From suit to nets

By Michael Ackley

Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns may include satire and parody based on current events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell which is which.

It’s a pity the rest of the nation didn’t get to see the debate between Sen. Barbara Boxer and her Republican challenger, Bill Jones, if only to learn how not to dress for a TV appearance.

Jones appeared in an ill-fitting, three-button blue suit – with all the buttons buttoned. The thing looked like something a family might buy for the burial of a third cousin, and the otherwise intelligent and well-prepared candidate lacked only a cardboard suitcase and straw skimmer to complete a bumpkin ensemble.

This is not a trivial matter. In the Kennedy-Nixon debates, JFK’s well-tailored suits and debonair demeanor played a big part in swaying public opinion.

Campaign consultants get paid handsomely for selecting a candidate’s threads. Sometimes the results are subtly effective – in other instances they are laughable, e.g., Al Gore’s earth-tone wardrobe in the 2000 presidential campaign, which had him looking like a Lands End catalog model.

Jones is trailing in money-raising and in the polls. It won’t help if he shows at the next debate dressed as he was for the first. He needs to hire new consultants – or, perhaps, start listening to those currently on staff.

As for Boxer: She looked like everybody’s well-to-do aunt. If television provided olfactory data, we’d bet it would reveal she was wearing too much perfume.

Up in the sticks, where we now reside, the local daily has been running readers’ letters about John Kerry’s distinguished four months of military service in Vietnam. Opinions about attacks on the candidate’s record range from, “He served; leave it alone,” to, “He made it an issue; let him live with it.”

Personally, I’d just as soon let both candidates’ records stand unsullied, but Democratic National Committee head Terry MacAuliffe orchestrated the effort to discredit President Bush’s National Guard service.

Poor Terry: He loves to dish it out but can’t take a counterpunch. Already we’re hearing the anti-Kerry ads called mean-spirited, and we here remind you of the entry for this term in the Blind Partisan’s Dictionary: mean-spirited – adj. a characterization applied to any inconvenient or uncomfortable truth that is at variance with your doctrine.

Big Media in the Golden State are doing their best to shoot down the part-time Legislature balloon, just as they did the gubernatorial recall. The latest stories say polling indicates only 33 percent of Californians think the change would be a good idea.

Actually, that’s not a bad start, given the lack of voter education, for which the ladies and gentlemen of the press must take the blame. If the state capital press corps did any kind of a job, that would be all the education needed.

In 1994’s “Shrimpscam,” the FBI set its nets to snare legislators who had gone beyond the acceptable bounds of official venality. Lawmakers and their aides were demanding payoffs without subtlety. After all, it’s one thing to strong-arm lobbyists for campaign cash, quite another to be honestly criminal.

“Shrimpscam” was classic law enforcement work, with undercover agents passing envelopes full of cash under restaurant tables, while other agents videotaped the bribery.

The subsequent indictments led to a number of convictions, and the scandal was sensational. However, one jaded columnist brushed off the affair, yawning, in essence, that “this sort of thing happens all the time and everybody knows it.”

Our question then was: “If it happens all the time and you know it, why don’t you report it?” That still would seem to be the question today, unless you believe Sacramento is significantly improved.

For just a couple of months, let the press corps cover the place’s casual corruption as it should be covered. Then ask the voters what they think about a part-time Legislature.

(By the way, there’s a very good, capitalistic reason capital reporters – in Washington, D.C., as well as in the states – don’t really cover government. Why do you think this is so?)