The Ic Tic

Alert readers may have noticed that Chatterbox has a thing about Wisconsin Republican Senate candidate Mark Neumann. Much of Chatterbox’s ire stems from the sad-eyed reality that Neumann, the beneficiary of nearly $2-million worth of national Republican soft- money ads, has pulled ahead of incumbent Democrat Russ Feingold, the most zealous campaign reformer in the Senate. By voluntarily limiting his own campaign spending and courageously spurning soft-money help from Democrats in Washington, Feingold is depicted as a naive martyr to principle. But as Feingold told Chatterbox earlier this week, “I want to win this in a way that I believe in, so it makes a point about our political system and our state.”

In close races, Chatterbox bases his predictions far more on the mood and body language of the candidates than on zigzag polls. Using this unorthodox barometer, Chatterbox defies conventional wisdom in his stubborn belief that Feingold will narrowly prevail. When Chatterbox was in Wisconsin, Feingold came across as relaxed and almost eerily serene in his high-minded crusade, while Neumann was defensive and testy.

Not only lacking in charm, Neumann constantly resorts to an old-time Republican verbal gambit that sends Chatterbox up the wall. When talking about the opposition, Neumann stubborn refuses to voice the final two letters in “Democratic.” This weird ic-tic means that Neumann is always grumbling about something called the “Democrat Party.” As near as can be deciphered, this GOP language fetish dates back to the days of Republicans like Everett McKinley Dirksen. In the McCarthy era, Republicans went out of their way to suggest that the other party was in the thrall of a foreign power and not “Democratic.” Hence, the rhetorical surgery to remove the tricky “ic.” But the 44-year-old Neumann was born the year that McCarthy was censured by the Senate,and clearly his use of the “Democrat Party” reflects late-in-life language study. Whom Neumann thinks he’s fooling with this verbal flimflam defies imagination. But it helps explain why Chatterbox finds Feingold’s foe to be so…well…icky.

Walter Shapiro