The Truth, Mainly - 08/01/1994

Whoopie cushions all around
by Leon Satterfield

I have these strange fears. I'm afraid it's not going to be a very exciting gubernatorial campaign this fall. I'm afraid it's going to be downright dull. A real snorer. Dozeville. Chloroform City.

Run this through your snoozometer and you'll see what I mean:

Gene Spence is an SOB and he knows it. Gene Spence is a "Smircher of Ben." (The quotation marks are a nudge in the ribs to make sure you get it.)

Let's see. Is that funny? Well, maybe a little bit. Not a thigh-slapper for sure. Certainly nothing to make your Dr. Pepper come out your nose. But yes, I believe it is a tiny bit funny.

You recognize the formula. Mr. Spence used it last month when he said that "Ben Nelson is an SOB and he knows it. Ben Nelson is a 'Supporter of Bill.'"

Now had Democrats been on their toes they might have exploited that little pleasantry. They might have asked if we really want four years of jokes like that emanating from our Governor's Mansion. They might have pointed out that levity isn't the GOP's strong suit, that since Terry Carpenter died, the wittiest ranking Republican in the general vicinity of the Nebraska statehouse has been the statue of Abraham Lincoln.

Instead, Democrats went sanctimonious on us. They began imitating Sen. Orrin Hatch having his Republican sensibilities offended at the confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas three years ago.

"Calling someone an abusive name is not cute," Democrat State Chairman Joe Battaillon sniffed, sounding a lot like my Sunday School teacher back home. "I thought Gene Spence was a gentleman."

O cruel disappointment.

For his "gutter politics," his "intemperate language," and his "particular brand of sleaze," Democrat letters to the editor declared Mr. Spence winner of the "Political Sewage Award."

Rather than telling his supporters to lighten up, that it was just a bad joke, The Guv Himself encouraged further hyperpiety by pursing his lips, plucking a few harp chords, and speaking in the following manner:

"My opponents can take any road they choose. I intend to stay on the high road. If they want to use crude language, that's their choice."

Isn't that special?

When The Guv talks like that, don't you just want to slip a whoopee cushion into his chair? Not while he's sitting in it, of course, but when he steps out of the office a moment to freshen up his gubernatorial virtue and consult with Mr. Stenberg about how soon we might get an execution.

A jumbo whoopee cushion that sounds like a flatulent moose.

But Mr. Spence did not call attention to the Democrats' New Puritanism or New Unctuousness or New Mealy-Mouthism or whatever it is. Nor did Mr. Spence suggest that The Guv might best be treated for his terminal high-mindedness by a jumbo whoopee cushion that sounds like a flatulent moose.

Instead, Mr. Spence became the very model of Republican decorum, making you want to put a whoopee cushion in his chair too.

We had him all wrong, he said. He didn't mean, God knows, to say anything derogatory or profane. His SOB comment "was meant to show that Ben Nelson supports Bill Clinton and I don't."

Holy Political Insight! Stop the presses!

A Democrat governor who supports a Democrat president? A Republican challenger who doesn't? How's the body politic supposed to contain its excitement? Won't there be rioting in the streets?

It's enough to make you want to move to Texas.

There, Molly Ivins tells us, a few years ago Democrat challenger A. Don Crowder called Governor Mark White "one of the first nerds in Texas" for having pushed through rules that said you can't play high school football unless you pass your classes. Indisputable evidence of White's early nerdishness, Crowder said, was that his high school yearbook showed he took part in no extracurricular activities. That, Crowder concluded, explained "the psychological reasoning behind White's dislike of football."

Why don't we get to have candidates like that in Nebraska?

I imagine that we've seen the high-water mark of this campaign, that it'll be all lobbed marshmallows from here on in. Having been alarmed by the SOB joke, The Guv and Mr. Spence will simply exchange pieties and avoid saying anything that matters.

My inner Pollyanna says maybe that's not all bad. We'll just zonk out when they speak. The naps will be good for our digestion.

And besides, if we find out what they think about real questions—for example, why "socialized medicine" is good for our congressional delegation but bad for the rest of Nebraskans—we might have trouble sleeping at night.


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.

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