Country Club Republican
I've often wondered why the Lynn Swann campaign wasted the spring and most of the summer dithering when it had a wonderful opportunity to make merry over the issue of the legislative pay raise. Let me count the ways I think it could have helped the Republican challenger:
First, Swann's handlers could have used the pay-raise as a fulcrum to position their candidate as an outsider-reformer who would shake Harrisburg out of its politics-as-usual stupor that had so angered voters. Suggested slogan for the campaign: I'm angry as Hell and I won't take it anymore!
Second, it was a stance that would have taken Swann's lemon -- his lack of government and political experience -- and turned it into lemonade. Suggested slogan: A New Broom Sweeps Clean. (It's a bald theft of the Clean Sweep movement's slogan and icon, but what the heck.)
Third, it would cast Gov. Rendell in the role of retrograde -- excuse the expression -- fat cat pol in bed with the forces of evil. He signed the damned payraise bill in exchange for what? More of his pet tax- and- spend programs that's what! Suggested slogan: We don't need a governor who kisses ass. We need a governor who kicks ass. (Swann's machismo aura as a former jock would help here.) It could have positioned Swann early and strongly as The Reform Candidate.
Fourth, it would have played well in the Angry Zone of Pennsylvania -- that vast area west of the Susquehanna River, where go-for-the-throat populism strikes a chord with many voters. That's a voter base which, once you add in the Republican T, would have given Swann some solid ground from which to wage his (admittedly uphill) campaign.
In retrospect, though, I was wrong.
While the idea of running a populist campaign against Rendell was a good one, Swann's the wrong guy to do it. And watching him try is painful.
That's because he's the rich white guy in the race.
Whoops! Strike that. That was Jim Seif's characterization of Swann made before the primary. Seif, campaign manager for Bill Scranton, uttered it on a PCN call-in program and was promptly fired for his observation. As Seif explained to The Inquirer at the time:
"There's no excuse. It was a stupid thing to say," said Seif, who added that the comment was not intended as a racial slur. Seif said he was trying to say that Swann, who portrays himself as a political outsider, was really part of the establishment.
Seif said the wrong words, but he had the right idea. More accurately, Swann is a Country Club Republican -- a wealthy and comfortable member of the establishment. It's quite an accomplishment for an African-American born to parents of modest means, a transmigration made possible by sports.
The country club part came through last night when I watched Rendell and Swann debate on WPVI-TV. Go here for video snippets.
Swann is, in many ways, an ideal TV-age candidate: He is an articulate, handsome man, who looks 10 years younger than his chronological 55. He exudes poise, especially when set beside the rumpled Rendell. In this debate (the last) the governor clearly had the command of facts, but Swann had the commanding presence.
Here is the Inquirer's Amy Worden take on the debate. Here is the PG's story on it.
But Swann simply isn't credible in trying on the mantle of "citizen soldier" ready to take on the Harrisburg establishment. He's not running to burn down the country club. He's running to chair its board of directors.
His views -- as enunciated in the debate and elsewhere -- are a paint-by-the-numbers reiteration of Republican positions dating back, oh, about 100 years. Even when given the opportunity by Rendell to join the anti-gun movement (and maybe attract some urban votes) he declined. Guns don't kill people, Swann said, in so many words. People kill people.
It's pretty weak tea when set beside Rendell's governor-as-activist model. Think of FDR versus Calvin Coolidge. (who, I understand, was a pretty mean golfer.)
This is not meant as a shot at Swann. In politics, above all, you must be true to yourself. Swann's not a ranter. He's not a populist. He's not angry. And he won't pretend to be.
It's obviously too much of a pretzel twist for him to to run against the Republican establishment when he is the candidate of that establishment.
What we get is a vigorous, youthful, commanding candidate with nothing much interesting to say.
And the voters are telling the pollsters they aren't at all impressed.