"Warn the young and the innocent: I'm about to get obscene."
That's the untraditional opening line in a new campaign video from the guy who might just be Arizona's most untraditional candidate, Democrat Mikel Weisser.
Often seen wearing a baseball cap and peace sign or Bernie Sanders' buttons while stumping for the legalization of marijuana or performing at live poetry slams, Weisser, 57, thinks of himself as more of a poet and activist than a politician. He has a master's degree in literary criticism and taught middle school for 30 years before deciding to run for office.
And not just any office. Weisser's aiming high, running for U.S. Congress in one of Arizona's most reliably conservative Republican districts, CD 4. For the third time in as many election cycles, he's challenging Paul Gosar, the dentist-turned-Tea Party darling who has held the seat since 2012, and who, by most accounts, will win another term.
But even if the odds are against Weisser — he lost the Democratic primary in 2012 and was trounced by Gosar in the general election in 2014 — he's out and about in his district every day, campaigning for issues like educational improvements, immigration and prison reform, and helping the rural poor.
Asked about being a protest candidate, he rejects the notion, explaining that the whole point of his campaign is to give the 45,000 Democrats in his district someone to vote for by being a voice to challenge the religious right.
"The religious right is the predominant political force in my district," Weisser says, "and there are a lot of people who aren't being accurately represented."
Weisser describes CD 4 as a mostly rural, very working-class district: "a lot of down-on-their-luck or average people that are being oppressed by this supposedly moral religious construct," he says. Politicians like Gosar, he continues, "want to play this Tea Party, moral-superiority card; meanwhile, he's cut funding for veterans' services, boycotted the Pope, and voted against the Affordable Care Act 64 times. … To my mind, that's obscene."
Cue his campaign ad, which challenges listeners to think about what's really obscene in society:
"I remember the first time I saw a girl naked. And I mean full frontal head to toe, front and back, running in all her flaming glory. Of course, the story of that glory is that she was actually on fire at the time. Not merely hot, but really on fire. She was another one of those nasty, filthy gooks our country was teaching a lesson to down in Southeast Asia. American napalm, the torch of justice lit up for the whole world to see. I saw it on the TV, they showed it on all three channels. Amazing that they'd let us see that sort of thing, all that nudity, it was obscene.
"But I know what's really obscene about a naked Vietnamese girl on fire. And I can tell you what's more vulgar, a bullet hole or a vulva. You can say that this poem is rude and crude and socially unacceptable or whatever you want, but I know what's really obscene. Do you?"
Though he wrote the poem a few years ago, never one to shy away from being provocative, he decided to use it as an official campaign ad this month.
"Most politicians are trying to be as safe as possible, so that challenged me to take the opposite approach," Weisser explains. "Too many people are asleep, we need to wake them up, so we're doing things that are designed to capture attention. Average people cuss a lot. I want to promote people talking [about important issues] and being less worried about whether their language is going to be considered appropriate."
He goes on to mention a campaign event he held at a strip club earlier this month at Sonny’s Gentlemen’s Club in Chandler — "Electile Dysfunction: Fighting CAP at the Polls."
CAP, the Center for Arizona Policy, is the right-wing religious group headed by pro-life activist Cathi Herrod. The campaign event was a success, he boasts, "but meanwhile, Cathy Harrod had nothing to do but shame this community. While [CAP's] claiming their moral superiority, they've done all these laws that have taken away women's rights. That's more obscene than a nipple," he says.
In his mind, the religious right vilifies foul language or something as natural as sex, while championing policies that are actually foul, he says. What matters is action, not necessarily words, Weisser argues.
"It bothers me that so many people are ashamed of how they talk. Meanwhile we're drone-bombing weddings [in the Middle East]. That's obscene, not someone who wants to swear at times."
Consider the recent hot-mic video of Donald Trump bragging about sexual assault, says Weisser. Many people were horrified at the vulgar language he used, but "the problem isn't that he uses the words 'fuck' or 'pussy,' it's that he's willing to grope someone. His actions are the obscenity. Who knows how many people he's gotten away with doing things to and they're too ashamed to say anything."
Momentarily turning the conversation back to his election race, Weisser points out that Gosar endorsed Trump, adding, "Anyone who wants to claim a moral position and then endorse Trump becomes laughable."
As someone who has been writing poetry since he was a teenager, Weisser feels there's often a disconnect between writing powerful poems and what he terms, "walking the walk" and being an activist.
"I don't want to be another entertainer that has no oomph behind their work. I wasn't just going to write a poem that seemed to be about something that I wasn't ready to stand up for. Sometimes you have to put yourself to the side for the good of your country, or, say, the good of your vision. My vision is a better America that I'm not going to be able to enforce with just iambic pentameter," he says.
"I've gone though all these extremes to change the world, and it ends up being where I started, with a poem. Imagine that."
Watch Mikel Weisser's full campaign ad, "Obscene":