticut, who is running as an independent after the Democratic primary there knocked him out of the party he ran for vice president under in 2000; and Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania.
Though Imus disagrees with the respective stance on the war in Iraq held by Lieberman and Santorum, he likes the men as senators and leaders, and supports their bids. They are men of conviction, who stand by their principles and who have impressed the I-Man with their credibility, honesty and character, even though he chides Santorum for being a right-wing whacko, and Lieberman for his "idiotic" stand for the war.
It's not how well the candidates do on election Tuesday that seems to matter; it's how well Imus thanks to the candidates he supports.
Later this week, look for my interview with bestselling author Wayne Johnston, taped a couple of weeks ago, and which marks the return of the On the Line program here at The Commentary for the fall. Johnston was in town to talk about his latest book, The Custodian of Paradise (Knopf), and because I hadn't read the book when we talked, we ended up doing a sort of 'anatomy of a novel' exercise where we talked about writing and how he came up with his characters. Also, I asked him what he thought about book prizes, which he's won many in the past, and which this year he was notably snubbed. It's the first of many interesting interviews to come in the weeks ahead. As well, look for my review of the Vancouver Playhouse production of The Clean House, which we took in last week; it was pretty good.
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