The Spectacle Blog

Best Scandal Name of All Time: Hickygate

By on 10.11.10 | 2:35PM

The headline writing gods long ago declared that all scandals shall be likened unto Watergate. Thus we've had Climategate, Filegate, Macacagate, Monicagate, Nannygate, Nipplegate, Rathergate, Travelgate, Troopergate, and Wampumgate, to name just a few. The list on Wikipedia is 114 items long. The American Spectator has helped to coin more than a few of them.

To this index of infamy, we can now add Hickygate and please hold the e-mails charging I misspelled that. This scandal has nothing to do with evidence of heavy necking by some wayward pol's enthusiastic mistress. It is all about charges and counter charges of elitism and misrepresentation in the race to fill Robert Byrd's old senate seat in West Virginia.

Here's what happened: The National Republican Senatorial Committee commissioned an ad for West Virginia attacking Democratic governor and senatorial candidate Joe Manchin. They had to hire actors to film said ad, so an e-mail went out to a non-political casting agency. It asked for:

One male:
- Age about 55
- Looking for someone to represent the middle of the country... Ohio, Pittsburgh, West Virginia area
- Middle class

One male:
- Age about 45
- Middle class
- Again, should represent the Ohio, Pittsburgh, West Virginia area of the country

Five background characters:
- Mother
- Child
- Elderly couple
- 20's-ish male

That would have been uncontroversial but the Manchin campaign got hold of the talent agency's casting call that included... wardrobe suggestions. The casting call explained, "We are going for a 'Hicky' Blue Collar look. These characters are from West Virginia so think coal miner/trucker looks."

It got worse. Actors might wear jeans, work boots, flannel or denim shirts, "Dickie's type jacket[s] with t-shirt underneath," "John Deer hats (not brand new, preferably beat up)," or "Trucker hats (not brand new, preferably beat up)." It was one thing for a casting call to insinuate that West Virginians are backward and slovenly. To do that while misspelling John Deere* really took the cake.

The Manchin campaign pounced. A Democratic official provided the material to the Politico, explaining that Republican candidate John Raese "doesn't understand working people," and the campaign released a statement saying, "John Raese and his special interest friends have insulted the people of West Virginia and need to immediately apologize." They followed up with an ad saying that Raese thinks West Virginians are easily manipulated "hicks."

Funny, but this really is a case of a lie making it halfway around the world before truth can get its belt fastened. The "hicky" language originated not with the Raese campaign, not with the NRSC, and not even with a vendor the NRSC had hired to manage commercials, but with a Philadelphia talent agency. There's a newsflash: people who work in talent agencies are not likely to be positively disposed toward West Virginians.

Manchin has been an able governor who should be coasting to victory. He should be touting his record and telling West Virginians what he will do for them in the Senate. In any other election cycle, he would do just that. But this year he's doing his best to change the subject. At least he's not boring us. Maybe he can cook up another -gate by November. I suggest something involving farm animals.

* My close runner-up for scandal name was John Deeregate. Apologies to tractors everywhere, but Hickygate is just too catchy.

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