Summertime and the politicos are prowling


By: Michael M. Bates

Presidential campaigns keep getting longer. They now begin while arguments about who in fact won the last election are still raging.

At least a dozen wannabes troll in Iowa this month. Some, such as Republicans Sam Brownback and Haley Barbour and Democrats Evan Bayh and Tom Vilsack, aren’t largely known. But they definitely want to be.

Others, like John McCain, Newt Gingrich, and John Kerry (I think he may have served in Vietnam) enjoy wider recognition, if not popularity.

Most of the boys make appearances at the Iowa State Fair. With more than a million fun-seekers in attendance, it’s a great place for pols to demonstrate their camaraderie with the pee-pul. Pork chops on a stick are one of the culinary delights they can share with prospective constituents to show that at heart they’re essentially just down home boys.

On TV today, a short clip of former vice presidential candidate John Edwards at the fair was shown. Mr. Edwards spoke of the gastronomic pleasures offered there and said that “Culver’s ButterBurgers are the best – one of the best – hamburgers in the world.”

Seeing this has dramatically increased my admiration for John Edwards. He came close to making a fatal error by declaring THE best hamburger in the world. Without skipping a beat, he realized that wasn’t a prudent thing to do and changed course.

Why risk alienating Steak n Shake aficionados? There’s no need, at least this early in the campaign, to write off the Ruby Tuesday vote or In-N-Out burger devotees or the millions committed to sliders from White Castle, known in the day as the Porcelain Room.

There may even still be some hearty Big Mac or Whopper disciples in the electorate. And Wendy isn’t a gal to be easily spurned, especially in light of Edwards’ proclamation during the last campaign that he and his wife go there to celebrate wedding anniversaries.

Maybe that story’s accurate and maybe it isn’t. Regardless, it’s a good tale and yet another reason to award points to the barefoot millionaire from North Carolina.

Not taking a stand on the vital question of who makes the best hamburgers is smart. If ever carefully constructed, nuanced statements are compulsory, it’s on matters as personal, sensitive and deeply-ingrained as that one.

Besides, eating and drinking can be hazardous to a politician’s political health. Presidential candidate John Kerry found that out in Philadelphia two years ago when he ordered the area’s famous cheesesteak. That was OK; asking for it with Swiss cheese wasn’t.

It got worse. Kerry asked the press not to take pictures of him eating. Naturally, this appeal was disregarded and they got some fine shots of him delicately consuming the sandwich in small nibbles as though he were Miss Manners.

This was an enormous affront to the community, which generally devours its cheesesteaks while dripping grease and Cheez Whiz to the elbow.

Even announcing what you drink can have significant electoral implications. In 1972 Democratic vice presidential candidate R. (for Robert) Sargent Shriver was campaigning in Boston. He had an excellent guide, Congressman Tip O’Neill. The Tipster always looked like he belonged more behind a bar than the Speaker of the House rostrum, where he eventually landed.

Anyway, he took Shriver around to local taverns to press the flesh. All you have to do, he instructed the contender, is to say the drinks are on me and you’ll have a lock on their votes. What O’Neill couldn’t foresee was Shriver’s reply to the barkeep when asked what his own poison was: A Courvoisier with a twist.

Cognac isn’t commonly considered a drink of the pee-pul. O’Neill’s excursions with R. Sargent ended abruptly. A guy who’d rather be called Sargent than Bob should have been a clue.

I’m impressed with John Edwards’ adroit handling of the world’s best hamburger issue. And I hope he and all those other candidates have a terrific time at the Iowa State Fair and remember which fork to use. Or not. Now if they’d only stay in Iowa for the next two years. . .

This column by Michael M. Bates appeared in the August 17, 2006 Oak Lawn Reporter.

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