It gets sillier still
A campaign in steep dive
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Editorial
October 29, 2014
“HAS A campaign for Congress ever dropped so low so fast? Surely one has. More than one. For example, there was one such in this year’s primary—when Ann Clemmer and Colonel Colonel Conrad Reynolds tried to gang up on French Hill. But their campaigns were more comedic than vicious.
“Then there were historic classics like Pryor (David) vs. McClellan (John) in 1972, and the inimitable Tommy Robinson vs. Sheffield Nelson in 1990, when both ran for governor but Bill Clinton won. That was a lollapalooza of an election year, and now we get Hays (Pat) vs. Hill (French) in the race for Congress in this state’s Second District—and the mud is flying.
“Patrick Henry Hays’ campaign had started out so well, too. His commercials were cute. He ran on his record. Look at what’s happened in North Little Rock over the last couple of decades when I was mayor. Not only that, but I have a beautiful family and, I assure you, a sense of humor. Honest. I should be your congressman!
“Months ago, when those kinds of commercials ran, you didn’t have to mute your television. And some of us didn’t cringe at the very thought of the coming campaign for this state’s Second Congressional District. Everything was coming up sweetness and light. Civility, we think it was called, if you can remember what that was by now.
“Then . . . .
“For some reason, for some regrettable reason, in less than a month Patrick Henry Hays’ campaign went from sailing high through the sky to plowing through, or maybe under, the mud. Remember his ads that tried to tie his opponent, Mr. Respectable Banker himself, French Hill, to Martha Shoffner, the disgraced state treasurer who got caught taking bribes from a no longer reputable bond dealer who admitted trying to bribe her? Those low-down commercials—approved by Mr. Hays, in person—made French Hill sound like some kind of crook. (‘French Hill: Getting rich with your money.’)
“Those of us who pay more attention to politics than normal, mentally healthy people should had to watch that commercial a couple of times before we (1) could make ourselves believe that it really said what it said, and (2) could make ourselves believe that Patrick Henry Hays really did approve of said commercial. But it really did, and he really did. Every shameful time it ran and re-ran. His words started sounding like a confession. A confession played over and over again. And here the Pat Hays we’d known was such a nice man, too. Elections will do that—turn nice Dr. Jekylls into vicious Mr. Hydes.
“Now comes this bit with the NRA.
“OVER THE past few days, campaigns for both men—in full silly mode as Election Day nears—have been going tit-for-tat about who’s chummier with the National Rifle Association, whose endorsement has come to seem all-important in Arkansas elections. In their latest salvo, Patrick Henry Hays’ people have been doing their best to out-gun the opposition:
“‘Mayor Hays is a longtime member of the NRA, has a concealed carry permit, owns a variety of firearms, cherishes the shotgun his daddy gave him, and will be a strong protector of the right to keep and bear arms.’ Or so says Pat Hays’ campaign manager, David Furr, who’s started to sound like a pop country song—and isn’t about to let his candidate be out-Bubba’d by anybody.
“All of which might have been fine if it had ended there. There’s nothing new about a politician’s trying to win a few votes among the camo-and-orangehats crowd. Remember when even John Kerry, running for president back in ’04, showed up at a grocery store in Ohio during goose season? His ‘Can I get me a huntin’ license here?’ still wins the brass ring—and we mean brass—as the phoniest line of that whole presidential campaign. Which is saying something, considering its general tone from start to finish.
“But those running the Pat Hays campaign right here in Arkansas just had to take one more gratuitous, unnecessary, contemptible step. Down. Not satisfied with mentioning their candidate’s NRA membership and gun ownership, they waved around a letter sent to Pat Hays by one Wayne LaPierre.
“You might recognize the name. Wayne LaPierre is the executive vice president of the NRA—who also appears on television every chance he gets.
“The Hays campaign says Wayne LaPierre, in that letter dated Sept. 19th of this year, praised Mr. Hays for his friendship, honored him for his leadership, and nominated Patrick Henry Hays for the NRA’s National Patriot medal. Ooo-wee! The National Patriot medal! Imagine!
“Well, you might not have to imagine. Because you might have gotten the very same letter.
“After the Hays campaign made such a big deal about the letter and nomination for the medal, your friendly statewide editorial page types called the NRA’s national headquarters on the Eastern Shore, and talked to one Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for that organization. His characterization of that oh-so-impressive letter: ‘It was a mass mailing fund-raising letter.’
“How massive, exactly?
“‘It was sent at least to our membership base. It was at least 5-million-plus. It was a fund-raising piece of direct mail.’
“WE ASKED for a copy of the form letter and the ever-obliging Mr. Arulanandam obliged. Sure enough, Mr. LaPierre’s letter proudly nominates Patrick Henry Hays for the National Patriot’s medal. But personal the letter wasn’t:
“‘Enclosed is a National Patriot’s medal confirmation form. Please review the information on your form carefuly. Check the spelling of your full name. Check the address, as well, and then return it to me and activate your Golden Eagles membership as soon as possible . . . .’
“Wow. Your Golden Eagles membership! That sounds as important as one of those Magic Decoder rings kids used to get in cereal boxes—or was that high honor one of those advertised in the back of Captain Marvel comic books? Or was it Superman? We forget after all these years. And this National Patriot’s medal sounds just as forgettable. Only less cute. And more expensive:
“‘Golden Eagle dues are $200 per year, which you can pay in full right away, or in four installments of $50 each within a twelve-month period. . . .’
“Who among us lucky recipients hasn’t received just such a letter, if not from the NRA then from some other outfit in need of a few hundred bucks from another sucker?
“But what about the Hays campaign’s quoting the letter as saying the medal is ‘awarded neither casually nor widely’? Yes, of course the letter says that. They all do, says Mr. Spokesman Arulanandam. In other words, the letter is in full accordance with the standard operating (if sketchy) procedure employed by such fund-raising letters.
“And this is how the Hays campaign promotes its candidate. What next, trumpeting Patrick Henry Hays’ exclusive right to be granted Full Membership in the AARP’s Discount Club? You can’t be turned down for any reason! All applications will be processed!
“Oh, yes, we almost forgot in the midst of all this hubbub and hullabaloo over what’s only a form letter: In the course of touting the letter as some kind of gala recognition of their man’s virtues, these hot-shot campaigners conveniently omitted the little, inconvenient fact that the NRA has endorsed Pat Hays’ opponent, the aforesaid French Hill, in this election.
“Strength, long-suffering citizens. It’ll all be over in less than a week. Then we can all go back to throwing out junk mail without looking at some of it in sheer disgust.”