Ohio State gave Northwestern a thumpin’ on Saturday. Michigan did the same to Indiana. While I was having a phone conversation with a friend earlier today, I described the leads the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals had over their opponents at the time as “thumpins.” It was then my friend pointed out that I was not the first person he had heard use that word in casual conversation since President Bush’s press conference last Wednesday. All the world watches our fair leader, and when he so eloquently and simplistically described the shift in Congressional power away from his beloved GOP as a thumpin’, the characterization seemed to have taken up lodging in more than a few vocabularies. After all, as my friend pointed out, no matter how down Bush is, he’s the president, and he “still has the bully pulpit.”
There are two long-standing rules of barroom etiquette that are regularly ignored. One: do not talk religion in a bar. Two: do not talk politics in a bar. Of course, these restrictions are wholly unrealistic, perhaps even more so in a time of war and political polarization, but they are a noble attempt to allay drunken fisticuffs, or, at the least, foolish pronouncements of religious and political certainty one way or the other. Rules aside, a bar was a great place to be last Tuesday night, and so there was I.
The first returns began showing up on the news shortly before my arrival. Someone had decided to flood the jukebox with a medley of vintage Black Sabbath tunes, so it was the unique crooning of Ozzy Osbourne which accompanied the numbers trickling by on the muted television above the bar.
I think it was during the song Snowblind, Ozzy’s paean to the dangers of cocaine (do as I say, says Ozzy, not as I do), that it became apparent how deep the troubles for the GOP were.
The Indiana 8th was a bit of a bellwether. In turn, the incumbent Republican, John Hostettler, was a bit of an enigma. He cultivated all the Rovean aspects of GOP politics. A deeply red conservative in a deeply red state, he made zero effort to distance himself from the Bush administration, as other Republicans had. Indeed, his strategy for reelection (focus on conservative and fundamentalist moral values, paint the opposition as effete, out of touch, and downright sinful) was straight out of the book from the 2000, 2002, and 2004 elections. Yet, Representative Hostettler had voted AGAINST the war resolution in 2002. If the war was the main issue in the voters’ minds, I figured this was as good a race as any to judge the standing of the GOP. And, since the polls close early in Indiana, this race would be among the first called in the nation.
It didn’t take long. Snowblind was raging, and I was still on my first beer when CNN called it. With half the precincts still left to report, Hostettler was down 69% to 41% to the Democratic challenger, Brad Ellsworth. CNN had had enough. Between actual returns, exit polls, and whatever other bones they rolled on election night, they had decided to put the checkmark next to Ellsworth. The final tally wouldn’t be as lopsided as the initial returns, obviously, but I could tell there was little for the Democrats to worry about this evening.
I had expected to be on pins and needles into the wee hours, much like in 2004, when that very same prime spot at the corner of the bar had been occupied by yours truly. Instead, the night was full of celebratory toasts for every long swing of the pendulum that carried Congress away from the iron grip of the Republican Party.
When the light of day was finally able to make its way through the haze, my head was throbbing, and President Bush was making his way to the podium in the White House, as unhappy as if someone had dumped salt all over his eggs that morning.
To be fair, almost six years in the Oval Office has solidified President Bush’s demeanor. He looks like a president. The way he walks and talks, the entire package, bespeaks a man who has grown comfortable with his position. It would be reassuring were it not for the incompetence. He still butchers the English language on occasion, but the awkwardness that had been such comic fodder for the better part of his presidency is long gone. That being said, our president, no matter how diplomatic he tries to be on occasion, is just incapable of concealing his true feelings.
During that press conference, I was waiting for that one question, that perfect query, that would send Bush into a Dennis Green inspired shit-fit. He was holding it in so terribly, I would not have been surprised were his skin to melt away due to the blazing furnace of rage firing ever higher within. That didn’t happen. The needle went as far as annoyed, and that was that. But not before he spoke the immortal word, however, the aw-shucks assessment of the previous night’s repudiation. He, and the party he leads, took a “thumpin’.”
Which brings us back to today. In the end, neither the Browns nor the Bengals managed to complete their thumpins (Browns squeak by, Bengals go down fighting). The word, though, has become irresistible for the time being.
Our leader, our president, has confronted setback among the electorate and pronounced it a “thumpin’.” Enjoy this little moment of encapsulating perfection. There’s another election cycle just around the corner.