NEW HAMPSHIRE -- A few weeks ago, I was picking up my fiancée's parents at the Baltimore Washington International Airport, when who should saunter off their flight from Manchester, New Hampshire, but former Ambassador to New Zealand and current Democratic presidential hopeful Carol Moseley Braun.
Abandoning my future in-laws I gave chase, shouting, "Carol Moseley Braun! Carol Moseley Braun!" She seemed shocked at this display of public recognition, never a great sign for a presidential campaign. I had met Braun before while writing for the Associated Press, and, ever courteous, she was willing to chat for a couple minutes. (The last time I had seen her was the day she explained to reporters that she couldn't remember her college major, but it was "probably political science.") In the interest of full disclosure, I explained to her that I was now writing for The American Spectator. "That's nice," she said.
But the peace and love vibe didn't last long. I got her ire up a bit when I asked if she was going to leave New Hampshire and head South where she is expected to do better. I thought it was a reasonable question, considering I have yet to see a New Hampshire poll showing her even in the single digit. "I'm sticking around New Hampshire, and I'm going to surprise a lot of people," she said slowly. "Including you." Big smile. I thanked her for her time, and walked away wondering if she could really believe what she had just told me.
Back in the great state of New Hampshire, I'm having to eat my words. Well, not really. But Braun did just get a much-publicized endorsement from the pastor at New Hope Baptist Church in Portsmouth. He endorsed her, he told his congregation, not as their pastor but as a "Democrat who understands how they gave us the vote and then found ways to deny us that right."
But what made the news wasn't the Rev. Dr. Arthur J. Hilson's endorsement of Braun, although that in itself was much more fire and brimstone than one would expect. What really lit the fuse on the powder keg was that he took the opportunity to insinuate that most other candidates -- and especially Howard Dean -- were "pimping" his church for photo-ops.
According to Hilson, Howard Dean's visit was an attempt to lure Southern black votes without actually going South. Gephardt offended Hilson by asking to have his photo taken outside the church and not sticking around for services. Sen. Joe Lieberman's sin was telling the Reverend he wanted to come to the church to speak with Baptists. "You know the truth," Hilson announced. "He didn't come here because there were Baptists here. He was here because there were black votes here." It seems politicians never stuck around long enough for Hilson's services or honestly addressed the needs of his "people."
Well, of course they didn't! These are politicians. The good Reverend has just described every primary event in New Hampshire. Last week Dean has his picture taken with some union guys. Is he "pimping" them as well? Was Lieberman "pimping" Jews when he stopped in at Hanukkah services throughout the state last week?
Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about the candidates' visits to the New Hope Baptist Church is that they are courting the New Hampshire black vote at all. According to the latest census, blacks make up just 0.7 percent of the state's population. When one considers the actual percentage of black votes in New Hampshire, the Democrats' efforts seem downright heroic.
Nevertheless, papers throughout the state praised Hilson for "telling it like it is" and "speaking truth to power." There were no condemnations for a community role model suggesting to his predominantly black congregation that most politicians were looking to find ways to take away their right to vote. Apparently, the first sign of disenfranchisement is politicians tripping over themselves to meet with you. Isn't spreading this ideology of victimhood more damaging than the idea that politicians are interested in photo ops?
After two days of newspaper headlines with the word "pimp" in bold print, the good Reverend was able to admit he was wrong in at least one respect.
"Certainly, it's a kind of lingo that would not be understood outside the African-American community," Hilson told the Portsmouth Herald.
Hilson obviously has a high opinion of himself. But with that kind of retraction, one is left to wonder what kind of opinion he has of his "people."
In Other News
Braun wasn't the only fringe candidate to get a highly coveted endorsement in New Hampshire this week. Patch Adams, the medical doctor turned clown, came to an experimental community theater in New Hampshire to announce his endorsement of Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich on Saturday.
Adams, played by comedian Robin Williams in the 1998 film based on his life, said he was supporting Kucinich because he was "the love candidate." Adams described Kucinich's election to the nation's highest office as "probable." He said this with a straight face, without honking his nose or doing a funny little I-was-just-joking dance.
What really seemed improbable was 40 people gathering to take political advice from an old man with blue hair in a clown outfit. But it happened. Welcome to the New Hampshire primary.
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