August 24, 2014

1320 words 7 mins read

How Jay Nixon Lost the Liberal Press

“And then say what? say, ‘forget you’re hungry, forget you got shot inna back by some racist cop—Chuck was here? Chuck come up to Harlem—’ ”“No, I’ll tell you what—” “‘Chuck come up to Harlem and—’ ”“I’ll tell you what—” “Say,‘Chuck come up to Harlem and gonna take care a business for the black community’?” That does it. Heh-heggggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! It’s one of those ungodly contralto cackles somewhere out there in the audience. It’s a sound from down so deep, from under so many lavish layers, he knows exactly what she must look like. Two hundred pounds, if she’s an ounce! Built like an oil burner! The cackle sets off the men. They erupt with those belly sounds he hates so much. They go, “Hehhehheh…unnnnhhhh-hunhhh…

That’s right… Tell ’em, bro…Yo…” Chuck! The insolent— he’s right there , right there in the front— he just called him a Charlie! Chuck is short for Charlie, and Charlie is the old code name for a down-home white bigot. The insolence of it! The impudence! The heat and glare are terrific. It makes the Mayor squint. It’s the TV lights. He’s inside a blinding haze. He can barely make out the heckler’s face. He sees a tall silhouette and the fantastic bony angles the man’s elbows make when he throws his hands up in the air. And an earring. The man has a big gold earring in one ear. The Mayor leans into the microphone and says, “No, I’ll tell you what. Okay? I’ll give you the actual figures. Okay?” “We don’t want your figures, man!”

Man, he says! The insolence! “You brought it up, my friend. So you’re gonna get the actual figures. Okay?”

“Don’t you shine us up with no more your figures!” Another eruption in the crowd, louder this time: “Unnnnh-unnnnh-unnnh…Tell’im, bro… Y’ on the

_—Tom Wolfe. The Bonfire of the Vanities: A Novel

(Kindle Locations 125-129). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition. _

A couple of years ago, Governor Jay Nixon seriously thought he’d be the next President of the United States. Now, he’ll be lucky to survive his final two years in office.

Bill McClellan: Nixon’s Cheerleader

Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan has been the de facto chairman of the Committee to Elect Nixon President since as far back as 2012.

In October, 2012, following Obama’s brutal first debate performance, McClellan wrote:

With President Barack Obama’s surprisingly listless performance in the presidential debate Wednesday night, the stars are coming closer into alignment for Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon.

Most Missourians seem oblivious to the fact that Nixon is on the short list for potential Democratic nominees in 2016. Maybe it’s because we tend to think of presidents as larger-than-life characters, and we know Nixon too well to think of him that way. He’s been around forever.

Grab a bottle of Pepto-Bismal and read the whole fawning, slobbering, leg-tingling piece. That column set off a national wave of speculation among Democrats hoping for a mainstream alternative to Hillary in 2016. As recently as March of this year, McClellan continued to brag about Jay Nixon’s “smarts.”fergusonriots1

It must have pained Bill to see Nixon’s political future turned into a looted, rioted, charred shell of its former self–like the QuikTrip on W. Florissant.

I won’t be too hard on Bill, though. He seems to have had a bona fide friendship with Nixon predating Nixon’s rise to the governor’s mansion. Friends can’t be objective.

Bonfire of the Democrats

When Lee Presser implored me to watch Nixon’s painful press conference last weekend in Ferguson, I thought of Tom Wolfe’s brilliant prologue to The Bonfire of the Vanities: A Novel


In the prologue, a fictional New York mayor goes to Harlem and loses the audience. Here’s where Jay Nixon lost his political future.


That was it. Flash! Bang! Nixon’s career gone. (See the whole press conference here.)

Sure, he’d already come under fire for escaping the Ferguson situation at the Missouri State Fair. He tried to make up for his lack of leadership (cowardice, according to Maria Chappelle-Nadal) by appointing the Ferguson native Captain Ron Johnson as head of the Ferguson task force.

But Johnson’s moves might have made the situation worse. While Johnson moved some of the heavy military hardware out of sight, he also allowed looters free reign of Ferguson. Then Nixon imposed a curfew after Ferguson and Dellwood businesses had been destroyed.

That led USAToday to remind us that Nixon continued to leave the door open to a presidential run.

The St. Louis suburb has been in turmoil since 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot to death by a police officer on Saturday.  Nixon’s statement and announcement that he will be in North St. Louis County on Thursday came after the Democrat was criticized as missing in action as tensions escalated between protesters and Ferguson police.

The denunciation of Nixon comes as he is being mentioned as a possible presidential or vice presidential candidate on the 2016 Democratic ticket.

Washington in the Rear View Mirror

Nixon’s Washington ambitions are running away from him faster than he runs away from hard work and tough decisions. Like many white politicians, Nixon sees no win for himself in Ferguson. And there might not be a winning play in this situation, I admit.

But dealing with no-win games is the price of leadership. Real leaders don’t run from tough situations,. They just do the right thing. They make decisions and execute them and let the chips fall where they may.

Not Nixon, though. Instead, Nixon has tried to ameliorate all sides, particularly angry African-Americans. He’s tried to quell anger with mere words, and those words have been vacillating, irresponsible, and weak.

Last week, for instance, Nixon all but declared Officer Darren Wilson guilty of murder, demanding that St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch arrest the officer immediately.

As a former prosecutor, Nixon knows how the police shooting process operates. He knows that McCulloch will not violate that process simply to make Nixon look effective as an executive. By making an unrealistic demand, Nixon doesn’t look tough of (assumed) police violence—he looks out of touch and frightened.

The Leader’s Job

The leader’s job is not to play into people’s raw emotions. It’s to do the right thing, even if doing so causes temporary pain for the leader.

A real leader must be sensitive to those emotions without letting others' emotions guide his actions. A leader reminds people of what is known and what is unknown. The governor, of all people, should point out that justice goes both ways. Like all police-involved shootings, St. Louis County must conduct a thorough and impartial investigation of the incident and prosecute if warranted. And the offer involved must be presumed innocent until the process completes.

It’s understandable that Michael Brown’s family “knows” the officer was wrong. Their son is dead. They’re in pain.

It’s also understandable that Darren Wilson’s family “knows” he did nothing wrong. I’d worry about them if they didn’t.

What I don’t understand is the absolutely, unquestioning certainty so many people espouse on Facebook and Twitter. No one knows exactly what happened. No one. Witnesses, including the officer, have not testified under oath. No coroner’s autopsy has been released. Witness statements have not been formally aligned to physical evidence.

With so much unknown and so little known, statements like Nixon’s only make a bad situation worse. At some point, this case will be final and half the people talking about it will be wrong. They will never admit being wrong, though. If the officer is not indicted or he’s acquitted, Nixon and the “hang ‘em high” crowd will say poor black men can’t get justice in America.

What Missouri and America need are leaders who do what’s right without regard for their political futures. Jay Nixon doesn’t even come close to that standard.

If anything “good” comes from this tragedy, Nixon’s political collapse might be at the top of that list.