Archive for June 25th, 2006

Now we know why Conrad Burns skipped out of the first debate.

I believe this debate was more than just a clear victory for Jon Tester. Actually, calling it a victory implies there is a competition, a fight. That's not what we got today. On one hand you had a three-time incumbent Senator who looks visibly tired, who has been dogged by ethical improprieties and inefficient legislating, who used claims and misdirection he must've borrowed from the meanest of right-wing blogs, who stumbled for words, who looked visibly confused at times. On the other hand, you had a young- and healthy-looking man who stated his case plainly and clearly, whose answers always satisfied and showed a unified coherence that hints at a broad and practical plan for governance.

This was no contest.

Burns' closing remarks illustrated how low he's stooped, how out of touch with the state he's become, how his overlong stay in Washington DC has warped his common sense.

In the remarks, he rambled about all the programs he's brought to Montana, the different grants and funding and tax credits he's won for different projects. (Listening to him, you'd think he's responsible for all of the work that's been done recently to fix the mess the state GOP wrought on Montana, not the Democratic-controlled legislature.) This laundry list was faintly sickening. Burns has spent so much time scratching backs and getting his own scratched in return, apparently that's how he believes the world should work. Look, he's saying, I did all this for you: you owe me.

But it's more like a drunk trying to cadge a buck by telling you about all the work he did for the factory twenty years ago.

Let's put aside for a moment the suspicion that a number of appropriations Burns won from the federal government may have benefited him and his friends first (INSA, anyone?), or his claim on appropriations that others – like Baucus – probably won. Let's assume that everything he listed actually benefited the state and was won fairly by his work on the hill: that's your job, Conrad. Am I supposed to send you back because you're doing the bare minimum you're supposed to? Do I reward mediocrity?

Tester on the other hand showed that he has vision. It's a word that's bandied about too much. It's become cliche. But it's a word that applies to Tester. For everything, Tester had sensible ideas. Ideas that would work. It's also obvious that Tester knows more about the subjects they discussed than Burns did. Which is shameful if you're the incumbent.

Tester also won hands-down in comportment. While Burns sneered and interrupted, Tester gave clear, forceful answers to challenges and questions, and refused to let Burns dominate the conversation with right-wing talking points.

If I have any criticism for Tester, it was that he didn't attack Burns enough, especially on the subject of Abramoff and INSA. In the last debate, one of the moderators basically said that the public had had enough of the Abramoff scandal – let's hope that Tester didn't consider that remark to be reflective of what Montanans think. That guy was an establishment politico-media type who probably had heard more about Abramoff than he'd like, but as we know a lot of journalists aren't real keen on changing the status quo, either. This is a slam-dunk issue for Tester and anything that makes Burns look like a rooster with his tail on fire is a good thing.

Ultimately, though, those watching this debate were folks like me and you, the people that follow the issues and know the answers to most of the questions. We've probably already made up our minds. In order to win this election, Burns needs to win the votes of people who don't know the details of the Abramoff or INSA scandals, the Senator's voting records on tax cuts for the elite, and an almost pathological support for any appropriations bill that crosses his desk. He also needs to energize the single-issue voters, like that anti-abortion and anti-gay crowds, who will have to balance his corruption and incompetence with the lip service he pays to their cause (though his inaction on conservative social issues might keep folks away).

But still, people had a chance to watch this debate, and it seems clear who the more competent and visionary candidate is.

Had enough? Vote Tester.But let's take a closer look at the debate.

On Iraq. Tester kicked *ss on this one. Burns said we're in for the long haul, claimed we're making “progress,” and justified invading Iraq for reasons that have long since been debunked, that Hussein had ties to al Qaeda and that he had WMDs. But honestly, most of Burns' answer was garbled. He alternatively compared to Iraq to Vietnam and Korea.Tester said we need to fight terrorists, not continue to be bogged down in Iraq, that we need an exit strategy. Right now there's no plan. Iraq has diverted resources away from other security and humanitarian issues like Iran, Korea, and Darfur, and even negatively impacted Montana by not freeing up State Dep't officials from negotiating environmental issues between the US and Canada. He reminded us all that we were tricked into going to Iraq, and that the Senate didn't do anything to stop Bush.

On national security. Here, Burns went back to the time-honored GOP strategy of scaring people. He emphasized terrorists, at one point saying (I think verbatim), “they're going to kill us!” And accused Tester of wanting to “appease” terror organizations, negotiate with them (?). The federal police efforts of spying and etc must be working, because we haven't had anymore terrorist activity in the States. Plus we're spying on the bad guys, not you. He invoked the specter of drug dealers slipping across our borders and tried (lamely) to tie NSA wiretapping to busting meth manufacturers. He said Tester was plagued by “the liberal mind” that would have us sacrifice our security by giving terrorists special rights.

Tester said that after 9/11 we had a great opportunity, everybody was willing to effect real change and eradicate terror organizations. We had allies and willing cooperation. But all Bush told us to do was “go shopping.” And then came the Patriot Act, which “penalized our people first.” We don't need to take away Americans' freedoms to catch terrorists; we can still follow the rule of law and catch terrorists. There's no reason to go around FISA. Real and effective measures that would prevent terrorist activity haven't been implemented, such as securing the US – Canada border, which, despite all of Burns' rhetoric on security, he hasn't done anything about.

On illegal immigration.

The two candidates pretty much shared the same views: no amnesty, more border patrol. But Tester was more specific: crack down on employers who hire illegals and enforce international treaties that would better working conditions in Mexico and other states, which should give people less reason to come to the U.S.Here, Burns tried to make it look as if Tester swung to his position on the issue. But didn't Burns initially waffle on this issue? I know he was seriously considering supporting the President's immigration bill when it was first proposed, although that probably had more to do with a fund raiser the President threw for him.

On FEMA and Hurricane Katrina. Burns basically blamed the states for not calling FEMA in earlier. He claimed to be against the emergency appropriations bill helping the region – which has since been sorely abused – but he voted for it anyway. Tester said the response time was outrageous, that evidence existed years ago that the levees needed repair, and that FEMA's inept performance shows what happens when you make political appointments to key government offices.

On energy independence. Burns took credit for the Montana legislature's Judith Gap wind farm, and mentioned some pork projects in the 2002 farm and energy bills. Blamed the Democrats for blocking legislation that would have aided energy independence.

Tester cited the work of the state legislature in spurring energy independence, including Judith Gap. Said that wind farm and ethanol production would benefit both rural workers by giving them jobs and the environment. As to the claim that Democrats blocked legislation: “Last time I looked the executive, Congress, and the judiciary all had Republican majorities.” Zing!

On taxation. Burns cited a number of tax raises Tester voted for. Said that he's working for more tax cuts, including the repeal of the estate tax.

Tester: “We're at war with Iraq!” A balanced budget is critical. Sure Burns has cut taxes, but he's also a “borrower and a spender.” The deficit is enormous and saddling everybody with $50-60K of debt. Tester said, as a farmer, he's learned to “take care of yourself” and “not pass on debts to your kids.” Zing!

This led to some heated back-and-forth in which Burns claimed that Congress has made great progress towards “retiring the debt.” Which was double-speak for “we're borrowing less money than we did last year,” but that Tester still noted that we're still adding to the deficit, not reducing it. Tester said it must be “new math,” then Burns said that's the kind of math Tester is good at, right? Wink, wink, you liberal. Where Tester got p*ssed and said that Burns was “spending money like a drunken sailor.

One tactic Burns tried (unsuccessfully) was to get Tester to say how he would have voted on particular pieces of legislation. Tester refused to go down that rat hole.

The first time this occurred was over illegal immigration. Several times Burns demanded to know how Tester would've voted on the recent Senate bill. Tester eventually said he'd have to read the legislation first, there might be something embedded in it that he'd object to. Burns blinked a few times, looking stunned that anyone would actually consider reading the legislation up for vote.

Burns hammered on drilling in ANWR, saying it'd bring relief to farmers' high fuel costs. Tester noted (correctly) that the amount of oil in ANWR is too small to actually bring relief in prices. Burns then demanded to know how Tester would've voted on ANWR in a snide sort of way, like he had just pulled a “gotcha” on Tester, complete with sneer. Um, most people are against drilling in ANWR, Connie.

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