The Express-News banned headline writers from crowning stories with puns back in April — wordplay like “`Pope` Benedict names a flock of new cardinals” or “Mumps outbreak swells … ” undermine the E-N’s gravity, to hear editor Bob Rivard tell it. While the pun ban may reduce your morning groans by half (offset, however, by another “stay-the-course” Bush report), the restriction doesn’t exactly prevent copy writers from serving up word arrangements imbued with double meaning: like last Friday’s article about the crowded special election for the re-drawn Congressional District 23 seat, being kept warm by GOP incumbent Henry Bonilla. After Democratic candidate and former four-term congressman Ciro Rodriguez had a change of heart — with $80,000 in debt, his campaign had not recovered from a two-election losing streak against Democrat Henry Cuellar in the adjacent 28th District — word leaked that Rodriguez would give up on his third lunge at the House. The daily paper threw up this headline: “Rodriguez flip-flops on District 23 race.”
There’s got to be some monkeyshining in that headline. Because if memory serves the Current right, the harshest indictment Bush political aide Karl Rove could craft against John Kerry in 2004 was that the Democratic presidential nominee was an Un-Incredible Mr. Limpet, soaked by a swift-boat sea, and wriggling back and forth on a deck of issues like capital punishment and the security fence between Israel and Palestine. Kerry also had a senatorial voting record in support of the very Bush platforms (No Child Left Behind, the Patriot Act, the war in Iraq) he would later campaign against. The Rove strategy of portraying, on the one hand, Bush as strong and decisive, while giving America the terrible satisfaction of seeing another man squirm over complicated matters (like authorizing funding for U.S. troops in Iraq, which Kerry infamously explained as, “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.”) was genius, only because most everyone bought into the double standard. The Washington Post noted how Bush didn’t hesitate to “switch positions when necessary, such as when he first opposed, then backed, the creation of a Homeland Security Department.” And let’s not even mention the forgotten hunt for Osama, who at one time was wanted by Bush “dead or alive” (now it seems Bush is satisfied with having bin Laden distant and alive). But who got knighted the “flip-flopper?” Anyone with a copy of Newt Gingrich’s 1990 propaganda memo, Language: A Key Mechanism of Control, knew that once that label stuck, Kerry was skewered and done.
Ciro Rodriguez can’t blame his recent appearance of indecisiveness on the political art of wordplay alone. Last Wednesday was candidates’ night at the city’s AFL-CIO Central Labor Council, where midterm-ticket hopefuls and representatives auditioned for the activists’ endorsement (the Republican candidates never show, labor-council president Alicia Garza told the Current, even though they’re invited). Historically, labor has liked Rodriguez; the Federal Election Commission reports that he’s received campaign contributions even from the Seafarers International Union, and his races are landlocked. So imagine the labor council’s surprise when the first speaker of the night arrived without his campaign organizer and spokeswoman Gina Castañeda, and around 8 p.m. announced he was withdrawing from the race because he couldn’t match Bonilla’s $2.2-million war chest. (The council instead gave its endorsement to Albert Uresti, a retired SA Fire Department district chief and brother of a state senator.)
“I was disappointed; Ciro’s always been a friend to labor,” said Garza. “And I was a little dismayed to read on the front page of the San Antonio Express-News that he flip-flopped. Saying that, you know it killed old Kerry.”
Any talk of election exits and re-entries should alight a moment on that crazy 1992 presidential race. Bill Clinton was there. George H.W. Bush, too. And Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot, well, he was there until mid-July, when he temporarily withdrew from the race — something about Republican operatives, doctored photos, and sparing his daughter embarrassment on her wedding day, he told 60 Minutes after dropping back into the race in October. On election day, Perot walked away with almost 20 percent of the popular vote. Of course, this was a dozen years before the dawning of the damaging term “flip-flopper.”
Rodriguez turned with the ferocity of a House-floor veteran when the Current asked why he got back into the race. “Nothing is more beautiful than … having constituents saying ‘Ciro, please run.’”
And what about the daily?
“They’re probably going to be endorsing Henry Bonilla,” Rodriguez said (Bonilla’s website lists the daily’s past endorsement).
No, no, what about the part about flip-flopping?
“I don’t care what the hell you want to label me … that’s fine. We may not win this one, but maybe we can get `Bonilla` into a runoff, and win it.”
Cqpolitics.com changed the rating on this CD-23 race, featuring six Dems, a GOP, and an independent, from a solid “Safe Republican” seat to only “Republican Favored” after the August 4 court remapped the district to include a Democratic-heavy Hispanic area — and Ciro Rodriguez’s house. But the South Side isn’t a sure thing for any candidate yet, political watchdogs say. The Tejeda family has yet to give an endorsement, and everyone’s dying to see how else candidate Lukin Gilliland can spend his money, beyond hiring the Texas Dem Party’s former strategist, Kelly Fero (who helped another CD-23 candidate’s brother, Carlos Uresti, into the state senate).