So it was at the Hilton West Hotel Monday evening with County GOP Chairman Alex Arshinkoff presiding over the throng whose number was described to me to be "500 plus change"). These opportunities are always Arshinkoff's high points of his long political life ( he's been at it for 32 years) , allowing him to announce that the dinner of chicken and Duchess potatoes raised between $675,000 and $700,000. Evidence enough that some of the diners paid a tad more than the going bleachers price.
For all that, the fund-raiser was tamer than some of the past adventures into stagecraft. It lacked the harshness of the past, with those earlier assaults on the Beacon Journal from the podium. (The BJ's business manager was in the crowd.) Mayor Don Plusquellic wasn't scorched. And even George Bush wasn't mentioned - by anyone!
Instead, Arshinkoff exclaimed that University Akron President Luis Proenza, who was seated in the audience, was the "greatest president in the history of the University of Akron". He also described the economy as "Obama's depression." That is pretty harmless partisan stuff on occasions such as these. Republican gubernatorial candidate John Kasich, followed up on lofty praise for him by others on the dais by calling Arshinkoff "one of the greatest chairmen Ohio had ever had." Kasich thought the way to a bright future for the country was to resurrect Newt Gingrich's Contract with America. Oh?
Still, the litany was directly from the essentials of the GOP playbook: cut taxes, stress individualism, don't screw around and ruin the health care system, create jobs. You will continue to hear a lot of that.
The guest speaker was Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, whose thick southern accent was reminiscent of LBJ's Texas patois, and his rambling good ol' boy humor was remarkably close to that of the late Jim Rhodes. He, too, declared it was time for a change, accusing the Obama Administration of "deindustrializing" America. Much of his rhetoric was a traditional locker-room pep talk to a team behind at half-time. For all of the glittering comments, it was a sign of the times that Dubya was never mentioned once. A Republican officeholder who pased by me in the back of the room whispered satirically "They left out eight years."
Barbour was a long way from home, where he has been sharply criticized for converting $600 million in federal Katrina flood relief money (tax dollars!) intended for rehabbing a lot of middle-income flood victims. The money was used instead for other projects as tens of thousands of Mississippians remain in desperate need of housing. The Bloomberg News Report also told of Barbour's family-related lobbyists who have prospered from the Katrina contracts.
Yet the nagging problem of the Republican Party is less about Barbour's possible mischief at home than it was in the sea of faces at the Monday night event. There were fewer than five African-Americans in the crowd - give or take a few - and there's not much the party has been able to do about it, even if it tried beyond its showpieces of Justice Clarence Thomas, who is more royalist than the king, and Michael Steele, the conservative head of the Republican National Committee. As I mentioned in an earlier blog about minorities and Steele, the party elders have have talked about the problem for more than a generation with promises to do better. Trouble is, the GOPers in Congress then vote the other way while many southern venues hiss, "don't bother".
The dinner also reflected the continuing disappearance of the media - print, radio and TV. Fewer and fewer keep night hours these days. As I stood alone at the rear, one gentleman rushed up to damn the Beacon Journal. I tried to explain that I hadn't worked there in 18 years. Unconvinced, he wanted to tell me he had canceled his subscription to the paper. Again, I reminded him I'm no longer on the payroll. He apologized. Later a woman rushed by, asking me, "Are you a spy?" On the other hand a Greek Republican friend fetched a program for me and invited me to lunch at his church. He said he would call. It made for a better-than-usual evening.