About 30 of us filled the community room at the south-side HyVee on Tuesday to meet the leading Republican candidates for governor and the U.S. Senate. I was there in search of information.
The next evening, at least 10 times that many spent less than an hour in the Missouri Theatre listening to the aptly introduced “conservative provocateur” Ann Coulter deliver well-worn one-liners and then get to her real goal – selling books. I hoped to be entertained.
The contrasts in attendance, in substance and in journalistic coverage say, it seems to me, something worrisome about our political culture. When celebrity trumps seriousness, we all lose.
I’m almost certainly not going to vote for Dave Spence for governor, but I was glad to shake his hand, exchange pleasantries and then listen as he recited his biography (54 years old, an MU graduate in home economics, successful manufacturer of plastic products, father of four, first-time candidate). He said he has led “an exemplary life.” I don’t doubt it.
Nor could I question his assertion that the sorry state of Missouri’s education funding and economy is “not acceptable.” I was a little puzzled, though, when he said, “We need to think like Missourians.” That’s what has gotten us into this mess, isn’t it? “Accepting mediocrity,” which he decried, could almost be our state motto.
He didn’t tell us what he’d do to change all that.
Todd Akin, who’s running against Sarah Steelman and several no-hopers for the right to oppose Senator Claire McCaskill, displayed the political polish Mr. Spence lacks. He has represented the toniest suburbs of St. Louis since 1988, first in the state legislature and now in the U.S. House of Representatives.
He wants to repeal Obamacare, confirm conservative judges, cut welfare programs and grow the military. In response to a question, he said impeaching President Barack Obama just isn’t practical as long as the Democrats control the Senate.
“Freedom is under siege in Washington,” he said. President Obama, he said, “is a complete menace to our freedom.”
Ms. Coulter would broaden that indictment. Democrats, she said, “are like a degenerate brother-in-law who borrows money and spends it on crack and hookers.”
President Obama, she conceded, “would probably be a great neighbor, unless you’re Chinese. Then he’d constantly be borrowing stuff.”
Those quips, which she seemed to enjoy at least as much as her audience did, will give you a sense of the level of her political discourse. She didn’t bring her A game to Columbia, I thought, as she hurried through a disjointed 20 minutes and took only three questions. (She did, however, offer a piece of career advice to students. “Don’t go to law school.” She holds a law degree from the University of Michigan but didn’t like practicing.)
She has never run for public office, but she joked that she’d like to head the federal Department of Health and Human Services under President Romney. She’d impose mandates, she said, including a requirement that insurance policies cover the cost of firearms and another to require the purchase of her books.
Those books were on sale in the lobby, with the promise of autographs on stage after her performance. The latest is titled “Demonic: How the Liberal Mob is Endangering America.” Another I resisted buying is “If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d be Republicans.”
University police officers were posted in front and back of the auditorium, I suppose in case the liberal mob showed up. Other than me, no Democrats were in evidence inside the theater. Outside after the show, two female students stood with placards less incendiary than Ms. Coulter’s style.
One read “Ann Coulter is NOT Mizzou.”
I hope she’s right about that.
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.