Ochenski: Chicken recall 

The real reason Mike Taylor dropped out

Forgive me if I mix up the decision by Mike Taylor to quit his Senate race against Max Baucus with the biggest chicken recall in history—I mean, they both happened at the same time and they both concern chickens. Wampler Foods recalling 27 million pounds of contaminated poultry makes sense, because people can die from eating listeria. On the other hand, Taylor throwing in the towel over a single campaign ad is nothing but a bad case of hysteria.

First and foremost, what Mike Taylor did is basically unforgivable in politics. When you get in the race, you stay in the race. The only Montanan in recent memory to drop out of a major race was Chet Blaylock, the sole Democrat with enough guts to challenge Marc Racicot for his second term as governor.

That he would get his butt kicked almost for sure didn’t matter to Blaylock because he was a man of conviction and felt that Racicot was leading the state down the wrong path. Living with the reality of the “Racicot Legacy”—a polluted, broke state, wallowing in disarray and headed by Racicot’s hand-picked successor Judy Martz—it is easy to see that Blaylock was also a man of vision. Unfortunately, the stress was too much for Chet, who didn’t quit running, but died in the saddle on the campaign trail.

Not so with Taylor. Having made his fortune selling hair care and cosmetic products, he now blames his decision to quit on a Demo party ad that used 20-year-old promotional footage for the Michael Taylor School of Hair Design. Since the wording of the Demo ad concerns problems Taylor had with the federal government over student loans, it’s impossible to determine what was originally being said by Taylor as he placed his hands on the face of the man in the barber chair. We can only guess that it may have been something about how to get rid of bags under one’s eyes, unsightly wrinkles, or some such cosmetic treatment available from Taylor’s school. According to Taylor, however, the ad insinuates that he is gay.

While the major media are having a field day with the flurry of charges and countercharges over Taylor’s homophobia, they seem to be missing the real story, which is Taylor’s overwhelming hypocrisy. Granted, the footage used was 20 years old and the fashion world has left behind the old John Travolta “disco” look of open shirt and gold chains. But the Michael Taylor School of Hair Design footage was obviously approved by Taylor himself—since he stars in it—and was just as obviously intended to bring business to Taylor’s school when it was aired. No one forced him to wear that outfit, no one forced him to exhibit his gold chains against his bare chest, and no one, for sure, forced him to appear in the footage.

Taylor made the decision that his appearance would best represent his commercial enterprise, and I’m sure he didn’t turn down one dollar of the millions the footage helped generate. Now, having left the Michael Taylor School of Hair Design behind in his latest incarnation as “Mike Taylor the Rancher,” he whines that the ad makes him look gay and has ruined his chances of ousting Baucus as well as trashing any future political aspirations he may have held.

To put it kindly, Mike Taylor is full of baloney. Taylor’s reasoning is as weak in his lame exit as it has been throughout the campaign and his political “career” in general. It is also incredibly insulting to the intelligence of Montana voters.

Perhaps it is understandable that a man who made his fortune doing cosmetic makeovers might come to believe that make-up is a substitute for reality. But Montanans know better, as the common rancher phrase “all hat, no herd” indicates. Mike could put on the make-up and pretend to be Teddy Roosevelt, as he did in numerous appearances around the state in the run-up to his campaign, but it takes more than stage paint to make the man. Remember, Teddy Roosevelt led the Rough Riders straight into the blazing guns in their hell-for-leather charge up San Juan Hill. He did not turn back and quit because someone might have thought “Teddy” didn’t sound masculine enough.

The “gay-bashing” charge by Taylor is just more make-up, slathered on over a doomed campaign in the hopes that Montanans would be fooled by the picture he paints for them. Hate to break it to you, Mike, but that’s a loser of an excuse, too. Montana has had, and continues to have, more than a few gay politicians. Some are open about their sexuality and some are not. Looking back over the years, sexual preference seems to have absolutely nothing to do with a person’s performance in the policy arena. To suggest otherwise reveals the shallowness of Taylor’s experience, character and judgment.

Besides, most of the people I know didn’t draw any negative sexual conclusions from the Demo party ad. Sure, we all had a laugh at Taylor’s Saturday Night Fever outfit, but lots of old fashions are worthy of a laugh. The bellbottoms, beads and flowered shirts we held so dear in the ’60s are now fodder for TV sitcoms. That today’s teens are once again revisiting bellbottoms—and taking them just as seriously as we did—is also worth a laugh. Fashion comes and goes, but real character traits tend to shine through, regardless of what you’re wearing.

Which brings us back to Taylor, who obviously isn’t shining as he attempts to blame everyone but himself for quitting the campaign with only three weeks left. Maybe it is someone else’s fault—either the Repubs for not funding his campaign and sending out Bush to stump for Taylor, or the Demos for running their ad. On the other hand, and this is the story I find most believable, maybe old Mike just got caught up in the big chicken recall.

When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Missoula Independent.

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