Letter from the Editor

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Fishing for votes

On the eve of the presidential election of 1932, cowboy humorist Will Rogers suggested that the combatants "go fishing until the election."

The state of campaigning had degenerated so that normally fine people were goaded by their political leeches into saying things they otherwise wouldn't dream of, he opined.

"This country is a thousand times bigger than any (politicians) in it, or any two parties in it. These big politicians are so serious about themselves and their parties," Rogers said.

"This country has gotten to where it is in spite of politics, not by the aid of it."

The very fact that America has managed to survive as much political bunk as it has shows why it is a superior nation, according to Rogers. Some things never change.

So, our saddle-sore philosopher says, the presidential candidates should have a moratorium on their speech-making. Say their piece - then, instead of hanging around calling each other names for more months on end, they should just go fishing until it is over.

"Why, you can do everybody a big favor by going fishing, and you will be surprised," he says, "but the old U.S. will keep right on running while you boys are sitting on the bank."

Danged if Barack Obama didn't come close to doing just that.

I've covered more presidential candidates here than you could shake a stick at - if you could still afford a stick after taxes, the cost of your prescription and your student loan payment.

I've seen every trick in the book. But on his first visit to Storm Lake, Barack Obama decided to go to the lake to speechify.

Perhaps he thought such a backdrop would draw more press paparazzi. Or that being outdoors would make him seem more accessible. Maybe it's cheaper than renting a meeting hall. For whatever reason, had he taken eight steps backward during his speech, he'd have been half submerged in whitecaps.

Not that politicians haven't been waist deep in, um, stuff before.

I kind of like Bam's idea. I'm a lakefront sort of guy myself, and sitting in hot, dim auditoriums listening to lengthy political rhetoric is only slightly less appealing to me than undergoing a double root canal while Barry Manilow's "Copacabana" plays ceaselessly over the dentist's office speakers.

Here is every candidate's speech made in Iowa during my lifetime, in a nutshell.

"Cut your taxes... health care for everyone... affordable college educations... ethanol and wind power... small family farmers... money for schools... yadablahblah... I'll change everything that's wrong with Washington if only you vote for me."

Obama could have said that he eats kittens and spits in grandma's apple pie, and I could smile through it as long as I'm out basking in the sun and the warm breeze with the gulls wheeling overhead and the sound of the waves hitting shore.

The only fishing the guy did during his visit in Storm Lake, of course, was for votes. To say he pulled in his limit would be like saying Jonah once got a nibble.

Over five hundred people in the middle of a work/school day came to that event. I've seen a presidential candidate draw a mob of exactly three in this town, and that was with free cookies. To hold the attention of that many on anything, at least without a juicy scandal as bait, is impressive.

What is it about this guy? Others have done much more, much longer, in politics. His talking points aren't all that different from other Democrats or even many Republicans. Like the rest, he promises things without much detail on how he's going to pay for them (universal health care revolution within four years.)

I've read his stuff and seen him on TV, but you do really have to watch him in person. He does capture a room, maybe even a lake.

Whatever "It" is, it may not necessarily translate into a successful presidency, but it certainly makes plain that a great many people seem to desperately long for a change from where we have been lately - something, anything new.

In places like Storm Lake, Iowa, people don't tend to rush to decisions over pretty words. I expect that many are still undecided. On our lakefront, Obama sure has a knack for verbally casting a lure, but we haven't yet climbed in his boat as our final choice for fishing buddy through the choppy political waters, at least not until we see if we can really count on him to get us to the dock in a storm.

He talks about "hope" to no end, as if that word is somehow a life preserver to our already campaign-weary ears. Hope keeps us believing that we need not be at war forever, that better care for our parents and better schools for our kids are not just words swamping us amid the tsunami of political bullcrap.

We are drawn to listen, whether we are political friend or enemy of the man. We are curious. Hope, in fishin' and politics, is what keeps us going.

Is this the false kind, like an imagined tug at the bobber on a long September day without a walleye in sight? Or will there turn out to be something real below the surface this time?

I doubt the candidates will go fishing until the election, any more than Hoover did back when. Only time will tell if we came up with something down by the lake.

* Contact the editor at dlarsen@stormlakepilottribune.com