At John Kerrys Town

January 25, 2004 9:14 a.m.

At John Kerry’s Town Hall meeting on Friday in Manchester one of his high-profile supporters was retiring Senator Fritz Hollings of South Carolina. Hollings himself ran for president in, I think, in 1984. And for a man in his mid-80s he’s remarkably spry and able to work a crowd. His drawl isn’t as inscrutable as he often jokes about it being. But it is far deeper and more distant than anyone has from any part of the country who is under fifty — a faint echo of an era when people, black and white, from places like the South Carolina lowlands spoke a dialect that would be all but impossible to understand to outsiders’ ears. He is one of the final representatives from an era when every Southern senator was written by William Faulkner.

Of course that old-timer-dom sometimes comes with a hint of a price, lapses from high-church political correctness which the audience on Friday was indulgent enough not to notice.

When Hollings was getting underway on the jobs theme he said that half of the furniture in the United States (or some such stat) was now made in China. At just that moment a startling, crashing pop! came out of one of the loudspeakers. Not missing a beat, Hollings said that there must be some “chinamen” over there who didn’t like that.

A few minutes later he was talking about “ole Suskind’s book” and how, as reported in Ron Suskind’s book about Paul O’Neil, the president had blanched at the idea of giving yet another tax cut to the rich, only to have Dick Cheney pipe in to steady his course.

In Hollings’ retelling …

“‘Haven’t we already given the rich a tax cut?’ the president said. And then ole’ Cheney said, ‘No, we want more.’ He’s the Jesse Jackson of the Republican Party! He wants it all!’”

The Jesse Jackson of the Republican party?

You’d have to say that’s a bit off message for the contemporary Democratic party. But you could see the collective will of the audience for a moment awkwardly, and then decisively, opting to give the old guy a pass.

A while later when Kerry was giving his talk, and the speaker barked up again, he brought things back to the 21st century. “It’s that Chinese guy again …”

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