But I Wanted the Catfish!

[18 February 2007]

By Bill Reagan

When Senator Gordon Smith (R, Oregon) took the floor of the Senate in December 2006 and spoke out against the Bush administration’s handling of the war in Iraq, he offered no fresh complaints about the policy, expressing a perspective that the majority of Americans had held a month earlier on election day. Yet when the speech was over, every available pundit rushed to the nearest microphone to comment, offering the same hackneyed preface before discussing the content of the speech: Smith is due for reelection in 2008. Ironic, considering that Smith opted to speak out after the election because he didn’t want his comments to be dismissed as politically motivated.

Senator Smith, getting grilled.

Senator Smith, getting grilled.

Behold the awesome power of the reelection campaign, a force of gravity from which no good deed escapes with its best intentions intact, a time/space anomaly lasting one to four years (though seeming much longer) during which a politician’s every action is interpreted and regurgitated by thousands of political commentators who insist that every action is colored with the red and blue hues of the lawn sign, the real motive being simple job security. Might Smith’s speech have indicated a genuine change of heart, a realization that the sales pitch from the White House marketing department grossly exceeded the merits of the product? Keep in mind, though, that Smith is up for reelection in 2008.

No industry in America so readily—even eagerly—treats conjecture with the same value as fact as political commentary. Speculations discussed as inevitabilities, statements including “if” bandied as if the modifier was “when”, any on-the-record comments immediately “translated” and “clarified”. Imagine if other industries offered the same presumption and speculation—for instance, what if Senator Smith dined at a posh neighborhood eatery, ordered the Chef’s Special (hazelnut-crusted catfish with wild rice and broccoli), and his order was interpreted by that industry’s professionals:

The Waiter: “Smith’s bald-faced acquiescence to the powerful Northwest agricultural lobbies that fund his campaign reeks of election year groveling, visible in his ordering a dish made with hazelnuts, ninety percent of which come from his home state of Oregon. Last time he dined he ordered the Coho salmon. I think it would be interesting to determine if Smith actually likes fish, or simply finds it politically expedient to eat it.”

The Maitre De: “I was seating a party at a neighboring table when I overheard Senator Smith ordering the Chef’s Special, including the side of broccoli. Considering George Herbert Walker Bush’s infamous distaste for this pungent green, Smith is obviously making a statement against the younger Bush, a gastronomic slap in the face to the neo-con tradition that had previously served Smith well. This was clearly a politically motivated dining choice, and one could question whether Smith even likes broccoli.”

The Head Chef: “This is typical condescension from a D.C. bigwig who thinks he can manipulate the staff with seemingly nonchalant political slithering. I’m surprised he didn’t call a press conference to brag about how grateful he is to hear the opinions of America’s middle-class chefs, and how ordering the special underscores his belief that “the people” know best. I think the true test of his respect for my opinions is to see if he orders the Chef’s Special on the day I offer haggis. Until then, his order strikes me as shameless election year dining room posturing.”

The Busser:  “Smith’s lack of political will is evident in his ordering of the catfish. While I was pouring water at the table, I heard him enthusiastically discussing the chicken kabobs with his wife—yet he ordered the Chef’s Special. I suspect the motivation for this flip-flop is the Senator’s keen awareness of his impending reelection, and being uncertain of the national origination of kabobs and whether ordering them might reveal a political leaning in one of the world’s regional hot spots, he changed his order to fish. I suspect he’ll eat anything to ensure he gets reelected.”

The Dishwasher: “Smith’s decision to eat his entire meal might have something to do with hunger, though it’s important to remember that he’s up for reelection in 2008. He likely cleaned his plate to demonstrate his sympathy for American workers in the lowest wage scale, a shameless effort to say, ‘Your job is hard enough, I will make it easier for you.’ This from a man who has spent the last four years voting in favor of tax cuts for the rich and opposing increases to the minimum wage. I am not certain, but he may have scraped his food into his jacket pocket to ensure that his point was made.”

Photo from  AZFoto.com

Photo from AZFoto.com

The Valet: “I don’t have occasion to talk with the Senator very often, as he usually walks to the restaurant, but I couldn’t help but notice the brouhaha that surrounded his meal this evening. It seems ordering the catfish created quite a stir in the dining room, as I’m sure was his intention. Senators often take advantage of the busy dinner hour to jump-start their various political machinations, and we’ve come to disregard these publicity stunts as little more than epicurean opportunism.”

Soon enough, the Senator’s order will arrive at the table—pork medallions, mashed potatoes, and peas. “But I ordered the Chef’s Special,” he might complain.

“Yes sir,” the waiter agrees, “but after considerable staff discussion, we determined that you didn’t really want the catfish at all.”

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/column/but-i-wanted-the-catfish/