Flight attendants play good cop, bad cop.

Politics on the road.
Dec. 14 2007 12:36 PM

Nasty and Nice

What I've learned about flight attendants this holiday season.

Slate's chief political correspondent, John Dickerson, is reporting from Iowa this week, three weeks before the caucuses on Jan. 3. In addition to his stories, he'll be filing Twitter updates and dispatches about life on the road. You can also follow his travels on the map below.Also, check out all the candidates' whereabouts on Map the Candidates.

John Dickerson John Dickerson

John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. Read his series on the presidency and on risk. Follow him on Twitter.

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    Dec. 14, 2007

    Des Moines, Iowa, airport: 6:30 a.m. CT. Do flight attendants play good cop, bad cop? I've found in my travels recently that on each plane there's one Nice One and one Mean One. Unlike air marshals, they are easy to identify. The Nice One has all of the warm impulses we recognize from the books about manners that we read to our children. The Mean One has a heart like the in-flight snacks—dry, shriveled, and overly salted.

    Today, while leaving Iowa for a couple of days, I ran afoul of the Mean One as I scrambled on to the plane right before they closed the door. I was filing a story about the last Democratic debate and sent it just as Northwest officials were issuing the second page over the loudspeaker. (They probably could have guessed that the frantic guy typing was the joker they were paging, but they paged anyway.) In another forum, I would like someone to explain to me how I can harness the efficiency, initiative, and passion airline personnel deploy when insisting passengers rush to the jetway (so we can stand in line for 10 minutes) and have them apply all of that competence toward baggage handling and customer service.

    When I got into the plane, a couple of people stood in line at the doorway. So, I was not late, let's be clear about that. I was, however, a hurried mess, trailing my scarf, newspapers, and headphones. I was hugging my coat rather than carrying it. This was a moment to take pity on me. If I were on a sidewalk, someone would have given me a coupon for the mission. Yet Mean One did no such thing. She charged me with holding up the departure, offered no assistance with my blossoming chaos, and ordered me to zip up my backpack.

    I searched the overhead bins while I waited for the other passengers to find their seats. They were all full. Because Mean One was pressing her case, and because I'm a pleaser, I dove into my seat with everything. Then we sat for 10 minutes at the gate. We didn't move. The captain was filling out paperwork. I couldn't move if I wanted to because I had accomplished some kind of record fitting myself, my papers, and my computer into what airlines euphemistically call a seat.

    Then along came the Nice One. She took my coat and my blazer, offered meaningless but pleasing chitchat, and generally spread her cheer throughout the land. She is my candidate for president. (permalink)

    Dec. 13, 2007

    Johnston, Iowa, 3:00 p.m. CT. "We've got to make a path for spin," says the woman in the lime-green sweater set after the Democratic debate. She's pushing back the throng of reporters, photographers, and cameramen with her arms and lower back as if she's trying to get a rebound under the boards. It's not working, particularly because the Asian and French press are so pushy. (Qu'est-ce que c'est ce path de spin?!)

    The PBS station has not enlarged the space for the spin room, and today there are more press and more spinners than during the GOP debate. Once the lane is cleared, no one wants to go first for the cameras. Joe Trippi, working for John Edwards, stands just at the trailhead of the path but won't go in. Then the spinners for the other campaigns start piling up on each other. The Clinton folks are pushing what they say was Obama's weak answer on a question about the farm bill. The Obama people are happy to answer question after question after question about remarks made by one of Clinton's supporters in New Hampshire about Obama's drug use, because they know Clinton takes the hit for being a negative campaigner more than Obama does for his drug use.

     I lean over to a top adviser for one of the front-runner campaigns and ask, "Did anything change at all today because of this debate?" He whispers back, "Absolutely not." My view, too. Now, let's see if I can come up with 500 words about a debate that changed nothing. I've just gotten word it's not being promoted on Slate's home page, which suddenly makes me thankful for loony Alan Keyes, who turned yesterday's similarly sedate GOP debate into enough of a freak show that it gave the story a little zest. (permalink)

    Johnston, Iowa, 1 p.m. CT. Yesterday Alan Keyes was lighting his hair on fire, and today it's the supporters for the Democratic candidates who are going completely bonkers. Hillary's team has raised a mechanical platform high above the crowd. The Obama forces appear to have turned out in slightly greater numbers. People are banging thunder sticks and pushing and shoving, and amplified music blares. A gargantuan "JOE" sign has been erected. It could be seen from a rescue plane.

    Yesterday's debate was the most panned debate in the history of presidential debates. We'll see if today's is any better. (permalink)

    Dec. 12, 2007

    West Des Moines, Iowa, 5 p.m. CT. Mike Huckabee has just concluded a thoughtful 45-minute presentation on health care in America. At its center was an intellectual tour through three generational public-policy campaigns against litter, in favor of seat belts, and against smoking. As he explained the oddity of asking a mechanic to install a seat belt in a car in Arkansas in the 1960s, he put on the accent of a car mechanic and suddenly he turned into Cooter. (Who, by the way, is supporting John Edwards.)


    Afterward, at a press conference, he turned into Shecky Hucklebee, the quipping jokester. (I would call him Shecklebee, but it's the kind of thing a wise editor would strip from the piece; since I'm not being edited [clearly] I'm pulling my punches.)

    Q: "Why are you rising in Iowa?" (asked a foreign reporter)

    A: "Because the voters of Iowa are very smart."

    Q: "Were you expecting to get attacked at the debate?"

    A: "We had a full paramedic kit backstage." (permalink)