Any student of American popular music knows that a Memphis connection is only a step or two away from almost any personage or movement of any note. Can the same be true of national politics? Maybe so, if Memphis native Mayhill Fowler is a case in point.
Fowler is the blogger who broke two stories of more than usual consequence lately - one quoting presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama on the "bitter" preoccupations of small-town and rural voters; and an equally notorious one in which former president Bill Clinton referred to a Vanity Fair profiler as a "scumbag."
It turns out that Fowler, though now based in Oakland, California, was not only raised in Memphis but is the grand-daughter of the late former Memphis mayor Watkins Overton, whose last term ended in the '50s and whose surname still counts for something in her home town. Fowler, a "citizen blogger" for the well-read Huffington Post Web site, accounts for her political interests in a biographical note on that site:
"...My mother, family Matriarch, decreed 'no politics at the table."' Her table encompassed her house and the houses of her five daughters. Her hatred of politics will become clear in my blog, over time. But now that my mother has passed away, my innate love of politics, suppressed since a grade school adventure, rises again...."
In her own personal blog, Junehill, Owl and a Green Dog, Too, Fowler goes into more detail about that background, detailing her family relation to legendary former editor of The Commercial Appeal C.P.J. Mooney and to the late Mayor Overton and discussing some of the family strains that estranged her mother, the late May Hill Overton Anderson, from politics. As Fowler put it to Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post in a brief profile this week, "she felt politics had destroyed her family."
As Fowler explained things to Kurtz, she happened to be at the fateful Obama San Fransisco fundraiser back in April because she herself was an enthusiast of the Illinois senator's candidacy and had contributed the max to his campaign. She later professed herself to have been "taken aback" by this, soon to be famous, portion of the candidate's remarks at the fundraiser:
"And it's not surprising, then, they [hinterland voters] get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
Fowler's Bill Clinton scoop came during a rope-line conversation with the former president during the final days of last week's South Dakota primary. Asking Clinton about Todd Purdum's unflattering profile in the current Vanity Fair, Fowler elicited an elaborate condemnation by the former president, who called Purdum "sleazy" and a "scumbag" and charged the writer with being in the service of Obama. Clinton later apologized for the statements, and it was never clear whether he realized that Fowler was functioning as a reporter when they had their rope-line conversation.
Fowler continues to blog for the Huffington site, under a partially subsidized program called "Off the Bus."