A possibly apocryphal story about the
presidential campaign of William Henry Harrison holds that his Whig
supporters drummed up support for Harrison by rolling an enormous
ball of tin and paper through the country. It is a testament to the
monotony of American life in the 1840s that a massive sphere
rolling through the streets would generate a thrill among voters.
This makeshift sphere emblazoned with pro-Whig slogans proved to be
a successful ploy for the Harrison campaign and even made its mark
on the American vocabulary. Hence the expression “keep the
ball rolling.” It’s impossible to attribute
Harrison’s electoral victory to this piece of proto-political
innovation — Harrison’s campaign also recognized the
possibilities of giving out free samples of whiskey to potential
supporters, an astute decision that reveals a highly sophisticated
understanding of the American electorate — but the ball stunt
would be copied innumerable times in coming elections.

Zac Peskowitz

Both the Republican National Committee and the Democratic
National Committee have made great hay out of their efforts to
appeal to voters with a series of gimmicks that are the direct
descendent of Harrison’s effort. The Republicans’ have
employed Reggie the Registration Rig for the 2004 presidential
election. Reggie, as he is fondly called by the RNC, ostensibly
exists for the purpose of registering 3 million voters before Nov.
2. This is a lie. Reggie’s existence is justified by its
plasma televisions, XBox gaming consoles and DVD players. To date,
Reggie has made appearances at a NASCAR race in Atlanta and
MTV’s TRL — a two-fer that puts even the most
impressive of pop stars to shame. The chairman of the RNC, lobbyist
extraordinaire Ed Gillespie, has now joined the likes of all sorts
of rappers he has never heard of to appear on the popular
program.

The Democrats have shied away from this type of gargantuan
effort this year, but they refuse to be outdone in their courtship
of the hipster vote. Following the Democrats’ National Unity
Dinner on Thursday evening in Washington, the party shifted to
Dream nightclub where the glitterati could converse with the
politerati on the future of the alternative minimum tax, the
military basing policy in Central Asia and male hair care products.
In an appearance at Dream last year, Bill Clinton made his grand
entrance to the lyrics of 50 Cent’s “In Da Club,”
an uncomfortable juxtaposition for the former commander in chief.
But he proudly suffered the slings and arrows of irony in return
for the opportunity to drum up donations for the good of his party.
While the ebullient Clinton makes for a natural fit, to force the
octogenarian Jimmy Carter to run with the clubbing crowd seems
marginally sadistic. The last time Carter had anything to do with a
nightclub, his chief of staff, Hamilton Jordan, was fending off
false allegations that he had sniffed cocaine at Studio 54. Why
relive these dark days? The Dream event netted a mere $250,000 in
donations for the Dems, a figure which President Bush can reap in
an afternoon in Topeka. Why all this hubbub for a relatively
insignificant fundraiser?

Bringing us to the strange case of Sen. John Kerry. The junior
senator from Massachusetts recently took some time off from the
pressures of the campaign to recharge in the alpine splendor of Sun
Valley, Idaho, where the senator and his wife maintain a quaint
19.5 room home. Kerry valiantly chose to do double duty, turning
his vacation into a photo op. Photographs of Kerry posed awkwardly
over a Burton snowboard graced the papers the next day. It’s
surprising that Kerry’s media team would suggest that this
aspiring populist should play up his ties to the piles of gold
doubloons and precious stones that he and his wife maintain
jointly. The allure of showing Kerry’s eXtreme side must have
been too promising to pass up. The youth of America would finally
see the differences between George W. Bush and John Kerry boiled
down to their essentials: a drab-brush clearin’ dolt versus a
Technicolor snowboarder who can hit the half pipe with the best of
them.

Unfortunately for Kerry, the smiling pictures of him swooshing
down the slopes were accompanied with less flattering newspaper
copy. Kerry spent much of his trip down the slopes falling on his
back and was the victim of a nasty collision between himself and a
Secret Service agent. An ugly incident to which the cocksure Kerry
responded, “I don’t fall down. That son of a bitch ran
into me.” Another reminder of how uncool the preening
politics of cool can be.

Peskowitz can be reached at
“mailto:zpeskowi@umich.edu”>zpeskowi@umich.edu.

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