Im still trying to

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October 11, 2002 6:23 p.m.

I’m still trying to assemble my thoughts about the now notorious Mike Taylor ad run by the Montana Democratic party. On balance, I just don’t think Taylor has as much ground for complaint as he seems to think he does. Part of this may be the fact that before I ever saw the ad I had read a number of reports decrying it as blatantly gay-baiting. So I was expecting to be really outraged. When I actually saw it I was expecting some zinger that never quite came.

Two points that are worth mentioning: No one who criticizes the ad seems to note that the creators of the ad have Taylor dead-to-rights on the fact that his hair-care school was apparently a scam. That gives at least some hook for the commercial to get into the whole hair-care school issue. Point two is that this was an infomercial that Taylor himself produced. It’s a bit hard to get past that. How offensive can it be to him to show it if he himself produced it for public consumption?

I certainly don’t mean to be willfully dense. And I’m not saying I’m crazy about the ad. It’s just that when I saw the ad I felt it went right up to the line but never quite crossed it.

One point that comes close is the final tagline which, after going into the hair-care scam, finishes off with: “Not the way we do business here in Montana.” After you’re primed to get the gay references this can, I grant you, sort of read like “Not the way we *#$% each other in Montana.” On the other hand, I showed the ad to one friend today who hadn’t heard anything about the controversy and she didn’t pick up the gay-baiting angle at all.

In some ways the real keys are more the music and the the font and graphics of his name used at the top of the ad. They’re clearly right out of Boogie Nights or an Austin Powers flick. In a sense, the ad is less guilty of gay-baiting than Boogie-Nights-1970s-Cheesedom-baiting.

One thing that is very clear is that this ad was not why Taylor got out of the race. He was just losing and this was a way to leave on a note of righteous indignation. I think that’s unquestionably true, though one can certainly believe that and believe that the ad gay-baited and thus believe that his righteous indignation was justified.

Interestingly in this October 4th article Taylor said it was outrageous for the Democrats even to bring up the charges about the improper use of federal money at the school. This was before any mention was made of the TV ad. And it’s very hard to see where discussing Taylor’s misuse of federal education money was somehow a low blow.

Another point. A number of people wrote in yesterday arguing that this development proved that I was wrong in believing the Torricelli drop-out would be a one time thing. Seemingly everybody was going to do it and Marc Racicot, former Governor of Montana, was going to jump into the race. Frankly, had this happened, I wouldn’t have seen any problem with it, even though it would have made Max Baucus’s (the Democratic incumbent) race harder. As I said earlier with regards to New Jersey, so long as there is some give in the legal procedures for late ballot changes I’d say make the call in favor of giving voters the best shot at a real vote.

Actually, though, this has turned out to be a pretty good example of why the Torricelli switch phenomenon won’t become that common. It now looks like Racicot won’t get in the race after all. And the reason is pretty clear. If he’d wanted to run for Senate, he’d have gotten in the race a year ago when he actually would have had a pretty decent shot at knocking Baucus out. He didn’t get in then because he didn’t want to do it or didn’t have the gumption or whatever. And he still doesn’t. Additionally, now he’d face the added hurdles of being accused of just being a last minute opportunist and so forth. The bottom line is that there are just a lot of forces weighted against the whole last minute switch phenomenon.

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