Wednesday, August 31, 2016


A couple weeks back I was having my usual commuting troubles, this time at Dulles airport. We had boarded the flight for Denver, gotten settled and comfortable, when the pilot came on the intercom to advise us that there was a maintenance problem. After some time had passed, we were asked to leave the plane and stand by. I was still in the middle of making a rebooking when the announcement came that the problem had been resolved, and we were reboarding. Somehow in the process I got upgraded to a seat in first class, where I found myself sitting next to this gentleman, who was already sipping at a drink.

In the way of commuters in this situation, we began talking about our chances of making connections and our business on the other end of the flights. My seat mate was on his way to Aspen, which sounded lovely. He was afraid he might have to drive the rest of the way from Denver in the dark if he missed his connecting flight. He had a meeting with a client in the morning, after which he hoped to spend some time on the white water rapids. As we do, I asked what business he was in. Turned out he is a political strategist, with his own company, Advancing Strategies LLC. As we do, I asked after his client, who turns out to be Gov. McCrory of North Carolina.

Oh dear . . . 

A friendly and effusive fellow, my seatmate, one Chris LaCivita, let me know that in the past he had worked for George Allen, Jack Ryan and others. I secretly sent up a prayer that his current client might be as unsuccessful as those two, but in fact Mr. LaCivita's clients have done quite well over the years.

Back in the day, he was the media consultant for the Swift Boat people.

There were several breath catching moments in our conversation, but one that almost made me lose my own drink came when he announced, "the Democrats are going to cause the end of women's sports."

Huh?  Was this some twisted complaint about Title 9?

No, LaCivita's theory was that "the Democrats" were going to allow "men who think they're women" to play women's sports.

This sounded extremely unlikely to me, so I made an uncharacteristic wager:  $50 says that ten years from now we will still have women's sports. I gave him my business card so that he would be able to locate me a decade on and pay up. He provided me with one of his cards in return, a considerably stiffer piece of cardboard, I have to say, than the one Penn State supplies me.

But there was more astonishment to come.  LaCivita told me that in the time before Jack Ryan had had to drop out of his Senate race against Barack Obama, LaCivita had paid over $140,000 for Oppo research on the young Obama. One tidbit he turned up proved one of the claims in Obama's first book to be untrue. Which claim? Obama, it seems, had claimed to have witnessed a murder while visiting a barber shop. LaCivita's investigators (at this point I can't help thinking they're the same guys Trump sent to Hawaii to look into the birth records) found that there had never been any such crime anywhere near that location around the relevant dates.

"I hate it when Democrats make race an issue," he injected a bit later. I observed that in my experience, when somebody is accused of making race an issue it's because somebody else is making an issue of race. "The Democrats shouldn't make ads telling Black people that Republicans want to chain them up and drive them back into slavery," he told me. I agreed that they shouldn't, but added that I had no knowledge of any such ad ever having been made. He described to me an ad that showed a black man being dragged behind a truck in chains and said the ad told Black people George Bush wanted to make them slaves again. I said I had never seen the ad, but that it sounded to me like it had something to do with the horrible murder of James Byrd, Jr., in Jasper, Texas, and that the ad most likely was a response to that outrage. "That's what I like about you professors," he said. "You can make things mean anything you want."

I pointed out that I was simply expressing doubts, and promised first thing to look up that ad.

As we were getting off the plane in Denver, and I was rushing like mad to make my connection. Chris said to me, "be sure to email."

I'm a man of my word. The next day I sent him this email:


I made the flight and, miraculously, so did my baggage.

Hope you managed at least a nap before the white water -- 

Two quick things:

1) As promised, I looked up the ad that showed a black person being dragged by a chain, and have it on the screen in front of me now. I see why I had not known of it; it was not a national ad. More to the point, I see that nowhere in the ad is there any suggestion that Republicans (generally) will put black people in chains or return to slavery. As I gathered from your description, the ad makes a specific invocation of the horrible Byrd case. It was an issue ad about hate-crime legislation. We may differ on the matter of hate-crime legislation (in the past I have supported hate-crime legislation while opposing hate-speech rules), but there's no doubting that is what the ad addresses. This is not a matter of my interpretation. The ad says "call Governor George W. Bush and tell him to support hate-crime legislation."

2) I think you're due a refund from the people you hired to do that Obama research you told me about. Don't know if they had access to searchable text when they did their work, but we certainly have that technology today. Nowhere in Dreams from My Father does Barack Obama claim to have witnessed a murder while visiting a barber shop. I suspect your researchers were thinking of the following passage (unless they were really thinking of Ben Carson) the book narrates as Obama visits Smitty's Barbershop in Hyde Park:

"Somebody had just finished telling a story about his neighbor -- the man had been caught in bed with his wife's cousin and chased at the point of a kitchen knife, buck naked, out into the street -- when the talk turned to politics."

If somebody told you they researched this, they weren't being straight with you. In the first place, it wasn't Obama's story. In the second place, it would be impossible to research this as no time or place was given by the teller of the tale. (BTW, nearly every city has versions of this story in circulation. I first heard one, in a barbershop as it happens, when I was 13. There' a great book titled I Heard It Through the Grapevine about rumor and urban legend you might enjoy.)

Next time hire some English grad students. They're really good at this sort of work.


That was August 15. Haven't heard a word from him in reply. I'm beginning to think he won't be good for the $50!

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