Columns » John Brummett

Lincoln, Boozman--eloquence lost



Eloquence is not evidence of virtue. It can be the opposite.

Eloquence does not suggest honorable commitment to a job or competence at that job. It can provide cover for the opposite.

But eloquence is a bit of a tradition of the U. S. Senate. From Daniel Webster to Dale Bumpers and on down to, well, Barack Obama, senators became noted for their oratorical skill and power.

So my prevailing thought while watching U.S. Rep. John Boozman on Saturday as he announced his Republican candidacy for the U.S. Senate is that I dread his debates with Blanche Lincoln.

He stands a chance to make her look good. No, allow me to amend. He stands a chance to make her look not that bad.

And she he.

That assumes, of course, that both get that far, as I suspect they will. Their race would be an epic one, mostly likely. But it would not be a rhetorically resplendent one.

Boozman was halting, uncertain, rambling and so mild of manner and soft of voice Saturday as to lack any command. He wandered distantly afield on an introductory anecdote about being outplayed as a member of the Fort Smith Northside Grizzlies in the late1960s by Little Rock Horace Mann halfback Jon Richardson.

I expected the story would lead to something profound about Richardson's becoming Boozman's Razorback teammate as the first black scholarship football player at the University of Arkansas. I thought there might be a point forthcoming having to do with race or opportunity.

But, no. It was merely Boozman's odd and context-devoid story on the occasion of the announcement of his U.S. Senate candidacy about how Richardson ran over and around him in a high school football game more than 40 years ago.

I should also say that I had one other over-arching thought as Boozman announced his candidacy. It was that a mild manner, soft-spokenness and inarticulate earnestness are perhaps family traits and traditions.

We've had a Lincoln-Boozman race for the U.S. Senate before — in 1998, when the Republican nominee was John Boozman's late older brother, Fay, a man who sometimes spoke nearly in a whisper.

That race probably was going to be close until I got wind that Fay Boozman had declared in a Conway civic club speech that he didn't think a woman's right to abortion in case of rape was a very prevalent issue. I heard that he'd said that a woman, consumed by fear when raped, would produce a hormonal reaction that would likely shield her from impregnation.

I didn't have it on tape. I only had the word of people at the civic club, none of whom cared to be identified.

But when I asked Fay Boozman's campaign about reports of his having said such a thing, and for his response or explanation, Boozman declined to speak to me. He reportedly felt that I'd simply misrepresent what he said.

So I reported that he'd been heard to say such a thing. In debate with Lincoln the next day, Boozman, not one to fib, got asked about it and essentially said it again.

Fay Boozman went on to become an exemplary state health director in the Huckabee administration, then died several years ago in a farm accident.

So I asked some John Boozman supporters Saturday if they were hoping to win one for Fay or avenge that defeat. They said they were over that, pretty much.

Finally, I should make this point: Eloquent or not, Boozman knew exactly what he wanted to say Saturday. It's that things are bad and that it's all the fault of, as he repeatedly put it, “the president, Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Reid.”

It was striking. Obama has nearly a 60 percent negative rating in Arkansas, yet Boozman thought it more important to treat the president generically and name the enemies as Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.

It furthered my hunch that having those two out front for the last year has nearly ruined Democrats.

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