That Collins creature gives us “Ken Doll in Lust,” and says sex scandals will always exist in politics, but you would think that by now politicians would know how to make a decent public confession. In “Racism and the Race” Mr. Blow poses a question: So why is the presidential race a statistical dead heat? The pundits have offered a host of reasons, but one in particular deserves more exploration: racism. Mr. Herbert’s column is titled “Finding the Upside,”and he says sometimes voters give the stomach-churning campaign tactics of racism or anti-Semitism what they deserve — defeat. Here’s that Collins woman:
When it comes to politicians and sex, our expectations are not all that great. Human nature being what it is, there will continue to be adultery no matter how many instructive scandals they’re exposed to. But you really would think that by now they’d know how to make a decent public confession.
Yet there was John Edwards, ignoring the many, many previous examples of why it is so important to admit the truth quickly and keep it simple. Unable to deny any longer that he had had an affair with a campaign worker, he insisted on parsing. It was all a mistake. If she was paid off, it wasn’t my money. And, in what may be a new high in the annals of weaseldom: my wife’s cancer was in remission.
As to why he did it, Edwards blamed “an egotism, a narcissism that leads you to believe that you can do whatever you want.” That we could have figured out on our own.
For a man bent on clearing things up, Edwards seemed strangely incurious during his interview on “Nightline” on ABC. He had no idea why his national finance chairman has been funneling payments to his ex-mistress, and he was apparently never tempted to pick up the phone to ask. His 2 a.m. visit with the woman, Rielle Hunter, at a Beverly Hills hotel last month was a secret mission to keep her from going public about their liaison, the briefness and meaninglessness of which cannot be stressed too often. And he has no idea what baby that was in The National Enquirer picture.
Edwards met Hunter in a bar in New York in 2006, and paid her $114,000 to follow him around, documenting his every move for campaign videos. (In a TV interview back in happier times, Hunter called the experience “life-altering.”) Said videos were posted, then mysteriously disappeared from the Edwards Web site, with officials muttering something about campaign finance rules. They exist today on YouTube, where you can see the candidate sitting on his plane, grinning like a hound dog in heat, while he tells Hunter that he doesn’t want to be “some plastic Ken doll that you put in front of the audience,” and pokes himself in the chest while announcing, “I actually want the country to see who I am — who I truly am.”
When The National Enquirer ran a story that Hunter was pregnant and named Edwards as the father, he denied that there had been any relationship. One of his campaign workers stepped up and took responsibility for the baby. But when the little girl was born, Hunter did not list any father on the birth certificate.
All this is weirdly reminiscent of the saga of Grover Cleveland, my favorite American president when it comes to sex scandals. He had barely been nominated in 1884 when a small, scurrilous newspaper from his hometown of Buffalo accused him of being the father of a love child born to Maria Halpin, a store clerk. She later took to drink, and Cleveland, a bachelor, arranged to have the baby adopted by friends.
“Moral Monster,” said my favorite headline, in The Cincinnati Penny Post. “Grover Cleveland’s True Character Laid Bare. A Boon Companion to Buffalo Harlots. A Drunken, Fighting, Roistering Roué.” The scandal almost cost him the election, and the baby inspired a famous political slogan: Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa? Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha.
It probably wasn’t Cleveland’s child. The birth certificate lists the baby’s name as Oscar Folsom Cleveland, and Oscar Folsom was Cleveland’s married law partner, who had been killed in an accident before the birth. But Cleveland stolidly refused to defend himself and Folsom’s name was never really connected to the scandal. Then, once he was safely in the White House, the new president married Folsom’s beautiful 21-year-old daughter, Frances.
This is as good as it gets for sex scandal survivors. The marriage was happy and Cleveland wound up serving two terms. The American public has always had an extremely pragmatic attitude toward their elected officials and will overlook almost anything if they believe the sinning pol can deliver on the job.
If Edwards’s political career is toast, it will be because he has always seemed to be less than a sum of his parts: the position papers, the “Two Americas,” the photogenic grin, the supersmart wife. The only piece of the package that consistently disappointed was the man himself. He wasn’t a very good running mate for John Kerry, and as a presidential candidate, he always struck me as being about 2 inches deep.
We take whatever lessons we can get from these sad public messes. We will marvel, yet again, at how much less damage would have been done if the offender had taken the inventive tactic of not lying. But on one front, at least, human behavior really does seem to be evolving. Edwards told his wife that she didn’t need to sit loyally by his side while the TV cameras rolled.
Here’s Mr. Blow:
This is supposed to be the Democrats’ year of destiny. Bush is hobbling out of office, the economy is in the toilet, voters are sick of the war and the party’s wunderkind candidate is raking in money hand over fist.
So why is the presidential race a statistical dead heat? The pundits have offered a host of reasons, but one in particular deserves more exploration: racism.
Barack Obama’s candidacy has shed some light on the extremes of racism in America — how much has dissipated (especially among younger people) and how much remains.
According to a July New York Times/CBS News poll, when whites were asked whether they would be willing to vote for a black candidate, 5 percent confessed that they would not. That’s not so bad, right? But wait. The pollsters then rephrased the question to get a more accurate portrait of the sentiment. They asked the same whites if most of the people they knew would vote for a black candidate. Nineteen percent said that those they knew would not. Depending on how many people they know and how well they know them, this universe of voters could be substantial. That’s bad.
Welcome to the murky world of modern racism, where most of the open animus has been replaced by a shadowy bias that is difficult to measure. As Obama gently put it in his race speech, today’s racial “resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company.” However, they can be — and possibly will be — expressed in the privacy of the voting booth.
If the percentage of white voters who cannot bring themselves to vote for a black candidate were only 15 percent, that would be more than all black voters combined. (Coincidentally, it also would be more than all voters under 24 years old.) That amounts to a racial advantage for John McCain.
And this sentiment stretched across ideological lines. Just as many white independents as Republicans said that most of the people they knew would not vote for a black candidate, and white Democrats were not far behind. Also, remember that during the Democratic primaries, up to 20 percent of white voters in some states said that the race of the candidate was important to them. Few of those people voted for the black guy.
Some might say that turnabout is fair play, citing the fact that 89 percent of blacks say they plan to vote for Obama. That level of support represents a racial advantage for him, too, right? Not necessarily. Blacks overwhelmingly vote Democratic in the general election anyway. According to CNN exit polls John Kerry got 88 percent of the black vote in 2004.
Think racism isn’t a major factor in this election? Think again.
And now here’s Mr. Herbert:
Sometimes when you cover politics it helps to have a bottle of Pepto-Bismol handy.
Some of the tactics of the McCain campaign have given me agita recently. But the latest campaign to turn my stomach was that of Nikki Tinker, a black woman who challenged a Jewish congressman, Steve Cohen, in a Democratic primary in Memphis.
Ms. Tinker was a candidate with nothing substantive to offer. A corporate lawyer, she was not particularly knowledgeable about Iraq or the economy or other important issues of the day. The raison d’être of her campaign seemed to be that she was an African-American running in a district in which the majority of the voters were also African-American.
And so she turned to the lowest tactics imaginable. In essence: let’s smear the white guy and get rid of him.
Mr. Cohen is seeking a second term. He is a reliably progressive congressman and an opponent of the Iraq war, and he has had a consistently solid record on civil rights. He was described by Speaker Nancy Pelosi as “the conscience of the freshman class.”
So it was not just bizarre, but absolutely perverse of Ms. Tinker to try and link him in a television ad to the Ku Klux Klan. The ad, which ran this week, juxtaposed an image of Mr. Cohen with that of a hooded Klansman. The issue the ad was trying to make was completely spurious.
Mr. Cohen was criticized for a vote he cast in 2005 when he was on a development board in Memphis. The vote opposed the renaming of a park that was named for Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general who was a founder of the Klan. The measure he opposed would also have required that Forrest’s body and a statue of Forrest be removed from the park.
Mr. Cohen (and a number of black officials, as well) felt the matter was not worth the protracted community turmoil that could have resulted from the proposed changes.
Commenting on the absurdity of the attempted link to the Klan, Mr. Cohen wryly commented, “It’s not like Nathan Bedford Forrest was inviting Jews over to celebrate Seder.”
The egregious Ms. Tinker was hardly finished traveling the low road. The Ku Klux Klan ad was followed by the “prayer ad.” Having exploited race against a candidate who was white, it was time to exploit religion against a candidate who also happened to be Jewish.
In the ad that followed the Klan garbage, the image of Mr. Cohen was displayed while viewers listened to the voice of a child praying, “Now I lay me down to sleep …” The prayer is interspersed with the voice of a woman (clearly intended to sound African-American) who says:
“Who is the real Steve Cohen anyway? While he’s in our churches, clapping his hands and tapping his feet …”
The emphasis on the word “our” is in the ad, which goes on to say, again spuriously, that Mr. Cohen voted against school prayer. The message is sick. It’s saying, in essence: Here’s this Jewish guy coming into “our” churches, tapping his feet and clapping his hands, when in reality he’s got a problem with letting “our” children pray.
The truth: Mr. Cohen has never voted against school prayer. That’s a constitutional issue that has been decided by the Supreme Court. More than 10 years ago, as a state senator, Mr. Cohen voted against a grandstanding piece of meaningless legislation named by its pandering sponsor as the “religious student liberty act.”
The proposal would have had no effect whatever on whether children could pray in school.
The prayer ad came in an environment in which leaflets were being spread, apparently by an out-of-town minister, asking: “Why do Steve Cohen and the Jews hate Jesus?”
Talk about a sinkhole. Or cesspool. Choose your metaphor.
Now the good news.
The primary vote was Thursday. And in that Ninth Congressional District of Memphis, a district that is predominantly black in a city that has had its share of racial trouble — the city in which the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed — Mr. Cohen won an astonishing 80 percent of the vote, sweeping all demographic categories and destroying the disgusting (yes, stomach-turning) campaign of Nikki Tinker.
For the moment, at least, we can put the Pepto-Bismol aside and raise a glass of Champagne.
The voters in Mr. Cohen’s district rejected the Tinker tactics overwhelmingly, refusing to succumb to the blandishments of racism or anti-Semitism. Instead of abandoning their congressman, they rallied around him when the filth started coming his way.