Jefferson Smith? You’ve Got to Be Kidding.

By Bill McDonald of Portland, Oregon. Bill is a musician who makes a living writing freelance comedy for radio and television.

Jefferson Smith has added some more totally believable details to the sofa story. Now he says that - not only was the sofa pinning him against the wall so he couldn’t leave - but Tom Cruise was jumping up and down on it.

See, that’s what I normally do: write comedy about politicians, but on a national basis. Oh, sure, sometimes Oregon has blessed the comedy writers of America with a contribution. Remember Tonya Harding? The first joke I ever sold was about Tonya’s skating rival, Nancy Kerrigan. (Even then I sided with the hometown girl.) God bless you, Tonya Harding. You practically paid the rent for months.

Here’s a nice twist: I was still working in banquets then so I would sometimes slam politicians on national TV, and then be waiting on them, literally the next day. I’d think, “If they only knew…” So it’s been an interesting life. I saw one of my anti-Iraq War jokes featured in Time Magazine. I saw Sean Connery act another one of my jokes out. My Clint Eastwood joke about the Super Bowl ad generated 6 pages of website listings on Google. I can do this. So why am I taking time out to write about Jefferson Smith?

Folks, I’ve lived in Portland since 1975. There is something a little different about this town. In fact, they should do a national show about how quirky we are. Wait…they already did. I have my own theories as to why Portland is different, and perhaps I can illustrate them with a story:

A local comedian called me and said he was about to go live on KATU from the Rose Festival to promote his appearance there. Did I have anything for him? There had been some kind of crime wave that led to a bunch of Grant High School students getting arrested. I just searched for it online: the class president, who was also homecoming king, and an Eagle Scout, was the ringleader in a bunch of armed robberies that went on for a year.

This had national potential as a wacky news story, although it never got that far. Commerce is commerce, but I do avoid slamming Oregon, and at one point, when Bob Packwood had dominated the comedy scene for too long, I consciously switched to making all Oregon jokes be about Bigfoot. That hairy freak paid some bills too.

Anyway, I told the comedian at the Fun Center my line, all without moving from the sofa, then watched him say it on TV: “Attendance at the Rose Festival is down a little this year, because half of Grant High School is in jail.”

This was not a Portland TV-type line, and they immediately cut back to the studio. See, there is a big fluffy cloud that hangs over this city even when it’s sunny. It’s what I call “Portland Polite.” It can work for us, and it can work against us.

Jefferson Smith is an example of it working against us. If the freelance comedy writers of America got hold of this clown, he’d be finished in 3 weeks. Remember what happened with Sarah Palin? When that convention ended, McCain/Palin was ahead, and they were doing all they could to shield their candidate from the press.

Enter the comedy writers of America and we made a difference. There are times when the mainstream media can’t say something that is obvious, but comedians sure can. This may come as a shock, but sometimes the media doesn’t tell the real story, especially in a town like this. Remember? It took them 30 years to deal with the idea that the Mayor of Portland had been raping a 14-year-old, and even then, the Oregonian called it an “affair.” That’s the dark side of “Portland Polite.”

I read a book this summer called, “Emotional Intelligence” and it was eerie how well it described the problems of Jefferson Smith. He has a high IQ, but, emotionally, he’s an idiot. He has bad impulse control – acting violently during sporting events - and impulse control is vital. The violent behavior is not new. He has admitted to being one of those d-bags in college who get in a lot of fights because they’re angry. Simply put, Jefferson Smith cannot control his emotions. He has a high IQ, centered in the neocortex, but - news flash - the neocortex is not in charge of the brain. The ancient emotional center called the amygdala often takes over. That’s why so many smart people act so dumb. Jefferson is one of these. Emotionally speaking, he’s a dumb-ass.

We know he’s got attention deficit disorder and he’s medicated for it. But the real significance there is that HE knows it. So if you’re suffering from that unfortunate problem, how do you get behind the wheel of a car and go 95 mph anywhere? How do you fail to yield to an emergency vehicle? How can you put other people’s lives in danger? Where is the caring and concern that you are going to hurt someone?

His supporters rush forward to say all this is no big deal. But I can guarantee you, the comedy writers of America would only need 5 minutes to realize, “The boy ain’t hooked up right.”

We can’t say that here though. We have to talk about who wrote the employee manual at New Seasons, and what tone Charlie Hales had when he talked to some political group about an endorsement. What tone? We have a mayoral candidate who’s a giant fuck-up, and we’re too polite to deal with that? Folks, this is Jefferson Boo Boo. The guy is a problem child.

I have got to get back to writing jokes. I’m actually on a bit of a roll this week in the international comedy field. I’ve made so much money making fun of Mitt Romney, that I’M thinking of opening an account in the Cayman Islands.

It’s a fun life. I have clients in radio and television, plus I just got a new job writing for someone else. That’s right: I added a new job in this economy. That alone should convince you that I know what I’m talking about.

However, I wanted to take a few moments to warn Blue Oregon’s readers to wake up; to get up off your own sofas and vote. This is not a game. This is not a Portlandia skit. Think of the worst-case scenario: a major earthquake. We have one candidate who spent a decade at city hall learning how to run this city. Yes, you can argue with the results Hales got, but when he was done, the Willamette Week did an exit interview. He was on the cover and it was called, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Hales.” That has to mean something.

Meanwhile, most of the chatter is about where he voted and where he paid taxes. Some people don’t like the streetcars, the density on Division, things like that. That’s all fine. That’s policy and it should be discussed, but why can’t we also make the obvious conclusions about his opponent? Jefferson Smith isn’t qualified to run a food cart, much less a city. With his record, he couldn’t get a job driving a bus.

What I’m saying is that we are in denial here - avoiding an obvious, glaring problem: Jefferson Boo Boo is a mess. A high IQ dunce. His fans can talk all they want about surrounding him with the right people, and how his wife has tamed him and quieted him down, or whatever. And yes, he’s vowed to do better. Who knows? Maybe they’ll find him some better meds. Maybe if everything goes smoothly we could get away with a Smith administration.

But what happens if things get ugly? I’m talking about a crisis here. Are we going to entrust Portland to a guy who can’t control his emotions? A guy who fails to yield to an emergency vehicle? What if we have an emergency?

Look, do what you want. It’s your right to be stuck in a “Portland Polite” world, stridently talking about minor matters and ignoring giant problems. It didn’t do Mayor Goldschmidt’s victim any good, but maybe it’ll work now.

And please forgive me for being a little frustrated. I know it’s a Portland thing, and I love Portland. But let me tell you, if the comedy writers of America looked at Jefferson Smith, he would already be done and gone. I’ve been doing this a long time and I’ve seen a lot of fuckup politicians come and go. This man is a loser. He makes Tonya Harding look grounded. Thank you.

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        Not to get picky, but Mr. McDonald writes about Mr. Smith's attention deficit disorder and poor impulse control. Those are assertions about mental illness, so your point #1 fails.

        Having said that, it was a well written and fun piece that made some excellent points. And the mental and emotional fitness of candidates for office should be part of the discussion. These candidates are seeking great power over our lives. Who wants emotional or psychological problems influencing such decisions?

        I'm glad you published the piece.

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          I'm not really interested in a lengthy deconstruction of the post, but I'll reply here.

          He didn't criticize Jefferson's ADD or use it as a reason to vote against him. He only referenced it to question his judgment about driving.

          As for "impulse control", he's basically calling JS a hothead. Which is not a mental illness, it's a character flaw. One that I don't believe applies to Jefferson Smith.

          I disagree with the post, but I think it's worthy of discussion here at BlueOregon - because I can assure you it's a conversation happening all over this city.

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            Agreed entirely, there's no point in a lengthy deconstruction of the post. If you'll indulge me, I'll leave you with three definitions.

            Oxford English Dictionary defines hot-headed as "having or characteristic of an impetuous or fiery temperament; impulsive, headstrong; bad-tempered."

            Similar terminology appears as a diagnostic element for a mental disorder called antisocial personality disorder.

            The World Health Organization's diagnostic manual (ICD-10) defines the element as "very low tolerance to frustration and a low threshold for discharge of aggression, including violence."

            The American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic manual (DSM-IV-TR) defines it as "irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults".

            I think it's clear from these definitions that the medical profession has concluded that hot-headedness, at a certain degree, is a factor in a mental disorder, something that deviates from societal expectations and that, in combination with other diagnostic elements, can be disabling.

            Personally, I support Mr. Smith for mayor and don't in any way consider him to be crazy as a loon. He is no doubt just as sane as you and me.

            But Mr. McDonald's discussion and your interpretation are entirely in line with the mental health diagnostic guidelines, and therefore I would suggest that the essay is indeed about Mr. Smith's mental health.

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            My memory may be failing but it seems that Kari supported someone else for the Mayor's race. Is this post appearing to assuage some of the sour grapes? Will Kari donate to the Hale campaign in other ways?

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          and this kind of blanket dismissal of anyone saying anything negative about Jefferson is exactly why so many people won't vote for him (even while not voting for Hales).

          it also reeks of Cult of Personality.

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    Do you want to know what is comedy? Feeling the dire need to tell Blue Oregon readers to vote. It is like lecturing people about public transit, while on bus. FAIL.

    "However, I wanted to take a few moments to warn Blue Oregon’s readers to wake up; to get up off your own sofas and vote. This is not a game. This is not a Portlandia skit."

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    The editors did something really brilliant by allowing you to post this oh oracle of comedy, politics and morality. Mr. McDonald, care to join us in the comments section?

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    I went to Super Torta this evening for a wet burrito. The resulting BM was a good deal more funny than Bill McDonald, but not nearly as big a mess.

    Is this what passes as political commentary on this site? Now, THAT'S a joke.

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      I had similar thoughts. Let's hope the Grant High School joke wasn't meant as a sample of his best work. Maybe it was some kind of "loss leader."

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    I wonder how many people here criticizing Bill as a comedy writer are also fans of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Just Sunday musing

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    Love this article!!! I would disagree that there needs to be more comedy in Politics!! because there is to much drama. I believe this article is calling a spade a spade and if it looks like a duck, Quacks like a duck--then it must be a duck!!! bravo on this article because it brings a fresh perspective.

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    Okay, basically, this particular post really makes me feel that my life has been wasted as a software engineer writing software for huge multinational corporations.

    I could have been a comedy writer! If this is a standard example, ANYONE, no matter how boring, could be a comedy writer! I can TOTALLY do this!

    I wonder, did Mr. McDonald have a good time in college? Did he attend college? Did he experience "things" between the ages of 18 and 24? Does Mr. McDonald really believe that people with attention deficit disorder should NEVER be allowed to venture into the holy land of politics?

    Well, hate to break the news, but Charlie Hales isn't perfect either. Anyone with a reasonable amount of memory left and had paid attention to politics (and had really lived here since 1975) would know that Hales' time in city politics wasn't exactly solid. He had some problems too. That's why he quit in the middle of his last term.

    If you dredge up anyone's backgrounds in this town, they're going to have something in there that you could write a long-winded, rambling diatribe full of mostly personal insults and little actual material about.

    I really do believe that a lot of this stuff either comes from old grumps complaining about the whippersnappers running for office...or they're not really FROM Portland. They're people from OUTSIDE Portland having opinions about Portland's mayors. This is the kind of rambling grump that I tend to get cornered by at the dog park so he can blow all the crazy thoughts out of his head at me.

    I can understand if they're not from Portland. Portland gets a lot of federal dollars. The thing here is, from what I've heard and read of the guy for the past 4 years, Smith tends to come across as someone who thinks before he spends. At least, he certainly came across has having a more pronounced independent streak during the debates in the primary. I like it when politicians know their audience, but will tell them things they may not always want to hear. That's called honesty and having guts.

    Do I fault him for not getting all of this stuff out in the open 12 months ago? Of course. He actually should have gotten most of it out before he ran for Representative of district 47. Bad PR moves, bad campaign management. But that has no effect on how a person does their job in's just has an effect on how that person KEEPS that job in office. If the person does a great job in office, though, then people forgive and forget.

    Remember Bill Clinton?

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    The fervor with which the Blue Oregon progressives defend Smith only demonstrates that they, like their right-wing counterparts, are all too ready to sacrifice logic and reason on the alter of ideology. And one must ask of those who think that Bill's piece should not have appeared here, since when is the suppression of the opinion of an honest progressive a progressive principle?

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      as i said in another comment: Cult of Personality. and i speak as someone who loves Jefferson, love his ideas, will not vote for him & am sick of the True Believers.

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    Please excuse me if I doubt whether policy wonks know what's comedy, and what isn't. If a "real comedian" looked at our mayoral race, what then? Maybe that: A) Compared to He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Blamed, JS is a Safeco insurance agent on M&M’s B) JS will want to change his lawn signs to "Vote for DSM-IV-TR" C) Impulse control is a personal choice D) Weird is as weird does. Let's see you find work with mental health issues, smartypants E) JS will boost Portlandia ratings and preserve local jobs F) Who the F does F? Every mayor in America wishes he/she could drive at 95 mph and fail to yield to emergency vehicles.

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      It just can't get any better for Jefferson Smith can it.

      He is toast. Stick a fork in him. He is done. Is Charlie Hales to lose now.

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        I don't think I disagree, frankly. But that's not what Mr. McDonald's post lends one to understand. In fact, it's so unintelligible that I'm uncertain exactly what we're supposed to understand from it.

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    Jeez. I hope Mr. McDonald had a towel and a cigarette handy when he finished this stunningly long piece of ego masturbation and self-promotion.

    I'm not voting for Jefferson Smith but, then again, neither am I voting for Charlie Hales. Neither of them, in my opinion, has made the case that he has what it will take to guide Portland successfully for the next four years. What Mr. McDonald posted here, however, is an indicator of why we don't have better candidates.

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    Is there a time limit on criminal diversion agreements given that he contacted her last week at her home. The agreement stated he would have no contact with her.

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    A closed-fist punch to the face resulting in a half dozen stitches. Nothing to see here. Move along.

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      Move along is exactly what Smith and the woman did. At the time the diversion agreement was adequate for both parties to settle the issue. Why should it be a bigger deal to Portlanders now than it was to the people involved 20 years ago?

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    Fascinating discussion. Now that we've dissected Jefferson's brain, can we put Charlie on the table and take his brain apart, too?

    In the interest of fairness. I'm sure Charlie must have his issues, as do we all.

    I'm looking forward to Blue Oregon's upcoming companion piece on the Psychopathology of Charlie Hales.

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      Maria Cole Smithson:

      The reporting says that she assaulted him. Should he have hit her? Of course not. But when someone stages an assault and commits battery, as the reporting says she did, then that person does put himself or herself at risk. There's plenty of bad judgment to stick to both parties to this incident. (Not to mention the jerk, unnamed, who dumped her out of the sofa.)

      As for the harassment allegation: He let her know he was interested and walked away with some sourness when she made it clear she didn't reciprocate. He didn't hang around. He took her "no" seriously. To call it "harassment" does violence to the language.

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      Maria Cole Smithson:

      Thanks for the perspective you brought to my remarks. If I might, two brief counterpoints:

      Regarding harassment, I've always thought of it as being something that went on for awhile, as opposed to other forms of social aggression, which can be over in a minute.

      Smith was verbally and physically aggressive (getting in her face), rude, insulting and bullying.

      That's not to minimize his bad behavior. He acted like a jerk. He's not the kind of guy I would want to hang out with. As a gay man, I can say wholeheartedly that he's not the kind of guy I would want to form a partnership with.

      But I don't think it was harassment because his behavior lacked persistence.

      Regarding who initiated the violence, it is possible that Smith would be charged with assault even if he were attacked first. The question hinges on whether he could have walked away from the violence rather than returning it. It's pretty clear that he could have walked away rather than hitting the woman, and I suspect that was an important element in the court's thinking.

      Regarding your wish for healed wounds, I'm with you there. This campaign has lacked civility to a degree that's not good for our city.

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    I once supported Smith but will now vote for Hales. Reading what I just read in the Willamette Week made up my mind.

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    I mourn not for the righteous candidacy of my friend Jefferson Smith, but for a Portland that is no longer served by a press that cares about the City and its problems, and solving them. We have instead, a democracy that the local press, and I include Willamette Week and The Oregonian particularly, thinks should ride on "investigative" reporting about the personal flaws of the candidates. Yes, Portland has not been served by the personal behavior of two Mayor's and of one U.S. Senator. Yes, The Oregonian did not uncover those problems. Yes Nigel Jacquiss won a Pulitzer for his reporting of Neil Goldschmidt's statutory rape of a 14-year-old.
    But should a Mayor's race involve character assassination as a tool? Be based on opposition research and leaks to the press? Is Jefferson Smith really disqualified to be Mayor? I think he is eminently qualified, and I know him well and I have read all that has been written about him recently.
    Is politics really a blood sport, or is there more involved than tearing down the opposition? We will soon watch the monied interests of Portland launch a negative TV ad campaign based on the opposition research and the so-called "investigative reporting".
    Jefferson and Charlie have raised and debated a series of issues, and while both are progressive and smart, there is not universal agreement between the two, nor is there great similarity in how they would do the job and who would then have influence and power. But these differences, because they do not involve character assasination that serves one side or the other, and the CONCLUSIONS that REPORTERS like Nigel Jacquiss and Beth Slovic reach, instead determine what the electorate will learn about the Mayor's race. I am tired of Nigel showing us what a great reporter he is, and telling us that HIS truth about events that occurred 20 years ago with varying witness reports, should be ours, and,more importantly that we should make decisions about candidacies based on his "truth". As for The Oregonian, as it fades into nothingness, with a greatly diminished journalism staff and a greatly diminished readership, and a new right-wing Publisher and Editorial Page Editor who are going to oppose anyone who is supported by public employee unions, I want my daily newspaper back in its previous form, and I never thought I would say that. Portland is the loser here, no matter who wins the election.

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    I supported Jefferson Smith, and even attended a campaign event a few months ago... And I usually support women candidates if at all possible (sadly there is a gaping lack of women candidates)but in the mayor's race I really liked Smith's vision for Portland. And then came the reports of his youthful errors in driving,insurance,licenses etc. I even remained undecided after the reports came out (his version of events) that he hurt a young woman while in college in "self defense."Self defense because she "just went crazy after being pitched off a couch." Suspicious story but I didn't want to believe he'd done anything worse. That was stupid. When her version was brought to light: that he came on to her all evening & ended the night with a closed fist punch to the face resulting in 6 stitches????? Unbelievable!!!!!! No, I will not support any man, ever, who uses his physical strength to batter a woman for any excuse. No excuse is good enough. I wrote in Eileen Brady for mayor, this is ridiculous.

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