The Other Bearded Marxist

The picture could be a problem.

I studied in Germany in college. It was a few years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and not long after East and West Germany reunified. And during a visit to what had been East Berlin, one of my classmates snapped a picture of me standing in front of two imposing statues of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Right in the middle of Berlin's Marx-Engels Platz.

It's a good thing I'm not running for office. Because I'm sure that if someone unearthed the photo, one of my political opponents would try to use it against me.

It would ignite a firestorm in any campaign. It's a good thing there's only one copy of that photo, stored deep in a photo album somewhere in my house. Never mind the other pictures from that semester are pretty typical. There are photos of me walking through the streets of Heidelberg, climbing to the famous "Disney" castle known as Neuschwanstein and hanging out with classmates in a German beer garden.

Marx and Engels could do me in.

This is the stuff that political attacks are made of. Especially two weeks before the most-contested Congressional election in 16 years.

In Washington, it's called "Silly Season." It's where candidates and campaigns drum up the most bizarre, occasionally-outlandish and sometimes downright despicable mud to lob at their opponent right before the election.

Campaigns run negative, diabolical ads because they work. Even if they slightly embellish the truth. A bit. After all, attention spans are sparse. Campaigns only have a few seconds to grab the voter and portray their opponent as a mutant of Hannibal Lecter and Darth Vader. They go right for the jugular.

I'm certainly not running for office. But I began to wonder how a political opponent might try to appropriate innocuous elements of my everyday life and turn them against me.

For starters, this is an anti-establishment year. Guess what? I've lived and worked in Washington for 17 years now. That would be more than eight terms in the House and nearly three terms in the Senate. I only return to my native Ohio three or four times a year now. I'm certain people would declare that I've gone "Inside the Beltway" or that I'm "out of touch" with people back home. Even though I talk to my father back in Ohio every day (haven't missed a day in nearly two years, in fact).

Seniority is important on Capitol Hill. The more senior a lawmaker, the more choice his or her committee assignments become. They grow in stature and skill as legislators.

I know I'm certainly a better reporter now than I was when I arrived in Washington right out of graduate school. My experience covering Congress for so long has helped me forge relationships and better understand the inner-workings of the place. I now have historical context and perspective on things I didn't have when I arrived. Few things beat experience.

I can hear the ad now. I've been in Washington too long.

Health care is a major issue in the political campaigns this fall. Of course, I don't vote in Congress. But guess what? I was at the Capitol nearly every day of the health care debate. And I'm sure someone could link me to that.

But there's something even worse.

I was here in 1994 when former President Clinton and Congressional Democrats tried to pass health care that time, too.

Funny thing that I'm around every time they try to pass health care reform, isn't it?

I'm certain such a commercial would be the final nail in my political coffin.

Many moderate and conservative Democrats are distancing themselves from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). And Republicans are doing all they can to try to associate Democrats from conservative, swing districts with the more liberal speaker. In fact, they're running numerous ads indicating that Congressman so-and-so voted with Pelosi 90 percent of the time.

Again, I don't vote in Congress. But I have attended probably 90 percent of Pelosi's press conferences.

Think about that.

And I've also attended around 90 percent of the press conferences held by House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), too.

I'm sure either of those stats could be fodder for someone.

Pelosi is an unpopular figure. And as Boehner's profile grows, it's natural more people will become increasingly skeptical of him, too. And I'm certain that someone would try to criticize me because I began covering Boehner when he was just a state legislator and I was a college reporter.

Other foibles?

I may originally be from rural Ohio. But I developed an interest in wine some years ago. I enjoy studying the geography of wine and its varietals. I'm sure someone could portray my appreciation of wine as elitist. Even though my refrigerator is stocked with Miller Lite and Little Kings Creme Ale.

In 2004, President George W. Bush's re-election campaign seized on images of Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) windsurfing off Nantucket. The pictures made it easy for the GOP to portray Kerry as elitist.

In the winter, I snow ski. Sometimes at Jackson Hole, WY. Sometimes in Alberta, Canada. And even the Alps.

The working-man doesn't ski, right? Never mind that my steel-worker father is the one who taught me to ski. He even took me on a ski strip to Austria when I was eight. And shouldn't I be spending my vacation dollars in United States? Remember the furor over the First Lady and daughter Sasha traveling to Spain earlier this year?

I have no military experience.

I've never created a job or had to meet a payroll.

I once played the Devil in a high school production of "Damn Yankees."

They'd have a field day with that. Someone would say it was typecasting.

A few years ago, the city left a note on my door because I failed to pull in my garbage and recycling bins on time after trash day.


In the coming weeks, candidates of both parties will slather the airwaves with ads that twist and arc the truth about each other. They'll bludgeon the other side with claims and accusations that no sane person could ever understand how either would be fit to hold office. When you go to vote, ask yourself what everyday things in your own life could be turned against you in a political campaign.

Much has been made in recent days about Delaware Senate candidate Chris Coons (D) and an article he wrote for his college newspaper, "The Making of a Bearded Marxist."

Remember I mentioned the picture at Marx-Engels Platz earlier?

I forgot to tell you something.

I had been traveling for several days prior and hadn't shaved. I had more than a bit of stubble in that photo.Sigh.