Friday, August 08, 2008

Politics in Gracelessland

We Memphians just saw the conclusion of what has been a truly U-G-L-Y battle between the candidates for Tennessee's 9th U.S. Congressional District, incumbent Steve Cohen and challenger Nikki Tinker. As you may already know, our district Representative before Cohen was the DNC wunderkind Harold Ford, Jr., who was famously done in by his Senate-race opponent Bob Corker's race-baiting ad last year, so we're no strangers to dirty campaigns around these parts. (If it's not already obvious, it's the last 5 seconds of that Corker ad that caused all of the scandal and, perhaps, lost Ford the election.) Anyway, in the most recent race, Cohen came out victorious in a landslide victory over Tinker, but not without taking more than a few below-the-belt first.

First, let's get the obvious out of the way. Here are pictures of the two candidates. If you know anything about Memphis politics, this ought to explain some of the tension. Cohen is on the left, Tinker on the right.

Now for the dirty details. There were two "questionable" campaign ads run by Tinker. The first, which you can't see anymore because someone on her staff was smart enough to remove every last evidence of it from the web, ostensibly criticized Cohen for not advocating a proposal to change the name of dowtown Memphis' Nathan Bedford Forrest Park. Of course, there's nothing wrong with pointing out that it's still an embarassment that our city has a park named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, but Tinker's ad juxtaposed images of Cohen (who is Jewish) with hooded members of the KKK, not-so-subtly suggesting that the two had much in common. In the second ad, Tinker questioned Cohen's sincerity whenever he was (in her words) "in OUR churches." (Did I mention already that Cohen is Jewish?) Here's the second ad:

So, essentially, Tinker's campaign strategy amounted to reminding her constiuents, in terms that even a single-celled organism couldn't misunderstand, that her opponent was (1) white and (2) Jewish. Then, to connect the remaining enormous-Sesame-Street dots for us, she aired television ads that effectively said (1) "white people are KKK racists" and (2) "Jewish people don't go to OUR CHURCHES and are trying to prevent OUR CHILDREN from praying in school to OUR GOD." Nevermind that the House of Representatives just passed Resolution 194-- also known as the Cohen Resolution-- issuing the first apology EVER by the federal government for our country's history of slavery and racial segregation. And nevermind that people like Skeptical Brother (who, by his own description is "unashamedly black and unapologetically political") have been complaining for over a year that she, not her opponent, just doesn't get it-- and by "it" I mean the complicated mix of race, religion and politics in Memphis. Oh yeah, and nevermind that almost everyone within cell-phone range of Nathan Bedford Forrest Park agreed that her campaign was graceless, which is just about everyone... because, you know, cell-phones reach pretty far these days.

This 9th Congressional District constiuent, for one, is glad it's over.

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