By Carrie Dann
NBC News producer
JACKSON, Tenn. -- Politics, for the most part, is about subtlety. Political journalists live for intimations, veiled attacks, shadow-boxing and crafty word choice. An adjective can be newsworthy, a verb can be cataclysmic.
There's nothing subtle about flattened cars and roofless homes.
That was my first thought when I arrived in Jackson, the tornado-ravaged town that woke up yesterday morning to mangled dormitories and wrecked neighborhoods.
The local paper's headline: "NIGHTMARE." It took some looking to find out who had won the state's primary the previous day. As if anyone in Jackson cared.
As a political journalist used to asking questions about online fundraising and local endorsements, I quickly discovered that my regular gig is pretty cushy. It's a lot easier to ask John McCain about the economic stimulus package than it is to ask a college kid what it was like to be trapped in a rickety second-floor dorm room after the funnel cloud touched down.
In politics, a human story is a rare find. In a disaster, they jump out at you even when you're not looking: A coffee shop owner whose calmness is almost not betrayed by her shaking hands. A front lawn strewn with a child's toys. A pharmacy with emergency sprinklers still mimicking the rain that finally stopped overnight.
Politics isn't entirely absent here. Reporters implored FEMA officials at a press conference this morning to describe how the federal government will help those who have lost their homes. (President Bush will be here Friday to survey the wreckage.)
The mother of a student at Baptist Union University asked me to tell her what it was like to meet Gov. Mike Huckabee, who she supports. Standing mere feet away from the apartment where her terrified daughter had called from hours before, it was clear that she wanted to talk about something other than the storm.
And a local journalist asked me yesterday if I knew who had won the primary contest in the state. "Normally I would know," he admitted sheepishly, rubbing sleepless eyes. "But I've been busy."
Knee deep in rubble, in the shadow of telephone poles bent like drinking straws, it took me a minute to remember who won myself.
Because, for once, it didn't really matter.