RICHMOND, Va. – From the intersections of Mulberry St. and Davis Ave., a full three blocks in front of the Virginia Museum of Science, hundreds of people gathered on October 19 on the southern side of Broad Street. Large “James River” buses sat on the north side to prevent pot shots at the museum that afternoon, and police had shut down the street to cars.
I tried to cross at Davis, but an officer waved me off, yelling, “Go back!” Time was running out for getting inside the museum, so I headed west to look for a good passing point. People young and old, but mostly young, were holding signs with different causes on them, most calling, if just in gist, for impeachment. One 4×4 banner called for stopping support of Israel, another said, “A real patriot would defend the constitution,” and another “Troops are suffering and dying from government contracts.”
I crossed at Terminal Place after identifying myself as press. Secret Service was all over the place – white guys with buzz cuts and lots of enviable gun talent – checking my ID three times, looking for my name on lists, and then submitting me to a gantry metal screening. Even the paperclip that held my “White House Press Pool” pass to my lanyard was under brief, but manual scrutiny. Secret Service was looking out over the crowd from the front steps. John Reid, Senator Allen’s director of communications, beckoned me into the press arena [read: cage]. I recognized immediately that far more people were milling around across the street than paying at least $500 to get inside. Garrie Rouse, who ended up putting up the MySpace bulletins about protesting this event, told me he conducted a count by tens of 380 souls at 4 o’clock. I wanted to check on the crowd outside, but in a way, that Republican rally was like a hip-hop concert: once you left, re-entry was not an option. Secret Service offered to accompany me to the bathroom door. Projectors beamed a massive, spinning series of white stars in a blue field into the museum’s dome, while others shined stars off of the wall marble. Watching the Republicans mill about, I called Ben Cohen, a Facebook organizer, who was telling me over the phone of a massive 12×4 banner held up by the crowd, saying “George Bush: Motherfucker” Apparently, there were a handful of state SWAT lining the street scanning nearby rooftops. Cohen reported chants of “Bush and Allen sitting in a tree, K-I-L-L-I-N-G!”
When the event let out, I walked quickly across the street to talk to the few protestors who were still hanging. Sean O’Hern was picking up 200 pairs of shoes he had set down to represent dead Iraqi children, and had labeled each with names. Francis Scott Warner said, “I am here to protest against George Allen and President Bush, two treasonous warlords who are trying to destroy our nation!” A younger guy next to him said, “The only reason [gas] prices are dropping is to get his butt buddies elected.” Incidentally, regarding potential threats to Virginia families, George Allen fingers homosexuals: those of whom seek marriage rights.
One Alex Taylor said, “I am here pretty much to keep a war that I do not believe in [sic], that I don’t want to have to go to, that I’ve had friends die in, and that it has no real end in sight.” Another guy who did not volunteer his name spoke into my microphone, “I’m out here to protest torture, to protest war, to protest lying, to protest erosion of constitutional rights, and I’m out here to protest the deceit of 9/11 that has taken this nation into war, and is driving us to war, to a prison planet.”
The Mary Washington event on September 26 brought the weepy, now vaguely optimistic John Edwards to the campaign trail to stump for Webb in light of the race just being closer than most expected. Webb’s nobility or stupidity or whatever you want to call it, is costing him this race, according to Bob Mosel of The Nation, who says that Webb “should have stuck the knife in.” A bunch of reporters cornered Webb and Edwards at the side of a balcony and shoved microphones in his face.
TV Man: “Regarding racism back in his earlier years, is George Allen’s question of character not in play?”
Webb: “You know, I have no comment on that. You know, I have 46 days or 42 days to get my issues out in front of the people, particularly the people of Virginia. You know, I said after this New Republic article in the Spring, I said it’s just not something I want to focus on. And, and, I said the same thing after the debate the other day.”
The New Republic may have proven to be the most partisan prognosticator of all, but barely more than major grey presses like The Washington Post or Washington Times. While almost all of the polls show Webb and Allen within statistical margin of error, clearly Jim Webb has trailed in most. My call is that unless the Senator regresses on camera to direct touretic fury at an actual black person or goes into another I’m-OK-with-Jews-but-definitely-NOT-a-Jew thing really close to election day, I think Jim Webb will retch on his own blood when the numbers come in. Four different people have come forward completely outside of Webb’s campaign to say that, yes, Allen said “nigger” at least in reference to black people, but, according to Michael Scherer of Salon, these accounts all say he used the word discretely, in private humor or fury, or in that sad way people tell tasteless jokes behind closed doors. Nonetheless, Ken Shelton said Allen cut off a deer’s head, asked for directions to the nearest black neighborhood, and then dumped its bloody skull into a mailbox. Webb once wrote an article called “Women Can’t Fight,” in which he said that women were not good for the front lines, and that women in the Navy, if nymphomaniacs, would be in paradise. This race has gotten as personal in the open as it will. The rest is up to party prejudice and completely inaccurate attack ads.
Anyway, back to Mary Washington:
Webb said, “I have never issued an ethnic or racial slur at someone,” but added its “hard to grow up in the South without having [nigger] pass your lips once or twice.”
What does Webb claim to share with Edwards? Supposedly, a concern for “the increased economic inequality in this country and what we can do about it.” Keep in mind, upon my questioning on whether he supports Affirmative Action, Edwards said, “I do, strongly.” That’s the sort of issue that the Democratic Party line bends around in this case, Webb expressing in the past reservations about affirmative action programs.
Edwards: “I think there are things we can do that don’t have America acting unilaterally, but where American leadership can make a difference.”
TV Man: “I don’t understand how you can say on one side America’s better than that, that we ought to take the lead, and then say somebody else should do it.”
Edwards: “NATO’s us.”
Webb: “I think we should become involved in issues around the world, but not always militarily and not always unilaterally.”
Webb went on to say that the Chinese should help in genocide-ridden Darfur because of a “natural affinity they have had over the past few years in that part of the world.”
Like most Democrats, Webb was a huge critic of the war, but unlike the party senators, he was against the vote when it might have mattered. Webb said, “I thought were going to get a fresh look at national security, and, after 9/11, I thought [Allen] took totally the wrong issue.” So, in response to what Allen was alluding to about Sunnis being upset at “everyone getting to have their say” in the newer, far more dangerous, Iraq, I thought it was time to ask Jim Webb how the United States could fix the ethnic tensions and create civil order for Iraq.
Webb: “I thought the war would empower Iran because of the Shi’a elements in Iraq. And, uh, you know, I was, actually, Iran and Syria said that as early as 1990. What we have now is a situation where Iran has more power in Iraq than-“
EJS: “No, I mean, in Iraq between Sunnis and Shi’ites.”
Webb: “Yes, but this is a part of it, because with the Shi’a ascendancy, which was predictable, what that has done has assisted in the empowerment in Iran, in a country which had been a buffer to Iraq. So, what I would do would be, and I have proposed this, is to assist enforcing a diplomatic approach that would get all the countries in that region who have historical and cultural ties to Iraq to the table overtly, diplomatically, and move toward a solution. There’s precedent for that, if you look what happened after we went into Afghanistan. We actually brought Iran, Pakistan, India, the other Stans and other countries to the table for assistance. That goes directly to your question about how to reduce tensions. If you get these other countries in the region that have sort cultural oversight and participation with the elements inside Iraq, that’s the way you start taking the stinger out.”
George Allen’s 11th annual Hoedown felt like Busch Gardens, yet with a higher price tag, albeit a merely suggested one. Miller Light and Bud Light trucks pushing out draft, a cartoony statue of 10-foot decorative cowboy boots, barrels of hay and staw – kind of like that Americana section of Disney World. At all of these events, understand, you are supposed to give money, but press status isn’t what got me out of it. An old roommate of mine who deserves street cred in RVA, David LaClerc, drove me out there to mingle with supporters.
Jerry Kilgore just ran in and lost the Virginia gubernatorial race. He said he saw his former opponent’s (Tim Kaine) biggest failure as having raised taxes, despite apparent promises to the contrary. “Is global warming real, and should the government fix it?” I asked him. He laughed. “Global warming is one of Al Gore’s fictions.”
“Really? But what about all of these hundreds of studies he presented that said it was a big deal?”
“Yeah,” said another who was with him. “Did you see that National Geographic from the 1970s that warned of the dangers of the Earth getting colder?”
In a way, I saw what they were getting at. The Republicans loved consistency. Stay the course, don’t pussy out, ride it all the way, or you’ll just create global instability. Maybe – hell, probably – you’ll just end up emboldening the terrorists. I was to find out later that the guy who wrote the 1976 National Geographic article to which he was referring asked in a 1990 if the world was in fact heating up. Flip-flopping fool!
I stammered, “I guess you could say that climate change within the National Geographic editorial board has shifted winds.” Given all of those Kerry ads from back in 2004 with him riding the wind surfing board, I thought he might laugh at the partisan meme.
Kilgore and his friend looked at me like I was crazy for saying that. “I guess they’re putting something funny in the press drinks,” and then he gestures to the Miller Light.
“Complacency?” I suggested as the press mickey. The other two looked uneasy, and all I remember is kind of moving awkwardly. The crowd was congregating near the platform where radio commentator/pundit Laura Ingraham was to stump for Allen. The working theory seems to be that the people planting IEDs in order to kill U.S. troops are also a part of the war on terror, and that by causing civil disorder, the Islamo-fascists are seeking to establish a new, Islamic totalitarian caliphate. (I don’t have running water! Mwahahahahahahaha!)
She talked with disdain for the lefty Washington Post, dissing them as premature “prognosticators,” yet at the same time reassuring the crowd, as the Senator would, of certain victory. A notable difference between Jim Webb and George Allen is Allen’s more consistent campaigning with his wife at his side. On that platform that day, as he sported a string tie and a cowboy hat, Allen stood with his wife Susan, and his daughter Audrey and his son named Forrest. The man had a huge nostalgia for the Confederacy, and his son was named Forrest.
After I headed out to a tent for some Maker’s Mark and Coke, Forrest and I locked eyes, and I shrugged. Allen would boast of his gubernatorial record, his abolition of parole, his welfare reform, just as I was to hear his supporters do again and again. In person alone and off of the official pamphlet, those included Terri Hauser, President of the Commonwealth Republican Women’s Club, who I talked to at the Hoedown, as well as Delegate William J. Howell, who I caught up with in the Museum. Strangely, the Secret Service was brushing Museum attendees away from the press arena. Even mingling in the museum had its price tag. Recording was forbidden to me, so the following is built off of quotes from my notebook.
At the museum, bright lights shining off of his brow seeming ever furrowed, George Bush said it was my “duty as an American” to vote for Allen. Allen, he said, seeks to “diversify our energy,” and “become less dependent on foreign sources of oil” in the name of national security. “He’ll keep your taxes low, and keep this economy rolling. We understand it’s the people’s money, not the government’s money . . . Small businesses are flourishing! Home ownership is up! . . . The [Democrat’s] middle class tax cut in ’92 ended up raising taxes.” Bush flouted Allen’s opposition to the capital gains tax, and – as he announced the junior senator was putting the death tax “on the road to extinction” – the creationists’ applause of joy filled the science museum’s atrium. Nancy’s Pelosi’s stated love of tax cuts, he apparently considered bunk. “Considering her record,” he said, “she must be a secret admirer.” Bush has stayed consistent on lowering taxes, but his 2000 campaign against big government has gone belly up in congress and in his veto record. “Tax and spend liberal” is a misnomer. The legislative and executive branches have effectively raised funding to every department in the government to one degree or another.
When Bush said how important it was that the soldiers be able to “question people on the battlefield you pick up,” the small crowd of about 150 suits hissed “Yeessssssss” in unison. Again about terrorists, Bush said, “You can’t negotiate with these people . . . that’s why you stay on the offense and bring them to justice before they can hurt the American people.” On Iraq, he said, the Democrats “voted for the war before they voted against it.”
That was true to the extent that the Bush was talking about his 2004 opponents. In fact, John Edwards later apologized for the initial authorization vote in a New York Times editorial written soon after the election. Only one senator, Russ Feingold, voted against the war initially. Bush’s rhetoric there remained as a rough critique of a John Kerry vote regarding funding of the war effort. However, there was no vote against the war’s existence after the April 2003 entrance.
“Iraq,” Bush said, “is an essential front on the war on terror.” He said al Qaeda’s (“The Base”) goal there is to “form a totalitarian regime” to establish a safe place “from which to launch attacks.” Bush said, “The Democrats want to pull out even if the terrorists have not been defeated,” emphasizing that the U.S. not . . .
“quit in Iraq until the
job is done,
that’s why they’re the party of
cut and run.”
“We will fight, we will stay, we will win in Iraq.” “If you want to be a Democrat, you can stand for anything, but victory in Iraq is not an option.” “Liberty has the capacity to turn a region of hatred into a region of compassion.” Like Allen at the Hoedown, Bush defended the USA PATRIOT Act, saying how bad it had been when intelligence “formerly” couldn’t speak with law enforcement. These are his claims.