Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Don Stenberg: A Profile in Cowardice

by Kyle Michaelis
What is it exactly that has Don Stenberg - Nebraska's political bridesmaid ("always a candidate, never a Senator") - so scared?

Two weeks ago, Stenberg declared that he would not debate fellow Republican Senate hopefuls Pete Ricketts and David Kramer unless they all agreed to an absurd proposal that they not refer to one another in campaign advertising. Say what?

It seems Stenberg is worried about the fact that he's the only one of the three with an actual record to run on (or against). While one might assume this experience would play to his advantage, it doesn't look like Stenberg sees it that way. Obviously, he recognizes something in his record that's a major liability, though what it could be beyond his history of big-time electoral failure, his gross politicization of the Attorney General's office, and his attempt since leaving office to make a fortune by helping corporations screw-over state governments is beyond me.

Of course, Ricketts and Kramer refused to tie their hands and their tongues as Stenberg requested. Yesterday, they announced they'd come to a joint agreement to a series of 3-5 debates before the Republican primary, giving Stenberg until this Friday to decide whether or not he would be joining them.

In their invite to Stenberg, Ricketts and Kramer vowed, "we will not make any personal attacks, nor will we distort or misrepresent the position of any of our opponents.” Still, they insisted, “a candidate’s record, experience and differences on issues should be open to debate and review by the voters.”

That's where Stenberg disagrees, and it seems to be enough of an issue for him that he's still not planning on participating, going so far as to sickeningly declare "My inexperienced, unknown opponents need debates. I don’t," without even a hint of concern for the people's best interest.

Stenberg has tried to portray his rejected proposal as a restriction against "attack ads", but his vagary masks what is actually a call for the candidates not to mention each other at all - as if mere mention of another candidate is inherently malicious and anti-democratic. Who cares if what the advertising has to say is honest and informative?

Sadly, some in the press have allowed Stenberg's rhetoric to obscure his fear of the truth, as if it were actually some sort of stand on principle. Both Scott Bauer of the AP and long-time Nebraska journalist Ed Howard have failed to make the distinction between what Stenberg is actually asking for (censorship, plain and simple) and what he wants people to think he's asking for (a polite and gentlemanly campaign).

Kudos go out to the Lincoln Journal-Star's Don Walton for at least showing some understanding in his reporting of the deceitful game Stenberg is playing, though even he fails to push Stenberg to address what his possible objection is to the far more reasonable rules laid out by Ricketts and Kramer in their letter. Who can imagine what kind of lawyerly evasion Stenberg would employ to avoid answering for his own inexplicable foolishness?

Also note that the most obvious and important question arising from Stenberg's posturing has yet to be asked - mainly, is he suggesting that these rules of not mentioning your opponent should carry-over into the general election against incumbent Sen. Ben Nelson? What basis Stenberg could possibly conceive of for requesting a polite, say-nothing primary if he isn't willing to conduct his campaign in similar fashion leading up to November is impossible to fathom. If the same rules would not apply, this is outright hypocrisy, and the people of Nebraska deserve to hear about it.

So, who will dare to ask the egotistical Stenberg to actually live up to the fake principles behind which he is hiding? And even Ricketts and Kramer - they too should be held to the standards they've espoused if either should make the general election - "we will not make any personal attacks, nor will we distort or misrepresent the position of any of our opponents.”

Ben Nelson is one of those opponents. They owe him no less dignity and respect than their fellow Republicans while making their respective cases to the people of Nebraska. I, for one, am going to do everything in my power to hold them to their word, and I ask all readers to do the same over the ensuing 10 months.

After all, anything less would be uncivilized.


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