It would be easy to say we’re having our collective intelligence insulted this election season, if we as voters had actually shown signs of collective intelligence.
Even so, it’s still hard not to feel like we’re all being treated like drooling idiots as we head into this year’s big elections. Are we seriously about to have either Trump or Hillary as president?
To suggest either has displayed anything we might have once thought of as “presidential” might easily qualify one for a free CAT scan. Decades of Hillary Clinton’s dishonesty and quenchless thirst for power, paired with Trump’s buffoonish reality TV star shtick and insults, are lining up to offer the American public the worst choices for president since Gerry Ford faced Jimmy Carter.
Frankly, Ford-Carter would be completely welcome right now, even with one of them having been deceased for some time. Yes, I’m certain I would cast my vote for a dead Gerald Ford over either Hillary or The Donald.
While many despair what may await us on the ballot in November, there are other races to consider as well. One of those is for Alabama’s U.S. Senate seat. Richard Shelby has held that chair for the past 30 years, after spending eight more in the House of Representatives, giving him close to four decades on Capitol Hill.
With that kind of time in D.C. and about $19 million in his political “war chest,” it’s hard to imagine that, even as he heads for 82, Shelby would be sweating re-election. After all, it seems like his name is on half the buildings in the state. I check my front porch each morning just to make sure my house hasn’t been named for him while I slept.
But even with his moniker slapped everywhere and his record for bringing home Alabama’s bacon, there are people who think 38 years of Shelby in Congress is long enough. There are actually four candidates hoping to bump the good senator off in the Republican primary and another two aiming for him in the general election. That’s made Shelby jumpy enough to spend $6 million of that aforementioned war chest advertising across the state and letting us know he’s still one of us.
Most political advertising borders on the ridiculous, but the Shelby ad titled “67,” which ran throughout the U of A’s recent tilt with Michigan State, pushed the needle right past “ridiculous” and into “insulting” territory. The gist of the ad is that Shelby, after 38 years skulking the halls of Congress, is really a guy who spends most of his time trying to get back to Alabama so he can drive down back roads in all 67 counties. When he’s not being Obama’s worst nightmare.
The insulting part isn’t asking us to believe Shelby isn’t Washington personified, but the way it’s done. The narrator clearly spent some time listening to Sam Elliott’s soliloquy during the opening moments of “The Big Lebowski,” and I kind of expected him to eventually call Shelby “The Dude.”
The ad starts with the hokey statement that, “Some men go to Washington and become Washington, and some men just go there to work.”
The narrator lauds Shelby’s work against Obama’s agenda, but then goes totally cornpone on us and starts talkin’ like Shelby personally sponsored legislation outlawin’ the letter “g.”
“Then when the votin’s done, he high-tails it back home and hits the road here — listenin’, workin’, helpin’ — it’s what his life’s about,” the narrator says.
Let’s not forget panderin’, too.
The commercial is interlaced with images of a dark Ford SUV traveling various roads throughout the state — mostly small, lonesome roads devoid of a Stuckey’s or Cracker Barrel. “He knows the back roads, the quickest routes,” the narrator drawls. Somewhere I’m sure a constituent nods his head and thinks, “It’d be handy to have a guy around who knows all the quickest routes.”
Then “67” finishes with a big, dark house with one light burning — in an office where Richard Shelby is either charting shortcuts across the state or sending Obama a photo of his middle finger. Either way, he’s up late doing it.
Maybe this commercial resonates with people who like to think their 81-year-old senator is out cruising dirt roads by himself to check out drainage issues, or maybe it holds sway with those who think the letter “g” is wildly overused. Or maybe most people see it for what it is — a cynical effort to project Shelby as the exact opposite of what he really is: a consummate Washington politician.
Richard Shelby is as much Washington, D.C., as anyone, and that’s why so many challengers think he’s vulnerable.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Shelby ranked 19th in the U.S. Senate in terms of personal wealth in 2014, clocking in at just about $11 million. His net worth has been as high as $20 million in the past decade, according to the CRP. Much of the senator’s wealth is tied up in real estate — including a townhouse in Northwest Washington, D.C., valued between $1 million and $5 million. At least when he’s not high-tailin’ he has a pretty swank place to stay.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington reported Shelby has reimbursed himself and his wife more than $527,000 in expenses from his campaign and leadership PAC funds — more than twice the amount claimed by any other senator. And the federal earmarks he pushed to revitalize areas of Tuscaloosa that surround property he owns — now valued at more than $1 million — is a story that’s been widely reported.
Any notion of Shelby as the humble public servant is probably hobbled by the five massive buildings bearing his name at each of the state’s largest universities — as if he were the major donor instead of just the conduit of more than $200 million in taxpayer dollars. One might expect a humble servant to respectfully turn down such an honor after two or three buildings.
The truth about all of this is if the people of Alabama want to put Richard Shelby back in office until he’s 88, let’s at least admit what it’s about. The Dude brings home the pork and that’s the fact. Yet, almost everyone who votes for Shelby is also someone who spends his or her time talking about what a mess Washington is, and how we need term limits. That’s called irony. Or just not carin’.
You can’t blame Shelby for runnin’ again. D.C. has been good to him. Maybe his next ad will be a little more accurate and have him countin’ money, makin’ deals, loadin’ pork into bills and otherwise doin’ what’s kept him in office nearly 40 years.
Those who want to topple him certainly face a tough battle, especially if voters lap up such disingenuous advertising pabulum. After all, The Dude abides.