Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Friday, October 22, 2010

Dancing the Sidestep

Johnny Walker
@KingstonJW on Twitter

One of my favorite movies of all time was a 1982 musical comedy featuring actor Charles Durning as the Governor of Texas. He was only one of many big names, like Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds, but Durning had the singular honor of dramatizing The Sidestep by Carol Hall in political song.

Fellow Texans, I am proudly standing here to humbly see.
I assure you, and I mean it- Now, who says I don't speak out as plain as day?
And, fellow Texans, I'm for progress and the flag- long may it fly.
I'm a poor boy, come to greatness. So, it follows that I cannot tell a lie.

Ooh I love to dance a little sidestep, now they see me now they don't-
I've come and gone and, ooh I love to sweep around the wide step,
cut a little swathe and lead the people on.

32 years after the original 1978 Broadway production of the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, we can look back and smile at the comedic stereotype and appreciate the humor. Less humorous; however, is knowing that at a time when our country is at the crossroads of social, economic, and political upheaval, the lie of the sidestep will likely have major consequences. I’m not talking about big institutional conspiracies like hiding UFO’s or something, but the small individual lies that reflect the health of a politician’s morality and core values; the stupid and unrepentant lies of avarice. Let me give you a few examples of sidestepping liars.

In the hotly contested race between 14-year incumbent Jay Inslee (D) and challenger James Watkins (R) for Washington’s 1st Congressional District, Jay Inslee had been sidestepping arrangements to debate Watkins throughout the campaign. Inslee finally agreed to a single debate on the evening of October 18th on Bainbridge Island, a Monday night late in the season after mail ballots were on the way, and a ferry too far for most working constituents to take advantage of. Hosted by American Legion Post 172, it would be on his home turf to guarantee the friendliest audience plausible; “neighbors” as he put it. During the event, Inslee sidestepped a question about his probable bid for the 2012 governorship (again) and then further sidestepped into a lie. When asked to explain his absence from a ceremony he sponsored legislation for honoring Bainbridge High School graduate Bud Hawk, World War II veteran and medal of honor recipient, Inslee said he was in Washington DC “fulfilling his constitutional duty.” But it turns out he wasn’t there. According to the Seattle Post Intelligencer, he was at Seattle's Convention Center hobnobbing with Ford Motor Co’s Alan Mulally. Why was it so important to lie about that?

34-year incumbent Norm Dicks (D) of Washington’s 6th Congressional District did a little sidestepping recently as well. After not showing up to a September 20th scheduled debate with challenger Doug Cloud (R) in Sequim, his campaign manager told the waiting crowd that Inslee was on his way to Washington DC to cast some important votes. But there was a problem with that. There apparently weren’t votes scheduled for that day or the next, and KOMO news placed Dicks in Everett, WA, attending a Boeing labor rally. Norm Dicks sidestepped into a lie. A debate between the two was finally cemented in Sequim on October 13th, a Wednesday early afternoon in the cozy town 90 miles from the district’s dense populations centers; another sidestep I have reported on in some detail.

Just to be clear that dancing the sidestep is not a sport constrained to the Pacific Northwest, consider the campaign of Richard Blumenthal (D), Connecticut Attorney General campaigning for the Senate against Linda McMahon (R). You would think that a man of such legal stature would be careful about sidestepping lies but apparently not. Speaking at an event honoring veterans, Blumenthal told the audience he served in Vietnam. But the New York Times reported that just wasn’t so. Instead, Blumenthal received a series of deferments that allowed him to finish studies at Harvard and then he joined the Marine reserve in Washington to avoid deployment to Viet Nam. He also claimed to be captain of the Harvard swim team; not so.

Democrat Warren Buffett, billionaire activist, is quoted to have said this:

“Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. But if you don’t have the first, the other two could kill you.”

Over the decades, a number of politicians have let us down with sidestepping and lies from all parties. Dancing the sidestep is not nearly as funny in reality as it was in the movie. I think Bill O’Reilly would probably call them all pinheads. But I think we should just call them all "retired."

Vote for integrity in 2010. Know your candidates and vote smart. November is coming.

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