Presidential Politicking in the Flesh

September 19, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

Living in the state of Maryland, I don't get much personal exposure to presidential politicking. 

It's partly that Maryland is a middle-sized state, and in the American presidential election system, small states are the first battlegrounds. Traditionally, this means that Iowans and New Hampshirites get to be fed up with presidential aspirants interrupting their breakfasts. The rest of us get fed up with fund-raising emails. I understand the advantage of having small states go first. It makes it possible for candidates without national reputations or enormous bankrolls to give it a shot. But wouldn't it be more equitable to rotate the job? How about Rhode Island and Wyoming go first in 2024?

Maryland is particularly underprivileged because it's hard by the District of Columbia, better known, especially in Republican campaigns, as "Warshington DeeCee." Warshington DeeCee plays the same role for conservative campaigns that Sodom and Gomorrah played in the Book of Genesis. It is the locus of evil, and if the Lord weren't presently busy helping Jerry Falwell Jr. turn Liberty University into a football powerhouse, He would no doubt consume Warshington DeeCee with fire and brimstone, just as He did to Sodom and Gomorrah.  Lots of presidential candidates avoid Maryland out of fear they'd be contaminated by proximity to Warshington DeeCee and come down with a case of Beltway Cooties. Some, I suspect, avoid it because they are indeed afraid the Lord will finally finish the football project at Liberty U. and immediately despatch a brimstone storm that will rain on saints and sinners alike if they happen to be in Warshington DeeCee.

Marylanders don't even get to be sick and tired of presidential political ads on television. The state is reliably blue, and no one is going to waste his bankroll on ads in a state that isn't "in play." Marylanders might well wake up on November 4, 2020 and say, "What? There was an election? Why wasn't I informed about this?"

There is a surreptitious way that some Marylanders, among them neighbors of mine, get personally involved in presidential campaigns. They offer their houses for fund-raising cocktail parties and invite their neighbors to pay $2,500 or so to come, have a glass of banal white wine, and get a grip-and-grin photograph with a presidential candidate. If the candidate wins, these folks can then frame the photo and hang it on the Ego Wall in their office. Sometime in the near future, they hope, a new client from North Dakota will come into the office, looking for help getting the damned government to allow him to extinguish a few endangered species (just little bitty ones) in exercising his God-given right to frack for oil on land that his ancestors stole from the Indians. The picture on the Ego Wall tells him, "This woman is a friend of the president. She can help me. It'll be worth paying her exorbitant fee." Thus does Warshington DeeCee earn its reputation as the place where American ideals go to die.

(Note to Doc: Catch my woke reversal of gender stereotypes in that last bit?)

Such fund-raisers, however, are traditionally off-the-record and not covered by the news media, lest the public become alarmed that candidates, especially Republican candidates, are straying perilously close to Warshington DeeCee and risking exposure to Beltway Cooties in pursuit of campaign lucre. Because of the media blackout, I don't know about them in advance and cannot so much as stand in the street to watch the candidate arrive. I certainly don't get invited, perhaps because my neighbors know I dislike cocktail parties, I'd be damned before I'd spend $2,500 on banal white wine, and the Ego Wall in my studio is full of great portraits I've shot for clients, not grip-and-grins with politicians. (Speaking of which, you can have a great portrait made, for a lot less than $2,500, by me. Just call 301-907-8125.)

Anyway, I was receptive when I heard about the special 2019 presidential edition of the Galivant's Ferry Stump. For those who do not, as I am fortunate to do, have friends and family with South Carolina roots, I will explain that Galivant's Ferry is a spot on Highway 501 about halfway between Florence and Myrtle Beach. The Pee Dee River flows through it, so I guess at some point in history, someone named Galivant operated a ferry there. The ferry is long since gone, as is Galivant. Nowadays, and for the past 150 years or so, a family named Holliday has prospered in Galivant's Ferry, running a store, buying up land and generally being very successful. 

Sometime in the 1870s, the Hollidays invited General Wade Hampton, then a candidate for governor of South Carolina, to give a campaign speech. They put up a stump in front of the store and he used it as a platform. This being not long after the Civil War, General Hampton and nearly all white South Carolinians were Democrats; it would take another century for most of them to get over that whole unfortunate thing with Lincoln and embrace their inner Republican. 

The Holliday family somehow did not get this memo. They were true-blue Democrats in the 1870s and they are true-blue Democrats today. So every two years, when the stump comes out of storage and they invite candidates to Galivant's Ferry to speak, the speakers are only Democrats. (That is the beautiful and gracious Russell Holliday, one of the leaders of the clan, wearing a red belt and rising to her feet on the left of the picture atop this post.)

South Carolina has recently ascended to a status nearly equal to Iowa and New Hampshire in the American nomination process. This is because it has positioned itself as the first Southern state to hold a primary, because it's a relatively small state, and because its population more closely reflects the demographic breakdown of the nation as a whole than do Iowa or New Hampshire, which would have to annex the cities of Cleveland and Detroit in order to have many black citizens. This South Carolina demographic factor represents a rare insertion of rationality into the presidential election system, one I deemed worthy of recognition and support.

The Hollidays did, too. They normally hold the stump in the spring of even-numbered years, before the elections for state offices and congressional seats. But the 2020 South Carolina presidential primary will be on February 29, so they decided to initiate a special presidential stump, to be held on September 16, 2019. Five candidates--Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Bill DiBlasio--accepted invitations to speak. At the last minute, Sanders pulled out, citing a sore throat. On his web site, rather than explain the entire situation, his staff posted a note saying, "Event Canceled," as if the Stump would not go on without Bernie. This did not create many new Bernie Bros around Galivant's Ferry.

It did not deter me. With my friends David and Anne Cottingham, I drove down I-95 to Highway 501 and found myself in Galivant's Ferry in less than eight hours. It was quite the  bustling scene. The eponymous stump (actually, a lectern that maybe was made from a stump) was set up on the front porch of the Hollidays' general store. To the right floated one of those big Trump-as-a-fat-chicken balloons. To the left, adjacent to Highway 501, was the capacious canopy sheltering the Hollidays' Sunoco pumps. In between, on the asphalt parking lot, were rows of folding chairs and a platform for TV cameras. There were open tents for candidate organizations, environmental groups and the local and state Democratic organizations.  Lots of smiles. Some hugs. A sno-cone truck and another selling something called "chicken bog." A banjo-and-fiddle band. 

I saw three men standing near the feed shed at the end of the parking lot, watching the goings on. Carefully placing myself so that my shadow appeared at their feet, I took their picture; the shot is above left. Their dress didn't conform to the sneakers and tee-shirts attire of the average Democrat in the crowd and I asked if they were in fact Democrats. "To the core," the man at the right of the picture replied. I guess I was guilty of judging people by their appearance, but in truth, the Stump-goers looked much more like the nice elderly couple in the golf cart, at right.

Then I saw a high school band, dressed in purple, yellow and black, marching onto the premises, complete with majorettes. They're pictured above right. The band had been hired by the Biden campaign to play a rousing tune when his turn came at the Stump.

The Greek letters on their shirts, the priests at Regis High School taught me more than half a century ago, were Rho, Gamma, Iota, Delta and Sigma. Put together, they would have spelled "Rgids." But, the band members told me, they actually spelled "pride." I deduced that they don't teach Greek these days in the schools, and I figured that Biden, when he spotted the error, would instantaneously amend his education platform to call for a renewed emphasis on teaching the classics.  But he didn't. I don't know why. 

I perched on the edge of the general store porch as the hour of the speechmaking drew nigh. Then I noticed a kind of rustling in the crowd to my left, saw a bit of bobbed brown hair and realized that Senator Amy Klobuchar, a genuine presidential candidate, was passing within a few feet of my position. I could have reached out and--I don't know what. Touched her? Not cool. So I just observed while some folks in the crowd pulled out their green-and-white "Amy" signs and waved them up and down. 

Then Amy took the stump. That is she in the picture atop this post. I think the picture shows the moment when she was talking about the similarities and differences between South Carolina and her home state, Minnesota. They both have a lot of farmers, she pointed out. But Minnesota is much colder than South Carolina. They don't have a governor who walked the Appalachian Trail, she said, then grinned. "Oh, that's right. You don't either." 

Good one, Amy. Hard to believe a woman with such a fine sense of humor could actually have temper tantrums and throw salads at aides with whom she was dissatisfied, as has been reported in the newspapers back in the locus of evil, Warshington DeeCee. This is why personal contact with presidential politics is so important. Whom are you going to believe? The lying press or your own eyes and ears? That Amy Klobuchar is a sweetheart, I can attest. 

Watching the candidates up close, you notice things. Like Joe Biden. The guy is in shape. I don't know who his personal trainer is, but I can only hope to have a waistline like his when I get to be his age. Amy, on the other hand, looks a little pudgy. Maybe it was the frumpy blue sweater and the wrinkled khaki pants. This is important stuff that you don't learn from the newscasts originating in Warshington DeeCee.




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