Columns » John Brummett

Does it take one to know one?



Since state Sen. Joyce Elliott called herself one, I went to the dictionary to see exactly what a "pinhead" was.

It's the head of a pin. But there's a second meaning. Oh, dear. A pinhead is a "dull and stupid person."

Let's be clear: Elliott, the veteran state legislator who is the altogether highly regarded Democratic nominee for Congress in the 2nd District to succeed Vic Snyder, did not call herself a pinhead directly.

What she did was get caught between a candid declaration of the way she thinks and the banality that a dreaded campaign consultant talked her into saying in a commercial unveiled last week.

This commercial is designed so that she might advance what the consultants call a "message" and begin development of what the consultants refer to as a "narrative."

That means she seeks to get moving in the direction of the prevailing political breeze, which is more a strong wind, which would explain how otherwise solid politicians like Elliott keep getting tossed about by it.

Here's what happened: Elliott spoke several weeks ago to the Political Animals Club and said the first thing she wanted people to know in regard to where she stood was that she was "absolutely not running against Washington — any pinhead can do that."

Then, last week, her campaign unveiled a commercial in which Elliott sits at a dining table and rails against, well, Washington — for corporate bailouts and corporate tax loopholes and gifts for congressmen from lobbyists and pay raises for congressmen, the latter two of which she says she will eschew as part of her plan to clean up the place she had previously said she wouldn't run against because any pinhead could do that.

Just as she didn't specifically call herself a "pinhead" this time, Elliott didn't specifically use "pinhead" the first time as a label for her Republican opponent, Karl Rove protege Tim Griffin.

But Griffin, recently seen getting Bud Cummins fired as U.S. attorney so he could put the job on his own candidacy-enhancing resume, does, in fact, run against Washington.

Surveys show that people are sick up to here with the lobbyist influence, the corruption, the campaign money, the polarization and dysfunction, the deficit, the debt, the raging ineptitude.

Elliott can say that she is not actually running against Washington in this commercial, but rather explaining how she'll make it better when she gets there. In fact, that's precisely what she told me just now over the phone — that she's not "just running against Washington," but to improve Washington, adding, "If I thought everything was fine, there'd be no need to run."

But that's a nuance and subtlety entirely too delicate for the modern political mood and modern political discourse.

So which time did she err, in the speech or the commercial?

I'd say both.

I winced when she seemed in that Political Animals speech to defend Washington's status quo and flirt with name-calling. I winced even as I grasped and agreed with what she was trying to say. It was that she'd made a career of working within the system for good, as House Education Committee chairman and then on Gov. Mike Beebe's transition team, among other efforts.

But I laughed aloud when she unveiled this commercial belying the speech, doing so without even the least attempt to reconcile — if merely to say, "As I've said before, I'm not just running against Washington. I'm running to make it better."

Most polls and political experts think Griffin will win this race because the raging mood is anti-Obama and Elliott will be burdened by an appearance of untimely liberalism.

I'm doubting that either her "pinhead" remark or her anti-Washington commercial will change that.

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