The above headline is not intended as a Steinbeck rip-off, but it sure does fit when you compare the campaign styles and personal characters of two major figures on the Connecticut, and thus the national political scene.
Back in September I wrote how Democratic US Senate candidate Ned Lamont showed disdain and disrespect for veterans when he turned his back on several, including registered Democrats, who were waiting to meet him at the American Legion hamburger booth at the Hebron (CT) Harvest Fair, and then ran away when boos erupted.
I noted that Republican US Congressman Rob Simmons came along shortly afterward with a different take on being booed. Simmons is a decorated US Army Vietnam Veteran who has extraordinarily strong support among veterans because, among other things, he is one of the members of Congress who doesn't embellish his war record.
Simmons shook hands and chatted with the vets at the burger booth, and noted that during infantry officer training he was schooled to "face into the ambush and return fire."
I bring this all up again because last week it was Simmons' turn to face into the ambush and I was there to see it. The way it was handled, once again, says all we need to know about the character of the man.
I was invited to a news conference prior to the last debate between Simmons and his opponent, Democrat Joe Courtney, where it was to be announced that Simmons has received the National Veterans of Foreign Wars Political Action Committee endorsement. I am a past commander of my local Veterans of Foreign Wars post, and while I can't make an endorsement as a VFW member, nor can my post, my state VFW, nor the national, it was acceptable for me and other VFW and American Legion members to do a short reading of the VFW PAC's endorsement and answer media questions.
But first we had to get inside the venue, which in this case was a public high school in Enfield Connecticut. The reason that getting inside was an issue was that outside were about 75 members of various labor unions from the area who had been brought in by the Joe Courtney campaign(Simmons' Democratic opponent) to demonstrate against Simmons.
The union guys were outside nearly two hours ahead of the scheduled debate, with organizers running them through drills of the chants they would use as debate time drew near and the public began arriving. It was an intimidating scene to be sure, even though, as many at the debate pointed out, the union guys were paid to be there, which stands to reason. If a union member is going to organize for better wages and benefits then he should at least get paid scale for union organized events.
Since I was a union man years ago when I first was discharged from the Marines I also figured that a lot of the demonstrators are vets themselves and are probably aware in private that Simmons has done far more for organized labor than his opponent.
All of this was secondary, however, to the fact that Simmons had to walk right through this gathering to get to the entry door. When he arrived for the news conference I joined a contingent of about 10 veterans to meet him outside and provide an honor escort. We started through the union ranks, and were met with total respect, for which I offer a thank-you to the unions.
They did, however, begin their chants as Simmons passed, and here is where I took the measure of the man. I was in the lead, initially with Simmons right behind me, but I looked over my shoulder when we were halfway to the entry, only to discover that Simmons had stopped and walked right over to the demonstrators.
He didn't get very far with them, in terms of meaningful dialogue, but he did do exactly what he had said he would do when we talked at the Harvest Fair burger booth two months earlier.
He faced into the ambush and he returned fire. There were several younger members of his volunteer staff with him and I could see that the shouts and chants made them uncomfortable, which the Congressman could clearly see also. He lingered for as long as it took to establish that he was willing to talk, then resumed his walk inside.
Had there been an opportunity for true discourse I'm sure Simmons could have more than held his own on his stance on labor issues that have come to Congress during his tenure. This obviously wasn't going to happen, since the labor forces were not being paid to have conversations, they were paid to demonstrate.
But what was really important was that Simmons demonstrated once again that he doesn't just talk, he follows his words with appropriate actions. He didn't try to find an alternate means of entering the debate, like a side or back door, he walked right in the front door, right past the demonstrators, and on to the press conference.
I'm not sure just what the Courtney campaign was hoping to accomplish by bringing in hired labor demonstrators. I was told that some of them don't even live in Connecticut, residing instead in nearby Massachusetts where the taxes are much lower and their paychecks go much further.
In previous debates along the Connecticut shoreline some demonstrators were said to have come in from Rhode Island. Obviously Courtney wants to give an impression of support that may not be there, and as usual the Connecticut media has made no attempt to inform the public that not all the pro-Courtney people it interviews are on hand for reasons of political philosophy.
You can't help contrasting Simmons' actions last week with Lamont's actions in September. I read the other day that Lamont has now poured about $16 million of his own money into his campaign against Sen. Joe Lieberman, who still is holding a double digit lead over Lamont in the latest polls, no matter who did them, how small or large the polling sample, or how skewed the questions.
Lieberman is so far ahead of Lamont that there doesn't appear to be a margin of error involved, just a margin of victory.
You have to wonder, what can we learn from a guy who says that his status as a self-made millionaire businessman justifies his desire to go to Congress to manage our money? Yet he has invested $16 million of his personal income for a failed campaign to get a job that pays $165,200 per year. That means he would have to be a Senator for a century just to break even!
Far more important, however, is the character issue. Lamont showed his in September, and since then has showed that he honestly believes you can buy the American voter with slick commercials and advertisements rather than character and performance.
For my money, there is a reason why guys like Rob Simmons don't have to pay demonstrators to give false impressions of their support. Guys like him, who have character in abundance, get their support the old-fashioned way. They work for it.
Sunday, November 05, 2006