RotN on the Campaign Trail
Peter Benjamin Johnson
Democratic Correspondent

“Nevada?” I say. “What the hell are you doing in Nevada?”

“We're here for the primary,” says someone who works for someone who works for John Edwards. Maybe she doesn't think her sarcasm will carry through the phone, because she certainly doesn't try to hide it. “Maybe you've heard of it?”

“The primary? Of course I've heard of it!” I shout. “The primary is here, in Michigan! I'm in the thick of it, man! This is where the Politics happens!”

“Who do you work for?” she asks, again.

“A very important news organization,” I say. “I'm a political correspondent. I'm going to be following you on the campaign.”

“Yes,” she says, “you mentioned that. But what channel do you work for?”

I slam the telephone mouthpiece on the nightstand repeatedly. “No channel, woman! I write for the future!”


“The internet! I write for very important people on the internet. Where is John Edwards? Can his handlers operate computers, or do you still preach the virtues of the abacus?”

“Maybe you haven't been following the news,” she spits, “but Michigan is having their primary too soon. They broke the rules. We're skipping it.”

“People in Michigan still vote, don't they? You're just going to write them off?”

“They aren't voting for president yet. Delegates are what are important now.”

“Damn it, I know that,” I say. “This whole thing reeks of desperation.”

“What?” She says it like I just insulted her mother, or maybe her children. These campaign types, they defend their candidates like they've taken a Blood Oath. John Edwards might as well be her child or her mother or her husband, all of whom I'm certain she's thought of less in the last few months than the former senator from North Carolina.

“Aren't you just trying to flex a little DNC muscle?” I say. “That's what this is all about, right? You haven't had the White House in a decade, you just got the Congress back, and you want the American people to know that you can exercise some control over something besides a blowjob?”

“Who they hell do you think you are?”

“I'm a journalist,” I say.

“I'm hanging up,” she says.

“And a democrat,” I say.

“I'm going to hang up the phone now.”

“And a voter!”

“Goodbye,” she says.

“See you in Nevada,” I say.

The line goes dead. I push down the receiver and dial up room service.

“Room service? I'm going to need another bottle of bourbon, a sandwich, and the number for Capital City Airport. Yes, right away. I'm in it now, boy. I'm on the trail.”

I scroll through my cell phone menu and pick out another number: OBAMA CAMPN CONTCT. I kick off my shoes and lay back on the bed. There's a mint on the pillow. I pop it in my mouth and chew my way through call waiting until I can get to a real person.

“Nevada?” I say, mintily. “What they hell are you doing in Nevada?”

* * *

An hour later I've got a 5 AM ticket on a flight to Carson City and I'm properly drunk to seriously consider this election. When the editor at Revenge of the News asked me if I would cover the democratic side of this election, I replied that there's nothing democratic about elections in this country. He said this was exactly the kind of perspective he was looking for. I missed Iowa while we negotiated salary, and New Hampshire while I waited the check to clear, but here I am in Michigan, four days early and two thousand miles wrong for the next democratic primary. No matter. This gives me time to get my head on straight. The hotel room is comped and the politics are happening.

The only problem is that I'm surrounded by Republicans on all sides. I can hear them in the streets, salivating and groaning and stroking their own members outside of too-long buses that say things like Huckabee: Faith. Family. Freedom. and Romney: True Strength for America's Future. on their sides. The campaign supporters are wearing flag pins on their lapels and instilling fear in the people of Michigan. Fear, that's the ticket. Fear is what wins elections. Fear is how people vote. Just shout: Immigrants, abortionists, liberals! Dear God, man, there are people in our own Senate who are all three!

I pull the shades closed and sit naked in the glow of Electronics. I have a television, a lap top, a cell phone, and a radio, all spewing information at me. On the television, Barack Obama is on a repeat of the Tyra Banks show, playing basketball. It's obviously something that the Tyra people pushed hard for but the Obama people were hesitant about, so it got worked down to five minutes right before the credits. He shoots twice, sinks one shot, and America gets a little more racist.

On the radio some analyst examines a recent comment that Hillary made about the civil rights movement, a monumentally unimportant move on her part. Nevertheless, it came to the forefront of the campaign this weekend. She did damage control on Meet the Press, saying that the Obama campaign was distorting what she had said. In a show of good faith, one of her supporters later brought up Obama's past admissions of drug use. Good clean fun for all.

On my computer screen, a squid fights a whale. This is how the election feels to me: Huge, Scary, Violent, and Wet.

I wish I could say that a part of me believed the mudslinging wouldn't start until after a nominee had actually been chosen, but I've been following politics too long for that. That part of me died long ago. This isn't about the presidency, not yet; now it's about the people. The petty, calculating, larger-than-life people who want to get enough leverage to grab this country by the balls, tell it what's what, and maybe do it a little good. In this country, that means ripping the other people to shreds. Image, image, image — that's what matters now. And the candidates all know it.

The Republicans outside are shouting something that sounds an awful lot like “FOUR MORE YEARS,” but I know that can't be right. In my heart of hearts, I know even that can't be right.

* * *

There are other political journalists staying in this hotel. I can tell by the semen stains I see on their pants as I pass them by the ice machine.

* * *

The plane is coming in early and the liquor is catching up with me, so I suppose my editor will want something about the candidates. Fine. I'm not endorsing anyone; at this point, I can't even say that I'm taking any of them very seriously.

HILLARY CLINTON: Not very pretty.

JOHN EDWARDS: Too pretty.

BARACK OBAMA: Just pretty enough, but in a way that scares a lot of middle America.

That's what you wanted, right? The image? The soundbite? Well, that's the last time. At the end of this year, we're going to have a new president, and I'll be damned if you're going to leave my coverage thinking that he or she is anything but a scum-sucking, ass-scratching, ego-maniacal politician. But maybe, just maybe, if we're all very lucky, he or she will seem a little more like an actual human being.

I'll see you in Nevada.


Peter Benjamin Johnson is a student at the William Randolph Hearst Internet School of Journalism. He is covering the democratic candidates in the 2008 presidential election for Revenge of the News. His first and only self-published book, Naked, Angry, and Paranoid, was well-received by an audience of some.