the suzi parker files

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Posts Tagged ‘Bill Clinton

Elton John in Us Weekly: Too Hot for an Arkansas Grocery

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Arkansas has a way of making it onto the national stage — and sometimes the publicity isn’t very complimentary.

The latest from Bill Clinton’s home state: Harps grocery store in the small town of Mountain Home in northern Arkansas deemed a magazine story on gay singer Elton John to be obscene.

The store placed gray “family shields” over copies of the Us Weekly magazine, which features the singer, his partner, and their new adopted baby. Printed on the shields were the words: “To protect our young shoppers.”

But the shields didn’t stay up for long — not after members of the Arkansas’ GLBT community started calling the Harps corporate offices in Springdale.

The company, which runs 65 Harps stories in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri, released a statement on its website Wednesday afternoon. It said in part:

“Our true intention is not to offend anyone and this incident happened at just one of of our 65 locations, which when brought to our attention, we reversed,” Kim B. Eskew, Harps president and COO.

The statement explained that it is the company leaves it up to the local manager’s discretion to use the shields when customers complain about offensive material. The Mountain Home store said it covered the Elton John magazine after receiving such complaints.

The censorship ignited GLBT activists.

“It’s Us magazine, not Hustler,” said Randi Romo of the Center for Artistic Revolution, a non-profit dedicated to fairness and equality for all Arkansans. “Families come in all kinds of configurations and yes, sometimes that means they consist of same-sex couples raising their children. Many same-sex families live right here in Arkansas. The last census showed that there are same-sex couple households living in every single county in Arkansas.”

My beloved home state of Arkansas is unparalleled at perpetuating its own stereotypes of Bible-thumping, backwardness, bigotry, racism, and intolerance.

Last week, the town of Marshall made national news when its mayor flew a Confederate flag over city hall for four days, including on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The mayor said it was in honor of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s birthday. Arkansas is one of a handful of Southern states that celebrates Lee’s birthday on the same day as King’s.

This week, the city council, which did not approve of the mayor’s actions, voted that only the state and U.S. flag can be flown on city property.

Last year, in response to gay suicides around the country, Midland School Board Vice President Clint McCance came under national scrutiny for a series of vicious and inflammatory anti-gay rants on Facebook. He resigned after an online campaign to oust him and a GLBT group from Little Rock protested the small school.

Even governors can take a step or two from progress. Former Gov. Mike Huckabee once bragged on “Morning Joe” about eating fried squirrel. “When I was in college, we used to take a popcorn popper, because that was the only thing they would let us use in the dorm, and we would fry squirrels in a popcorn popper in the dorm room.” (For the record, few Arkansans have ever done this, according to my own informal survey.)

In 2009, atheists battled the secretary of state’s office for the right to display a winter solstice exhibit on the capitol grounds near a large nativity scene. They eventually gained the right, but some atheists now worry that the right may be taken away since a conservative GOP secretary of state won the election last year.

There is only one way to describe Arkansas: land of extremes.

The state is progressive in many areas, and feudal in many others. The state has a history of electing progressive federal representatives. Sens. J. William Fulbright, David Pryor and Dale Bumpers and long-time Congressman Wilbur Mills come to mind. Then there’s Bill Clinton, who attempted to allow gays in the military and reform the health care system in his first year in office. Arkansas can also claim one of the most liberal surgeon generals to ever hit Washington – Dr. Joycelyn Elders.

Arkansas is home to some of the world’s biggest companies – Walmart and Tyson Foods — and is becoming a regional hotspot for wind-energy manufacturing. The William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Center and his school for public service lures thousands of tourists and illustrious speakers from around the world.

But if the chance arises to spectacularly display our foibles on a national news stage, we jump at the chance, especially if it involves GLBT lifestyles or sex.

That’s certainly ironic, as I discovered when I wrote my book, “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt.” In the 1970s, Arkansas became the home of the first Miss Gay America pageant. The drag queen pageant only blossomed in popularity over the decades.

Little Rock is also home to two of the largest gay and lesbian nightclubs – Discovery and Backstreet. And yes, straight people do go.

“Strong and vibrant queer communities such as Eureka Springs and the surrounding lesbian-only communities have had a presence in the mountains surrounding Mountain Home [where the Harps grocery is located] for decades,” says Brock Thompson, author of “The Un-Natural State: Arkansas and the Queer South.”

Eureka Springs has the only Domestic Partnership Registry in Arkansas, which often comes under fire by legislators who want to halt the registry.

Just this month, researchers reported that gay couples in Southern states like Arkansas are more likely to be raising children than their counterparts on the West Coast, in New York and in New England.

The push-pull of progression versus moral repression bubbles incessantly in Arkansas, which makes the love-hate relationship for many Arkansans all the stronger.


Written by suziparker1313

March 10, 2011 at 3:21 am

Top Five Celebrity Activists: Lady Gaga and a Palin, Too

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Star power goes a long way.

Celebrities can often shed light, or make a big impact, on a cause or an issue in ways that even the best public relations campaign simply cannot.

During World War II, Hollywood stars promoted war bonds, rationing and Victory gardens. These days, they take to social media and television to get their points across on myriad issues affecting the world.

Five celebrities who made a difference this year:

Lady Gaga: The pop superstar dipped her toe into celebrity activism in 2009 when she appeared at the National Equality March in Washington. But in 2010, Lady Gaga chose full-body immersion. She took on “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” and encouraged her “Little Monster” fans to make a ruckus by calling elected officials and asking them to repeal the law. For many Millennials, Lady Gaga’s call to action was the first time they realized that they could even call a senator.

The fashion diva, who took heat from PETA for a costume made from meat, also lambasted Arizona’s immigration law and took on the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church when the hate group protested her St. Louis concert. Her solution: Embrace them with love and peace.

How did she motivate her fans to action? Via Facebook and Twitter. Lady Gaga rules social media with more followers and fans than any politician, including President Barack Obama.

Expect the 25-year-old Lady Gaga to continue her fight for GLBT rights in 2011 as her third studio album will be called “Born This Way.”

Sean Penn: Academy Award-winner Sean Penn went beyond the extra charitable mile in 2010. When Haiti suffered a devastating earthquake in January, Penn didn’t just write a check to a relief agency. Instead, he started his own organization and ventured to the ravaged country.

And he decided to stay.

Penn became a camp manager for the International Organization of Migration at Petionville, one of the most complex temporary camps in Haiti. The IOM is the United Nations agency responsible for camp management and coordination. He also traveled to Washington to testify at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on rebuilding Haiti.

In December, Penn, 50, even skipped out of a fancy Dubai film festival where he was to receive a lifetime achievement award to return to Haiti because of concerns regarding the safety of his staff. He received the “Hollywood Humanitarian Award” at the Hollywood Awards for his “selfless” efforts.

Penn continues to stress the importance of medical supplies and doctors as the country battles cholera. He’s not going anywhere, he says. In fact, Penn has recently vowed to spend years in Haiti until the country is stable.

Michelle Obama: Like first ladies before her, Michelle Obama has a cause — childhood obesity. Sure, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Bill Clinton were pushing the issue long before Obama got on the scene, but she took the issue to a new level. She launched “Let’s Move,” a program to “raise a healthier generation of kids.”

She has called obesity a “national security threat” and an epidemic. Last year, she created a White House garden to show how easy it is to raise healthy food. She kicked off 2010 by speaking to the U.S. Conference of Mayors about the issue. This month, Obama celebrated a win when her husband signed into the law the child nutrition bill for which she strongly lobbied. The first lady isn’t above showing her hula-hooping skills or practicing with NFL teams to show kids how to exercise and get outside.

Her obesity campaign recently got Sarah Palin’s attention.

On her TLC reality television show, Palin said, “Where are the s’mores ingredients? This is in honor of Michelle Obama, who said the other day we should not have dessert.” In fact, Obama said, “The problem is when things get out of balance, when dessert is practically a food group.”

In turn, Huckabee, a former overweight diabetic who wrote a book about his weight battle, came to Obama’s defense. Don’t expect Michelle Obama to back down on the issue. She plans to make the battle against childhood obesity her White House legacy.

Bristol Palin: She tangoed her way into the consciousness of just about every American household this year on “Dancing With The Stars.” But she also did her fair share of advocacy against teen pregnancy. Palin was 17 and unmarried when she became pregnant.

In May, Palin appeared in a public service announcement for The Candie’s Foundation, an offshoot of the clothing brand that promotes awareness of teen pregnancy. In 2009, she was named an ambassador for the foundation.

During her “DWTS” appearance, Palin filmed another PSA promoting safe sex for the foundation with Jersey Shore star and fellow DWTS contestant, The Situation. He promotes condoms, Palin promotes abstinence.

In December, Keith Olbermann called Bristol Palin “the worst person in the world” because she preaches abstinence to teens even though she was an unwed teenager when she became a mom.
Palin pulled a Lady Gaga and took to her Facebook page to defend herself. She wrote: “In order to have credibility as a spokesperson, it sometimes takes a person who has made mistakes. Parents warn their children about the mistakes they made so they are not repeated. Former gang members travel to schools to educate teenagers about the risks of gang life.”

Palin graduated out of her teens this year but is likely to continue her abstinence message into her 20s. That is unless she finds a new cause.

Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder, Natalie Maines and Patti Smith: Collectively, these four kindred spirits came together in of all places, Little Rock, Ark., to shed light on the West Memphis Three – Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley, Jr.

While teenagers, the three were charged with the murders of three 8-year-old boys, whose bodies were found in 1993 naked and bound in West Memphis, Ark. For the last 17 years, the three have been trying to get the Arkansas courts to retry the case. Echols sits on Arkansas Death Row. The other two men are serving life sentences.

Vedder and Depp have long been supporters of the West Memphis Three. Only this year, however, did Depp decide to become more vocal publicly about the case. Depp appeared on “48 Hours” to plead for a new trial and pulled his friend, punk goddess Patti Smith, into the project.

In August, Vedder, along with Arkansas Take Action advocates, led the charge to organize a concert to shed light on the need for new hearings in the case. Depp, Maines and Smith appeared. Depp read poems written by Echols and also sang and played guitar. Maines, too, performed, and Smith closed the evening with her classics.

The celeb firepower may have just worked.

The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled in November to allow new evidentiary hearings for the West Memphis Three.

Mike Huckabee: Serious Competition for Sarah Palin in 2012

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Sarah Palin may have met her political match in Mike Huckabee.

Both have been criss-crossing the country on book tours. Both hold degrees in communication. Both hunt and fish. Both use various media to hit their target audiences.

But while Palin often generates anger, Huckabee takes the Will Rogers road. He has an aw-shucks demeanor, freely cracking jokes, shaking hands and chatting with the media while Palin shuns reporters.

Already road-tested by a 2008 White House run, Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor and Baptist minister, may just be the strongest GOP candidate to take on Palin in a primary and President Barack Obama in a general election.

Huckabee, so far, ranks high in favorability polls.

A Quinnipac poll on Nov. 22 showed Huckabee in a statistical dead heat with Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

In a Marist College poll on Nov. 24, Huckabee and Palin were virtually tied in popularity among Republicans who were not college graduates. But Huckabee pulled ahead significantly — 18 percent to Palin’s 9 percent — among respondents with college degrees. Huckabee came in second to Romney, who polled on top with 25 percent, among college-educated Republicans.
The high ratings mirror Huckabee’s numbers when he was governor. According to the yearly Arkansas Poll, Huckabee only dipped below 50 percent once from 1999 to 2006. In 2003, he hit a 47 percent approval rating, but the next year had 58 percent.

“He compares favorably to his leading competitors at the moment,” says Janine Parry, director of the Arkansas Poll at the University of Arkansas. “His unfavorable numbers are significantly lower, he’s penetrated the mainstream culture without becoming clownish, and he’s demonstrated a willingness – even eagerness – to be a practical, truly bipartisan leader. In this environment and in a general election at least, those seem like substantial assets.”

Huckabee’s career from Southern Baptist minister to politician is one of determination and ambition. The lesson for his opponents: He takes chances and he doesn’t give up easily.

From 1989 to 1991, Huckabee served as the youngest-ever elected president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. While well-known in church circles, Huckabee was a complete unknown in the political arena. But yet he took on a political legend, Sen. Dale Bumpers, for the U.S. Senate in 1992. He lost, but he received 40 percent of the vote.

In 1993, then-GOP State Chairman Asa Hutchinson urged Huckabee to run in a special election for lieutenant governor after Bill Clinton left the governor’s office to become president and Lt. Gov.Jim Guy Tucker became governor.

Huckabee ran against attorney Nate Coulter and won by a razor-thin margin. He ran a campaign against the state’s dominant Democratic establishment with the slogan, “Unplug the Machine.” In November 1994, he was re-elected to a four-year term.

While Huckabee planned another Senate run in 1996 for retiring Democratic Sen. David Pryor’s seat, his plans changed when Tucker resigned as governor after he got caught up in the Clinton Whitewater scandal and was convicted of fraud.

Huckabee faced a legislature with 89 Democrats out of 100 legislators in the House and only four Republicans in the 35-seat Senate. Yet, Huckabee found a way to govern.

“Huckabee’s great gift as governor was to be pretty ideologically in sync with a state that was conservative on social issues but believed in government,” says Jay Barth, a political science professor at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark. “He took moderate, pro-government stances that were in step with the state and even on social issues, he didn’t push much.”


Barth cautions that Huckabee’s moderate stances on children’s health care and allowing children of illegal immigrants to attend college may not sit well with tea party voters who align with Palin.

During his 2008 presidential run, Huckabee played well as a candidate. He won the Iowa caucuses and came in second in South Carolina. He stayed in the race although Republicans were urging him to concede the primary to Sen. John McCain.

If he chooses to run again, Huckabee can claim Southern and Baptist credentials in Dixie and play the populist card in Iowa and New Hampshire. In California recently, he signed books at the Reagan Library — a tip of the hat to “The Great Communicator.”

In 2007, Ed Rollins, a Republican consultant and a Reagan national campaign manager, said, “Governor Huckabee has probably inspired me as much as Ronald Reagan. He had an ability to connect with people and he was a great communicator. I’ve looked for a long time for another candidate to do that.”

Meanwhile, Palin chose to stay in the heartland and South during her book tour and appeared in Huckabee’s Arkansas.

Huckabee’s weakness during the 2008 campaign was lack of money — something that Palin certainly knows how to generate. But those who know him say Huckabee is a quick study.

“Huckabee always learns from his defeats, whether they are political defeats or legislative defeats,” says Rex Nelson, Huckabee’s communications director while in the governor’s office. “He lost his first political race to U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers in 1992, adjusted and never lost another race in Arkansas. The 2008 race was one big learning experience for him since it was his first national race. If he seeks the nomination in 2012, he will be an even better candidate.”

Still, his Huck PAC has a lot less money than Palin’s or Romney’s. Huckabee had $194,578.01 on hand at the end of the last reporting period in November, compared to $1.2 million for Sarah PAC or $1 million for Romney’s Free and Strong America PAC.
But there are signs Huckabee is starting to shift gears.

In recent weeks, as Palin took her book to the Midwest and South and appeared in Huckabee’s Arkansas, Huckabee touted his book and became more vocal on current events, including WikiLeaks, tax cuts and health care. Earlier this year, Huckabee moved to Florida, a key presidential primary state, where he is building a $3 million beach house. He aligned himself last year with Sen.-elect Marco Rubio, a popular tea party candidate.

While Palin heads to Haiti this week and plans a trip to Israel next year, Huckabee has visited Israel more than 10 times as a pastor and a politician. He plans another trip in late January to Israel, similar to a trip he took earlier this year with Christian crooner Pat Boone. He is an ardent supporter of Israel and can talk at length about the problems it faces.

On his PAC’s website, Huckabee is trying to raise $15,000 by the end of the month. He has started to update his Facebook page and Twitter account more frequently. Social media is a tool Palin uses with great frequency to get out her message.

More than Romney or Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Barth sees Palin as Huckabee’s biggest obstacle in a Republican primary.

“She’s a fresher face than Huckabee,” Barth says. “She has really courted the tea party a little better than Huckabee. But if she doesn’t run, he is a strong, strong candidate for the nomination.”

Written by suziparker1313

March 8, 2011 at 10:55 pm

Sarah Palin in a Little Rock Sam’s Club: Signs Books, Ignores Media

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Sam’s Club – the Walmart-owned megastore that sells almost everything in bulk – is hardly the epitome of glamour.

So where does a superstar like Sarah Palin set up shop to sign books here? Amid the pallets of canned green beans? Behind the sea of poinsettias? Near the crates of toilet paper? Palin’s choice: In the back of the store behind the frozen-food freezers.

But her reception in Clinton – and Mike Huckabee – country was anything but chilly.

More than 500 people lined up on a cold night here to meet Palin, who signed her new book, “America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith, and Flag,” earlier in the day at a stop in Baton Rouge, La. Some arrived before 5 a.m. to get in line for one of the 500 coveted purple wristbands entitling the wearer to get two books signed and to meet Sarah. That’s what her fans call her: “Sarah.” Simply Sarah, as if she is a best friend.

Members of the media were scooped up, identified and herded away immediately upon their arrival to a spot near the throngs of Palinites, whose ages ranged from 5 to 85, with some in wheelchairs and many with canes. A media escort spilled to me that Tuesday’s crowd was considerably smaller than Palin’s previous one last December, when more than 1,500 people showed up in northwest Arkansas to brave frigid weather for a brush with Palin and a copy of “Going Rogue.”

Near the front door of Sam’s Club, hundreds of copies of “America by Heart” were neatly stacked and adorned with $15.88 stickers. Before I could pick up a book, a media wrangler had corralled me into the snack area with other reporters. Polite but jittery, she repeatedly informed us that absolutely no questions could be asked of Palin. If anyone dared ask, they would be escorted out by security. She was adamant.

An elderly man wearing a purple wristband sat down with the media and handed the wrangler two copies each of “Blue Collar Christianity” and “Actions of the Early Church” by James F. Holmes to give to Palin. The wrangler then escorted the first team of photographers back to Palin.

Ten minutes later, they emerged frustrated.

“You have to shoot through people standing in front of her,” one photographer said, describing the area as the size of a phone booth behind black curtains.

The wrangler gathered up my group and escorted us past electronics, gigantic gun safes and boxes of enormous Christmas balls. “No questions,” she reminded us, as if we could have forgotten. “Ten minutes is all you get. No questions.”

In a line against a wall, fans waited with anticipation. They obediently shed coats and hoodies and placed them alongside their cameras and cell phones in rubber bins for security men who acted more like TSA agents than Sam’s Club employees. No photos, no recordings of any kind. Period.

It was a vastly different scene than the one my WomanUp colleague, Joann Weiner, wrote about earlier in the day about former President Jimmy Carter’s book signing in Washington.

We entered through a small tunnel of black curtains and stood behind a red rope line. There was Palin — sitting at a long table with a stack of books — and her youngest daughter, Piper, standing next to her. An American flag hung behind her. The Christian books from the elderly man sat on a tall table in the corner. An oversized poster of Palin’s book jacket leaned against it.

Palin wore a shiny black jacket with sleeves edged in sequins and a rhinestone American flag pin on the lapel. The former vice-presidential candidate smiled like a star as she scribbled “Sarah” — no personal inscriptions — in books. She wore her hair in her trademark upsweep, and a rose lipstick glossed her lips. Her nails sported a perfect French manicure.

In contrast, Piper’s nails were bright red as she fanned a stack of bookmarks, which she never passed out. She wore a black coat and her hair was combed back in a ponytail. A man behind the media pen informed a fan that Willow, another Palin daughter, was in the back.

A woman standing at the end of the table quickly stormed over and informed us that reporters were not supposed to be there. But the wrangler said it was fine. “No questions,” the woman said. A few minutes later, she told us she was with HarperCollins, Palin’s publishing company, and not Sam’s Club.

Palin shook hands with each person and asked their names. She quickly kept the line moving with small talk and no mention of North Korea, WikiLeaks or Barbara Bush. Piper leaned in at one point and told her mother something in a bossy tone and pointed toward the back of the store. The little girl looked angry as Palin smiled at her.

A woman and her young daughter approached Palin and discussed home schooling. A little boy then shook Palin’s hand.

“Study hard and read a lot of history,” she told him.

Two 20-something women tried to contain their glee when they entered the small area. Smiles radiated across their faces. They shook Palin’s hand, and she asked the one wearing scrubs if she were a nurse.

Before she could answer, reporters had to exit the area. The nurse, Susie Parkes, quickly followed with her sister, Katie, also a nurse.

“We’re her No. 1 fans,” Susie Parkes said, clutching her signed book. “We love her values and what she stands for and what she has done for our country.”

Katie Parkes echoed her sister. “She is bringing back values we need in this country that we have somehow lost. She stands for family and working-class America.”

“She said we had good hearts because we’re nurses and thanked us for doing the jobs we’re doing,” Susie Parkes said.

On Wednesday, the sisters were upgrading their cable system for the sole reason of watching “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” on The Learning Channel. They said they would “absolutely” vote for her if she ran for president in 2012.

As I left, people were still standing in the cold and dark to meet Palin. At a busy intersection near Sam’s Club, one lonely protester stood holding a homemade sign that called Palin a quitter for resigning her Alaskan governor’s position. Palin’s handlers likely made sure she never saw the man.

Written by suziparker1313

March 8, 2011 at 10:48 pm

Arkansas Rep. Vic Snyder Shaves Stache for Campaign Cash

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Rep. Vic Snyder (D-Ark.) had his mustache for 41 years. But no more.

On Sunday, Snyder’s wife, the Rev. Betsy Singleton Snyder, shaved off her husband’s mustache at Gen. Wesley Clark’s Little Rock home. The reason: Joyce Elliott, the Democratic 2nd Congressional District candidate, raised $50,000.

Snyder, who has held the congressional seat since 1996 but decided not to seek re-election earlier this year, said last week that if Elliott raised $50,000 by Sunday he would shave off his mustache. Elliott’s campaign manager, John Whiteside, said in an e-mail last week, “We know the big corporations, Karl Rove and the billionaire Koch brothers have unlimited funds and total secrecy on their side in the 2010 election, but we have the unimaginable power of the mustache on our side.” The e-mail featured famous men with mustaches including the actors Tom Selleck and Sam Elliott — no relation to Joyce Elliott.

Elliott is running against Tim Griffin, a Republican and former Bush White House aide. A poll released Monday showed Elliott trailing Griffin by 12 points. An August poll showed Elliott down by 17 points. If Elliott were to be elected, she would be the first black to represent Arkansas in Congress.

Snyder said he was willing to shave off his beloved mustache to also prove the “stark contrasts” between Elliott and Griffin. He said Elliott has “great intelligence and integrity” and calls Griffin “a very flawed candidate” with a troubling past of lying about caseloads while he was a JAG attorney in the military and getting caught up in the U.S. attorney scandal.

“I’ll look for any opportunity to point that out,” Snyder told Politics Daily. “If a bag of mustache hair helps to tell that story then that’s what I’ll use.”

President Bill Clinton appeared at a rally for Elliott last Thursday, where he attacked Griffin’s past connections to Karl Rove while Griffin worked in the White House.

Griffin released a new ad Monday about the economy and the national debt. Last week, Elliott released an ad that hit on Griffin’s character. The ad featured Elliott standing in the church where she grew up, holding a Bible.

Pundits have said that the district, which includes Little Rock, will likely go Republican this year.

Written by suziparker1313

March 8, 2011 at 10:15 pm

Blanche Lincoln: Trying to Get Her Groove Back at the Arkansas State Fair

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — It’s one thing to see a politician stand behind a podium and recite talking points on their Senate votes.
It’s another picture entirely to see that same politician walking around cow manure, petting goats, taking a hand-writing analysis and shaking hands. Arkansas Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln did just that Friday afternoon at the Arkansas State Fair, and it offered a rare glimpse of the candidate who first won voters over 18 years ago. 

This election cycle, pundits and other observers have relentlessly criticized the embattled lawmaker, saying she has forgotten her Southern roots. They claim that she had abandoned Arkansas because she and her family own a home in Virginia and she rarely returned to the state.

Some of that might have been true. But Lincoln, fighting to save her political life, is trying to prove otherwise.

There were two Blanche Lincolns on view Friday.

Blanche LincolnJust an hour before hitting the state fair, she spoke to a group of about 100 Democratic women in the Clinton Presidential Library’s Great Hall, sounding like the candidate who had given hundreds of campaign speeches — as she has had to do over and over since spring, when she eked out a victory in a bruising Democratic primary and runoff against Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. 

Dressed in a conservative blue skirt, jacket and a rust colored scarf tied around her neck, Lincoln ticked off the list of her accomplishments as the first Arkansan — and first female — to chair the Senate Agriculture Committee. She lobbed an attack or two at her opponent, Rep. John Boozman, whom she trails in some polls by 18 points. She talked to reporters afterward in the library’s lobby, telling them to look at Boozman’s record on veterans.

She said that momentum was swinging her way. Then, without much enthusiasm, she said, “See you at the fair.”

But seven miles away and 30 minutes after leaving the library, a very different Lincoln emerged — a candidate who didn’t sound like she was on automatic pilot. Lincoln had transformed completely: She wore faded blue jeans, brown work boots, a matching belt and a white cable-knit sweater with its collar turned upward. She was relaxed. She seemed human. She seemed in her element.

Her staff let her roam through the Junior Livestock Auction, where school students from around the state showed off their prized animals. As she talked to a family whose son won a ribbon for their pig, Lincoln was no longer the controlled politician. She told the couple about her twin sons. She shook hand after hand.
And she often seemed to know more about farming than some of the men in the arena.
Marion Fletcher, the state Future Farmers of America adviser, agreed. “She understands agriculture, period,” Fletcher said. “She is fully supportive of producers in this state. We cannot lose her as chair of the agriculture committee. Cannot. Agriculture is the most important thing in Arkansas’ economy. It’s taken a long time to get this position.”
People hugged Lincoln as if she were an old friend. They called her “Blanche,” not “Senator Lincoln.” She clearly can draw upon a must-have in Arkansas politics — the gift for the human connection. Bill Clinton has it in spades, but Lincoln on this day wasn’t far behind. If someone with the last name of, say, Jones said they were from some town, Lincoln immediately asked if they were related to someone she knew.
This is the Blanche that the state first fell in love with when she ran for Congress in 1992, taking on her old boss, Congressman Bill Alexander, in a primary battle after he got caught up in the House banking scandal. And she was down-home Blanche when she ran in 1998 against Boozman’s brother, John, in her first run for Senate. In ads and on the trail during that campaign, she was often seen wearing camouflage and waders, touting her love for duck hunting.
But in 2004, given that her seat was deemed a safe one, she didn’t campaign as much and the image began to fade. Now, Lincoln’s future is on the line in a year where having an “R” by your name means a lot more than it did in this state that was once reliably blue. (Not to mention that she has a long voting record to defend on issues like health care reform.) Still, Arkansas loves it’s retail politicians.
At the fair, Lincoln stopped in front of a pen filled with white chickens that had won a grand champion prize.
“Mighty big and pretty chickens,” she said. “Sure, yes, of course, we can take a picture.” She posed with a pair of girls in front of the pen and shook hands with their parents. When asked, they said they had no idea whether they will vote for Lincoln but that she was nice.
Occasionally, Lincoln reached into her back pocket and handed out a push card featuring herself smiling — and wearing lipstick — with her campaign slogan, “One Tough Lady.”
Young female farmers-in-training seemed smitten by Lincoln and clamored to meet her. She made time for each of them. They can’t vote, but Lincoln knew their parents might.
On her way out of the dusty, stinky arena, the two-term senator grabbed a bowl of popcorn and devoured it. She paused on a ramp and told me about how the state fair held a lot of memories for her.
“There’s a real sense of pride when you see those kids with their animals,” she said. “This fair is a strong part of our history and heritage. Generation after generation participates in these auctions or just coming to the fair. I remember my parents hauling the kids over and we would stay at the Coachman’s Inn. You know where that was, right? The pool would be closed because it’d be October, but we’d sneak in anyway.”
Lincoln said she loved goats and wanted one, but her husband, Steve, would kill her if she brought one home. She pointed at a stand that sold fried Twinkies, but opted against having one as she headed to the Hall of Industry, an enclosed metal building where various businesses and agencies sponsored booths.
“Is that Blanche Lincoln?” an elderly woman whispered as the senator and her campaign entourage passed.
Lincoln did not miss a beat as she turned and said, “Yes, it is.”
The woman appeared shocked and said she loved her. “I need your vote, I need your help,” Lincoln stressed.
“You’ve got it,” the woman said.
“Want to get your handwriting analyzed?” a woman asked Lincoln at a handwriting analysis booth that has been a part of the fair for decades.
“Yes, I do,” Lincoln said without hesitation, signing a card.
The woman stuck the card into the gigantic computer that lit up like a contraption from a sci-fi movie. Lincoln’s results emerged on computer paper. She belted out a laugh like a kid, but didn’t share the results with reporters. (I spied a few tidbits, however:
Her lucky day is Friday. Her lucky numbers: 3, 6, 9. Her color is pink.)
“Pink is okay, but my favorite color is blue,” she said.
She stopped by the Hyla U.S. Gassman booth, which featured an air tank blowing wads of money. The game: Guess how much money was floating around and win free gas. Lincoln studied the tank for more than five minutes. She thought aloud about the math and finally guessed $652. (Winners were to be announced after the fair closed.)
Nick Cain and Josh Brock, who manned the booth, said Lincoln was the only politician that they had seen during the week. “She talked to us when no one else, politician or just a regular person, has,” Brock said.
Both he and Cain are registered voters and Lincoln impressed them.
Lincoln leisurely worked the crowd. Many along the way declared their support for her. Maybe Southerners are too nice to tell a politician to their face that they are voting for the opponent. Or perhaps Lincoln has more support than the polls show.
Women, and especially young girls, sought her out. One shy little girl said that she wanted to be like Lincoln when she grew up. This side of Lincoln as role model is seldom seen behind the Washington façade.
“You can [do] this job, too,” Lincoln said, bending to get eye level with her. “I don’t have a law degree. I was going to be a nurse. Instead, I decided to do something for my country.”

Written by suziparker1313

March 8, 2011 at 10:14 pm

Amen, Sister: Joycelyn Elders’ Call for More Sexual Frankness

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One lesson I’ve learned: When people feel repressed — when they feel sex is shameful — an underworld of sexual activity bubbles below the surface of society.

I discovered that reality when I wrote “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt” a few years ago. The South has always been a region of moral conservatism and Bible thumping, with churches on every corner to remind people of their shame and sin.

I was reminded of that truth when I read a recent sex survey of 5,865 men and women aged 14 to 94 that has gotten a lot of press attention. The survey, the largest nationally representative study of sexual and sexual-health behaviors ever fielded, focuses on condom use, masturbation, oral sex, anal sex and just plain old vanilla sex.

On the survey’s surface, it would appear that the United States is getting busier and bolder in the bedroom. But in the same newly published journal where the survey was featured, there was also an article by former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders. She makes the point that we are still not talking about sex in a frank, healthy manner, which in my experience brews that underworld of sexual activity mentioned at the start of this piece.

Many best remember Elders for how she lost her job: she was fired by President Clinton in 1994 for voicing her politically explosive opinion that masturbation should be taught to children.

“Hiding from sexuality is not realistic when we know that humans are inherently sexual beings,” Elders more recently wrote. “A sexually healthy society must be our new goal for the 21st century.”

Amen, sister.

Elders is absolutely right when she says this country has a long way to go before it becomes honest about sexual topics, especially where politicians and politics are concerned.

Just in the past few years, politicians have emerged with stories of sex and betrayal more tangled than soap opera plots. There was John Edward’s double-life revelation with a secret baby and sex video, and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s Argentina soul mate. In Louisiana, Senator David Vitter, who is running for re-election, got caught up in a prostitution scandal. So did New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer, who reinvented himself as a CNN show host.

But true to form, politicians seldom address sex except to apologize for it. They just brush it under the carpet or twist it for political gain in a campaign to shame the other side.

Most recent case in point: Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul’s flashing back to the 1990s and lobbing a reminder to everyone about Bill Clinton’s dalliance with Monica Lewinsky.

“I’m not sure I would trust a guy who had had sexual relations with an intern,” Paul said on Monday after Clinton made a campaign appearance in Kentucky for Paul’s opponent. “I mean, do you think he’s an honorable person?” Oops, Rand Paul, your age may be showing. The Lewinsky scandal happened when today’s new voter was in first grade.

The recent sex survey indicates oral sex is no longer the taboo that it was in 1998 when the Lewinsky scandal brought the topic into America’s living rooms. Perhaps Bill Clinton is to blame — or thank, depending on your mindset — for the increase in oral sex, especially among teens.

According to the survey, teenagers of both sexes are indulging in oral sex at young ages — among 14- and 15-year-olds, 9 percent of boys said they’ve engaged in oral sex. That number more than doubles to 20 percent among 16- to 17-year-olds. The numbers are higher among girls. Thirteen percent of girls age 14 to 15 have performed oral sex, as have 29 percent of girls 16 to 17. Sixty-one percent are oral sex veterans by the time boys and girls graduate high school and enter college.

Another long-time taboo that’s clashing with reality is homosexuality in the military and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” In the national survey, 7 percent of women and 8 percent of men identified themselves as non-heterosexual. Five percent of women identified as lesbian or bisexual and nearly 7 percent of men identified as gay or bisexual. Still, the issue of gays in the military remains controversial.

But we’re making progress in some areas. For example, Elders says masturbation is something we’ve started talking about. Elders writes, “We have finally included masturbation in our national conversation and as a result stopped checking our hands for growing hair.” ( Back when Elders was fired, masturbation was a big no-no, as Christine O’Donnell preached on Bill Maher’s “Politically Incorrect” television show.)

That controversial act that tainted Elders’ career seems so tame now. Yes, teenagers still do it. Researchers found that masturbation is still the prevalent sexual behavior of teens. And they don’t outgrow it, most adults – male and female – masturbate regularly.

Elders’ drama created such a notorious ruckus back in the good old 1990s. It seems almost quaint now that politicians use such descriptive words as “whore” and “slut” about their opponents and to describe their own pasts. These days, some bold congressional candidates – Krystal Ball is the best known – opt to face their racy pasts with directness instead of denial.
But Krystal Ball is the exception in a world where politicians are — and may always be — behind the curve when it comes to evolving standards of sexual morality.

Both Democrats and Republicans will continue to thump the tub for a return to the good old days of fidelity and modesty. But they live in a country – as the sex survey proves – where people across all age groups have sex before marriage, engage in sexual acts other than intercourse which many enjoy for pleasure and not just procreation

Until we are honest enough to embrace that reality, we’ll continue to behave like so many do in the South, where I live — seemingly pure on the surface, oh-so tawdry on underneath.

Written by suziparker1313

March 8, 2011 at 10:12 pm