“You’re five points down with a month to go, and Mills is surging. It’s crunch time, George. You have to stay on message. Have to.
“Let Win True fight his own battles. Keep out of it, okay? We can’t have you throwing this seat away.”
The line went dead before George Leland could reply. State chairman Ed Barrett was notorious among Covenant Party legislators for barking abuse at you like a drill sergeant, then hanging up while your ears were still ringing.
George caught the barista’s eye, took his latte from her, and headed out toward the patio where today’s walk team was being briefed. Four volunteers, voter lists in hand, were bent over a street map, getting their assignments from Marc Leland, the senator’s son and campaign manager.
“Dad, before we push off, tell us how you want to handle it if they knock a door and the person brings up the story in today’s paper.”
“Sure, because someone is bound to,” said George, grimacing comically and squinting in the late-September sun. “Tell them my commitment is for all children to have the opportunity for an education second to none. My record shows I’m passionate about that.
“Don’t get down in the weeds with them about Obama Elementary and Marc’s boy over there. Offer to have me follow up by phone this afternoon if anyone wants to go into it further.”
“Okay, team, got that?” confirmed Marc. “On-message, we win going away. Off-message, not so much. Darlene, can you feed me back what the senator just said?”
Frowning, he listened to her answer, coached her on tightening it, then asked for the same recitation from another of the walkers, Paul. Finally satisfied, he shouldered a tote bag of Leland door-hangers, glanced at his watch, and shoved off his troops, reminding them to call in with a status report at 11:00, an hour and a half from now.
“Thanks so much, everybody,” George boomed as they headed across the street. “Politics is a team sport. I couldn’t do it without you.”
Toward the Flagpole
The son felt a swell of affection and admiration for the father, everything about him, that rich pulpit baritone included. He hoped the volunteers didn’t catch the note of false heartiness in George’s voice, unmistakable to a knowing ear.
The elder Leland wasn’t one of those driven political personalities who have to hold office to have any identity at all – he’d been a pastor all his life until four years ago – but Marc knew how important this 2018 reelection was to George.
The legislative calling had gotten in his blood, education reform especially. Odd this might now be the issue that cost the senator a second term as Matt Mills, local school board president and former NFL tight end, the Service Party challenger for George’s seat, was riding his star power to a lead in the tossup district.
“Sit a minute and catch me up, Pop,” Marc said as George fished a ball cap out of his tote. “We can intercept the walkers along the route. I figured a short cut. Ed Barrett was his usual pessimistic self?”
George shrugged. “Nervous Nellie on steroids, and who can blame him? The HamiltonHeraldgives over their Saturday front page to a Blake Peters story making me out a white supremacist and curriculum censor.” He scrolled in his phone and read aloud:
NAACP Rips Senator as ‘Schoolyard Bully’
“Why would you or your mom even vote for me at this rate? Why would I vote for myself? Let’s walk and talk, okay? I need to blow off some energy. St. Barnabas on its worst day was never like this.”
They hurried across the four lanes of West Hamilton Boulevard on a pedestrian light and began to zigzag through the field boundaries of a vast soccer complex, angling toward a school flagpole half a mile off, beyond which was the subdivision where Marc thought they’d find Paul and Darlene.
“Barack Obama Elementary School, Inclusive Excellence for All, scene of the crime,” the son declaimed, gesturing toward the flag, out of breath from matching the father’s quickstep pace. “Emma and I hate it that this all started with our nonconformist sixth-grader, Dad. Lee never meant to start such a debacle for you, for all of us.”
“Mrs. O’Leary’s cow never meant to start the Chicago fire either, Bud. You can’t think about it that way. Stuff happens. As Lelands, in fact, we believe stuff happens for a purpose, right?”
Marc stopped, put two fingers in his mouth and gave a piercing whistle, then waved both arms at a couple of small figures visible near the school building. It was their walkers, who waved back with an “over here, come on” motion.
An errant soccer ball, kicked wide of a nearby goal, rolled into George’s path. He tapped it toward the pursuing goalie, an Asian girl with long black braids. Marc gave a little snort. “Careful there, you’ll give white supremacy a bad name.”
“Which I’ve been trying to do since before you were born, smart guy. Found myself as Wheaton College roommates with a black auto worker’s son named Winthrop R. True many moons ago, and been working for a color-blind, non-hyphenated America ever since. Never dreamed Win True would wind up as principal of my grandson’s school, and both of us would wind up on the NAACP’s hit list.”
At Obama Elementary
They came abreast of the school’s front entrance, and Senator Leland noticed how the morning sun glinted off the twice-lifesize bronze bust of President Obama in the atrium. Marc was ticking off points like a courtroom summation by the Stanford-trained lawyer that he was.
“Does it matter that Win True is a hundred percent African-American, more so than Barack Obama himself, in point of fact? No.
“Does it matter that Win True took a doctorate in black studies at Emory? No.
“Does it even matter that he volunteered on Barack’s first federal campaign, the 2000 congressional race that BHO lost? No.
“All that matters to this howling mob is that Dr. Winthrop R. True thinks a month-long unit on ‘Whiteness and Intersectionality,’ laced with grievance and guilt, isn’t the best way to teach 11-year-olds about tolerance and pluralism.”
“For that, he’s an Uncle Tom, a race traitor,” agreed George, “and I’m Orval Faubus or somebody, David Duke, for taking Win’s side and trying to have a meeting of the minds with my son’s son’s teacher, that leftist harpy Ellen Goldman.”
Now they were approaching the bus bench where Paul and Darlene in their red “Leland’s for You” T-shirts sat sipping on water bottles. “Good day so far, Senator, lots of positive vibes at the doors, only a few of them mentioned the Heraldstory,” the woman said.
“But straighten us out, will you? Who knew Obama before he was Obama? Paul says it was you. I say it was Dr. True.”
George broke into the biggest smile Marc had seen on his father’s face in a week.
On the Air
Host: “That about does it for this Monday afternoon edition of the Mike Roseman show here on 990 the Patriot. Great discussion with Gov. Robert Holmes about whether Trump will visit the state to campaign for Bob’s opponent on the Covenant ticket, Jill Green. The Guv thinks if the President does come, it will help him. Crazy times we live in, right?
“But I want to devote our final minutes right now to what has suddenly become this year’s hottest legislative race, Sen. George Leland defending his West Hamilton seat against the former Dallas Cowboys star turned education reformer, Matt Mills. We just caught up with these two at the last break. We’ll do a full hour with them soon, but let’s have a teaser before the clock turns 4:00.
“Matt, we’ll start with you and skip the obvious NFL questions. Some have accused George of playing the race card on you with this curriculum controversy over at Obama Elementary. And you say?”
Mills: “I say that’s garbage, Mike, and by the way, thanks for having me today. Sen. Leland is a man of honor, as decent as they come. This election isn’t about my pigmentation versus his, and I know he knows that. It’s about two fundamentally different ideas of how to heal America right now, how to heal our city of Hamilton.
“The good senator seems to think kids in school, his grandson included, can afford to stay in denial about structural racism. After Ferguson, after Trayvon Martin, after Colin Kaepernick, I don’t think so. That’s part of what the voters will have to decide. To fix it, we have to face it. You and I both know that, Mike. So does your conservative audience.”
Host: “Full disclosure, as listeners know, George Leland is a good friend of this program, and if you cut me I bleed Covenant Party red, not Service Party blue. That said, a state legislator appearing to strong-arm what kids will or won’t learn about Jim Crow, Dr. King, all of that painful history, doesn’t look good. Give us your side, Senator.”
Leland: “Mike, good to be with you for a moment here – and Matt, thanks for sticking to the issues. I like it. Maybe we can disappoint the doomsayers, huh? Because look, the issue here is more education and less indoctrination. Just that simple.
“Winthrop True, the black principal over there at Obama, is the last person to understate the task facing our country on racial reconciliation. As am I. Dr. True just doesn’t think you do it by blaming students and shaming them, resegregating the classroom with guilt trips and labels.
“Seems to me he’s right. I’d like to think my opponent would agree with us. The schools are for teaching, not preaching. Take it from me, a preacher for most of my life. Whiteness studies won’t move America forward. They’ll set us back.”
Host: “Hold that thought, George. Time is waning, but I want to squeeze in one caller, a young citizen our listeners really need to hear from. Here’s Lee from West Hamilton.”
Caller: “Mr. Roseman, sir, thanks very much. My name is Lee Leland, grandson of George Leland. I’m in 6thgrade at Obama Elementary. The family didn’t put me up to this. I just hope people will try to see the whole mess from our standpoint, the students. Mrs. Goldman and Dr. True disagree about the whiteness thing, but they’re both really cool.
“The True twins, his grandkids, Till and Rosa, they’re my best friends at school. They’re no more interested in intersectionality than I am. We honestly feel like lab animals in some dumb experiment. Today I heard the teachers are planning a walkout. Jeez, for what? Can’t all the grownups just grow up?”
Host: “Live radio, unscripted, as real as it gets. Young Lee Leland, telling it like it is, maybe with a future in politics himself, maybe in hot water with his granddad right now. Kid has some moxie. Tomorrow’s another day, and we’ll stay on top of this story. You heard it right here, a 990 exclusive. Now the news—”
Two Plastic Bags
This was the hardest day George could remember since the Gibbs funeral in 2011, the senator mused as he eased the pickup into a parking spot at the school district building. Burying that family of five from his church, a mother and father and three little girls, killed when their van went off the road into an icy river, had been horrific. But this Tuesday was its own kind of hell, a political nightmare in slow motion.
Stepping out onto his front porch to get the morning paper, George had found a plastic grocery bag on the doorknob with a dead cat in it. Within the hour, Win True called to say young Lee had discovered the same chilling display hanging outside his school locker before classes started. They’d taken the boy to the nurse’s office and called Emma, his mom, to come get him.
As Leland was getting off that call, a CNN truck pulled up in front of the house. A striking young black woman with a cameraman in tow rang the bell. Fran answered the door and told them the senator wasn’t available. They proceeded to set up on the front lawn and begin a series of “nothing to report” live reports that lasted all morning.
An email arrived from Doug Simmons, Covenant minority leader over in the House, urging George to distance himself from the whiteness controversy immediately. It was co-signed by eight other members. “If this becomes the face of our party, we foresee an election wipeout,” they pleaded.
Leland had the TV sound muted, but CNN was showing a countdown clock to the 11:00 a.m. all-school walkout at Obama Elementary. He thought the reporterette might decamp to help cover that, but she was still out there. Top of the hour, all the networks were live from the school grounds. Ellen Goldman, Lee’s teacher, led off the speakers.
The crowd was big, with over half the teachers and (George estimated) most of the kids having streamed out of the building to join the sizable rent-a-mob already chanting and swaying as “We Shall Overcome” blared from the sound system. Leland scanned the platform to see if his opponent had showed up to address the event. Nope, Mike was smarter than that.
Scores of protest signs dotted the scene, most of them obviously not hand-lettered.
Shame on Senator Leland
Nasty Nazi Georgie
Quarantine Toxic Whiteness
Face It to Fix It.
Black Facts Matter
Not [scrawled in red across his friend’s name in black] True
After a few minutes of this, George had snapped off the TV, grabbed a handful of Oreos from the kitchen, and slipped out the back for a walk in the neighborhood, trying to sort it all out in his mind. Now here it was, 3:00 in the afternoon, and all parties to the standoff were gathering at the school superintendent’s invitation to try and negotiate a solution.
George saw Matt Mills getting out of his camo-painted, canvas-top jeep with a fellow school-board member, across the parking lot. They joined two other board members and entered the building. Leland followed them to a conference room where the superintendent and several of her staff, Dr. True, Mrs. Goldman, and half a dozen couples who must be Obama Elementary parents (including Lee’s mom and dad, Emma and Marc, and the True twins’ dad, Rob) were finding their seats.
Behind the superintendent’s tall chair was a portrait that George thought was John Dewey, flanked by the US and state flags on one side and the UN and LGBT flags on the other. A policeman stood at her shoulder, to whom she said something about “closed meeting” in a low voice. But as he was walking toward the door, the reporter from CNN and Lisa Kilgore from the Heraldelbowed their way in, closely followed by representatives of Channel 5, 990 Radio, and AP. “Ma’am, I’m sorry—” the cop began.
“No, officer, I’m sorry,” Kilgore broke in. “Open meetings law. If those four are here, the media can be here. Sunshine and all that.” She gestured to Matt Mills and the other school-board members. “Where do you want us, Mr. President?”
The big man smiled, rose to his full six feet eight, and spread his arms genially as though welcoming old friends. “Where do I want y’all? Out in the front yard with me and my colleagues. Okay, Lisa?” Mills motioned with his head to the other board members, who rose and began walking out. Another commanding nod to the media claque, who did likewise.
Mills paused at the door, put his hand on Lisa’s shoulder, and said to them all, “My friends here, the senator, the principal, the brave teacher, these good parents, they’ve got some things to hash out in private. We need to leave them to it, Ms. Kilgore. If subtracting me as an elected official and you as a journalist will add to their chances, then we should, right?”
As they left, George Leland caught his son’s eye and arched a brow to signal “Class act.” Shrugging, he addressed the table: “Some say, Dr. True, the subtraction of elected officials improves most anything. I wouldn’t go that far, but if Matt is bowing out, I think I should too.
“The sunshine law says I can stay, but fair play says no. May the good Lord help you all to a solution here. Blessed are the peacemakers.” He gave a little half-bow to Ellen Goldman and strode from the room.
Buckets of Peanuts
The Cabin was a nondescript little roadhouse on Highway 18 in the wooded hills west of Hamilton. Faux-log construction, red-checked tablecloths, buckets of peanuts to shell and litter the floor with while you sipped your beer.
Fran disliked the place and always scolded George about their unhealthy menu, but this was to be men’s night so never mind for once. Greasy burgers, greasy fries, have at it; life enhanced for an hour now in exchange for life possibly shortened by an hour later on. A good tradeoff as far as the Lelands pere et fils were concerned.
George put it in just those words as he and his son sat waiting for Win True and his son to join them there on Tuesday evening, the dusk deepening outside, the place beginning to fill up, the noise level rising. “I agree, Pop, but save the foo-foo French expressions for family, okay,” Marc teased. “Your campaign manager has enough damage control on his hands already, and this afternoon didn’t help any.”
A waitress with blond pigtails and wide lumberjack suspenders steered Win and Rob to the table. The senator got up, offering a handshake, but the principal enveloped him in a bear hug. The girl took the Trues’ beer order and hurried away.
Marc sighed heavily, pushed the peanuts toward Rob, and started in. “I gave Dad the outcome, or non-outcome, from this afternoon, Win. But I wanted him to really hear it from your perspective. Where are we at this point, would you say?”
Win True had worn wire-rim glasses as long as George Leland had known him. Now he took them off, brushed a thumb across his mustache, and folded his hands behind his head. “Well, first, GL, it was good you and Matt both left when you did. That eased the tension a little, and if the press had been allowed to stay, we’d have gotten nowhere.
“But we scarcely got anywhere anyway. Goldman is one of those self-righteous, guilt-ridden white liberals who can be more strident about race issues than most of us blacks. And it’s often worse with women than men, for some reason.”
“Tell me about it,” Rob put in. “I was married to one.”
“Let’s be charitable with your children’s mom, son. The Lelands know Rachel, both her sweet side and her other side. She’s not the issue here. Ellen Goldman is. And you guys saw how dug in she is about this whiteness curriculum unit.”
“Probably more so after today’s rally,” Marc agreed. “It emboldened her. What a fiasco. Pop, I guess you had the TV off, which is good as far as your sanity’s concerned. But two couples, both white, followed Ellen to the mic and spouted the whole victimhood line, the urgency of their kids at an early age getting woke, facing up to privilege, becoming allies of the oppressed, all of it.
“Then one of them, the Collins, showed up at the superintendent’s meeting and said if Dr. True doesn’t okay the whiteness unit for 6th-graders, he should step down or be replaced.”
When to Fold
The server approached, order pad in hand. Win True waved her away. “I’m honestly tempted to cave, GL,” he said, putting a hand on George’s forearm. “It’s a long game we’re in, the healing of America, reconciling the tribes. You gotta know when to fold’em, as the old song goes. Maybe this is one of those times. Live to fight another day. Take the pressure off my old roomie. Get him elected again.”
Leland shook his head and raised both palms in a “stop” gesture. “Winthrop, Winthrop, get hold of yourself. No way you take the fall here. Don’t validate all those lies. Don’t do it to your grandkids. If anyone folds their cards, it should be me.
“Politically I’m already a dead man walking. The damage is done in my raee with Matt Mills, whether I keep resisting the cultural Marxists or not. But if I stand down now, it helps Jill Green’s chances for governor. It helps Doug Simmons and his caucus hold their House seats.
“We can sleep on it, pray on it overnight, but right now my instinct is that I should walk the plank so you don’t have to, roomie.”
No one spoke. Willie Nelson crooned from the jukebox, dishes clattered from the kitchen. Rob took a long drink of Coors and met his father’s eyes. “Daddy, look, Senator Leland is right. When the twins were born, Barack was battling Hillary for the nomination, our hopes for a post-racial America were so high. I thought Rachel was crazy wanting to name them for civil rights icons. You helped me see why we should.
“What a legacy they’d grow up with in the new era we thought was coming. Emmett Till True. Rosa Parks True. What a future we thought could be theirs. And still can be. But not if men and women of integrity, principled leaders like you, back down when the haters start to howl, as they are now at Obama Elementary. Now if ever, Daddy, we need you to stand. Till and Rosa need you to stand.”
True broke into a wide, relaxed grin. “Dang, son, I always said you should’ve been a preacher like George instead of a CPA like your mama. I get it, okay? GL is right, we need to sleep on all this. It will sort out clearer in the morning. Now I’m for a cheeseburger and some chili fries. You fellas with me?”
Kelly & Kim
Sound montage: Tires squealing, sirens, gunfire, “Dixie” car horn ala Dukes of Hazzard.
Bumper music: “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better” by the Cactus Cuties
Host: “It’s 7:05 on an autumn Wednesday, October 3, 2018, and this is the morning show with Kelly Kataline, Hamilton’s politically incorrect Jewish mom with a MAGA hat, a carry permit, and a microphone the left can’t hide from. They try, they try, but we just keep bringing the heat. And what fun it is.
“Issue of the day: sanctuary cities and violent crime. Stay tuned for that debate, live and local. But first, ripped from the headlines, page one above the fold in today’s Hamilton Herald, get this:
Whiteness curriculum ok’d at Obama Elementary
Principal requests reassignment
Embattled teacher claims victory
“My gal pal Kim Vogt is here with the details. No one foresaw this, did they, Kimmie?”
Sidekick: “Certainly none of us here at 990 the Patriot, Kelly. In a nutshell, Obama School principal Winthrop True, three-time Black Educator of the Year from the state teachers union, contacted Blake Peters of the Heraldabout 10:00 last evening and confirmed the impasse over a white-privilege classroom unit at that K-6 elementary in West Hamilton has been resolved, with teacher Ellen Goldman getting the green light for her race propaganda project – an outrage if you ask me, but nobody did – and Dr. True opting to resume a line teaching job as early as Monday.
“Really a regrettable setback (and now this is me talking) for the civic mission of public education to help us recover the ideal of ‘one nation indivisible.’ A sad day, that’s what it is. Dr. King would weep.”
Host: “We tried to get Winthrop True on the hotline this morning, but he’s unavailable. I’m sorry he backed down, but it’s good to see his quote in the Heraldstory stating, ‘I remain convinced it is unwise and unfair to racialize the learning experience for our children if our goal is to build community and mutual respect. This does the opposite.’ He must have simply felt outgunned on this one, what with the national media jumping on it and the teachers union threatening a district-wide strike.”
Sidekick: “Interesting the Peters story mentions the principal, as a condition of stepping down, was able to get the superintendent to agree the whiteness curriculum will include a parents’ panel with viewpoint diversity. His own son Rob, an intersectionality skeptic, will serve on that. So will the son of Covenant senator George Leland, who touched off this whole controversy with a blast of criticism on Mike Roseman’s afternoon show two weeks ago.”
Host: “Kim, excuse me, but I see the screener has just reached that same George Leland to give us his take on this breaking story. Senator, good morning and welcome. I guess you and Win True go way back. Why would he suddenly jump ship on you this way?”
Leland: “Kelly, Kim, good morning and thanks for the airtime. Dr. True’s integrity is a treasure to this community, a national treasure. I don’t see his decision as jumping ship. It’s an act of renunciation. The faith he lives by, which happens to be my faith as well, says sometimes we have to renounce what seems most important to us in order for a better outcome to emerge.
“It’s called taking up your cross. Non-violence in the great tradition of Gandhi and M. L. King. You saw Win’s quote in the paper. He’s not yielding the principle here, not one inch. He’s yielding his own personal desires in a truly selfless way. I applaud him for it.”
Host: “At least it takes you off the hook politically. We need your vote and your voice in the Senate. Now your big debate with Matt Mills next week can be about something besides whiteness vs. blackness, that whole dead end.”
Leland: “Maybe and maybe not. Understand, I’m not budging on this issue. We have to stop racializing everything or this country will come apart. Sports, entertainment, colleges, corporations, the public square. Black grievance, white guilt, never enough, round in circles, just rubbing raw nerves. Now they want to racialize grade school too? I say enough. If my opponent in this race can’t see how damaging that is, then it’s a debate we’ll have to have.”
Sidekick: “Even if it costs you your seat and other legislators their seats?”
Leland: “Even then. I trust the voters in this district to stand with me and stand for healing.”
Host: “I saw on Twitter the police are investigating threats against you and even against your grandson, who called in on the air the other day. Plucky kid. Is that accurate?”
Leland: (Chuckling) “If I commented on every gossipy tweet, Kelly, I’d have no time to do anything else. Let’s just say the Lelands love our neighbor, love our enemies, but we don’t run from a fight. Young Lee will sit in class with Mrs. Goldman – his favorite teacher, by the way – and listen respectfully and speak his mind honestly, just as he did on the Roseman show.
“If his old battle-scarred granddad can do half as well as that in what’s left of this campaign – and next year again in the Senate, God willing – I’ll be okay. If the will of the people goes the other way on November 6, I’ll still be okay. Because doing this job the past four years, holding this public trust, has been the greatest honor of my life, win or lose.”
Host: “We’ll know in a month, won’t we, Senator? This Jewish mom wishes you and Win True lots of luck. Hatzlacha, as we say in Hebrew. Because you’re gonna need it. You’re sure gonna need it. Now the news—”