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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Soundbites, not symphonies

by John Brummett | September 9, 2021 at 3:16 a.m.

Sarah Sanders finally has turned her attention to Arkansas by playing its people and media like dollar-store fiddles.

She's riding across the state in a razorback-red converted food truck on what she calls a "freedom tour" although you're not supposed to attend the scheduled stops if you haven't sent in your RSVP for the privilege.

But it's true that the heaping helping of cynical manipulation you'll receive if attending will be free of charge.

Sanders is a hardened political operative by training who knows how to win political races if not remotely how to be governor of the state after she wins the race for it. That cynically manipulative way is to behold all those out-of-tune fiddles across Arkansas that gave Donald Trump more than 60 percent of the vote and to conduct them in a cacophony of pliable resentments.

She got started Monday night at a rally in Saline County featuring a country singer, her former governor pop and her defiant agreement with critics who say she is turning the Arkansas governor's race into an entirely "nationalized" affair.

She said she must do that because the "radical left" is an evil menace looming from the rest of the nation over our righteous little province. She wants Arkansans to think that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is beating down hard on the state's border with socialist plans to force football officials to call targeting on every tackle a Razorback defender makes.

So, Sanders got the newspaper headline she manipulated, which was that she'd declared war on the radical left.

But let us agree for argument's purpose that there is indeed a frightful radical left on the national level. As someone of mildly center-left views, I've written a collection of recent columns lamenting the impractical overplay of a liberal agenda by the Democrats' left flank in Congress. I'm less afraid of AOC than fed up with her.

And let us agree that resistance to an overplayed liberal agenda from Washington is a galvanizing political force in Arkansas.

The way for Arkansas to resist that overplayed liberal agenda from Washington is the way Arkansas already is doing it--by electing as national delegates six Trumpians by the names of Cotton, Boozman, Crawford, Hill, Womack and Westerman, and by giving majority presidential votes to Trump, which they've done twice now and will do again in 2024 and quite possibly restore the madman of Mar-a-Lago to the White House because Joe Biden and the Democrats will have gift-wrapped it for him.

The governor's job is the entirely different and narrow one Asa Hutchinson has had to do, which is keep the budget balanced and services provided and emergencies addressed.

It's the one Sarah's daddy--I mean Mike Huckabee, the birth one, not the other one, Trump--did with pragmatic moderation by passing the biggest tax increase in the state's history when the state Supreme Court declared public education inadequate and inequitable.

In that regard, a better headline from Sanders' fiddle-playing Sunday night would have been that she, absent a plan, declared public education in Arkansas a failure and promised to fix it.

She manipulated that very soundbite out of a Little Rock television station that dispatched to Saline County a reporter who got rare access to the nationalizing fiddle conductor. The reporter produced a 10 p.m. news report that Sanders might as well have written, quoting her as declaring a poor trajectory for Arkansas education quality, vowing to change that trajectory when elected absent any remote signal of how she might do that, and declaring education the essential priority of the next governor.

But all she's said on education is what she's put on Twitter, which is that she will stop that ever-menacing radical left from using our schools to teach our children that America is evil.

That's the straw man of so-called critical race theory and The 1619 Project, neither of which is taught or remotely contemplated by Arkansas public-school history teachers. But a hardened political operative on a cynically manipulative tour of the land of out-of-tune fiddles knows poll numbers when she reads them. And they tell her the key to the Governor's Mansion will fall out if she just keeps clubbing that straw man.

If she genuinely cared about Arkansas education and met her responsibility to address it as a candidate to be governor, she would have accepted Channel 7's invitation a couple of weeks ago to join Leslie Rutledge in a "town hall" streaming session answering questions on education for 90 minutes as posed by Chris May and Roby Brock.

But, you see, that would have risked specific questions about matters specific to Arkansas schools and done so in a format fraught with 90 minutes of reality and context.

As a hardened political operative playing dollar-store fiddles, Sanders knows that her musical compositions are best heard in recording sessions lasting 10 seconds, not 90 minutes.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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