Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Off You Go

There was a time in my life when I watched Frasier faithfully, every week.

My interest sort of waned for awhile, and I missed some really good episodes, but I've gotten caught up through DVDs and syndicated reruns.

Anyway, I've been noticing something recently that I never really noticed before. If someone wrote an article about it that I missed during my hiatus, I'd like to read it because, to my knowledge, no one has ever discussed it.

I'm talking about Frasier's propensity for saying "Off you go" as a way of dismissing his conversation partner(s). I'm not sure if it qualifies as a genuine signature phrase, though.

When I think of signature phrases that have been associated with certain TV characters, I think of Archie Bunker saying "Stifle!" or J.J. saying "Dyn–O–Mite!" I think of Fred Sanford clutching his heart and acting like he was having a heart attack, then saying to the spirit of his late wife, "Hear that, Elizabeth? I'm coming to join you, honey!" I think of Walter Cronkite signing off his news broadcasts with "And that's the way it is ..."

I'm not sure what the cutoff point is, but I'm pretty sure Frasier didn't say "Off you go" frequently enough for it to qualify as his signature phrase. But he sure did say it a lot.

And, clearly, someone else did notice that Frasier used that phrase quite a bit. I was able to find the attached video compilation with no trouble at all.

Anyway, for some reason, Frasier's phrase popped into my head when I heard today that Alabama Rep. Parker Griffith is jumping from the Democrats to the Republicans.

And I've been wondering what, if anything, it means.

In my experience, many elected officials switch parties because the party to which they belong is perceived to be on its way down and the other party is perceived to be on its way up. It's a politically expedient move. Consequently, I wonder: Is that the case in America today? After two election cycles that brought them a great deal of success, is this a preview of more losses to come for Democrats in 2010?

I've been saying for several months now that I believe Republicans will make gains in Congress next year — in part because the Democrats have picked off most of the low–hanging political fruit in the last two elections, in part because midterm elections almost always go against the party in power.

Politics may be more polarized in America today than it has been in most of my life so I find it hard to imagine mass defections from one party to the other. If you're a Democrat, you probably don't have much in common with Republicans and vice versa. There isn't much gray area.

But you have to understand a few things about the nature of politics in the South. For a long time, much of party preference in the South had its roots in the 19th century. Republicans engineered Reconstruction, and generations of Southerners held that against them. Democrats, on the other hand, advocated states' rights, which came to be seen as code for racial segregation.

Increasingly in the 20th century, there were progressive Democrats in the South, but the big–name Southern politicians were old–school Democrats, whose views were frequently seen as out of step with Democrats in the rest of the country. When Lyndon Johnson and the Democrats in Congress pushed through civil rights and voting rights legislation in the mid–1960s, Southern Democrats began turning to the Republican Party.

Today, I wonder if many Southern Democratic office–holders don't have more in common philosophically with the Republicans, and that may be part of the reason for Griffith's switch — although I wouldn't rule out political expedience. The freshman congressman narrowly won his House seat as a Democrat last year while John McCain carried the district with 61% of the vote.

Griffith was one of three Democrats to have voted against the health care bill, the stimulus measure and the cap–and–trade bill. My guess is that he is simply more comfortable in the Republican tent than he is in the Democratic tent.

But how comfortable will the residents of Griffith's district be with his conversion? That, I suppose, remains to be seen. Only once — for two years during Reconstruction — has a Republican, John Callis (at left), represented northeastern Alabama in the House, a portion of which is in the modern Fifth District that elected Griffith last year, even though the voters of the Fifth have supported Republican presidential nominees since 1980.

One of Griffith's Democratic colleagues from Alabama, Rep. Artur Davis, who is running for governor, told the Huntsville Times that he thinks Griffith's move is "ironic," considering how he was hammered by the Republicans last year, and warned that "his decision repudiates the hard work of many Democrats who sustained him."

We shall see if he can hold on to his seat as a Republican.

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