March 2010

Last night I had the good fortune to attend a US Senate campaign forum hosted by Durham for Obama. Four candidates – Calvin Cunningham, Ken Lewis, Elaine Marshall and Marcus Williams – were there, and they each took turns making statements, answering pre-screened questions and shaking hands after the fact.

For the purposes of full disclosure, I knew Cal Cunningham before he ran for any public office and I am currently planning to vote for him in the primary due to his positions on my most important issues, not due to personal association. We hadn’t seen each other in a dozen years before I got to speak with him last night after the forum.

Some thoughts on each candidate:

Marcus Williams: just plain not up to the task. He came off as unprepared and possibly a closet conservative. He fumbled answers to questions about more complex issues and returned again and again to deficit reduction as his main issue, even when it didn’t make sense – that is, when he wasn’t stumping for his own website. I haven’t looked at it yet, but his whole performance reeked of Gregarious Troubled Uncle, a cross between class clown and used car salesman.

Elaine Marshall: genuinely surprisingly scrappy. She came off as a much tougher campaigner and more skilled on the stump than I had expected. I’ve been saying for months now that she seems like the most outspokenly liberal candidate and she only wavered briefly from that last night (the stab at Hugo Chavez seemed kind of random to me). Marshall made a very impressive showing. When Calvin’s campaign didn’t seem certain of happening in the first place, Marshall was my candidate of choice. What I hadn’t expected was that she would get interrupted by spontaneous applause and encouraging hoots.

Ken Lewis: Heavily associated with DFO and widely expected to walk off with the DFO straw poll endorsement (which did not happen – he got over 50%, but not the required 70%), he likewise impressed me with his practicality and general air of calm competence… right up until his closing statement. Here’s a tip, counselor: don’t go negative and go over your time in a closing statement to which no one will be allowed a response, even if you are on your home turf. It was exceptionally rude and unprofessional and wrecked what had been growing respect for him over the night. Up to that point, the substance of his answers and his closing statement had really impressed me and like I say he strikes me as someone who would be extremely competent in the Senate even if he came off as also being just as dull as dishwater. He clearly knows what he’s talking about, but he doesn’t make me believe he’s excited about it. Lewis comes off sounding like he’s auditioning for the part of Al Gore Stunt Double. If he wins the seat I’ll be very happy and I’ll have his sign up in my yard but I do not hope that he wins the primary and very little could move me to vote for him over anyone but a Republican.

Cal Cunningham: I love the guy, but he looks like he’s been replaced by SeriousExpressionBot 9000. He was initially slow to take specific positions in my personal opinion but he’s ramped that up, gotten a lot more specific in recent weeks and has said the things I need to hear – pro-choice, pro-equality, pro-public-option – to keep me enthusiastic about him. Last night he came off as surprisingly rehearsed which reflects a very solid knowledge of his position statements but contrasts – sometimes weirdly – with other candidates who had something of an “um” problem when answering questions but sounded more off-the-cuff and relaxed. I would say it was a mixed performance, in part because the hand gestures and “Serious Candidate Is Serious” sharpness of his diction and tone to his voice both made him seem slightly robotic and caused one to wonder with whom he hoped to pick a fight. He sounded like he was itching to argue with Richard Burr, not other Democrats. That’s fantastic, except that campaign doesn’t happen until May. I confess that he also surprised me by receiving multiple interruptions in the form of applause and supportive hoots from the crowd. Cal also displayed a pleasing practicality when he said that he expects healthcare reform to have passed and be old news by the time the winner takes office but that it will have happened in a fashion that will require a “second phase” to incorporate necessities like a public option.

So, overall? I think Marcus Williams should call it a day. I think the other three candidates would each be extremely stiff competition for Burr in the fall. I have to assume he had some people there last night, somewhere, and if he has a lick of sense – always a controversial question – he’s worried. They all knew their stuff, they all had very different approaches to delivering it and while all three looked like they could clean Burr’s intellectual clock it was Cunningham and Marshall who looked most amped up – by far – to get in Burr’s Kool-Aid. That closing statement of Ken Lewis’ really did jettison my support for him as a candidate, but I think there’s a case to be made for either Cunningham or Marshall in May that a lot of people could find compelling.

Here is, word for word, an email I sent to KJ asking her advice this morning after an incident on the way to work. Any thoughts are appreciated.

(I should note that, on re-reading, I think I failed to communicate the amount of moxie the young woman showed in her responses to him. She had a do-not-give-me-shit shield that she put up from the first moments of their interaction.)

So, this morning I was standing at the bus stop with a very pretty
young blonde woman when a much older guy wearing nice but strikingly
mismatched clothes dashed through traffic to join us. As he ran up he
said to her, “How much is the bus,” indicating that he’s new around
here. He then looked abruptly at me like I had said something, then
turned back to her for her answer. She told him that all the buses
are free and he immediately started “joking” about “Hey, why don’t we
run away together, then, let’s just get on the next bus and see where
it takes us,” etc. She laughed it off with obvious nervousness and
then he got on the bus with us – I got between them when we got on, but
the bus was empty (spring break) and so he had plenty of ways to sit
near her – and started pointing out cop cars in sight. “Are they
looking for *you*?” she asked him, which got a chuckle out of me. He
said no, the only reason they would be looking for him is if he
*didn’t* talk to her because that would be a crime, hardy har.

There were a lot of things about him that sent up red flags: a
generally manic air, the fact that he was wearing two watches and
carrying a third, that he was carrying a pair of glasses he never
seemed to need (a classic of social engineering, as someone carrying
glasses is strongly associated in most minds with professionalism,
doctors, lawyers, scientists, people assumed to have their shit
together). She pointedly asked about the watches and he said “Well,
you know, the recession.” He then launched into a sob story about his
sister and how she died of brain cancer and lung cancer and he had to
decide to pull the plug, and way, WAY before she needed to, she pulled
the cord to ask the driver to stop at the next bus stop so that she
could get off the bus.

Her body language told me – and him – that she wanted to get OUT OF
THERE, to the point that he said, “So, if I got off at the next stop,
with you, and walked with you, would that bother you?” She didn’t
hesitate to say that yes, that would bother her, and she’d appreciate
it if he did not do that. He tried another limp round of boohooing to
try to sway her but she ignored it and when the bus (finally!) stopped
she got off in a hurry with a backwards, “Thanks for an interesting
morning.” He said something inexplicable (“Thanks for an interesting
life,” I think) and then looked at me and I looked back at him the
rest of the way to *my* stop. He got twitchy in a big way and kept
producing this dry sniffle that I’ve always associated with major coke
heads and that would explain a lot of his mania and talkativeness and
generally sketchy vibe. My goal throughout – as I was paying obvious
attention to him throughout his monologues to her – was to make it
clear to him that there was someone else around who was noticing him.
I wanted him to be sure that he couldn’t do anything without someone
having a good look at him first.

My quandary is, should I have asked her if she wanted/needed help
getting rid of the guy? I consciously chose, when she from the get-go
seemed to be onto his antics, to take the stance we’re trained to use
at elections: when someone wants help, they will ask for it. Should
I have intervened, though? More than once I opened my mouth to say to
the guy, look, lay the fuck off, OK? I didn’t want to step in where I
might not be wanted, though, and I didn’t want to suggest that she was
somehow incapable of ditching him and, happily, it turned out that she
was (capable). I honestly don’t know, though, if I drew the correct line on
when to intervene in what seemed like it had the potential to get
weird in a bad way.

…when there’s legal gay marriage happening RIGHT NOW in the District of Columbia!


I’m not actually mad about this at all, it’s just that my car is red.

On Saturday I stopped in at Parker & Otis for something to eat before hitting the Carolina Theatre of Durham for the Oscar-nominated animated shorts program (also playing tomorrow, Thursday 4 March, and well worth it). I parked in a kind of isolated spot adjacent to their building, between a wall and a huge SUV, so I was kind of invisible. After I’d eaten, I came outside to find two of my car magnets – magnetic bumper stickers – were missing. They were one of the old red and blue “Vote for Change – Obama ’08” circles and a highly stylized Cthulhu fish that parodies the Jesus fish that adorn so many cars.

At first, I assumed someone had been making an editorial comment. I didn’t see them, like, thrown down and stomped upon by indignant feet, though. The person also left behind my gay equality magnet, though since that’s just a yellow equals sign on a blue background, maybe it was too abstract for them to assign it any meaning? The other weird thing is that they left the other Obama magnet and the other Cthulhu fish on the other side of the car. (Their leaving the Cleveland Browns magnet is entirely understandable.)

So, did they just not see those? Were they afraid of getting caught? Or, is it that they wanted them for themselves? How strange to be left unsure whether I should feel annoyed or flattered by the sight of a blank red fender.

Either way, lame. They could have just left a note if they liked them or if they hated them. I’d find that a much more interesting experience.