Tuesday, October 18, 2005
Why I'm Backing Hackett
Check this out, from a piece in the November 2005 Mother Jones:
THE 2ND DISTRICT is the scarlet stripe in a red state: Since 1951, only one Democrat has represented this heavily gerrymandered slice of southern Ohio. In 2004, Rob Portman--the Republican whose seat came open for this summer's special election when he was appointed U.S. trade representative--won the district with 72 percent of the vote, while George W. Bush took 64 percent. The Almanac of American Politics notes that Cincinnati is "the most Republican major metropolitan area in the nation over the longest time span." .... ...[Ohio's 2nd District is] a place hit hard by declining farm incomes and manufacturing flight; fewer than 10 percent of its rural residents have bachelor's degrees, more than 95 percent are white, and the median income hovers near $30,000.This is the district that Paul Hackett came within four percent of winning two months ago. Now, Sherrod Brown's big strength, according to local Ohio Democrats, is that he's in good with the local union leaderships. But can the union leaders deliver the votes? Um, maybe not -- at least not in the 2nd:
According to Bill Tummler, a United Auto Workers (UAW) rep in the area, there are 31,000 union members in the district, but many of them are "independents"--code for saying that organized labor is no longer a reliable vote for Democrats. At a General Electric plant in Evendale, Denny Rydyznski, a machinist clutching a lunch box, confirmed this point to me. "Republicans are wired into business more," he said. "I don't recall ever getting a job from Democrats."But how do these union rank-and-filers feel about Paul Hackett? Let's find out:
"I'm Paul Hackett, and I'm running for Congress," he said, swinging into handshakes as if he were landing roundhouse punches. "'Preciate your support tomorrow." A hint of his jarhead cut was still evident beneath his flock of small curls; flecks of gray clung to his temples. A button on his shirt said, "Proud to have served." Hackett flashed a relaxed smile to an older woman who had just emerged from the plant and joked about the sweat seeping through his shirt. A man in a T-shirt and baseball cap gave him an obligatory nod and walked on past, until a union rep corralled him with the one-second bio: "He's a Marine and he's just back from Iraq." With that, Eddie McGowan stopped to take a second look. "He's a military man?" he asked. "That's big for me. Means he's not afraid to fight for his country at home or abroad."What about Hackett's military service? Turns out he's the real deal there, too:
Hackett joined the Marines in 1982, when he was a student at Case Western University, which was also where he met his wife, a psychologist by training. His father was an Army veteran who served during the Korean War and told his two sons that military service was a noble calling. Hackett looked at it as "a way to serve," and also "a way to travel, and to gain self-confidence and self-discipline." In all, he'd served 16 years in the Marines, including three years of active duty, by the time he was honorably discharged in 1999. Hackett was staunchly opposed to the invasion of Iraq: "We set a precedent after 227 years that we were going to invade a country that had not attacked us first," he told me. Yet when the war began, he found it hard to sit on the sidelines. He recalled a biblical line his father often quoted: "To whom much is given, much is expected." And so, in the summer of 2004, Hackett volunteered to return to the Marines for a new tour of duty. Within weeks he was a convoy commander in Ramadi; later he was assigned to head a civil affairs detachment in Fallujah, arguably the most dangerous place in Iraq. "Those are my Marines over there who are fighting and dying," he would explain when journalists quizzed him about his antiwar, pro-Marine stance. "I feel a bond with them, and I feel I need to be there with them. And I set my politics aside when I put the uniform on to be with--you know, I really mean this--to be with my brothers and sisters in the Marine Corps. They are my second family that I have been with for many years."Most Democratic candidates and pols avoid talking about Iraq. Not Paul Hackett:
HACKETT DIDN'T PLAN to make the war a top issue. After handily winning a five-way Democratic primary in June, he thought he'd focus on the economy and, in the wake of the Terri Schiavo case, getting government out of people's private lives. "Talking about Iraq didn't seem that relevant and interesting," he recalls. "A million guys had done what I did." But on the campaign trail, "it got out of control. Everyone wanted to talk about Iraq." For Hackett, who relates almost everything he does to his experience in the Marines, military service was also a potent metaphor. "In the military we say you're only as strong as your weakest link. So what does that say in this nation, where there are so many who are homeless, so many who are in poverty, and the poverty levels continue to increase at all levels throughout society?" That talent for idiosyncratic synthesis--military ethic equals war on poverty--provided Hackett with a strange-bedfellows collection of campaign planks. He advocated for standard liberal issues by invoking red-state red meat, and vice versa. In a debate with Schmidt, he said, concerning gay marriage: "I don't want the government in the bedroom any more than I want it in my gun safe or telling me how to worship." And, on abortion: "If you don't want government in your personal life when it comes to choice, you have to be consistent about that with guns." Hackett loves guns, and loves talking about them, especially to squeamish liberals such as the campaign staffers whom he delighted in taking out shooting on the weekend. He declares flatly that Democrats are "wrong on guns. I think they need to accept that." During the campaign, he'd quietly reassure skeptics that he supported enforcing existing federal gun laws, but it was his enthusiasm for hot lead that won him converts. "I always thought gun control was when you hit your target," he chuckled to a guy in a T-shirt in front of the GE factory gate. Jim Smith, a machinist and union rep, was thrilled: "He's like a rank-and-filer. And he's not a clone of any party."Okay, so we know that Hackett can connect with the purplish-red union rank-and-filers and fellow veterans in the 2nd better than any other Democrat has in the past three decades. But did you know he'd got some hardcore redder-than-red Republicans backing him against Jean Schmidt? Check it out:
Dan Johns, a burly Vietnam vet, heating contractor, and proud Republican, was among those who showed up to get out the vote for Hackett. With his bulging gut and thinning hair, he looked more than a little out of place among the chain-smoking campaign junkies and waifish college kids. He confessed to never having worked for a politician before--and certainly never for a Democrat. "To me, Saddam Hussein is no different than Hitler," he said, taking a break in the shade of a tree as volunteers swarmed about. Did he vote for Kerry? "God, no. I hated him. He's too liberal. He was trying to appease the doves." Bush, he added, "is a good president. He stands up for what he believes in." Not unlike Hackett, he concluded. "I met him, I like him, and he's a Marine. I go with my gut." Butch Davis, a 70-year-old lifelong Republican, pulled up at Hackett HQ in a 1943 Marine Corps jeep, complete with a mounted 30-caliber machine gun, sporting a "Veterans for Hackett" sign. "I'm a redneck from Brown County," he declared proudly, extending his weathered hand. "Paul's pro-choice," he added. "I'm pro-life. He said educating the young fellas and gals is the answer to the problem, not outlawing abortion." Davis continued in a thick Southern drawl, "I used to think clinic bombers were doing the right thing. My preacher said I was too uptight." He chuckled. Now, he said, "I think Paul's approach is as good as mine." The Bush administration, he continued, "trampled on our Bill of Rights and Constitution. They should be ashamed." Then there was Jack Haigwood, a salon-equipment manufacturer, Vietnam vet, and a Republican--until last year. "This president has not been kind to vets," the former Navy Seabee noted, "though he's created quite a few of them." He was upset, too, "with how this administration walks all over the Constitution. This terrorism act takes a lot of civil liberties. And I fought for those."Now, can you imagine any of these three gents pulling the lever for Sherrod Brown? Really and truly? Me neither.
This, says blogger Chris Baker, is the thing about Hackett that most outsiders missed--including the party strategists who issued self-serving memos about Hackett's strong showing, but never mentioned his positions. "Those national Democrats never saw Hackett talking to a Republican," he says. "The voice he was using had the same effect as Ronald Reagan when he would quote FDR. When Reagan ran in Ohio, he wasn't talking to Republicans--he was talking to Democrats. Hackett, when he says, 'This is not Goldwater's Republican Party, this is not your father's Republican Party'--you sit in a roomful of Ohio farmers and you see all those heads nodding up and down. The national campaign staff was talking about targeting Democratic voters. But Hackett was talking to both sides."DING DING DING! Hackett was talking to both sides. He wasn't just preaching to the converted. And he did it without watering down any of his stances. Can you imagine Sherrod Brown being able to pull that off? Me neither.
I've always believed that we need to elect people at the grassroots level, non-pro pols. We're not going to effect any necessary change in this government if we're going to settle for the same old models on the used car lot.
Good blog, good, well-researched post.
(At least, back when I lived in Ohio, the guaranteed way to win an election was to be named Brown or Taft. I suspect Gov. Taft's 15% approval rating has diminished that truism somewhat.)
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