Straight talk, my friends

The first real entry here shouldn’t be about politics, but it is. Such is the the season.

When I found out that John McCain was going to do a barnstorming tour of Wisconsin this week, I decided that, since I have never been to a presidential rally, this would be as good a time as any to go. You see, Wisconsin outside of Madison and Milwaukee is seldom a hotbed of national politics. George HW Bush was here way back when on his whistle-stop tour by rail. Other than that, and an appearance by Howard Dean and John Edwards back in ’04, Central Wisconsin goes largely unnoticed: Dave Obey’s rotting corpse gets reelected every other year for whatever reason and life goes on as it usually does. With a case of beer and a snap to attention at the very utterance of the name. (Lombardi. Or Miller Lite.)

So wife and I decided to take the afternoon off and head up to Mosinee, where Straight Talk Air would touch down and greet the throngs of supporters. (To be fair, it’s probably a good thing Mac wasn’t piloting the thing.) We arrived at CWA, were directed to alternate parking and lo! there were cars as far as the eye could see. As well as a line that stretched for a half-mile (longer by the time we got closer to the hangar.) In union-friendly, good ol’ boy Central Wisconsin, no less!

Let’s put it this way: in 1984, when Reagan ran wild over Mondale, only one county in Wisconsin fell in the Mondale category. That would be Portage, right here in the 715. Not the People’s Republic of Dane County, not the recovering socialists comprising Milwaukee County. Portage County.

So we parked, got in line and waited. And waited. The line slinked along at a snail’s pace, thanks to intense security detail and people who apparently didn’t realize that the less they brought with them, the faster they could get whisked through the metal detectors and wands. Which reminds me, those Secret Service guys are efficient; why can’t they do the airports, too?

While we inched closer and closer to the hangar, we began to hear angry voices on bullhorns. muffled-muffled-GEORGE BUSH AND JOHN MCCAIN!-unintelligible-muffled-SEND JOBS OVER-muffled-COUNTRY CLUB FIRST! COUNTRY CLUB FIRST! Sure enough, some union guys were there, mostly peaceful, mostly civil, but these two buffoons, one in a Bush mask, the other in McCain’s likeness, were on a bullhorn with background music so awful a wedding DJ would cringe (Tainted Love followed by Funkytown, for instance) and occasionally engaging in some kind of vertical breakdancing, using the terms loosely. At first it was irritating, but then it became quite funny, so the protesters, as lame as they may be, score bonus points for having a sense of humor. Some of the people in line for the rally jumped the line to get their pictures taken with them.

For the record, there were about a dozen protesters. There were over 2000 people for the rally.

Two points about Secret Service people: 1) They can be incredibly rude, as we found out when we chose a line and they decided to tell us to pick a line when we were already in our chosen line; 2) The suited ones you expect to turn and say “Missster Annnderson,” have really sharp ties.

So we finally made our way through the security detail and went out to the tarmac, where the rally was staged. Apparently we weren’t sexy enough to get onto the bleachers, so we got to stand with the peanut gallery. We stood in line, we waited for security, we walked through to the tarmac and got to stand for another hour.

The rally was to start at 2.30. The flight didn’t arrive until 3.

My back began to hurt around 3.05, in a certain sign of the impending Sirviopocalypse.

One of the area high schools’ marching bands played any number of songs that may or may not be found in a truck stop’s compact disc collection, people continued to file in. Aside from the wind, it was a beautiful, cloudless, warm but breezy day, a rarity around here for this time of year. A perfect day to wait around for a presidential nominee.

The mayor of Mosinee, a classic northwoods guy with a pompadour and a lumberjack goatee with absolutely no charisma or stage presence whatsoever, began the festivities just before the scheduled start of the rally, inviting numerous northwoods Republicans to the stage to warm up the crowd. As hokey as it may be, I find the old-time stumping for a candidate charming. Apparently so did the rest of the crowd, howling, cheering and booing at all the apropos moments.

When they exhausted the Republican officeholders, they turned to the pledge of allegiance. Then to the national anthem. Several more selections from the best of your local best of the 80s 90s and today radio station courtesy the slightly flat Wausau West band when filler was needed. A local minister offered an invocation. Then, in what appeared to be a last resort, a pro-life doctor with even less stage presence than our poor, outmatched Mosinee mayor was in mid-speech when a glimmer appeared in the Eastern sky. Some present may have thought it was the tearing asunder of the sky, heralding the Second Coming. In any case, she was prompted to mop-up her most boring oration. All the while, volunteers began to hand out pre-made signs, regular campaign stock and thunder sticks. Suddenly the bleachers where the cool people (read: some veterans, some black people and other non-caucasian folks and a mix of others, incidentally including my dear family friends who practically raised me from across the street when I was young) looked just like they do on the news!

[EDITORIAL ASIDE: Nothing irritates me more about modern theatrics than the insipid advent of manufactured fandom; signs made or handed out for people to wave as they would their own, thunder sticks, political correctness. From the 2000 RNC, to episodes of Family Feud, to American Idol to today’s rally I absolutely HATE contrived signage and propaganda. Really, you think the Jones family has fans in the crowd who brought signs? You ever stop to think that those little mind-numbed blondies in the front rows of American Idol sway with their hands raised to every single slow song?! I want my own signs for my life. Feel free to add suggestions in the comment box. I digress.]

As the plane landed, little girls screeched as though John McCain were John Lennon. There was no real need for that.

The jet taxied next to our rally site and the back doors popped open. People got excited, only to realize a legion of Secret Service guys came out. And then the press corps. And then the back door closed.

The front door then popped open. People got excited, cameras were clicking everywhere. More Secret Service people and staffers. Finally, the PA blares the introduction of Senator and Cindy McCain, and then they appeared. I had read earlier this week that Palin would be there, too, but she wasn’t. People were excited for McCain, but every Palin reference sent the crowd into a frenzy. She’s a popular girl, especially in these parts where she sounds exactly like one of us. Except that, for most of the time, I don’t sound like that.

The rest of the rally was more classic stumping. I snapped a ton of pictures, and got pretty good at taking shots with my arm extended up and out, the rally shot. McCain had his usual statements, the far-too-interjected ‘my friends’, talked about creating jobs and jump-starting the economy, cutting spending and waste and got lusty boos whenever he invoked the name of the junior senator from Illinois. Par for the course.

I don’t agree with McCain on a lot of things, which is why I deliberately curbed my enthusiasm at the rally. His idea about government taking over mortgages makes the libertarian in me cringe. His campaign finance reform was well-intentioned, but isn’t working the way he may have wanted it to. I was strongly opposed to the bailout for corporations who give lots of money to campaigns and parties, which was a total Catch-22 for a presidential candidate. But when I look at McCain, I also see a guy who probably believes what he says, and you can’t say that for a lot of politicians, including his main opponent. Including our current president.

There’s another thing about McCain that gets lost in the shuffle: he’s actually much better in person than in the media. He has a commanding presence that doesn’t translate through cameras and commercials.

He’s also pretty quick-witted, another thing that gets lost in debates and sound bites. He would improvise and wander off the script, engage in gentle self-deprecation and allow for human moments with the crowd. Unfortunately, this is the tube culture, and most will never see, much less care, how charismatic the senator really is.

The rally ended, and he went around glad-handing supporters and attendees. Wife and I were able to have enough forethought to know that McCain would probably go all the way around the perimeter to meet as many people as possible. So, instead of the glut of people who stayed where he was, we went to where we anticipated him to be, and it paid off. The media began to shift over, Secret Service began to eye us all down and then John and Cindy McCain were right in front of us. We got to shake his hand, wife got Cindy, too.

Now, what do you say to a senator, much less a senator running for president, a guy who meets a million people a day and probably won’t remember the encounter beyond simply being there? To be fair, McCain looked every one of us in the eye and offered his gratitude for our being there, which was really cool, but when the time came to shake his hand, I momentarily froze. What do I say? Good luck? Thank you? Stammer and guffaw in starstruck-ness? So, my mind blanked out and the first thing that popped out was…

“Give ’em hell, Senator.”

Give ’em hell? Is he Truman? Is this the 50s? What in the crap are you thinking? Really? The best thing you could think of is “Give ’em hell“?

I’m an idiot.

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