Saturday, September 02, 2006

Attention Fifth Congressional District candidates: I'm pissed off at all of you

If you don’t live in Minnesota’s fifth congressional district, I apologize—this post will probably bore you. Of course, if you don’t live in Minnesota’s fifth congressional district, I envy you. Because you don’t have to choose which obnoxious-assed Democrat to support in the upcoming race for our House seat. And I don’t say “obnoxious-assed” lightly: I haven’t seen such a frustrating bunch of politicians since the last Republican convention. They’re so uninspiring, so uninspired, so unappealing and so goddamn self-centered I might just have to sit this one out. I might be wrong, but I thought the constitution of the United States of America required us to send adults to Washington to represent us, not these bickering junior-league types who can’t see past their career ambitions.

I’m sick of having to support shallow, petty Democrats just because they happen to be Democrats. Too many of our recent candidates aren’t fit to carry the mantel of the party of Kennedy, Roosevelt, or Obama. They aren’t even fit to carry the mantel of the party of Carter, Johnson and Clinton. I look at them and I see a pack of careerists, a bunch of debate club drones whose ideas are shaped by polls and focus groups, people who would trample their own aunties for a chance to get at some of that congressional letterhead. Maybe this is unfair. I really don’t care if it is. The reason I’m a Democrat is because I honestly fucking believe in what the party says it stands for. You’ll have to pardon me if I hate to see those beliefs cheapened by empty suits and opportunists.

I’m also not especially fond of watching the supporters of the various candidates go after each other. It sure is getting ugly out there, and to me it’s all pretty ridiculous. People make themselves look foolish when they try to pretend that their preferred politician is more than a politician. The flip side of that is the process by which your opponents become enemies, the point at which an election becomes a moral crusade. We’re going to have to work together again after this whole tortured thing is over, aren’t we? Wouldn’t we be better off not turning our every chance to vote into some nasty zero-sum game?

But lets get back to the politicians themselves. Is it naive to hope that the debates between intelligent, experienced candidates in a highly-educated district can rise above stupid sloganeering and phony feel-good bullshit? Is it pessimistic of me to be suspicious of aspiring junior congresspeople who fill our heads with dreams of peace and impeachment? And, while I’m asking questions, is it really too much to ask for you people to stop using tinhorn right-wing operatives to smear your opponents for you? This is a Democratic district, dammit, the Republicans should not be setting the agenda here with their tactics or their prejudices. When they come out with their little exposes, the candidates ought to (a) ignore them because you’re above all that or (b) attack it because those people will turn on you just as quickly. What you shouldn’t do is use their hatchet-jobs as a way to cut down your opponent while your hands stay clean. And you really, really, really shouldn’t be feeding those types more dirt. But some of these campaigns seem to be doing exactly that. And that’s fucked up. If that’s the sort of strategy you think is acceptable, you ought to get out of politics and become Barnes and Nobel booksellers or baristas. There’s more honor in that kind of work and, frankly, I trust the people who make my cappuccino more than I trust any politician.

But we haven’t reached the hopeless stage yet. The candidates can still pull this together and come of it seeming less than loathsome. They can start by refusing to become cogs in the Republican smear machine. I understand that politics is a dirty business, but there’s a difference between playing hardball and shooting yourself and your party in the foot. I think the candidates ought to recognize this and rein in their Donald Segretti wannabes. Those kind of antics only make cynical guys like me more unbearable. Trust me, I’m unbearable enough already.

Also, it would be nice if this election would be about who’s going to be the best advocate for the district and the best legislator, not on who dislikes Bush the most passionately. Sure, Bush is a crap president, a menace to the republic, but we can’t fall into the trap of letting his mendacity and incompetence be our only selling point. That’ll only get us so far, which is to say that it won’t get us very far at all. I get turned off by the “who secretly loves the war machine”/”who’s the purest progressive” sort of campaigning you get in liberal districts like ours. Unfortunately, we can’t afford to be John Lennon dreamers anymore, we shouldn’t abuse the word “peace” as though just the loud and repeated invocation of the term can fix this mess they’ve gotten us into. We all want “peace”, but we need competence, wisdom and vision to get there. And I’m not sure I see enough of that in the options given to us.

I started out being a lukewarm Mike Erlandson supporter, but now I’m not sure I want to go all the way to the voting booth for him on primary day. He doesn’t seem to offer a lot besides promises of pork and premature Martin Sabo nostalgia. I don’t suffer from Martin Sabo nostalgia, as honorable and decent as everyone says he is. Erlandson seems to me like an ambitious guy who’s gunning hard for a dream job. I can’t blame him for this, but I’m not sure I trust him either. Keith Ellison, for his part, is the candidate who appeals to the goofy idealist in me, and I do think that he’s borne non-stop sliming with maturity and perseverance. I do my best not to listen to any of that trash, but I worry that the mudslinging will only get worse if he makes it to Congress. If that happens, there’s always the danger of him winding up marginalized and ineffective, thereby wasting all that passion and progressivism. It’ll be a vicious and bigoted charade, of course, but we’ll be the victims of it right along with Ellison. And I would be remiss if I forgot to mention Ember Reichgott-Junge. To my way of thinking, the best thing about her is that whole “Remember Ember in September” slogan. Say what you will: that’s pretty catchy. One of her (male) supporters came up to a friend of mine in a Caribou Coffee and said something to the effect of, “Hey! You’re a woman! You ought to support Ember!” Christ, if it worked that way she’d have the race locked up. But, as it is, she’s probably not going to go much further in this whole thing.

I’ve heard and read thoughtful people who I trust making the case for all these candidates, but at this point I’m too disgusted by the whole shoddy process to weigh these arguments. Whoever wins will win. I don’t give a shit anymore.