America: Avoiding Coyote Ugly

By Michael Willard

My fear was that I had gone to bed election night — actually about 3 a.m. — next to coyote ugly and that her name was Ms. America. I didn’t recognize her. She wore bright red lipstick, the color of a particular politician’s necktie.

Nightmares eventually end. Mine did, maybe yours.

But like many, I had been lulled by the pollsters’ serenade, confident of victory until the votes started painfully being counted. Dog-tired, I gave up the ghost.

My happy thought had turned into a Shakespearean witches brew of Macbeth’s double, double toil and trouble. I was certain a repeat of the 2016 Presidential election loomed death star large.

It appeared the Mindless Horseman was about to win another four-year lease on Pennsylvania Avenue, a place I once thought of hallowed as the People’s House before the President used it as a campaign prop.

Rewinding the tape, I thought of Facists in Charlottesville, of a leader, after gassing protestors, holding a Bible upside down for a photo opportunity in front of a church he didn’t attend. I remembered children in cages.

I thought about how a MAGA slogan had made us smaller worldwide. I yearned for respect from the community of nations.

Actually, I had fleeting thoughts of escaping post-pandemic to a small seaside town in southern Turkey where we have a home or to Eastern Europe where I spent 24 years. I had been an ex-pat for a third of my life, and perhaps such a capstone was my wish and my fate.

But I am an American, from my toenails to the few follicles I have on fast-disappearing noggin real estate. I am steeped in the old verities proclaimed by Democrat and Republican Presidents — honor, truthfulness, and empathy for the less fortunate.

All of this had been lost in a wilderness of 20,000 documented lies.

Having been a pollster in one of life’s chapters (the Willard Statewide Survey), I should have known better than to be deceived. Fact was, the pollsters didn’t get it wrong so much as everyone misinterpreted the soothsayers.

Generally, the results were within the margin of error.

In political campaigns, I have worked with several of the better polling organizations. They are mainly numbers crunchers, and there is a tendency for most of us to focus on the least significant figure of a survey — the bottom line, which is interesting but not always relevant.

Unknowing we tend to turn a strategic chess match into a hell-bent-for-leather horserace to the finish line. If someone is up by a few points, that’s a clarion call to bring out the balloons, the merrymakers, and put the Champagne on ice.

Some years ago, I was asked to look into an Arkansas campaign where a veteran congressman in the House leadership was being challenged by a no-name upstart. The opponent had a ton of money to throw into the race. He could buy recognition.

I flew to Memphis to meet with his consultant, a fellow who had been extremely successful with Bill Clinton in a governor’s race and several high profile candidates. These days, however, the advisor had his plate full with multiple commercial clients.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “The Congressman is miles ahead. He will win in a cakewalk.”

“No, he won’t,” I replied. “There is a good chance he will lose. We need to prepare for an aggressive fight.” I had read the same polling data and had come to a totally different conclusion.

I spent two days re-writing and producing television and radio scripts in a somersault away from the original strategy. After being shocked at my prognosis, the consultant became a believer when presented with the underlying data.

The congressman had held the office for years, and still, the undecided hovered at 40 percent. If the electorate was still wasn’t convinced after decades of representing the district, it was apparent a victory this time around was problematic.

We eventually won the race by a single percentage point.

Last week’s election in America was fascinating. It will go down for me as glorious. I have four daughters and a black son. A woman of color will become America’s first female vice president, and a decent man will become President.

We avoided coyote ugly, and the sun was bright over the Florida sky as I awoke to a resurgence of good over evil.

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