"Know thyself, know they enemy" - Sun-Tzu, Chinese general and military strategist
The Friday before last, I had the (free) opportunity to attend the Lawrence Township Republican Club's Lincoln Day Dinner with my friends from the Hoosier Muslim PAC. Like a Nat Geo documentarian chronicling the activities of a foreign species in a strange land, I waded in, and it was more entertaining than Meerkat Manor. This is my dispatch.
The event was held at the Marriott at Keystone at the Crossing. When I entered the "check-in" chute, I was offered petitions to get Dan Coats and John Hosteller on the ballot. To be on the ballot for U.S. Senate, every candidate has to obtain the signature of 500 registered voters per congressional district. This is a preposterous exercise for sitting office holders like Evan Bayh, who got nearly 1.5 million votes in 2004, but who said laws are logical?
I enthusiastically signed both petitions, thinking at the time that if either became the candidate, Bayh would crush them. Polling showed Bayh leading Coats by 20 points in a head-to-head. I know already! I inadvertently helped a Republican! But how in the (expletive) was I supposed to know Bayh was going to drop out the following weekend? Also, I was trying not to get "made" so I could eavesdrop, which is why I signed while muttering, "Big business. Reaaaally big business."
Shortly thereafter, John Hostettler actually strolled by, and I reflexively yelled, "Congressman Hostettler!" He shook my hand and, because I really couldn't think of anything complimentary to say, I said nothing. Nonetheless, he continued to smile warmly well past the point of awkward silence. Were his beliefs not to the right of the Freeman Militia, he could really be somebody in the Republican Party, though he was shorter than he seems on TV. I'm confident that Bayh could have not only defeated him electorally, he could have also scored on him at will in the low post.
I noted immediately that, except for some delightfully polite greeters, the "default face" for Republicans is dour. Not a single person with whom I made eye contact smiled except for the ones who recognized me. Of course, those smiles had a Chesire cat-like, "what the (expletive) are you doing here" look, kind of like how you greet your in-laws when you weren't expecting them. This is not an exaggeration. It was strange because during the dinner speeches, there were hearty laughs; there were just no smiles for strangers.
The attendance for a township club dinner was insane. When I entered the ballroom, I counted 38 tables with ten seats each, and almost all of them were full. This might be attributable to the genius of having a huge dinner the night before slating (an idea I hope my party will employ). It's safe to say that with the platinum, gold, and silver sponsors paying $1,500, $1,000, and $400 respectively per table, Lawrence Township raked in a tidy sum.
Each table had a centerpiece bearing the name of a purported "titan of GOPism." For example, my group sat at the "Ronald Reagan" table. There was even an Arnold Schwarzenegger table, which was ironic because Lieutenant Governor Becky Skillman later zinged California when she joked it had "changed its name to South Oregon to avoid its creditors."
Being a party of generally wealthier people has advantages. Though you still have to pay $4.25 for a domestic beer (most Republicans opted for imports), you get better campaign "swag." Each attendee received an "Establishing Liberty" mini-book at their seat, along with a pile of literature from candidates seemingly as high as a Marion County phonebook.
I wondered how well the Republican Party's effort to "become diverse" under African-American RNC Chair Michael Steele was progressing at the grass-roots level. While I'm told it was better at slating, at this deal, the answer was not too well. I counted eight African-Americans and five Latinos. But here is the fascinating part. Three of the black folk were candidates for at-large city-county council, one was a candidate for seventh district Congress, and another was L.G. Skillman's executive assistant. Two of the Latinos were running against Andre Carson for 7th District congress.
That's a staggeringly disproportionate ratio of minority office seekers and higher ups to general members, which shows you that the GOP is not stupid about identity politics. It is so interested in proving its diversity, it might not be hyperbole to suggest that if you're in a minority group, you might be asked to run for office at your first township club meeting.
The initial speaker, whose name and title I don't recall, was mostly ignored as he battled a bad accoustic system. Grace was to be delivered by the gentleman who invited the Hoosier Muslim Pac. Unfortunately, he was out of the room, and the speaker "freestyled" a dinner prayer that ended with "In Jesus's name we pray," a strange thing to say in a room with a table populated by Muslims. (In fairness to the GOP, my colleague's friend gave a moving, unifying benediction at the end of the dinner sans the Jesus reference). But this disconnect is the GOP struggle - how to come to grips with the fact America isn't one thing without alienating a large contingent of its supporters who only want it to be one thing.
I don't remember the second speaker, but a lot of the crowd ignored him as well while chatting up ways to destroy President Obama and dining on delicious breaded chicken, asparagus, mashed potatoes, and killer cheesecake. Throughout dinner, two large screens showed quotes from Abraham Lincoln, my favorite one being: "What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself." Who knew Lincoln was such a PR genius?
Somebody introduced Marion County GOP Chair Tom John, and he got a surprisingly lukewarm round of applause, as if he was the guy who told Carl Brizzi to cozy up with Tim Durham and sell justice to donors. I left firmly convinced that county chair is second only to whale proctologist as the world's most distasteful and thankless job.
House Minority Leader Brian Bosma then spoke and pulled back the wizard's curtain on Todd Rokita's drive for redistricting reform when he noted that in some year I forgot (because it was Brian Bosma talking) that Hoosiers had cast 343,000 more votes for GOP house candidates than they had for D candidates. Bosma went on to say that it was only Democrat maps that let D's keep control of the Indiana House of Representatives. Translated into human speak, Bosma was saying that if House R's, a bi-partisan Commission, a computer logarithm, or monkeys with laser pointers were given control of the maps, the GOP would fare better. The painfully objective part of me knows this is true, but it also makes me decry claims that the GOP wants competition. If Rokita gets his way, we will have fewer competitive districts than we have now.
But I digress. Channeling his inner jedi, Bosma stated that we are engaged in a battle, not between the dark force and the light, but in a battle "for the future." Given that a good percentage of the GOP wants to take us back Doc Brown-style to the "good old days" of 1954, I couldn't tell if he misspoke.
Senator Merritt then delivered some remarks, none of which I remember except when he called Becky Skillman "Governor." While I know Emily Post on Elected Officials says you can afford this designation to an L.G., it is not required, so I'm sure this was done to get the GOP accustomed to hearing it before 2012.
L.G. Skillman gave the keynote address, and this was my first time really seeing her in action. She has notable poise and impeccable fashion sense. I quickly picked up on a speech "tic" where she elongates the first syllable of certain words, such as "fuuuuuuuture" and "huuuuuuuuundreds," but that just made her sound like your sweet New England auntie after a sherry too many.
While Skillman fastidiously adhered to her scripted remarks, she came across so much more intelligent than Sarah Palin. Of course, this might have been because Skillman's speech was on cue cards, not her hand.
Skillman's remarks were chocked with typical Washington liberal bashing. She got her strongest applause of the evening when she said, "Spending what you have is called cash. Spending what you don't have is called credit. Spending other people's money that they don't have is called Congress." (I thought that was called "working on Wall Street"). Apparently, nobody told L.G. Skillman that her boss spent a good deal of time in D.C., or I don't think she would have been so harsh on the capitol.
I couldn't deny that Skillman had the Lawrence Township GOP eating out of her hand. She lost her audience only once, when she said the Supreme Court had proven its independence that week, no doubt referring to Citizens United, an opinion that, ironically, would allow corporations to pump untold sums into things like state judicial elections, thereby ensuring that ONLY the federal judiciary would stay independent.
Skillman also had some constructive things to say about the Daniels administration, including that it has reduced government employment by 20 percent, that companies folding up in other states want to stop by Indiana for a brief stay before moving on to Singapore (okay, she didn't say that last part about moving on), and that we have $100 million in highway construction going on. Curiously, she admitted that a good portion of those funds came from federal stimulus money. I can only assume someone jammed an index card into her speech as a practial joke since the Governor would never take federal dollars while spending so much time griping about them.
While I would only give L.G. Skillman a two for originality, she earned a nine for lip-syncing. She will be formidable in 2012, though I do not believe she'll defeat Governor Bayh.
Then the moment I had waited for all night came finally arrived....the speech by Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard. The only problem was he wasn't there. I didn't hear why, but in lieu of a speech, we got to view what must be Greg Ballard's first mayoral TV ad.
For evoking emotion, it was a thing of beauty. I didn't get it word for word, but I got some of it....
"It began as a grass roots movement...
"Fed up with government (yada yada) people who had had enough..."
"....found their voice with Greg Ballard...."
"It was the biggest political upset in Indiana history...."
"Since that night...what has it meant for our city?"
The following phrases (not in order) then popped on the screen....
"Better Ethics," "Mayor Takes Control of IMPD," "Crimes Rates Down," "Charter School Expansion," "Innovative Ideas," "Honestly Balanced Budgets," and "New Wishard Hospital."
As these phrases jumped across the screen, the ad offered pristine depictions of every feel-good, nostalgia-inducing visual Indianapolis has to offer - Victory Field, the canal, Lucas Oil, Conseco, Circle Center Mall, and Monument Circle among many others. What does Greg Ballard have to do with any of these? Absolutely nothing. But rule number one in advertising is create good feelings, then throw your picture into the mix so viewers have a Pavlovian response the next time they see the feel-good images.
The phrase that shocked me the most was "crime rates down." Anybody who reads the Star or watches TV knows that murders might be down, but shootings sure aren't. And I'm just not sure how much credit you can take for reducing homicides when it's easier to attribute the reduction to poor marksmanship and the incredible work of Wishard trauma in keeping gunshot victims alive. (Of course, this would explain the Mayor's strong support of Wishard - it helped him keep the city's death toll down).
After the ad concluded, Bosma introduced every elected official and candidate for anything at any level. During this time, I read War & Peace on my cell phone. Twice. Bosma even joked, "Anybody who is NOT running for something stand up. Maybe that will be easier."
Let this be said about the GOP. What it fails to offer in constructive solutions, it makes up for by sheer number of candidates vying for the right to not offer them. And it knows how to fill a party hall.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
"Know thyself, know they enemy" - Sun-Tzu, Chinese general and military strategist