Thursday, May 29, 2008

Politics On Parade

The other day I attended the big fire engine parade that takes place in my neighborhood every Memorial Day. (Yes, there were more than just fire engines, but my earliest memories of parades like this are fire engines, and the kid in me watches, first and foremost, to see the fire engines.) There were the usual attractions, like high school bands, cub scouts, Civil War re-enactors, and church vans with puppet ministries -- but most important of all were the veterans marching in the parade. This was their day, and the day of their fallen comrades. The crowds lining the street respectfully quieted down and applauded whenever military veterans passed by. That was nice.

Not so nice were the reasons that my kids liked the parade: the candy tossing and the balloon man. Every time I take the kids someplace where an old guy is selling balloons, trouble ensues. Let's just say that I was not happy to pay seven bucks for two balloons with a life span of about two hours. The candy tossing wasn't so bad, at first. Various and sundry civic groups, fire departments, and others toss little pieces of bulk-purchased candy (mostly of the hard, old lady variety) towards the edge of the sidewalk where children are seated. The kids scurry to grab and hold as much candy as possible before sitting back down. It went well until some big red haired bully decided to jump in front of smaller children (and they were all smaller than him) so he could grab all of the candy before anyone else could. I had to deal with not just a few tears in the wake of big red's rampages.

Let's engines, veterans, scouts, bands...was there anything else? Oh yes...politicians.

Since this is an election year, I expected to see some politicians in attendance. I expected to see more than two, but there aren't really many hot races in the area this time around. The most significant race pits incumbent Republican Congressman Tim Murphy against Democrat challenger Steve O'Donnell. And both of them were there.

I've seen Tim at plenty of functions in the area. Like any good Representative, he tries to be seen as often as possible. He doesn't try to take center stage, unless he is a featured guest, but he's there anyway. For instance, last year, there was a street festival in my neighborhood. Prominent local elected Democrats (County Exec Dan Onorato and some state pols) made an appearance on stage to present the community with one of those awesome giant checks that make a good photo op. While all eyes were on the stage, I glanced around the crowd and spotted Tim Murphy. He wasn't trying to muscle his way onto stage and be seen with all the Dems. Nor was he bumping around, shoving his hand into people's palms and saying, "Hey how are you?" before moving right along. In other words, he wasn't being a politician. He didn't even need to be there. He blended in, and he looked honestly pleased to see the big check presentation ceremony.

At this week's Memorial Day parade, Tim Murphy had a car with his name on a sign on either side of the car. That's standard for people or organizations with a car in the parade. However, rather than sitting in the car, waving his hand and tossing candy, he walked around and passed out candy from a bucket. He made his appearance, everyone knew that he was there and knew who he was, and he moved on. No heavy politics.

On the other hand, there was his opponent, Steve O'Donnell. This guy's appearance was a little creepy. For one thing, he didn't have a car, that I could see. Was he even supposed to be there? Then there was his proximity to Tim Murphy. I've seen opposing politicians taking part in the same parade before, but they maintained some degree of distance from one another, with usually a few bands and fire engines keeping them apart. Steve O'Donnell was following Tim Murphy. Your kids pick up Tim's candy, and suddenly there's Steve in your face, shoving his hand into your palm. He was working the side of the road, followed by what appeared to be a couple of thugs. Big, unfriendly looking young men wearing Steve O'Donnell stickers. Probably a wise move on his part. When you go around being overbearing among potentially hostile people, bodyguards are handy.

Before coming over to me, Steve O'Donnell stopped to talk to a lady about the need for big changes in the district, and in the country. He seemed to be assuming that, because this voting age person is female, she couldn't possibly be a Republican, so I will speak to her concerns. The delicious irony is that the woman is on the local Republican committee and has run for office a couple of times. Unfortunately, she is also a very nice, community oriented person, so she didn't give him a kick in the nuts.

Neither did I. I'm a man, for one thing, and I would have had to beat up both of the bodyguards. But I did think about it. If I could sum up Steve O'Donnell in one word, that word would be...slick. He was working the crowd in the way that a politician should, but there was something weird about his sliding along the parade route in Tim Murphy's slipstream and getting in my face when I'm trying to watch the parade and keep an eye on my kids. The man is trying to sell himself to me in 30 seconds or less, and the closer he leans in, the more distracted I am getting...because of his beard. He has a neatly trimmed goatee that is so light as to be almost invisible. When he walks toward you, the beard seems to fade in and out of existence. It's distracting, and disturbing.

Now, I have had numerous facial hair styles. I have had goatees. I have had short, trim beards. I have had big fuzzy beards. I have had different kinds of mustaches. Once I even had a Kaiser Wilhelm II style mustache. Last year, I decided to give up on growing facial hair after my chin fur turned white. I prefer the hair on my face to match the hair on my head. The beard will be back, but not until after the rest of my hair goes white.

Having thus established my authority on the subject of facial hair, I have a few suggestions for Steve O'Donnell. He can either:

Any of those would be preferable to a beard that makes him look like half of his face is in the Phantom Zone.

If all of this beard talk makes you want to talk about the issues, check out his campaign web site...yikes! Steve O'Donnell is definitely not on my side. In fact, he's downright hostile to me. If you have the patience to sit through the entire video that pops up on his home page, you get the distinct impression that he does not covet support of Republicans. The 18th District has a Democrat majority of registered voters, yet keeps returning Tim Murphy to Congress. Tim seeks the votes of people from both parties, and is rewarded with victory for his efforts. Steve O'Donnell trash-talks Republicans from the get-go. If I had seen this video before the parade, I might have had some harsh words for him when he stuck his magical disappearing beard in my face. He wants to "fight the Republican anti-family agenda"? I have a family. Is he saying that I hate my wife and kids? He wants to fight, I'm game.

Of course, when he says "anti-family", he is employing socialist rhetoric. He wants the government to take care of your kids. When you read his issues page, you get a strong sense that he is all about doling out taxpayer money. In a Steve O'Donnell America, none of us would be able to claim dependents on our 1040 because we would all be dependents of Uncle Sam. O'Donnell shouldn't have been walking along a parade that featured plenty of American flags. He would be more at home under a red flag with hammer-and-sickle. And he wants me to consider voting for him?

If he had picked up Tim Murphy's candy from the payment and given it to kids on the other side of the street, it would have been in perfect keeping with his view of how to run the country.

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