Once again, this newspaper put on a Senior Expo at the convention center in Little Rock, and, once again, the noon hour was devoted to a political panel’s discussion.
Saturday’s installment was a little better than that of previous years. The three recurring panelists — Skip Rutherford, Bill Vickery and I — were joined this year by the best fourth member we’ve had.
Maybe Sylvester Smith, lawyer and Republican politico, will be recurring. Maybe he’ll bring back his toddler daughter. She softened the proceedings by charging from her seat to try acrobatically in vain to scale the stage to get to daddy when he was introduced. Her mom retrieved her as the audience expressed delight.
The moderator this year, Frank Fellone of this newspaper, the “Drivetime Mahatma,” showed his usual flair for keeping the political discussion from descending too deeply into predictable politics as usual, where gravity threatens to take any political panel discussion.
He saved us by bringing up the city of Little Rock’s full-page ad last week in the Washington Post seeking to milk clever positive public relations from having no chance in the world to land Amazon’s big second headquarters. Then he wanted to know whether UALR ought to have a football team.
But, first, he asked each of us to address what we viewed as the most important issue facing seniors. Everyone said health care, of course, until I, going last, said seniors need the same thing every American requires from politics — a political culture that rises from its extreme polarization and utter dysfunction to find a compromising and bipartisan center to solve a few problems.
Sylvester Smith would have none of that, saying he never heard any such exhortation from me when the Democrats were in charge.
And there we went, head-first, into the dreaded politics as usual.
I pled guilty, though I might be able to produce a record of some instance of my calling for bipartisanship when Democrats were in charge. But, even if not, I said not to hold my personal hypocrisy against my compelling point.
My lack of consistency didn’t disprove that point, which is that health care, for example, will never be successfully addressed if the two parties swap periods of power and one passes a plan entirely on its own and the other tries — and fails, so far — entirely on its own to undo that plan.
I endorsed the bipartisan compromise of Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington and Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee to fix the portion of Obamacare that President Trump blew up last week. And I said my favorite politician lately was the health-care Republican moderate — Ohio Gov. John Kasich — which produced audience applause.
Now to the fun. Of Little Rock’s full-page ad in the Washington Post pretending to send a “Dear John” breakup letter to Amazon while saying “it’s not you, it’s us,” and that the city had much to offer other suitors: Vickery hated it, Smith kind of liked it, Rutherford saw possible benefit in that people were talking about it nationwide, and I thought it was yet another woeful example of Little Rock’s silly emphasis on image when it ought to be concerning itself with the reality of racial and neighborhood division, crime and troubled schools.
Little Rock is not going to fix itself — or begin to fix itself — with too-clever-by-half advertising in a big-time national newspaper.
If I’m proven wrong about that, I will gladly admit my error and call for regular full-page ads in the Post, if it turns out to be that easy.
I’m remembering a little character called “Arky Man,” created by state government’s public relations consultants in the 1980s, and featured in national advertising. The little guy — a friendly face on a body shaped like the state on a map — transformed the state economy just as Bill Clinton’s subsequent presidency transformed the state economy, which is to say not at all.
The message on the billboard captured famously by the late Arkansas Gazette photographer, Larry Obsitnik, as federal troops rolled past it in 1957, said it all then and says it all still: “Who will build Arkansas if her own people do not?”
Football at UALR? Vickery wasn’t optimistic, Smith said he wished he had eligibility left, Rutherford praised the process UALR was following to get the matter studied objectively, and I said football at UALR would produce a losing Sun Belt team drawing dozens to War Memorial Stadium and imposing such a financing deficit that student activity fees would skyrocket.
“So, you’re against it?” Fellone asked.
Arkansas already has one big-time college football program — at Jonesboro. It’s obvious it can’t possibly produce a second.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was inducted into the Arkansas Writers’ Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at email@example.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.