Columns » John Brummett

Presumption of wimpiness

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I don’t want any part of any debate among the three announced candidates for the Democratic nomination for attorney general.

I do not wish to be on a panel of questioners. I certainly don’t want to moderate. I prefer not even to be in the room. I might watch on AETN, though I get a little squeamish with violence on television, especially if it’s real, much less live. Somebody’s liable to get shot, accidentally or otherwise.

Last week state Rep. Dustin McDaniel of Jonesboro called proudly to let me know he’d unveiled radio spots and billboards in South Arkansas extolling his love of firearms and hunting. He suspected he was the only licensed sportsman in the fray. He’d be happy, he said, to e-mail the script and attach the photograph.

Prosecuting Attorney Robert Herzfeld in Benton responded by saying that maybe he wasn’t the hunter McDaniel was, but that he had a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Then City Attorney Paul Suskie of North Little Rock attempted an understated trump, explaining that he’d worked in Afghanistan under the auspices of the Arkansas National Guard, and that carrying a gun was part of the every-day job.

Here’s what worries me: You get three ambitious young men in their early 30s, when testosterone reaches its peak with aggressiveness a byproduct. You put them together on stage for a debate, with promising political careers at stake. The new generation’s Clinton might emerge.

You let one infuriate another, about whether McDaniel’s bill on prescription drugs was all that, or whether Herzfeld is nothing more than a publicity hound whose Saline County drug courts aren’t anything special. You have Suskie standing there trying to act all soldier-like and detached. But the detachment hardly veils the utter disdain a real warrior harbors for pretenders. We know Herzfeld is packing. We figure McDaniel has a rifle on the gun rack in his Jaguar. We sense that Suskie calculates that he could extract both faint hearts with simultaneous thrusts of his sinewy arms. This could be the bloodiest Arkansas political debate since Janet Huckabee pummeled poor Charlie Daniels.

Blame Mike Ross and Mark Pryor. They’ve shown Arkansas Democrats how to win, which is to shoot first and answer questions later. It’s a simple matter of political geography. Arkansas Democrats must offset the steady Republicanization of the prosperous metropolitan areas of Northwest Arkansas and suburban Little Rock. They must hold serve, so to speak, in the rural areas of southern and eastern Arkansas. Democrats hold advantages of heritage there, but only if they distance themselves from the cultural liberalism of the national Democratic Party. That is to say that Arkansas Democrats face a presumption of wimpiness. They must affirmatively overcome it.

Ross went to an NRA rally in Hot Springs. He got himself photographed slaying skeet. Pryor posed firing at some supposed birds — doves, maybe. He put out bumper stickers with a camouflage background. Ross is in the U.S. House of Representatives. Pryor is in the U.S. Senate.

Now these three young men wanting to be the Democratic nominee for attorney general apply the formula but bear the burden of imitation. Gunner DeLay, the announced Republican candidate for attorney general, made things worse. There’s his first name, for one thing. Then he tried to make something of the fact that McDaniel’s law firm sued a gun manufacturer. He tried to snooker all three Democratic candidates into an anti-NRA position on whether gun manufacturers would be insulated from lawsuit liability.

What are we to make of these early gun pronouncements by these young Democratic wannabes? I give the early advantage to Suskie. If you’re going to brag about hunting something, it would seem that a terrorist would beat a duck. But, again, this is Arkansas. We tend to get invaded by more ducks than terrorists. Knock wood.


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