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Friday, December 16, 2011

When Bill met Jeffy

A while back we lamented the fact that the Neighborhood Notes website pulled our friend Bill McDonald off the detail of interviewing Portland's mayoral candidates. McDonald had done a bang-up job with Max Brumm and Charlie Hales, and we looked forward to some great interviews with the others in the field. But alas, it wasn't to be -- the Jefferson Smith interview that NN published was conducted by a lesser talent than McDonald, and it wasn't much of a read.

As it turns out, that is only part of the story. According to McDonald, he did in fact interview Smith, but the piece was pulled after Smith was unhappy with the way the session went. And so it never saw the light of day, until now.

Here's audio of the latter part of the interview -- it's painfully awkward. Neither guy was at his best. We think it's valid to publish it here, and we'll leave it to readers to make of it what they will. We have never had any use for Smith, and this episode dies not change our view of the fellow.

Here's McDonald's account of what happened:

I'm sending you this out of a sense of civic responsibility. After giving me good reviews for my interviews with mayoral candidates Max Brumm and Charlie Hales, you noted that I had been "benched" for the next politician.... My interview in early November with Jefferson Smith had turned contentious, with the candidate's campaign team calling my clients to complain. I was told I had been hostile to him. They decided not to use the piece, and also canceled my interview with Eileen Brady, so if Jefferson Smith is running on a platform to help local small businesses get jobs, it sure as hell isn't working with me.

I want to stress right now that this is not about politics. As a fellow progressive, I bet I'm in line with a lot of what Jefferson Smith believes, although I have a much better understanding of the reasons behind the economic meltdown. Perhaps I'll share some of his answers on that as the campaign grinds on. Yikes.

Oh, and the timing? I wanted to spend the weeks after this trying to salvage things with these particular clients, so I am just now free to address my interview. The clients have nothing to do with this -- they are free and clear of all responsibility here, and I'm actually quite fond of them and regret any stress I sent their way. I would have run with this much sooner, but as a freelancer, I admit commerce comes before civic responsibility, especially in this economy. Six weeks has been a long break after working diligently to get in this outfit's rotation, so I focused on winning them back, and that part was not all business. This whole mess bothered me on a personal level a great deal.

So what about the holidays? Is this an appropriate time to share this particular joy with the world? That part of it is unfortunate, but this has been on my "to do" list for way too long already. So I'm thinking of it as my Christmas card to Portland. Here goes:

The problem with the interview was that I have concluded that Mr. Smith is a pr**k. A pompous, power-happy, blowhard bully. I may be wrong about that. This is just my opinion, but I do make a living sizing up politicians, and my takes have been broadcast on television and radio in dozens of countries since 1993 and 1996 respectively. As we conclude the Iraq War, I would like to point out that I have even had my protests about that disaster in Time Magazine -- in comedy form of course.

I believe in myself as a judge of this life form known as the politician, and I believe Jefferson Smith is a reckless, dangerous loser with what is probably a psychopathic personality, and believe me, politics draws more than its fair share of those. One sign is a person who appears to show little empathy, until he or she figures out what is called for, and then pours it on in a learned way that seems calculated and phony. I believe this tape illustrates that quite well.

I also admit I formulated this opinion of Mr. Smith prior to meeting him. I just watched his speeches and other interviews. In one of his dumbest points, he seems to believe I should have had no opinion of him whatsoever until we met, even though our democracy is built on listening to debates and speeches, etc., and drawing conclusions about the character of the candidates. How he got through Harvard with logic like this is a mystery, but it did clear up how Bush got through Yale.

What I suspect is that he was more concerned about the conclusions I had reached about him than the methodology I used to get there. People like this are often on the lookout for those who see through them, and switch into a confrontational mode early to try and head it off, which is what I believed happened here. Oh, and it was also quite revealing how he handled it with my clients after the interview, throwing his weight around and seeming to confirm my theories that he's a bully.

I also maintain that I arrived at the interview willing to be won over, and to be proven wrong. Longtime readers of Jack's blog know that I have no problem apologizing if I get something incorrect. I certainly was not thrilled that a major Portland race would have a serious candidate of this caliber, so if anything, I was hoping to be charmed out of my earlier fears. However, I soon realized I was probably right....

So when did I reaffirm my opinion of Mr. Smith? The moment came after a question about banks, when he said, "I don’t know if I will accept the premise of your line of questioning, or that question itself, but I will ask you to repeat it because I thought your question was such crap." Incidentally, this was 10 questions into the interview. It sort of degenerated from there.

Admittedly, the opening bit had not gone well. I do believe that a person's sense of humor is a valuable gauge of character, so some of my questions are tests to see how they handle a comical twist. Incidentally, I also throw in some questions to test their heat gauge, but not every interview question is designed to be used. All politicians should know that. So where did the comical one at the beginning go off track? It's never wise to explain why something wasn't funny after all, but you'll need this to understand a reference in the tape. Here goes:

Jefferson Smith, a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School, and founder of the Bus Project, was named after Thomas Jefferson, but so was just about every person given the name Jefferson after that point in history. The President of the Confederate States, Jefferson Davis, was named after Thomas Jefferson.

However, Jefferson Smith is also the character that Jimmy Stewart plays in the landmark political film "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," though that was not enough to introduce it into evidence for this interview. What put it in play was the name of Portland candidate Jefferson Smith’s consulting firm. Jimmy Stewart was the head of the Boy Rangers in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," and our mayoral candidate named his consulting firm "Boy Ranger Consulting." If you’re going to make the comparison yourself, then don’t be surprised if others run with it.

See, as a teenage American boy growing up overseas, I would travel a lot at a young age. One day, I was wandering the streets of London and I came upon a stage door and a crowd. I stood with them, enjoying the feeling of not knowing what would happen next. Who should come out of that stage door but the legendary Jimmy Stewart. It really was quite amazing to see such a familiar Hollywood actor hobnobbing with the crowd, talking with the voice that launched a million impressions. This is not a generational thing. Who hasn’t seen "It’s a Wonderful Life"?

I thought it would be a good beginning to a lighthearted exchange so I told the candidate: "I have seen the man who played Jefferson Smith in, 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.' I have heard that familiar voice in person, and it felt like I knew him and knew the character in the movie. And you, Jefferson Smith, are no Jefferson Smith. Your thoughts?"

Smith was not thrilled but showed some sense of humor with an Eminem reference: "Well, I would say that I’m a real person. That’s really my name, and I would say to anyone else who has a fictional name of Jefferson Smith, that they’re not Jefferson Smith. I am the real Slim Shady."

Later, when things had become contentious and he was going through my pages of prepared questions looking for examples of how unfair I had been to him, he would point out this bit and the phrase, "Your thoughts?" as an example of my offensive questions. You'll hear him do that in this tape.

Fortunately, by then he had also revealed that he had gotten it -- he knew it was a reference to the famous moment from the vice presidential debates when Lloyd Bentsen said a similar thing to Dan Quayle, so we were okay there. But he was profoundly unimpressed that I had compared him to this character in a film, despite the fact that he had done the same thing through the name of his consulting firm.

Oh, well. I simply want to get this off my list and out there. I'm not that concerned about him winning, but I remember hearing George W. in person early on -- as he talked about compassionate conservatism -- and thinking, "There is no way they'll go for this clown." I do not want to be wrong again. So here's my contribution to the city I love. You're welcome, Portland.

Smith says he doesn't read this blog, and so we guess we'll never hear from him. But if we do, we'll report it here. Verbatim.

Comments (27)

I agree with Bill that JSmith will probably not win this mayor's race. However, anyone who's followed local politics knows that the secret to success is often just name recognition. I'm sure JSmith knows that, too. He will definitely be back.

Jefferson Smith is in a world of hurt, along with several other very prominent Democrats in CD1. Watch after the first of the year for some damning (bordering on criminal) information to be released.

Man, Bill is one of the smartest regular contributors here. As a fellow, fellow progressive, he really nails the non-sanctimonious side that I strive for. That said, that audio was brutal! I've only listened to it once, but it really feels like Bill lets the opportunity get away from him. There are some gems in there, though - too bad those couldn't have come out in print. JSmith sounds like Mitt Romney.

Thanks Bill, I'm an even bigger fan than before.

And thanks to you too Jack, for providing a forum here.

Why not post audio of the entire interview, if you're going to post it?

While Bill comes off as cantankerous, Sir Jefferson cements his personality as a 1st class, grade A ... jerk.

No newflash for the Clackastani the rebels here. We pegged this guy as a creep months ago, when he used his Bus Project to Shanghai county school children to canvas for Commissioner Ann Linniger without their parent's consent.

The school in question backed so far away they almost fell off a cliff, and we haven't seen Smith and has partisan, pandering "nonprofit" bus in the neighborhood since.

While I had already decided that this guy was not suitable for office based on his own past record, I would have been open to persuasion, which to me is the bread and butter of politics.

But it seems as if Smith is taking lessons from nearly all of the local political figures. He is exhibiting the same sneering, overbearing, self -centered attributes that are so readily found in the centers of power.

I too would love to read the interview, that way I could possibly understand the candidate's objections. But in the end, I probably won't change my perception of Mr. Smith. I've seen his brand of personality far too many times locally. Weird isn't working.

Ok I was able to get to the 4 min mark. What a crock. Where do people learn how to be so slimy and do they have a class in stringing together smosh? The guy pauses almost like he is thinking, then out comes jumbled together pop/political phrases that make no sense.
He will be a shoo in for mayor.

Sorry for the garbled opening, haven't had coffee yet. Smith wouldn't be allowed anywhere near Romney's bus.

Thanks for the kind words. I wonder if we ever worked together? I spent over 2 decades in Local 9 working as a banquet houseman, waiter, and captain and something about this has the feeling of a nasty squabble that would occasionally break out at the hotel. The union worker - in this case me - would work his butt off trying to get something right and then management - played by Jefferson Smith - would act like jerks and screw us out of the money. I'm sure all the thousands of union workers out there can relate.

I'd respond, occasionally ending up in human resources. Along the way, I'd feel terrible about getting involved but every time I reviewed it, I would reach the same conclusion. I felt if I just rolled over and accepted it, I would lose something I couldn't get back. But that doesn't mean I'm proud of my temper or how I acted. It has that same yucky feeling. I think my record was a one month suspension for a confrontation with the executive chef. I like keeping it light, but I react poorly in the presence of certain jerks, especially when they end up hurting my ability to make a living.

The other thing this reminds me of is Dick Cheney. In the follow-up interview, Jefferson Smith actually asked the interviewer to give him a tougher question. So after going out of his way, to get my questions squashed, he has the temerity to ask to be treated tougher. That is Cheney-esque.

Finally, I'd like to thank Phil Stanford for helping me get back in the good graces of my clients. I'm proud to call him a friend. Seeing my name in the acknowledgment section of "The Peyton-Allan Files" was one of the highlights of my professional life.

Now, let's get back to the joyous holiday season.

The recording doesn't really do anything for me one way or the other--it's a conversation between two people who obviously don't respect each other, and who aren't really making any attempt to disguise it. I will say, however, as someone who has interviewed people for articles (including politicians), that I would NEVER open with the joke-y kind of opening that Bill used. Poor choice on that one, especially if you have no previous rapport with the subject. Humor is so very easily misinterpreted, so I'd never recommend that somebody who has never met the interviewee use that kind of opening. I think it set the tone for the whole interview.

As an above poster stated: Could you post the entire audio of the interview? As well as maybe a transcript or at least, the questions word-for-word that you asked him?

Many will find it difficult to produce a view from this post without much context besides the long narrative that was written.

The narrative shows Bill as having some pride issues. I'm better at deciding if a candidate is 'authentic' when presented with the facts. A blog-post with the words 'prick' and 'psychopath' diminish the credibility of the poster and their inability to control their emotions.

I'm not going to jump through anymore hoops on this. I put too many hours into it, and it does not pay.
Oh, and you're right about the pride issues. This hurt my pride.
If you need more, go to YouTube and watch the speeches. If you can't get it from that, I can't help you anyway.

I'm afraid that just as Portlanders supported Obama in record numbers, they're going to eat this guy up and he'll win.

Whether we agree with Bill's approach or not, JS has the varnished politician thing down. He knows how to make pregnant pauses sound introspective (when the opposite is true) and there is a sniveling arrogance about him that most Portlanders are going to confuse for leadership and intelligence. Frankly, I'm scared.

His polished (yet empty) style is going to have Brady running scared and Hales cowering in the corner.

Face it, when the the voting populace wants leadership in times of trouble it is often the polished "change agent" that gets the nod. Just like Obama.

JS is going to play the eastsider-got-out-of-Felony-Flats--went-to-Harvard-came-back-and-made-right thing for all it is worth...and Portlanders just love those types of "stories" - especially when they flow from a silver tongue.

Be afraid. That's what I say.

As opposed to whom??

"I'm afraid that just as Portlanders supported Obama in record numbers, they're going to eat this guy up and he'll win.

In listening to the clip, I came away with two impressions. First, while it may not have been one of his best days, you can tell Mr. McDonald is sincere and genuine in his concern regarding the quality of leadership in Portland. I'm no authority on such matters, but it seems to me those qualities are necessary for reporting that is in the public interest.

Second, it is apparent the Smith is another arrogant, self-righteous individual that is utterly assured of the supremacy of his own opinions. He didn't speak, he lectured. Portland doesn't need another politician that disregards the will of the people, and operates on the assumption he "knows whats best for them."

It is ironic that this thread is taking place on the day another vexing journalist, Chistopher Hitchens, left the building. I will miss his writings.

Rest in peace Mr. Hitchens, keep swinging Mr. McDonald.

I probably know a dozen people who went to Harvard at one time or another either as undergraduates or graduates. Half of them are thoughtful, intelligent if quirky individuals who bring a unique perspective to their chosen fields and are very successful. The other half are insufferable bores who are impossible to be around. The second group tend to be underachievers with an inflated sense of importance. I am beginning to get a sense of which group Mr. Smith belongs in.

Any politician who can't take a hard line of questioning isn't worthy of a single vote.

I want to stress right now that this is not about politics.
Well, there's a problem. I guess it's about personalities. And that's certainly what comes out in the article. Whether you like JS or not, you cannot deny that he has achieved a lot. The Bus project gets hundreds of kids involved in politics; some of us think that's a good thing. He has been a responsible legislator. And I have to admit I enjoyed the hell out of the RickRoll stunt last year. Yeah, he's kinda arrogant, but then he earned it. I think he'd be a fabulous change of pace for us.

...JS is going to play the eastsider-got-out-of-Felony-Flats--went-to-Harvard-came-back-and-made-right thing for all it is worth...

As I recall, did he not live in CA and then came up and graduated from Grant High?
At any rate, moving out to the Eastside most likely was calculated to move into politics, I believe the Merkley legislative seat became vacant...maybe others on here know more about that sequence...

Arrogant and then added power??

I think we have had waaay too much of that already!

Several things got to me listening to the audio. One that sticks out in my mind is Smith's claim that he got Merkley elected to the US Senate.

Smith saying almost nothing for 15 minutes says a lot.

Amen to what tankfixer says. I'm casting my write-in vote for Bill.

Well Bill, at the very least, it seems you've brought both ends of the political spectrum together here in unity for their support for you. For example, I rarely see eye to eye with HMLA-267, but I found myself in total agreement with every word here. :)

And no, unfortunately I've never worked with you, though I'm sure it would have been my pleasure. I've almost always worked non-union in local, blue collar joints. And yet, I can totally relate to the working-your-ass-off part while some jerk of a manager (or more often for me, owner) ruins business, and incidentally my ability to make money. That minimum wage wasn't paying the bills after all, my tips were. And like you, while I have a very high tolerance for a-hole-ism (what longtime bartender doesn't?), there are certain types that really grate on me too. I usually didn't have an HR department to go to, so there was many a time, I just walked.

Anyway, I know that uncomfortable feeling well, it's difficult sometimes to do what you know is right in the long run, sacrificing immediate comfort and certainty. And so that is one reason I thank you for putting this out there. By the comments here, it is obvious that you are not the only person who sees the sliminess in Smith. You and others have used adjectives that describe my impressions of him better than I could: sneering, overbearing, pompous, power-happy, dismissive.

And just like that type of owner/manager/bully is bad for business and our ability to make money, a mayor with those attributes is a disaster for the same reasons. As Portland's already seen with your current sociopath-in-chief. I don't live in Portland, so I have no say in the mayor's race there, but what happens in the biggest city in Oregon influences the rest of us. Those of us in Clackamas County know that well. So I really do appreciate the public service you've provided here.

I'd love to hear what Smith had to say about the banking crisis, which seems to have stemmed from his nastily dismissive comment about your question allegedly being "such crap." I understand that you'd like to put this all to bed, but you did hint at maybe revealing a little more on this point, and I think Smith's views would be quite interesting. Especially since they appear to differ quite a bit with yours.

Regardless, I have long been a fan of your humor, humility, insight, and integrity as demonstrated in your comments here and, way back when, on BlueOregon. [Before they stifled nearly all dissent, and interesting conversation, with their FaceBook authentification scheme.]

So, please, carry on Bill. I enjoy your writing, and I think your ability to read people and your gift for political commentary are vital in a free and thriving society. But integrity is the key. And I've seen you stand up to the status quo time and again. I hope you continue to share your gifts with us.

Thanks for the kind words. I just want to clarify one thing about my union days. I did not have "a human resources to go to" - the way it worked was that I was usually summoned to human resources after going directly to management with my complaints.

I just want to clarify one thing about my union days. I did not have "a human resources to go to" - the way it worked was that I was usually summoned to human resources after going directly to management with my complaints.

Been there...it's always interesting.

BTW, although Ex and I may disagree more often than we agree - I concur completely with his comments here.

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