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May 21, 2008 — Politics are still very much in the blood of former Cincinnati Mayor Jerry Springer, but talk to him these days – as realvail.com did last week – and it's clear he's resigned to the bloody spectacle of his wildly successful and theatrically violent television show.
Springer, 64, still calls Ohio home, but vacations every summer in the Vail Valley, where his nephew lives. He first launched the Jerry Springer Show in 1991 as a political talk show, but three years later revamped the format to put working class family members together on stage to confront each other about infidelity, sexual preference, drug use, cross dressing or a lack of clothing altogether – which sometimes results from the ensuing brawls.
A big backer of Hillary Clinton's bid for the Democratic presidential nomination and of the Clintons in general, Springer freely admits Bill, Hillary and Monica Lewinsky would make great guests on his show -- "I never met a person who couldn't be on" – but by the same token so would Barack Obama and his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
In fact, Springer himself, who's usually seen fading up into the audience far from the carnage as his beefy producer/bouncers wade into the fray, would make a great guest. His own brief political career was buoyed by his admission that he paid a prostitute with a check when he was a Cincinnati City Council member. By publicly coming clean, he was later reelected and appointed mayor for one year.
All politicians are flawed, Springer said, so electability is merely a matter of which flaws are discovered, which ones aren't, and how you deal with the aftermath. He likes Hillary Clinton so much because she's been through a public meat grinder that would make her the ideal trash-TV guest and yet she's persevered, kept her dignity and remains a "gutsy, hardscrabble fighter."
That's why she appeals far more to the white, working-class voters who flock to Springer's TV show, he said, than presumptive nominee Obama, whom Springer worries will follow in the footsteps of John Kerry and Al Gore and fumble away the White House by being perceived as a liberal elitist.
Ultimately, if the fight for the White House was an episode of the Jerry Springer Show, Springer likes Hillary's ability to scratch and claw over the lean and liberal Obama in a full-on fistfight with former naval aviator and POW John McCain.
Springer talked to the realvail.com about what's at stake in this year's presidential race, his reputation as the godfather of trash TV and his own future political ambitions:
RV: As a lifelong, loyal Democrat, you're firmly in the Clinton camp. Does that mean you won't support Obama?
JS: I do believe she'd be the best president, but I don't deny that Obama is a rock star when it comes to charisma, and I hope he turns out to be a good president. I'd certainly campaign for him.
RV: Do you doubt Obama can beat McCain?
JS: I think it's going to be tough. This should be overwhelmingly a Democratic year. Whether it's the economy, the war in Iraq, people's lack of confidence in the government right now, this should be a slam dunk Democratic year, and yet we might wind up losing it.
RV: What makes you think that?
JS: It's not a race issue. It's the fact that, like Kerry, [Obama] may be viewed as too liberal or he's not a working-class candidate, which may not be fair, but I don't know how else you look at the results of these primaries.
RV: How can Obama reach working-class whites in key states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and West Virginia?
JS: I would say if I was running Obama's campaign that he has to live in these areas. He's got to have that same connection with a lot of people who are down and out who don't now feel it. All the messages that connect on the college campuses are not connecting elsewhere.
RV: You worked for Bobby Kennedy's campaign in 1968 after earning your law degree at Northwestern. Can Obama learn something from Kennedy?
JS: Bobby Kennedy was a multi-multi-millionaire and yet he related to low-income whites and low-income blacks totally. Bobby was authentic and he wore on his sleeves his feelings about this, and somehow Barack's got to do that, but if he doesn't really believe it, someone can't write that speech for him.
RV: Bobby Kennedy was killed by a Jordanian immigrant for his support of Israel. As a Jew whose parents fled the Holocaust (Springer was born in London during World War II before moving to New York), do you think Obama is not supportive enough of Israel, and, as President Bush and McCain have suggested, would appease Israel's enemies?
JS: It's not a game changer. I think it's probably true that Israel isn't at the top of his agenda. He'll be as supportive as every American president has been, but he's not as solid on that. He just has other priorities. If I thought he was anti-Israel, which I don't, that would affect my vote.
RV: What makes Hillary Clinton such a good candidate in the eyes of working-class voters?
JS: There's nothing smooth about Hillary. She's a fighter and for all kinds of causes, political and personal. She's gutsy. Maybe it's similar to Jack and Bobby Kennedy. Jack was smooth and urbane, and Bobby was nitty-gritty, not as polished, but totally authentic. That's kind of like Bill and Hillary. Bill's the smooth one and Hillary's gutsy.
RV: You've tried unsuccessfully in the past to get your party's nomination to run for governor of Ohio and considered a run for U.S. Senate for your state. What are your future political aspirations?
JS: I think about it a lot. It's a possibility, but it's not something I have to have. I don't need a job, so it isn't that. Maybe one day it'll just strike me that I'm in a position to make a difference. If I went back into politics, it would be in Ohio, but that's the only thing I know for sure.
RV: You're a former Emmy Award-winning news anchor. Does it ever bother you that some people now vilify you for making chair-throwing and strippers staples of the modern TV talk show?
JS: There are people who hate the show, but that just shows they have good taste. I never take it personally. I think it's a silly show, too, so I never argue with them. They're right, but people like it. I guess that's why they keep putting it on. It's never anything I've taken too seriously.
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