Ever changing political times

Published 4:05pm Monday, August 23, 2010

For several months (it seems longer) we have been bombarded with newspaper ads and television commercials, all with a common subject: Candidates for the November election, coming closer each day. It’s impossible to avoid seeing or hearing them and frankly, many of us could no doubt recite the words with the candidate speaking. Right?

These men, and women, customarily represent one of the major political parties. These men, and women, customarily boast the merits of their party and downplay the other. Right?

When campaigning in person they freely leave brochures, flyers, press releases and promises as they move on to another city, another newspaper, another day on the hustings. Some make an impression, positive or negative, but remembered. Others become only a name on a television commercial and a dimly recalled face.

A few will taste victory in November and then take office in this periodic contest of who can garner the most votes. And without exception, close observers may notice one tie that binds them all: a facial expression of half-eager, half-wistful appeal that begs “Vote for me. I am the best person for the job.”

Seasoned political watchers have long since concluded it takes a special breed to offer oneself for political office: an ego not dissimilar to those of the stars of film and television and a conviction of self-superiority are basic.

A successful candidate must be articulate, well-dressed but not obtrusively so, strong as a mule to endure the grind of handshaking, smiling, walking and talking pleasantly 18 hours a day, seven days a week for at least three months prior to election day.

A candidate must look healthy, happy and mentally alert; however, football-guard type muscles might cause curiosity about brain power or its lack. And successful candidates have long known the general public prefers Oxford cloth button down shirts on clearly defined necks. On the other hand, masculine power holds appeal in the arena of politics.

Women must be ever careful to avoid dressing “too sporty, too sexy, too top designer, too casual, and please, not cutesy.” Jewelry must be scant and carefully chosen. Self-confident speech is absolutely essential.

Both male and female candidates require elephant-like memories or the services of an aide to tactfully whisper the name of John or Jane Doe, major contributor to the war chest, who stands with outstretched hand and beaming smile in the center of the rally location.

But, a major requirement is an understanding family who will hit the campaign trail when needed, lend solace and compassion if it should be needed and common sense in the event of victory.

At the Old Depot Museum there are fading newspaper editions of political campaigns and victories as well as losses: Truman’s defeat of Dewey, Eisenhower’s victory; Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal; Hoover’s defeat. Each is filled with information painstakingly gathered by long-ago reporters and placed in print by means that seem primitive in the world of today.

A favorite early memory is that of the oversized election chalk board that stood outside the Times-Journal on the corner nearest what is now the Pettus Bridge, then one of Water Avenue’s wholesale houses. As election returns came in from Western Union, located in the first block of Broad Street, a waiting STJ messenger conveyed them to the young men on wooden ladders leaning against the chalk board. The changing returns were chalked up as fast as they came in and eagerly eyed by the large crowd waiting below to learn the victors.

Years later radio worked its miracle, making the nation smaller with its air waves and election returns swifter. Families spent election evening gathered around the Philco radio, penciling in election returns on their tally sheets. However, with the increased speed of return the suspense and excitement of those election nights around the downtown chalk board vanished into the past, and with it the color and flavor.

But, favorite memories still remain. Who will be elected in November? Who knows? Of this we can be certain. Each television will vie to be the first with the election returns. So, dust off the television screen and prepare to gather around it.

Jean Martin is editor emeritus of Life & Styles.

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