John Gregg and the “Left-Wing Whack-a-doodles”

Recently, 2012 Indiana Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg sat down for an interview with Tim Swarens of the Indianapolis Star. In the interview, he conceded he was considering another run for the state's executive office. He also called a portion of the Democratic electorate “left-wing whack-a-doodles.” What did the whack-a-doodles do, you ask, to be so comically denigrated yet seriously dismissed by a candidate who had nearly benefited from their votes? They suggested in the past campaign that his Small Town ads weren't as great as other people, presumably Mr. Gregg for example, did.

As the Star article pointed out, initially in the 2012 race against Mike Pence, John Gregg had really poor name recognition among Hoosiers. So Gregg did two highly visible and highly effective things. One, he made his mustache his best friend: it was everywhere. It was simple and graphic and appealing. It was even vaguely hipsterish. Using a Star-Spangled-colored mustache as iconic shorthand for the candidate was genius: it separated Gregg from the clean-shaven Pence, it highlighted humor and approachability, and it became a race of the Mustache versus the GOP establishment. It could even be argued that Suzanne Crouch's winning 2014 campaign (the Red Glasses) borrowed the idea from Gregg (or that Gregg's staff had borrowed the idea from Mary Ann Sullivan's Red Hair motif). Nevertheless, the success of the 'stache still left the problem of Gregg's low name-recognition and the need to give the population some idea of who the Mustache actually was. Hence, a series of ads highlighting Gregg as a Small Town Hoosier from the Very Small and Very Hoosier Town of Sandborn, Indiana, 400-ish residents strong. The ads featured lots of colloquialisms, a distinct Southern Indiana kick to its gallop, a charming life-long friend and neighbor, and copious numbers of hanging potted ferns on homey front porches. The ads made John Gregg seem like your favorite neighbor from your hometown, someone you wanted to drink iced tea with, maybe beat at horseshoes. Watching the ads was to feel a nostalgic kind of pride in being a Hoosier, even if you lived in the big city, you could identify with the common sense integrity of a small town sensibility. It was like eating a homemade slice of pie. And then getting to vote for it.

The ads built name recognition and Gregg came closer to winning the post of governor than anyone anticipated. But some people did suggest at the time that the ads were maybe too nostalgic, too backward, too much Andy Griffith and not enough Silicon Valley. If Indiana under a new governor was to fully participate in the twenty-first century, perhaps it wasn't the best plan to pick a guy who had firmly stood by his hanging ferns in the summertime but hadn't yet made a strong case on any of his policy positions. In any case, there were those who thought the Small Town ads had multiplied like rabbits and had come in packs when two would have sufficed to demonstrate Gregg's affability and charm and then lead in to more serious discussions (i.e. a platform).

To John Gregg of late 2014, the people who held these views not only didn't get it, they are “left-wing whack-a-doodles.” Now, it seems to me that it is not an especially partisan critique to point out that an ad campaign comprised mainly of multiple variations of “Gee Whillikers, I'm a Hoosier” smacks of redundancy. Pointing out that the small town charm was insufficient as a policy portfolio wasn't and shouldn't have been seen as a frothing Progressive electorate dismissing the State Fair and James Whitcomb Riley and basketball and everything holy in Hoosierville. Instead, it remains a question expressed by voters capable of critical thinking: Who are you, John Gregg? What do you believe in? Why are you a capable leader? What is your vision for Indiana? If we elect you from that storybook front porch, what will you do for the people of this state?

Still, Gregg has decided to plant his flag firmly in the I'm a Moderate camp. Fair enough, it has worked for Bayh and Donnelly. It has worked for every other Democrat who has managed to get elected here in the most recent decades. You never lose in Indiana by tracking center-right. You never lose in Indiana, as a Democrat, by disavowing your Democratic leanings. You can be a Democrat, but only if you say you're really kind of not. So, it's a sound strategic decision to make and, should Gregg run for governor again, being front porch and center should help him out.

Lucky for John Gregg, though, that his “left-wing whack-a-doodle” comment appeared in print. Demographically speaking, younger people skew Democrat (or Libertarian, depending). With the right media outlet and the right spin at the right time, the perceived insult to Democrats and actual left-skewing voters could have been damaging. But, demographically speaking, young people aren't paying attention to the newspapers. The insult didn't trend on Twitter and it wasn't turned into a snarky click-bait piece by a politically minded Progressive.

Still, if I were assisting or staffing John Gregg, potential 2016 candidate, I would already be on damage control and I'd already be working on answers to the question of why, when there were only reasons of pandering and cheap politicking to do so, a candidate chose to diminish honest critique from a camp of easy votes. And I'd be working on polishing up the media savvy and presentation skills of a candidate who wasn't able to escape getting booby trapped by his own mouth in a soft interview situation where there was neither scrutiny or real pressure.

Or I'd be scouting for some more small town cafes and picturesque front porches, I guess. Add corn, puppies, or kids, and you just can't go wrong with those.


Then Be You Glad, Good People

“Be merry all, be merry all, / With holly dress the festive hall; / Prepare the song, the feast, the ball, / To welcome merry Christmas!” William Robert Spencer

“Now thrice welcome, Christmas, Which brings us good cheer, Minc’d pies and plumb porridge, Good ale and strong beer; With pig, goose, and capon, The best that may be, So well doth the weather and our stomachs agree. // Observe how the chimneys Do Smoak all about, The cooks are providing for dinner, no doubt; But those on whose tables No victuals appear, O may they keep Lent All the rest of the year! // With holly and ivy so green and so gay, We deck up our houses As fresh as the day, With bays and rosemary, and laurel compleat, and every one now Is a king in conceit…” Song from Poor Robin’s Almanack, 1695

“Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes, Wherein our Savior’s birth is celebrated, The bird of dawning singeth all night long: And then, they say, no spirit dares stir abroad; The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike, No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm.” Shakespeare, Hamlet

“A handsome hostess, merry host, A pot of ale now and a toast, Tobacco and a good coal fire, are things this season doth require.” Poor Robin’s Almanack, 1684

“So now is come our joyful feast, / Let every man be jolly; / Each room with ivy leaves is dressed, / And every post with holly. / Though some churls at our mirth repine, / ‘Round your forehead garlands twine, / Drown sorrows in a cup of wine, / And let us all be merry.” George Wither

“Christmas is the day that holds all time together.” Alexander Smith

Image credit: Source. The illustration is by Albertine Randall Wheelan (1863-1954). There’s a decent retrospective of her here.

Merry, Merry Harrison: A Presidential Christmas Statement, 1891

“Christmas…should be an occasion of general rejoicing throughout the land, from the humblest citizen to the highest official, who, for the time being, should forget or put behind him his cares and annoyances, and participate in the spirit of seasonable festivity. We intend to make it a happy day at the White House…I am an ardent believer in the duty we owe to ourselves…to make merry for children at Christmastime, and we shall have an old-fashioned Christmas tree…and I shall be…Santa Claus myself. If my influence goes for aught in this busy world let me hope that my example may be followed by every family in the land.” President Benjamin Harrison, 1891

President Harrison was the 23rd president of the United States and it is said that he had the first decorated Christmas tree in the White House. Here's a link to the Christmas tradition page on the Harrison Presidential site. The Harrison House is one of the historic gems of Indianapolis. (The image was found here, on a page I will revisit since it looks so interesting: holidays and presidential pop culture, oh my!).

Merry Christmas.


Hello, Winter

Ice covered berry tree

“The days are short / The sun a spark / Hung thin between / The dark and dark.” John Updike

“I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape. Something waits beneath it. The whole story doesn’t show.” Andrew Wyeth

“Footprints in the snow have been unfailing provokers of sentiment ever since snow was first a white wonder in this drab-colored world of ours.” Kenneth Grahame

“By day, the scene is purest white, diamond-covered in the sun, / Each flake, alone a wond’rous thing, not like any other one / Cardinals flit from tree to tree, red ribbons in the air, / They light upon a spruce branch, pretty bows in blue-green hair.” Linda Maugans

“Let us walk in the white snow / In a soundless space; / With footsteps quiet and slow, / At a tranquil pace, / Under veils of white lace… We shall walk in velvet shoes: / Wherever we go / Silence will fall like dews / On white silence below. / We shall walk in the snow.” Elinor Wylie

With a Twist of Rime

Two Christmas Memories by Linda Maugans (Guest Post)

I'm very grateful to Linda Maugans, my grandma, who wrote down two of her favorite Christmas memories and kindly has permitted me to share them here. These memories date to the early 1940s when she was a very young girl.

Christmas Memories: Dolls for Christmas

By Linda Maugans

Vintage Dy-Dee Doll Ad

Christmas always meant a new doll for my sister, Garnet, and me, and over the years we received all shapes and sizes, some with a wardrobe of clothes hand-made by Mrs. Santa Claus. One of the most memorable was a bride doll, complete with long veil. I didn't play with her much because I didn't want to spoil her beauty. I have her yet, and although she is packed away, when there has been occasion to open her box-home, she has always evoked the thrill I felt when seeing her for the first time.

Another special one was an adorable, little Madame Alexander doll, wearing her pink dress and white pinafore, and sweet little white high-top shoes. She still is quite beautiful as she sits proudly in my curio cabinet with other special treasures. Unfortunately, she is barefoot as somewhere along the line she lost her shoes, but I love her just as much unshod as shod.

During those years we also received the necessary items to care for our “children,” such as wooden highchairs, cradles — complete with music box — and a green trunk for all the doll clothes we had accumulated.

I was ecstatic when I unwrapped my first rubber “Dy-Dee” doll — a rubber doll that came with a little bottle, and drank the water (milk in my world of make-believe). She was completely outfitted with a bathinette that held water, and she must have been the cleanest baby in town. Of course, after she took her bottle it was only a few seconds before she needed her “didee” changed. That little doll took the whole world of make-believe to a new level.

I had several rubber dolls after that one. In fact, I received my last Christmas doll when I was eleven years old and although I sometimes played with her I felt that I should be doing so in secret. I felt uncomfortable and perhaps a little guilty because I knew all my friends had put away their dolls two or three years before. I like to think that they just didn't have the same kind of imagination…it seems I've always marched to a different drummer, or perhaps heard a different song than most every one else. I just seemed to think differently than a lot of people, and I haven't changed much, as most of you know.

We learned about loving and caring as we played with our make-believe babies, and it made for a much easier transition and joy when we were blessed with the real thing. Play was largely based on actual events during my childhood. Whatever the occasion we enacted it. There were many pretend church services, weddings, funerals, and school rooms, and we never seemed to tire of playing house. Play, back then, prepared us for life and I will always be grateful for it.


Christmas in Wartime: When the Lights Go On Again

By Linda Maugans

1941 Noma Christmas Light catalog cover

One of my earliest memories of the Christmas season is an ad that was in one of Mother's magazines. It had to have been during the period when the free world was afraid of being bombed, and the only way they had to hide was to go dark. I remember a couple years after the ad experience, when America was having black-outs and everyone was required to have dark window shades. I remember a night when there came a knock on the door. There stood an Air Raid Warden, wearing his white helmet, who advised Mother of a small hole in the shade at one of the windows which was allowing a pinhole of light to be seen, and that it must be covered immediately.

In this present time of streetlights, security lights, and neon signs it is hard to imagine that back then there was total darkness. This is all setting the stage for the ad, and I guess I should also mention that one of the popular songs on the radio was about the “dark” that was thought needed in order to survive. Each year I understand more fully how horrible it must have been living in blitz-torn England, and how blessed America was to have escaped the same fate, although we certainly paid with the blood of hundreds of thousands of our men and women in the military. Those early war years had much to do with the shaping of my life, and the basis for the way I feel as I do about many things that are happening now. But I digress!

Back to the song: “When the Lights Come On Again All Over the World.” I loved that song, and it has much to do with the ad which I can see as clearly in my mind as if it were before me. The ad was a two-page color spread, and all around the sides was a string of Christmas tree lights, shining brightly in all their different colors. In the center of the ad was the staff and musical notes to the song, and in large print, it read, “When the lights come on again, let them be Noma!” (Noma was the brand of lights.)

I hope you will add to your Christmas prayers thanks for the blessing of the wonderful light displays you will be seeing. Writing this has reminded me that they are something I should not so easily take for granted…or for the cost of our freedom to have them.

When the Lights Go On Again

Editor's Notes: (1) The vintage ad for the Dy-Dee doll and playthings dates to the thirties or forties and was located through a Google Image Search; the image used was originally at this French website. There are many (so many) other ads available on the web but this one had the “bathinette” and was from the right timeframe. (2) The 1941 Noma Ad was found at, an interesting page in its own right that is worth a visit if you're interested in vintage Christmas lights. I tried for an embarrassingly high number of hours over several months to find the ad referred to in this post but haven't been able to find it. The shortage of Christmas lights in the U.S. during the war years probably led to a shortage in ads to be preserved by collectors. In case you've never spent an ungodly amount of time googling vintage Noma Christmas light ads (and every variant thereof), it is worth doing: some of the images which crop up are outstanding. (Santa smoking a cigarette in a mid-century Chesterfield ad, for example.) (3) “When the Lights Go On Again (All Over the World)” was written in 1942 and was the number one recording in the U.S. in 1943 (Wikipedia). The image from the sheet music cover is readily available by image search from multiple sources.

And again, a very big thank you to Linda Maugans for writing this post.