CATEGORY: COL Columns (Journal)

AUTHOR: MARTY

HED: Marty Russell: What Bush said says a lot about who he is

As the former stage manager and sound technician for the Mississippi Pavilion at the 1984 World's Fair, I can attest to the fact that an open microphone is an invitation to disaster.

But, outside of marriage, it can also provide the most accurate picture of someone's true personality, and it takes less time.

By now I'm sure most people have heard about George Dubya's little faux pas on the campaign trail this past weekend. At a stop in Chicago Monday, Dubya and his running mate, Dick Cheney, were smiling and waving to the crowd from a stage when Dubya leaned over and whispered to Cheney, "There's Adam Clymer over there, a major league asshole."

To which Cheney responded, "Yeah, he is."

"Big time," Dubya said, referring to the New York Times reporter who was in the crowd.

Unfortunately for Bush, but fortunately for those of us looking for a glimpse of his true personality, the microphone was on and everyone in the crowd heard the exchange.

Now at first blush I was hesitant to take Dubya to task for his comment, having suffered myself from foot-in-mouth disease while standing near an open mike.

My experience came while I was stage manager for the Mississippi Pavilion at the 1984 World's Fair in New Orleans. While clearing a stage one day, a fellow employee asked me what I thought of a 13-year-old, white Michael Jackson impersonator who had performed earlier in the day and was scheduled to appear again later that afternoon.

I seem to recall my response was something along the lines that a weekend with the Marquis de Sade was less painful than watching this kid try to dance.

Of course, the only mike left on the stage was on at the time and the kid's mother just happened to be standing out front. Needless to say, they didn't make the afternoon show.

But still something about Dubya's comment kept nagging at me. In my open-mike moment, I was actually commiserating with this kid whose mother was obviously pushing him to do this. Bush definitely was not.

Politicians, in particular, need to live in fear of the open mike but not always for the obvious reasons. One such incident comes to mind from here in our own neck of the woods.

Several years ago, former Tupelo Mayor Jack Marshall took a break in the middle of a city council meeting to use the bathroom. Unfortunately, he was wearing a wireless microphone at the time and had forgotten to turn it off. In tribute to the sound engineer who set up the system, the little mike performed wonderfully, picking up every little sound of the mayor's private moment and transmitting it back to the council room and over the public address system.

While no evidence exists to link the two events, Marshall was subsequently defeated in his re-election bid.

Then there's that other famous Republican open-mike gaff when former President Reagan, preparing to make a speech, stated before an unbeknownst open mike that he had just signed legislation banning Russia forever and that the bombing would start in minutes.

We all knew Reagan was joking. Even before he made the comment. But Dubya was not.

So, do we want a mean-spirited Dubya as president, who can't restrain himself from disparaging people even while smiling and waving to the voters? And if Bush and his yes man are elected, will he drop the familiar speech-opening, "My fellow Americans," for something more self-serving like, "Testing, testing. One, two, three."

Marty Russell is senior reporter for the Daily Journal.

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