• 73°

Political professionals mirror gunslingers

By By Steve Flowers
The new political professionals who run campaigns today are highly paid hired guns. They go from state-to-state running U.S. senate and governors' races all over the country. Much like the gunslingers of the Wild West days they build a reputation. Just like the western gunslingers of bygone days, who would swagger into a bar of a new town and haughtily soak in their deference and respect or fear, these modern day political gunslingers waltz into a state demanding huge fees to elect the candidate who has hired them for that year's campaign.
These political gunslingers bring with them their team of pollsters, speech writers, and ad men, and of course their reputation for success and meanness. They must be mean in today's political world. The hired gun must be feared, not only for his success and number of victories, but he also must have a collection of scalps. He must be renowned for negative ads and attacking and destroying the opposition. Negative ads and success usually go hand-in-hand because they generally work.
These hired guns will usually find somebody or some entity to hate then create fear and hatred against this person or entity. In political terms it is called finding a bogeyman and running against him. Before the days of these political handlers our greatest Alabama politicians knew this theory instinctively.
George Wallace created the greatest southern bogeyman, the race issue. He ran against integration and then when that issue subsided, and more importantly after African Americans began voting, he made pointy headed liberals his bogeyman. He proudly proclaimed that if one of those longhaired pointy headed liberals lay down in front of his car he would run over them. Wallace's followers nationwide would laugh when he said that those liberal intellectual elitist at Berkley could not even park their bicycles straight.
Big Jim Folsom used the "soak the rich" philosophy the same way that Huey Long did in Louisiana. Big Jim ran against the rich "Big Mules" of Birmingham. Big Jim would declare that he was the little man's big friend and he would defend them against the giant greedy corporate "got-rocks."
Republicans have for decades played the liberal card as though the word generically captures everything evil and corrupt in politics and decries the southern way of life. In the 2006 Governor's Race, Gov. Riley's handlers' initial ad attacked Lucy Baxley as being a liberal and likened her to Hillary Clinton.
Hillary Rodham Clinton was the biggest bogeyman, or should we say bogeywoman, used in the 2006 races by republican candidates. She has surpassed Ted Kennedy as the most liberal and hated democrat in Washington by most republicans. Infamous film director Michael Moore is also a hated bogeyman by the rightwing. He and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi are both distant lightening rods for republicans to bash.
In Alabama it has been safe to jump on the illegal immigration issue because most of the illegal Hispanics here do not vote. Just as it was easy to demagogue the race issue in the early 1960's because African Americans did not vote. However, nationwide, because of the tremendous importance of the Hispanic vote in crucial swing states, it is a tricky step for republican handlers to exploit this issue.
Democratic enclaves are receptive to candidates using George Bush as a lightening rod. His administration's invasion of Iraq and his ties to big oil have incensed loyal democratic voters. The deficit and litany of republican congressional scandals are also good bogeyman material. Senator Larry Craig's recent hypocrisy is good fodder for campaign ads. As the 2008 Presidential Race fast approaches you will see these and other bogeymen appear.
These political gunslingers think they are geniuses by creating bogeymen for voters to hate and vote against, but smart politicians like George Wallace and Big Jim Folsom knew inherently how to create a bogeyman 60 years ago. Watch out for bogeyman this Halloween week and all next year too.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama's leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 70 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.