If ever there is a tournament for the parsing championship of the Western World, members of the two local parties will surely have to be considered as candidates for top honors.
Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, Republican Senate candidate Lamar Alexander, Circuit Court Judge George Brown, and other participants at Monday nights Young Professionals reception for Alexander and Herenton at The Plaza Club did their best to avoid direct mention of political endorsement.
Brown, who ended up introducing former governor Alexander, who once appointed him to the state Supreme Court, noted for the record that as a sitting judge he could not participate in an endorsement.
It called to mind former president Bill Clintons quibbles, during the Monica Lewinsky flap, about what the meaning of is is.
What the affair Monday night was, was an endorsement, even if the speakers, Herenton included, preferred to use the word coalition to describe the co-billing and active involvement of Memphis African-American Democratic mayor in an event arranged, subsidized, catered, etc., etc., by the Alexander campaign and designed explicitly to promote the former governors campaign.
Almost as interesting, from the standpoint of special protocol, was an event of the previous day -- the formal opening of Democratic headquarters at Poplar Plaza on Sunday.
Normally these rallies feature a panoply of local party leaders, all of whom recite, with proper hosannas, the full roster of party candidates.
Bob Corney, the state Democratic coordinator, arrived on the scene with the intent of overseeing some such format, but local Democrats quickly informed him that another structure, already prepared, would have to be observed. This one mandated that single speakers confine their remarks of appreciation to the particiular candidates they were introducing.
Thus, Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton introduced Nashville congressman. Bob Clement, the Democratic Senate nominee, and omitted mention of anyone else. Clement was followed on the dais by Herenton, who similarly restricted his remarks to the subject of gubernatorial nominee Phil Bredesen, whom he introduced and whom, unlike Clement, the mayor is actually prepared to support.
Herenton conspicuously huddled with both former 9th district congressman Harold Ford Sr. and current congressman Harold Ford Jr., to an effort to present the appearance of unity.
State Rep. Kathryn Bowers, who has an open quarrel with local party chairperson Gale Jones Carson and other members of the Herenton camp, observed privately that a big shovel might be needed to clear the crowded, stifling room of B.S.
Not to be outspun, incidentally, was Clement, who, in the face of Herentons cozying up to Lamar and of polls showing him as much as 18 percent behind Alexander, successfully lobbied local and national media to report that, while President George W. Bush was coming to Nashville Tuesday on Alexanders behalf (to be followed by his father, former president George H.W. Bush, due in Memphis on Wednesday), he, Clement, would be flying back to Washington with President Bush aboard Air Force One.
And Democrat Bredesen noted in a press release that he, as Nashvilles mayor, had presided over the school which the president planned to visit on Tuesday.