Monday, January 10, 2011

EXTRA: Grace Mary Stern handled gag with hard humor that is no longer possible

STERN: Once the top target
There are those people who want to rant against Sarah Palin these days for the fact that her campaign once used a visual graphic on its website of the crosshairs of a riflescope on a map indicating that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., was an official being “targeted” for political defeat.

They’d say the fact that someone this weekend actually shot Giffords is evidence that Palin somehow provoked this.

NOW I’M NOT willing to go that far, although it does make me wonder just how callous political operatives have become in their use of hunting terminology whenever it comes to identifying candidates for defeat. As for those of you who are now complaining that I'm preaching "political correctness" and can't take a joke, all I have to say is , "Shut Up! You're embarrassing yourself."

A political “target” is all too common a phrase. And somehow, I don’t think that any public official would ever again respond to being targeted anymore in the way that one-time state Sen. Grace Mary Stern did many years ago.

Stern, a Democrat from suburban Highland Park who was Adlai Stevenson’s lieutenant governor running mate when he narrowly lost to James R. Thompson in 1982, had managed to get herself elected in the early 1990s to a state Senate seat from the North Shore suburbs.

She managed to defeat incumbent Roger Keats (remember him, the Republican who lost last year for Cook County Board president to Toni Preckwinkle?). She managed to take a legislative post in an upper-income area that back then was regarded as being as hard-core Republican as any place in Illinois could be.

IT LED TO a lot of jokes from political observers about how Stern’s new nickname was “bulls-eye,” on account of the most-definitely serious GOP effort that would be taken to defeat her. Back in the Election Cycle ’94, Grace Mary was Target Number One.

GIFFORDS: Stern tactic now too risky
Stern’s response to such talk was to tape a paper target to her back whenever she was out in public.

I can remember being at the Statehouse during that ’94 campaign season, seeing Stern walking around with this target on her back – drawing attention to herself, while saying it was her way at laughing off the criticisms.

I can also remember on several occasions the sight of young aides on the Illinois House and state Senate Republican staffs (always the male members, I don’t remember female aides doing this) pretending to hold rifles and fire shots at her whenever she walked by them.

IT ALMOST SEEMED humorous back then. But this is a memory that has turned sordid overnight in light of what happened to Giffords on Saturday.

In the end, Republicans got their wish. Stern, along with many other Democratic officials that year, lost that election cycle – and never again held elective office (she died in 1998 from brain cancer). But somehow, her handling of the political gag seems all the more risky now, since we realize it could very easily have been taken grotesquely out of context by someone as equally deranged as the young man who shot Giffords.

It also shows that while Palin likely did not provoke the incident against Giffords, her campaign definitely is guilty of using poor taste when it comes to its campaign rhetoric.


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