St. Louis Oracle

St. Louis-based political forecasting plus commentary on politics and events from a grassroots veteran with a mature, progressive anti-establishment perspective.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

A pagan political milestone

Politicians pandering to religious groups is nothing new. Long before the Republican Party turned its political agenda over to the Religious Right, Democrats were making the rounds at synagogues, African American congregations and Roman Catholic parishes.

There's a certain status attached to being perceived as important enough to merit attention from political organizations, and this applies to interest groups as well as religions. It has become a rite of passage among some groups who bear a social stigma to be accepted publicly and to have politicians seek their approval and support. The lesbian and gay community, formerly shunned, has achieved such acceptance and power. Abortion rights advocates made the transition earlier. A couple generations ago, African Americans did the same.

Some religions are still hoping to achieve the same acceptance and political power as Roman Catholics, Jews and both mainline and fundamentalist Protestants. One such group is the Pagans, who held their 13th Annual Pagan Picnic in Tower Grove Park in St. Louis, June 4-5, and who will celebrate Pagan Pride in September. This year's Pagan Picnic included booths by an assortment of merchants and artisans, and a little milestone tucked away near the middle of Vendor Row: a political group.

Two Rivers Greens were there promoting the new Progressive Party, which is the official Missouri affiliate of the Green Party of the United States. (The difference between the Progressive Party and the Missouri Green Party could be a column all to itself, but that will be another day.) The booth's big draw seemed to be t-shirts featuring a large photo of a befuddled looking George W. Bush and the words "international terrorist." They distributed literature describing their party and its platform, including a separate "freedom of religion" piece that contrasted the party from the Religious Right pandering of both the Republicans and Democrats. Antiwar literature, anti-Walmart stickers and information about pesticide dangers, eminent domain abuse, instant runoff voting and publicly financed elections were also distributed. Several former Green Party candidates, including Lydia Lewis, David Sladky and Bud Deraps, were on hand to welcome visitors.

According to long-time picnic organizer Joyce Higginbotham, this was the first time a political organization (party or candidate) had ever appeared on Vendor Row. Advocacy groups had been there before, and petition circulators and other political types had attended prior picnics and circulated among the crowd, but this was the first paid booth for a party organization. She said many pagans appreciated both the recognition and the investment.

A milestone on the road to public acceptance.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Same name, different guy

The Oracle recently suffered a different kind of identity crisis, one that many of us experience from time to time. The evening news anchor described the horrific deaths of two small children and then stated that the name of the person charged with their deaths was, well, me! I changed channels to hear the same story. Sure enough, the first and last name of the culprit was indeed the same as mine. Further investigation showed that he had a different middle initial, was more than a decade younger and lived 300 miles away, but the first and last name were mine, even spelled the same. I even got a phone call during the newscast from a concerned member of my church, seeking to verify that it wasn’t me.

Unfortunately, my reputation probably took a hit among others who heard the newscast but didn’t inquire any further. Of course, it could have been worse. My photo has appeared before in the Post-Dispatch. At least when they ran the current story, they didn’t dig out that old photo of me.

A friend of mine once had it worse. He was falsely arrested because his name was the same as the real defendant. Both my wife and I periodically receive calls from collection agencies demanding payment for debts rung up by others having our names. My wife once changed doctors after his staff confused her medical records with a similarly named patient.

This kind of thing happens more often than we think. Even if your name isn’t as common as Smith, Jones or Williams, it’s amazing how many other people out there have your same name. Just for grins, do a Google search using your own first and last name. I’ll bet there’s more of you than you thought. In my own case, in addition to lots of graduation lists and military rosters, Google found references to a 1996 Democratic presidential elector from Ohio, a dentist in central Missouri, a meter reader and union official in Kentucky, a Student Association president in New York, a donor to Syracuse University, a Navy officer, a financial adviser, and a Florida photographer, all with my first and last name. And this is just people whose names have made it onto web sites.

A few years ago, a St. Louis aldermanic president (later an appellate judge), a U.S. Senator and presidential candidate and a popular singer/songwriter were all named Paul Simon. On one Saturday Night Live program, Don Pardo announced Paul Simon as host and both the senator and the singer appeared, saying, “I assumed they meant me.”

The “name’s the same” situation can be disastrous for politicians. The late Circuit Clerk Joe Roddy (father of the current alderman) lost his office to upstart Freeman Bosley, Jr. in a close primary in which a mysterious candidate named Clara Jo Roddy got more votes than the final margin of decision. (Note to lawmakers: Instant Runoff Voting would foil “stalking horse” candidacies.) The ballot appeal of Eric Harris, a Libertarian committeeman in St. Louis County, suffered from the notoriety of the Columbine High School murderer of the same name.

There can also be a positive side to name confusion. In 1984, Democrat Matt O’Neill narrowly won his first term as state representative over an attractive young Republican lawyer when the Post Dispatch Voters Guide mistakenly printed the photograph of a different, younger, better looking Matt O’Neill who previously ran for office in the same area. In another election, Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Michael Roberts, a conservative white guy from Kansas City, polled very well (for a Libertarian) in African American wards in St. Louis, the home base of former alderman (and current business tycoon) Michael Roberts. In the 1960s, a perennial candidate named John Francis Kennedy upset the endorsed Democrat to win statewide office in Massachusetts, home state of the similarly named president.