Not Bobby Jindal: The Parable of the Idiot Candidate

Bobby Jindal’s experience at exorcisms and rejection of the Catholic Church’s position on teaching creationism are getting some attention. He is young and makes an appearance of governmental competence (though, New Orleans is still a mess and he’s had several months to start making things happen that aren’t happening). But on science issues, the man is without sense, without reason.

In response to a post at Pharyngula, someone commented:

No, no no…. we WANT McCain to pick Jindal.

Because Jindal claims to have performed an exorcism.

PleaseohpleaseohpleaseohPLEASE pick Jindal!!!!!!

Let me tell you a story. This looks like a parable, and after a fashion, it is.  It is also history.  You can look it up.  Call it a parable from Santayana’s Ghost.

Once upon a time, back in the Cretaceous (okay, 1976), when Utah was still split among Democrats and Republicans, especially for national offices like senator and representative, there was a great congressman in Utah’s first district (which you might call the “cursed First,” because it has had its share of misfortunes, like Enid Greene, and Douglas Stringfellow; except that at the time, it was the 2nd. No, I’m not about to explain). Rep. Alan Howe was a smart, well-connected Democrat, and a very good first-term Congressman. He’d won election in 1974 when Wayne Owens vacated the seat to run for the U.S. Senate unsuccessfully against Jake Garn.* In 1976, Howe was considered unbeatable.

Howe’s brother was president of the Utah State Senate. Howe was a friend of outgoing Gov. Calvin Rampton. As a former director of the Four Corners Commission, he had a good bead on water, energy, agricultural, industrial and environmental issues in the entire state. He was rising rapidly up the ladder in Democratic leadership. Republicans who might have made a run looked at Howe’s war chest of campaign contributions, his record and sterling reputation, and sat out the race.

At that time the state’s parties held their conventions in June. Under Utah’s system, all candidates for an office would appeal to the delegates of the state convention, and if one candidate got 50% plus 1 of the delegates to vote for her or him, there would be no primary. If no candidate got a majority, the top two would face off in a primary in September, and the winner would go to the general election in November.

Utah’s Republicans had five people file for the office, all of them unknowns, all of them considered appropriate to fill the ballot out for a losing election. The five were so undistinguished, and so undistinguishable, that the race was close between all of them. An insurance salesman named Dan Marriott (no relation to the J. W. Marriotts) scraped enough delegate votes to stand against a proctologist in the primary election. Both candidates were unfamiliar with national politics and national issues. It would be one gaffe after another up to the primary.

But that’s not the story. I was a part-time reporter for KUTV, helping Lucky Severson (later of NBC) and a great documentary unit in coverage of all things political in the state. Since there was no great race on the Democratic side, I got the short straw and a good chance to cover the local Democratic convention. It was uneventful enough I didn’t even get a stand-up out of it.

Alan Howe’s campaign was loaded with people I knew from college. They invited me to a post-convention party which was, unfortunately, a fund-raiser. Consulting with the assignment desk, we figured that since the invitation came as a comp ticket, and not as an invitation to cover the thing, it was a freebie that was unacceptable under the station’s gift policies. I could go on my own, we determined, but I’d have to pay for the ticket myself. I didn’t have the change.

So I didn’t get even a stand-up. And I didn’t get to go to the party with the Congressman.

About 2:00 a.m. the assignment desk called, asking hopefully whether I’d gone to the fundraiser after all. When I said “no,” the guy yelled “Damn!”

“Look,” I said. “We discussed this — it’s against the station’s policies.”

“Yeah, but a good story isn’t. We just got a tip from the County Jail that Howe was picked up for soliciting a prostitute.”

Utah, then, was much more provincial than it is now. Still, there are few places outside of Louisiana where soliciting sex for hire is not a death knell in an election campaign.

Alan Howe had just handed his congressional seat to a Republican to be named later.

Dan Marriott and the proctologist, J. Preston Hughes fought a gaffe-filled campaign all the way to the primary. Hughes avoided using all the great campaign slogans a proctologist could use fairly and accurately, indicating a great lack of a sense of humor (“Send Hughes to Washington — he’s made a career out of cutting up a–holes to make life better!”) Marriott beat Hughes, 56,000 votes to 25,500 votes roughly.

The campaign for the general election was a groaner. Utah Democrats tried to get Howe to resign the election, but he refused, even after he was convicted. Howe refused to debate Marriott, appearing to hope that Marriott wouldn’t get any publicity. A Democrat ran a write-in campaign, further sapping Howe’s hopes.

Television debates were set up, but Howe refused to appear. These turned into painful interviews of Dan Marriott, who had no real good ideas about what he was getting into, it appeared. In one public television “debate,” open to voters to call in questions, when the host, Rod Decker then of the Deseret News went to the phones, not even crickets chirped. Decker ended up asking questions himself, though he hadn’t prepared to do that. In one exchange seared into my memory, Decker asked Marriott what committees he might like to be on in Congress, since it was all but absolutely certain he’d win the election and be able to stay out of the way of speeding buses and trains. Marriott explained that he’d been on a few committees in his local PTA, and they didn’t seem to get anything done, so he hoped he wouldn’t get any committee assignments.

Utah, so dependent on largesse from the Interior Committees and Agriculture Committees, issued a collective groan.

Utah got stuck with a candidate no one wanted, and had to send him to the House of Representatives.

Do not ever — EVER! — hope the other party will nominate an idiot against your candidate. Even the good candidates are idiot enough to blow an election. But sure as the other side nominates an idiot that even other idiots can see unable to do the job, something will happen to push that nominated idiot into the position.

There is a good history of surprise office-holders rising to the occasion. Teddy Roosevelt was nominated for the Vice Presidency largely to get him out of New York politics, where his mere presence threatened to clean up some of the corruption. New Yorkers thought he’d never recover from serving as Vice President. You know the rest of the story, of course, how President William McKinley showed up in Buffalo to shake hands, how Leon Czolgosz got in line and shot McKinley fatally.

Dan Marriott with large rubber gloves

Even Utah got lucky. Dan Marriott had enough sense to learn a bit about Congress. He lucked into a seat on the House Interior Committee, and in a Democratic Congress, with everyone ignoring him, he sneaked through a bill to clean up radioactive mill tailings in Salt Lake County. Managing to avoid major embarrassments, he went on to serve four terms. Utah swatted him down when he stood for election as governor in 1984.

Photo at left: Dan Marriott, on right, with large rubber gloves. Dan Marriott Photograph Collection at the J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah.

Events can intervene. Good candidates get tripped up — think Ed Muskie defending his wife’s honor in New Hampshire, but with a few tears, before tears were acceptable. Think all those Republicans who avoided the nastiness of the campaign against Nixon in 1968, since Robert Kennedy would easily outdistance Nixon. Sen. Paul Wellstone was a lock in a close race in Minnesota in 2002, until an airplane crash changed the race — as happened to Mel Carnahan in Missouri in 2000, and to Dick Obenshain in Virginia in 1978. Or think of former Speaker of the House Tom Foley of Washington, who simply lost his seat when an unexpected change of mind of the voters of Washington got him, in 1994, when the Newt Gingrich Contract On America was executed.

Every vote counts, until it’s dismissed or uncounted. Every race is important. Pray that each party puts up the best available people, and that the best of them win.

Remember: Do not ever — EVER! — hope the other party will nominate an idiot against your candidate. Even the good candidates are idiot enough to blow an election. But sure as the other side nominates an idiot that even other idiots can see is unable to do the job, something will happen to push that nominated idiot into the position.


* Shortly after his election in 1974 I interviewed Jake Garn with a panel for KUED-TV. I asked Garn what he would bring to the Senate, a good, softball question. He went on at length about his viewpoint as a former mayor, noting that no one else in the Senate had that experience. I named five or six former mayors in the Senate, and I asked him what was the difference. “I won’t become federalized like they did,” he said. I thought of that quote often as he orbited the Earth. Glad he didn’t fall victim to the siren song of federalization.

2 Responses to Not Bobby Jindal: The Parable of the Idiot Candidate

  1. […] Is Bobby Jindal running for president?  Then, just as he was not the guy the Republicans should have picked for vice president in 2008, he&#….” […]


  2. Mike O'Risal says:

    Besides, exorcisms are all the rage lately. Very popular stuff, this voodoo.

    Maybe America needs an exorcist. Or to be put out of its misery…


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