On partisanship, politics, and the Montana debates

So now the real races have gotten underway, and they kicked off here in Missoula. I learned a lot at yesterday's debate – not so much where each candidate stands – but how the races look like they'll play out. I also learned something new about Conrad Burns' character, and it wasn't good.

But before I plow on into my impressions about the debate, I noticed an interesting shift in my own thoughts and in my own writing here at “4&20 blackbirds.” Now it's “us” versus “them.” In the primaries, it took a little while to realize Tester was the better, more electable, more genuine candidate, but until then I had to weigh the issues and ideas carefully.

Now I'm prejudiced. I do not support Republicans. It would take an extraordinary Republican candidate to get me to cross the partisan line I've drawn in the sand – a choice, for example, between Joe Lieberman and John McCain. Neither Burns nor Rehberg are those candidates. (Quite the opposite.) So you know where I stand right from the start. How much of what I write can you trust not to be colored by the fact I want “my” candidates to win?

The word “partisan” has gotten pushed around a lot lately, vilified by the Republican spin machine, which was trying to coerce Democrats into supporting their conservative programs. Do I think partisanship is bad? The short answer? No.

Behind each party lies a certain ideology. Each party has appropriated their issues. Each party draws to it individuals that believe in those issues and the candidates that represent them. Is that wrong? Not in itself, of course. Where things go astray is when the respective sides of each issue go at one another personally for the beliefs they hold. It happens all the time, especially on the blogosphere. I know I've been guilty of it sometimes – it's easy to rail against someone you never see.

(I'd argue the worst of it comes from the right. There is a concerted extremist movement on the right to not only prevail in politics, but to remove the left from public dialog. The continued railing against the “liberal” press cows traditional media from publishing news favorable or reflecting the values of the left. The attack on “leftist” elites at colleges is an attempt to ensure that right-wing rhetoric get equal play in classrooms, even if the rhetoric is academically invalid or even untrue. The evolution controversy wasn't about whether evolution is good science, it was about proselytizing Christianity during science class. The recent erroneous labeling of moderate Democrats as “socialists” is an attempt to silence the the voices of health care reformers, say, by linking them to Stalin.)

So I'm a partisan hack. You've been warned.

Here's why you should still listen to me: I'm also right. In the two statewide races this election cycle, the Senate and House seat battles, both of the Republican candidates are incompetent Presidential sycophants linked to corrupt lawmakers and apparently incapable of acting in the best interests of Montana without getting a little kickback. And over the course of the summer, I'll give you examples. Let's just say that at least one Montana lawmaker is headed for an orange jumpsuit.

On the other side you have two candidates who have worked with an excellent Montana legislature and Governor, whose budget, slate of bills, and policies actually help Montanans – and do so under budget constraints and without the usual charges of corruption and incompetence. In other words, Lindeen and Tester are good lawmakers. They're honest and competent. And over the course of the summer, I'll give you proof.

If you can find evidence to the contrary, I'm all ears. But I expect to hear nothing but lame excuses and a stunning display of rhetorical gymnastics from the “other side.” Personally I think if you still support Burns and Rehberg (especially Burns), you are either unfamiliar with the facts or believe that the purpose of government is to serve as a feeding trough for a lawmakers driven by self interest over community.

I'm ready for change. How about you?

The House Debate

First time I've seen both Lindeen and Rehberg. I admit, Rehberg draws more eyes – he's got this weird knife-blade body with long, effeminate wrists and hands and a startling porn 'stache. He's a good speaker, but his voice was full of barely repressed, sarcastic anger – he spoke like he was talking to a room full of malicious idiots. (Who knows? Considering he was in Missoula, he might have actually thought so.) His speeches were laced with overt “folksy” references that were heavy-handed and repulsive, and I swear that he and the Libertarian candidate, Mike Fellows, colluded during the debate, tossing him softball questions to allow Rehberg to talk about goat farming and national security. The Rehberg portion of the debate reminded me of one of those carnival sideshows where a guy gets volunteers to come up and punch him in the stomach. It was entertaining, but left you a little uneasy afterwards.

Lindeen, on the other hand was more understated. She was direct and confrontational. Her ideas were clearly given and she concentrated her attacks on associating Rehberg with the House's repeated failures over the last six years. I think she needs to work on her outrage a little (Tester is amazing at this), and I think she should have attacked Rehberg more clearly, citing, for example, Rehberg's votes that supported the President's wayward spending policies.

Thoughts:

Like Tester, Lindeen's approach towards energy independence was awesome and coherent. They both have a vision of how we can reduce ourselves off of oil and involve Montana and Montana's economy in the process. Good stuff. I think this will be a strong talking point during the election, especially with gas prices going up, up, up. (As a contrast, Rehberg basically said he's going to keep sitting on his hands.)

I almost retched in the aisle when Rehberg brought up the estate tax and his opposition to it. “Yes, my family farm is an example…” Are the rest of us supposed to feel sorry for the guy? Oh, he had to sell some land to pay the estate tax (and made a killing off the sale, from what I hear – more on this later), poor fella. Come to me when you have to decide between a dentist's visit to fix a tooth ache or meeting the interest payment on your credit card. Then I'll feel sorry for you. Especially when we're embroiled in a war largely the making of the big money GOP – if you can't pay for a war you believe in with your own service, you should at least shut up and help pay for it. If you signed off on all the budgets that got us into this fiscal mess, you should pony up the taxes to help erase the deficit. Period.

Another retching moment came for a question about the war. Rehberg talked up his two visits to Iraq, which apparently, if you apply rightie logic, is mere political “grandstanding.” (I don't agree: I think lawmakers should be obligated to go over and see what they're responsible for.) First Rehberg thinks progress is being made, but it's probably hard to tell when it's not safe to leave the Green Zone. Second, and this was the retching part, Rehberg pointed out a staff member who served in Iraq, made him raise his hand during the debate, implying his moral superiority for having the kid working for him. Um, great. A new political prop! Using the war for politics! It makes my stomach turn when people do this. Honestly if you believe in the war you should serve. You shouldn't take any moral superiority for your service: with enlistments drying up, it's your duty! (On the other hand, if you're between 18 and 40 and support the war and are reading this from the comfort of your civilian living room, you should feel shame.)

Lindeen's response to the war was not particularly strong. She was at least honest, though. It's true there's no easy solution to Iraq, and even I don't advocate abandoning Iraq altogether. (Murtha plan! Murtha plan!) But a plan that offers gradual withdrawal as soon as she hits office, now we're talking! Give 'em a plan! Set the electorate's expectations that the Dems want an “honorable” withdrawal. That's what both the American people and the soldiers on the ground want. Let's do it.

The highlight of the debate came when Lindeen challenged Rehberg on his recommending to the Carter County commission the name of a lobbyist to get a road project done instead of working on behalf of his constituents himself. Rehberg sputtered and fumed, claimed the local board had the money to burn, and he actually got the project done. The implication was that it was necessary for the group to hire a lobbyist to get the work done. We can conclude from this one of two things: either Rehberg doesn't have the standing in Congress to get funding for a rural road project, or that the Republican Congress is so corrupt the only way to do things is through lobbyists. The reality may be different, however: maybe Rehberg is a corrupt pork master ensuring quid-pro-quo perks for his fat-cat lobbying buddies. Anyway you look it, it stinks.

Lindeen's strength was comparing Montanans dismal outlook for the nation's future with Rehberg's participation in the government that's loaded us with so much odious policy. Like domestic spying, torture, the Iraqi quagmire (and the poor leadership for Haditha and the other atrocities), suspension of habeus corpus, impending inflation (bye bye, savings), loss of family farms, spiraling health-care costs, tax cuts for the super-rich, and on and on and on. Lindeen knows what Montanans want and knows how to direct the government towards solving some of those problems – her service in the state legislature proves this. It's a remarkable contrast to Rehberg's participation in the worst government the country has seen…in a hundred years? Ever? This is Lindeen's strength, and she plays to it well.

The Senate Debate

Tester walloped Burns yesterday. Gave him a drubbing. Dragged his name up and down the aisle, stepped all over his reputation and make him look like a fool.

Just think what Tester will do when Burns actually shows up for a debate!

Honestly, what is Burns thinking? The conventional wisdom has front-runners avoid appearances where he could come out looking foolish. Like a debate. Only Burns isn't the front runner in this race. At least according to a mid-May Rasmussen poll that shows Tester leading Burns by four points. And who else thinks the lead is at least a couple points higher after Tester's amazing momentum and the press he's gotten – nation-wide – for his stunning upset-slash-mauling of DC insider, John Morrison?

Burns' preference for a DC fund-raiser over a public appearance in his home state only emphasized where Burns' interest lies.

On the other hand, Stan Jones impressed me. Yes, he was blue. But his answers were coherent, forceful. If you believed that kind of Libertarian stuff, you'd have come away from the debate excited about Jones' performance. It's an alluring message: blame the federal government for all our problems, say we'd do better without it, encourage rural lawmakers to play cowboy with forest rangers.

I'm not going to go down the rabbit hole of arguing Libertarian principles. I'd argue it was…somewhat?…unrealistic? (No National Parks, are you kidding me? Have you seen how some state lawmakers would sell their grandmother for a few bucks, let along state lands?) Anyhoo…one phrase in Western lit sums up my feelings about Jones' views, the last line from The Sun Also Rises: “Isn't it pretty to think so?”

Still, Burns' absence allowed Jones to be the only opposing voice to Tester on the stage yesterday. In today's Missoulian, he got equal coverage to Tester (can't find the link, but trust me). That never happens. Newspapers practically do somersaults to keep third-party candidates' views off their pages. But if Burns doesn't show up…

If that keeps up, Jones' forceful message might lure many conservatives from Burns. Especially if Burns doesn't bother to stump.

So…in conclusion, I see Burns as the big loser in this one. It was huge drubbing. What's that sound? It's coming…from out behind the woodshed. Why it's Tester and Jones applying a willow branch to the junior Senator!

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  1. Hahahha, regarding mccain and iraq: McCain and Iraq




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