Thursday, March 1, 2012

Whiz Kid Mandel: a growth industry for shoemakers

WELL, WE GOT OUR first look at Josh Mandel the 34-year-old Ohio treasurer and self-reputed Republican whiz kid who is now running for the U. S. Senate a little more than a year after he stepped into his current four-year job. But more importantly, he visited us with stage props in the form of some worn-out shoes that he held up at the end of his Akron Press Club speech Thursday - optics to prove that he's feverishly interested in moving to Congress.

It was tempting to wonder why anybody would care about the candidate's worn- out shoes after lunch with cookies for dessert.

Although Mandel assured his audience that he has a fresh young vision for remedying governmental ills, the shoes schtick is not really an innovative badge of political character. In 1952, Adlai Stevenson's presidential campaign may be best remembered by an unposed photo that revealed a large hole in his left shoe. That was soon followed by people wearing tee-shirts commemorating the historic shoe with his remark that "Better a hole in the shoe than a hole in the head!" And eight years later, Nikita Khrushchev threw a tantrum at the United Nations and banged his shoe on a desk. ( And didn't an old woman once live in a shoe?)

Still, Mandel's moment - allegedly the official announcement of his candidacy that has been under way for months - had come to tell us that he had worn out three pairs of shoes and knocked on more than 19,000 doors (who besides him is counting?) in the Cleveland area in an earlier campaign for the state legislature. That preceded his dash for state treasurer (won during a nightmarish year for Democrats in 2010) which now is quickly morphing into his Senate space probe. He's still a tad too young to declare for president, so there is still some good news to report on the footwear front.

Listening to Mandel's shrill populism, I was carried back to a much earlier day in 1972 when as a reporter I followed young Dennis Kucinich back and forth across Cleveland in his first thrust at a congressional seat. He was forever eager, in a hurry and angry. We had never met, but agreed by phone to spend some time together for a day or two of campaigning. When I arrived at his door on the city's west side, five minutes past the appointed 7 a.m., he flew past me
to the car while scolding me that I was late. For God's sake, I said, I've never been in this neighborhood before and missed a turn. I knew it was going to be a long hard day.

There are similarities. Maybe this is the inevitable spinoff from the ways of Cleveland politics since Mandel is a Cleveland area (Beachwood) lad himself.

While I was being drawn to the connection, Mandel was declaring that he wanted to rise above the scandalous politics of Washington for the sake of future generations, and it was impossible for him to ignore his calling. "We can't wait six more years," he declared, noting that Democratic U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown has been in one office or another for 37 years (which, at Mandel's own age, would be quite impossible for him to duplicate for now. But I'd say give him time. There are at least six shoe stores in the mall near my home.)

So he hauled out the customary Republican chant to lower taxes, create jobs, kill Obamacare (with a few exceptions) and throw out Brown. "The country is being driven over the cliff and Sherrod Brown is at the wheel.", he declared, with a bit wheel spinning himself. He would be the guy who would assume the role of saving America because he couldn't turn his back on all the people who urged him to run. A year ago, he said, he never thought he would be standing before this audience declaring yet another candidacy. Nor even three or four months ago when he turned down an invitation to the same lectern because he was "too busy." But it takes true leadership to understand that we live in an ever-changing world, right?
Refreshingly, he didn't pick up on some of the current garbled right-wing notions that it was God's will.

But on some major issues, he simply indicated little understanding of Brown's record. I'll give the most puzzling example: Brown's long pursuit of retaining jobs in America rather than staffing Chinese assembly lines. The senator has proposed more equitable free trade policy that has earned him broad support from organized labor. Josh didn't mention it.

Oh, he was asked whether he supported Issue 2 restricting unions, which was trounced by Ohio's voters the past November. I wasn't clear about his response. So I asked some others around the room. They weren't sure, either.

Still this young man will have staying power with deep pocketed supporters like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute, which have already flooded TV with anti-Brown ads. So if Mandel tells you he will be his own man independent of Democrats and Republicans and will have only "11.5 million Ohioans" as his bosses, I wouldn't take that one to the bank!

Aside to Josh: I know it was a learning moment, but please understand that when you address any press club, the doors are open to all chroniclers of your appearance, even your opponents. Don't you think it was sort of amateurish for your people to attempt blocking a video camera managed by one of the senator's guys? I wouldn't be surprised that you'll get a chance to see clips from your speech in a TV ad or two.


JLM said...

Young Joshie appears to be the Ohio GOP's new hand-picked Golden Boy. He has used his recently elected Treasurer position simply as a springboard for a senate seat run, which seemed to be the plan all along. According to reports, he hasn't attended a single Board of Deposits meeting since taking office in 2010. He has been too busy attending fundraisers. It's too bad that he doesn't appear to have time to perform the duties he was elected for, but then that wasn't the plan, as his handlers (owners)at the Chamber of Commerce and the API know full well.

David Hess said...

I suppose, two years from now should he win the Senate seat, Mandel at age 36 will be announcing his intention to establish an "exploratory committee" to run for president. Hopefully, by then, his parents will buy him a new pair of shoes.