Along the Tracks

Friday, July 11, 2003

‘Hicks’ of Hicksville

I’ve mostly ignored the “Jerry Springer for Senate” phenomenon as it is just one more sad example of the utterly comatose condition of the Ohio Democratic Party. In fact, I’m not even certain there is an “Ohio Democratic Party.” (Of course, with the Ohio GOP passing 11 percent spending increases paid for by tax hikes, do we really need a Democratic Party? But that’s another posting ....)

But now Jerry’s gone and done it. He’s using one of our local communities for his own shameless promotion: He hath taken the name of “Hicksville” in vain.

In the infomercial for his budding Senate campaign, Jerry challenges a quote from National Review’s Jonah Goldberg by laying claim to “hicks” as the kind of people he will represent. He is shown standing in mock pride beside the corporation limit sign for the western Defiance County village.

This is not just some Photoshopped fakery; Jerry visited Hicksville a couple months ago to talk to local Democrats about a potential Senate run. Since the state central committee is practically non-existent, local Democrats are pretty much accepting all comers. That fits well with Jerry, who on his show also accepts all comers. His base, lowest common denominator, “shock-and-awe” concept of reality is now being twisted into a populist political theme.

Hicksville, however, does not fit Jerry’s concept, historically speaking. Drawn up by some of the original pioneers of the Northwest Territory, “Hicksville” is a tribute to Henry Hicks, a genteel New York City shipping magnate and land speculator, and major partner in the Hicks and American Land Companies. In the 1830s, Hicks bought the plot of land which would become the fair village of Hicksville. Hicks was anything but a “hick.”

Now all this is not to say their are no “hicks” in Hicksville. Each town in our area, like most rural regions dotted by small communities, has the full range of modern America, from wealthy investor to unemployed farm worker, from churchgoing teetotaler to Friday afternoon yard drinker. In many ways, I would consider myself a “hick,” in fact. I grew up on a farm, live in the country, have three vehicles (two running) all over 10 years old, and burn my trash in a barrel out back.

But I venture to say the “hicks” Goldberg identifies with Jerry Springer, and indeed the “hicks” Jerry seeks out, are not hicks by genealogy, hicks by tradition, hicks by locality or hicks by income, but hicks by mindset: People whose sloth, self-absorption, lack of control and determined, deeply-cherished ignorance makes their very appearance in public a carnival spectacle. Jerry merely pulls them all into his own circus. He’s truly ringleader in a “big tent.” Those who find human failure not pitiable, but entertaining, fill the seats.

If Jerry hangs around Hicksville longer than it takes to give a speech and stop for a photo on the way out of town, he might find some of his kind of “hicks.” After all, that band of KKK thugs that crashed Tremors a few years ago could show up ... of course, they were from Indiana, and therefore couldn’t vote in Ohio. There are a few militia members in these parts that have cardboard license plates and hunt deer in July - but they believe the Trilateral Commission implants tracking devices with those little chad pokers in election booths, so they don’t vote. I knew a guy once who hurt his leg kicking out the wrong windshield after a bar fight - though I’m not sure if he’s out of jail.

Jerry may have to think through his “bottom up movement” (his alleged form of political support, not an upcoming show title) of constituents across the Buckeye State. He will quickly discover that a) his kind of “hicks” don’t have any cash to donate (unless it’s change scammed through fake charity boxes at unsuspecting retailers); b) his kind of “hicks” only watch “The Jerry Springer Show” because the remote is buried under the sofa cushion bearing accumulated dog hair and Doritos; and c) going out, registering and voting require at least a minimal level of initiative and community spirit, something his audience lacks.

In other words, he’ll need to look beyond Hicksville.

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