It had been since my days working at the college newspaper that I had covered an event as a reporter, then went back to my office to make up quotes and fabricate an account of what had happened. On Friday, there I was, back in the media, a journalist covering a political rally in the race for the office of South Carolina governor.
It was all a little intimidating at first. The candidate I was covering — tea party favorite Nikki Haley — had little trust and considerable antagonism for what she and her compatriots referred to as the “lamestream press.” So it was perhaps understandable that when I spied a pizza joint near the site of the early-evening appearance, I decided to kill a few minutes waiting for the candidate by having a slice and a beer.
Haley, the Palin-esque Republican who’s been in the news for alleged dalliances with conservative bloggers and lobbyists, was making a whirlwind tour of the upstate prior to Tuesday’s primary, and was running a little late. I grabbed a spot in the small outdoor seating area, nursing my Yuengling and listening to white, middle-aged women yearn for low-carb Italian food and the ability to take their country back.
I tried to blend into the group without looking like one of them, not an easy task considering my whiteness. One Palin operative was handing out “Haley” lapel stickers; I accepted one rather than raise suspicion about my progressive Democrat loyalties. Another supporter, Republican state legislator Ralph Norman, was working the crowd before Haley’s arrival, shaking hands and chatting up his own fortunes. I gently wiped the surface of the pizza with my hand, so that if he did try the grip-and-grin with me, I could make a subtle-but-greasy protest that I don’t endorse his brand of right-wing populism.
Soon Nikki arrived, bounding across the plaza as much as someone can bound in 3-inch heels. She was met enthusiastically by onlookers before beginning her 15-minute speech.
She read them the usual laundry list of offenses that the political establishment had committed against the people of South Carolina, conveniently overlooking the fact that there’s only one non-Republican currently serving in statewide office. She was against big government, taxing and spending, and in favor of small business and the forgotten everyman. She endorsed “real American values” in what at first I thought was a plug for the nearby sale at Ross Dress for Less, but turned out instead to be a call to guns and God. And she promised there’d be a “tea party everyday” if she were elected governor.
After the address, she greeted supporters by posing for pictures and thanking them repeatedly for coming out. I grabbed a few close-up photos …
… before heading back to the perimeter. I had a reporter’s notebook in my pocket and thought briefly about gathering a few quotes. But the same pocket also held about three dollars and change from my earlier purchase, so I figured I’d get another beer instead. Haley masterfully worked her way through the remaining throng. I quickly downed the second drink so I could be ready to approach the candidate when she took a few questions from the media. Unfortunately, I hadn’t eaten much for lunch that day and the two beers were rapidly going to my head.
I tried to think of a good question that wouldn’t betray my lack of sympathy for her narrow-minded agenda. “Where do you stand on off-shore drilling?” would be a good one; “Are you still auditioning for illicit lovers?” was maybe not quite as on-point. I imagined there was some kind of security detail nearby that would react to any inquiry deemed too hostile, and weighed that against her demonstrated affinity for South Carolina bloggers, of which I was one.
Then I fell down, and the whole internal debate I was having became moot. I snapped one last photo while climbing up off the ground …
… and soon the candidate was boarding a bus for her next stop in Greenville. She wouldn’t be able to talk to this reporter, until later that night in my inebriated dreams when she noted that I was “cute” and asked “what’s a strong fiscal conservative girl gotta do to get a new-media star like you to buy her a beer?”
At least, that’s the quote I’m making up.