Politicians beware: America is watching

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

Sometimes I have a suspicion I’m being watched by somebody, and that elaborate plans are made with me in mind. Of course, it’s probably unfounded.

When I drove to the office all of last month and saw that an adjacent restaurant had “Very Vanilla” as its frozen yogurt of the month, I told myself it was just a coincidence a business had a dessert based on my high school nickname. My Caucasian awkwardness had nothing to do with their dessert menu.

No, I’m not being followed. I’m not Conrad Burns. Burns is a three-term senator from Montana facing a strong challenge from Democrat Jon Tester.

Tester doesn’t follow Burns to stump speeches in Helena and budget meetings in Washington, but he pays Kevin O’Brien $2,400 a month to do it.

O’Brien was recently the subject of a Wall Street Journal feature about how candidates are now using Internet video to push their message out.

O’Brien, according to the article, has driven 15,000 miles with a hand-held camcorder. If he videotapes something embarrassing Burns does, he uploads it to video-sharing sites where it’s seen by an online community of thousands — and some of those are Montanans, from what I’ve heard.

So far, Burns has been caught dozing off during an agriculture hearing, and joking about illegal immigration and “the little Guatemalan” who works at his house in Virginia. They’re embarrassing clips, and they’re more efficient than many television commercials — you don’t have to pay for ad time, plus local media feels an obligation to give coverage to the clips.

These are the same tactics that have Virginia Sen. George Allen defending a “macaca” remark to a Native American and fighting accusations of racism instead of framing the debate around issues he wants to discuss. Such tactics have also trapped Joe Lieberman, Jim Talent and Rick Santorum.

I’m not sure I really like these political tactics, though I admit I’m amused by them. It makes me think of Howard Dean, who seemed well on his way to a presidential nomination two years ago before his famous, “Yaaaahhhh” scream during campaigning.

In the days since the scream, he has been consistent and often prophetic on his criticisms of the Bush administration, but each time his words are characterized as loony. For Dean, his worst five seconds have been archived to forever void any intelligent discourse he may attempt to offer.

Would you want the most embarrassing part of your day broadcast online and brought up every time you were in public? The time you stopped at the gas station and parked your car on the wrong side of the pump? The time you paid at a restaurant with your debit card and took the merchant copy instead of the customer copy?

In a world like that, you’d be afraid to go anywhere or do anything. Now imagine our lawmakers, so cowed by the thought of a public gaffe and its repercussions that they’ll start doing all their work behind closed doors, and only work about 20 percent of the time.

In that world, they’d be doing the exact same thing they do now, but they’d be justified in such activities. I like a world where job performance like that is unreasonable and inexcusable. In that way, I guess I’m pretty plain.
Maybe even very vanilla.

Kevin Wilson is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. He can be reached at 763-3431, ext. 313, or by e-mail: kevin_wilson@link.freedom.com