Mind like a trap II

Check this out…

It seems that I once met Sean Hannity. Or saw him, anyway. Earlier this evening, when I was posting this, something rang a bell. Something about Lindsey Graham and Sean Hannity that seemed to click. So, just before going to bed, I did a search on Nexis.com from home, and bada-bing — there it was.

According to this column I wrote in 2004, Hannity was one of the people the senator schmoozed with when I was hanging with him at the Garden:

The State (Columbia, SC)

September 2, 2004 Thursday FINAL EDITION


BYLINE: BRAD WARTHEN, Editorial Page Editor


LENGTH: 920 words


    Lindsey Graham is on a machine-gun tour of broadcast booths at Madison Square Garden – quick pops, two or three minutes each. After one, he observes to aide Kevin Bishop: "I think that went OK, Kevin. I have no idea."
    "What happens on a day like this is you get tired and you get goaded by somebody into saying something mean, or something stupid." He starts to elaborate, but is interrupted by the shrieks of two ladies from Wisconsin:
"Lindsey Graham! Oh, I can’t believe this!" You’d think he was a Beatle. He poses for a keepsake picture with them. "Say ‘Flat tax,’ " he grins before the flash.

    On the day after his 2 minute, 45-second introduction of John McCain, he is much in demand. He had come over to "Radio Row" to do several pre-arranged interviews, but once he’s here, producers from other shows keep coming up to ask for a couple of minutes. He always obliges.
    It’s "such a free-form thing that it’s bam, bam, bam," notes Mr. Bishop.
Our junior senator sits at a table alone with headphones talking into a microphone to a host who isn’t literally there. Then, he does an impromptu stand-up with USAToday.com. Later, chatting with a Seattle host, he tips back his folding chair, hands in pockets, looking like Andy or Barney lounging on the porch after Aunt Bea’s Sunday dinner.
    "This is Murderer’s Row here," he says with satisfaction during a brief pause. "This is the Democratic Party’s worst nightmare: talk radio."
    From encounter to encounter, he is generally completely on party message: Told of reports fellow Sen. John Kerry would hold a rally Friday to try to grab back the limelight, he calls it "the best evidence that he is in a sinking ship." Asked if he knows the Democratic nominee, he says: "I’ve met him twice. He’s never there."
    But at other times during the couple of hours I spend with him, he exhibits more of his political range: For instance, he says of the school funding equity lawsuit under way in Manning, "Whether they win or not, there’s some truth in what they’re saying." He says what’s needed to address the deep and abiding poverty along South Carolina’s I-95 corridor is "almost like a Marshall Plan." Asked whether his party is living up to that challenge, he admits, "I don’t think so."
     He stresses that he believes he and other GOP leaders of his generation "have a tremendous responsibility to represent not only a new Republican Party, but a New South." When I ask what happened to the New South that was supposed to be rising in the 1960s, he says "We took a turn in the ’70s with this Southern Strategy . . .."
    This trait that some would call a paradox (I would call it the sign of a complex and honest mind) remains on display as we make our way from Radio Row toward the CBS television booth overlooking the convention hall for an interview with a Spartanburg affiliate. Lifting a cell phone to his ear for an interview with Kevin Cohen back in Columbia as we walk, he says of the talk radio bits he’s just done, "I knew if we went over here – this is our crowd, this is our crowd." Then he immediately seems to distance himself by adding that he was "pleased that all these right-leaning sort of stations were pleased with McCain."
    He doesn’t hold this frankness back from the radio people, either: "Don’t you think," he says more than once, "the undecided voter is uneasy about Bush in a number of ways, but unsure about Kerry?"
    He’s not always the one who is sought out; sometimes he’s the seeker. He pushes through a crowd to shake hands with Sean Hannity, and risks being late to his TV spot to bat the breeze with Tim Russert. Then, in the CBS booth, he practically pitches himself off the balcony lunging to shake hands with David Letterman’s unflappable Biff Henderson.
    But Lindsey Graham himself is a star to most we meet – not only the radio people, but green-shirted volunteer guides and other regular folks. On woman enthusiastically tells him, "You did great last night!"
    The senator is too smart to believe that. He asks me on the way out of the Garden what I thought, and I tell him straight: He was no John McCain or Rudy Giuliani. He immediately agrees, and for the next several minutes indicates how much this has preyed on his mind for the past 20 hours.
    He tries to look at the bright side: "I think it warmed up" toward the end. "I think it took that line about no class warfare to get them going." But that doesn’t erase his dismay over the shaky beginning, when he just couldn’t connect with the audience.
    The crowd ignored him until they finally realized, about halfway through, that he was introducing Sen. McCain. This shook him, as I could tell even from the S.C. delegation’s seats at the very back. He had followed a guy talking about the Patriot Act, and he figures they thought this was someone else they could ignore until the good stuff came on. There was a "big commotion off to my left; I thought it was a fight going on." He was "terrified about going over" his allotted time, since he had been warned sternly not to. And it was his first time using a TelePrompTer.
    Bottom line, "Nobody told me you have to get the crowd’s attention."
He knows that now, and on the whole looks back on the experience as "good practice."
    He doesn’t explain what he means by that. But I figure that according to the Warhol principle, after his 165 seconds Monday night, he’s still got more than 12 more minutes coming to him. I think he figures it that way, too.
Write to Mr. Warthen at bwarthen@thestate.com.

Copyright 2004 The State
All Rights Reserved

Like I said — mind like a trap. I’m not guaranteeing steel, mind you. Maybe plastic. But some kind of trap.

It’s still true that, as I said earlier, I couldn’t pick Hannity out of a line-up. The trap’s not that good.

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