The Magazine

LAUCH 'N' LOAD

Oct 12, 1998, Vol. 4, No. 05 • By TUCKER CARLSON
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You don't have to be a wildeyed environmentalist to have concerns about hog farming in North Carolina, and many voters do. Faircloth, as it happens, is North Carolina's fifth-largest hog producer, with an estimated 300,000 hogs (estimated, because Faircloth doesn't like to discuss the details). Though his hog operations have rarely been cited for environmental violations, a number of conservation groups in the state have held press conferences and run ads to denounce Faircloth as a despoiler of nature. It's not clear what effect the negative publicity has had, though Faircloth staffers don't seem worried. "One of the benefits of the Clinton scandal," says one, "is that it takes a hell of a lot to shock people these days. It takes . . . hell, I don't know what it takes. You've probably got to get caught screwing a hog with a cigar to shock people in North Carolina."


Faircloth is doing his best not to shock anybody. The only member of the Senate without a college degree, he has cultivated an image as a plainspoken country boy ("My town is so rural," he often says, "even the Episcopalians handle snakes") with a Scottish dedication to frugality. And from all accounts, it's more than an image.


Despite his enormous net worth, Faircloth apparently resists spending money on just about everything, including plane tickets back to North Carolina. Instead, each weekend he drives five hours home in his Chevrolet Caprice. When he stops for the night, it is in the cheapest possible hotels. When his tires go bald, he has them retreaded. "When he buys pants," says his media consultant, Alex Castellanos, "and I think he gets them out of a catalog, he has them cut to size and he saves the cuffs. Then when he wears out the seat, he uses the material to patch them." The walls of Faircloth's office in Washington are almost completely bare. The senator says he doesn't decorate because his real home is in North Carolina. Privately, his staff suspect he doesn't want to buy pictures. And while his attempts at breast-cancer activism may ring false, Faircloth's campaign slogan, with its strains of Depression-era thrift, seems utterly fitting: "America's Most Practical Senator."


If there's one group that likes a practical senator, it's businessmen, and Faircloth appears to have their full support. A Faircloth fund-raiser held in Greensboro in late September drew business leaders from all over the state, including the heads of NationsBank and the Food Lion grocery chain. The campaign raised more than $ 500,000 in one night. After dinner, Faircloth rose to thank his supporters. He spoke briefly about the importance of business in America, then sat back down. The audience clapped politely.


Then Charlton Heston took the podium. After a summary of Faircloth's achievements in Washington, Heston got to the point. His voice modulating from a whisper to a yell, he spent the next 20 minutes reciting from memory the last three chapters of the Book of Deuteronomy. By the time he reached the description of Moses' final days -- "no man knoweth of his sepulcher unto this day" -- he appeared to be weeping.


It never became clear why Heston decided to launch into a dramatic reading of the Bible, or what exactly Moses had to do with Lauch Faircloth's bid for reelection. But the crowd didn't seem to care. They cheered wildly. Like the rest of Dixie, North Carolina is changing, becoming more modern, sophisticated, ripe for candidates like John Edwards. But it hasn't changed all that much. Voters still like to hear old-fashioned revival talk. And in Greensboro, it took a Yankee actor to provide it.




Tucker Carlson is a staff writer for THE WEEKLY STANDARD.