Saturday, June 03, 2006

Ben Nelson Breaks Our Hearts

by Kyle Michaelis
The Associated Press reports:
President Bush will promote a constitutional amendment barring gay marriage on Monday, the eve of a Senate vote on a cause that is dear to his conservative backers. The amendment would prohibit states from recognizing same-sex marriages. It would require a two-thirds majority in the Senate and House, and then must be ratified by at least 38 state legislatures. It stands little chance of passing the Senate, where proponents are struggling to get 50 votes. Several Republicans oppose the measure, and so far only one Democrat - Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska - says he will vote for it.

Nelson's position on this issue is not a new development. As to the defintion of marriage, he long ago joined with the reactionary Right's fear-mongering about "activist judges" seeking to destroy the entire institutiton. Still, seeing the above in print and knowing that it has been published all across the country reignites feelings of personal outrage that no doubt parallel the hatred and bigroty Republicans hereby hope to carry them through the November elections.

When I think of all the time I spend defending Nelson - even advocating on his behalf - it just makes me sick to think that my passion and idealism - while still a young man - have already been so compromised and even corrupted.

That I can bring myself to not only support but shill for a man who would write such short-sighted and discriminatory language into America's most sacred, fundamental, and cherished document, betraying every principle of state's rights he's espoused for 15 years, is so shaming and damning that it fills me with self-disgust.

Rationality? "Little chance of passage"? Lesser of two evils? Simple desperation on the part of Nebraska Democrats? In a moment and on an issue such as this, I have a hard time reconciling any of the above justifications with my own conscience.

How heart-breaking. Yet, what right do I have to expect better of Nelson when I am willing to play accomplice to his sins? Voting for the man is one thing, but defending him as I have, as I do, and as I no doubt will in the future is something else entirely.

Verbal self-flagellation can hardly atone. Perhaps I need to look into some sort of brand upon my chest (a la "The Scarlet Letter"). H for "Hypocrisy"? B for "Betrayal"? Heck, why not double-up - a PH for "Partisan Hack" would certainly be in order? Any of the above would suffice, and I'd be happy to take suggestions from the audience.

*Update* - 7:35 pm
It's worth mentioning that, personally, I have mixed feelings about gay marriage and - to be honest - don't consider it a very high priority one way or the other. What troubles me - what outrages me - what shames me - what pisses me off is the Republican Party's (and Ben Nelson's) willingness to abuse the United States Constitution for a short-term political gain that will be to our shame and discredit in the eyes of our children.

I will not stand idly by - holding my tongue - as they make less of our democracy, while mocking the principles of life, liberty, and federalism on which it was founded. To do so would invite and deserve the scorn of the ages.


Anonymous Don Kuhns said...

Just keep repeating that mantra, Kyle:

Ben Nelson always does what's best for Nebraska...Ben Nelson always does what's best for Nebraska...

You may start to believe it again.

At least until he votes to repeal the estate tax.

Blogger Kyle Michaelis said...


To my knowledge, I've never claimed Nelson "always does what's best for Nebraska." The defense I've extended him has been that he masterfully represents the interests and opinions of the voters who elected him. The same probably holds true on this vote as well.

But, unlike immigration - where I can at least grasp some rational basis for Nelson's political posturing by extending him the benefit of the doubt that he's motivated by pragmatic concerns rather than ideology - a change to the U.S. Constitution demands a much higher level of scrutiny where no such benefit of the doubt can be entertained or even imagined.

This is the foundation of American democracy we're talking about - not some plaything to be dictated by election year political pressures.

As for Nelson supporting repeal of the estate tax, I saw it mentioned in one of the big business endorsements he received last week but read no substantiating comment from "the man" himself. If Nelson does end up voting for this repeal, I'm not sure there wiould be Kool-Aid enough to drink in all the world to get me "back on board."

For now, though, I'm sad to report the Kool-Aid probably just needs a little more sugar or a few more ice cubes.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

..."masterfully represents the interests and opinions of the voters wno elected him."

Would those intersts include Alito, the bankruptcy bill, Medicare D? C'mon Kyle, Nelson masterfully represents his own interests, nothing more. Zorinsky, Exon, Kerrey--those guys represented something and helped the party thrive here. On Nelson's watch the Dems have almost faded away.

I'll hold my nose and vote for him, but only because Ricketts is so disgusting.

I'm also contributing as much as I can to various Dems, Ne. and other states. Not a penny from me for Nelson though. Let the corporations do that.

Blogger Kyle Michaelis said...

My dear friend, Anon -

I'll never say a bad word about "Big Jim" Exon, the man most responsible for the 25-year resurgence of Nebraska's Democratic Party. But, by my count, Nelson holds up all right against both Zorinsky and Kerrey.

It was, of course, a bit before my time, but Zorinsky made his career walking a fine line between Democrat and Republican, while Kerrey generally seemed so infatuated with himself that the party took a backseat to his own celebrity.

I don't say these things to denigrate our past leaders - just to keep things in perspective. Remember that, from 1998 until 2000, Bob Kerrey stood where Nelson does today in relation to the Party - the only game in town. How did he respond? By finding a pretty young wife, pitching his tent in New York City, and leaving the light's on with nobody home as the Democratic Party became a shadow of its former shadow.

The Nebraska Democratic Party is in better shape today than it has been in eight years. That's no rave about their performance - trust me - but it's my honest assessment and I stand by it. Those who don't see that - and continue to point fingers and write Letters to the Editor about the Party's "recent" collapse obviously weren't paying attention when things really turned sour.

That they now allow their ignorance to poison and obscure the very real and very substantial progress that has been made is unfortunate, to say the least.

In Kerrey's defense, I'm incredibly pleased with the interest he has taken in 3rd District candidate Scott Kleeb. The man has an eye for talent and will always have a place of honor in Nebraska politics - the pedestal, however, could be brought down a notch or two.

Anonymous Anonymous said...


I've never written a Letter to the Editor, nor much of anything until I began commenting on various blogs a few months ago. I'm just an aging, rural, lifelong Dem from the 3rd. I'm thrilled-no snark-that the party is in better shape now. My take is that it's due to an infusion of youthful energy, intelligence and work more than it is to Nelson's efforts.

And I am somewhat ignorant of the actual inner processes of the party. So educate me, did Nelson wield any of his considerable influence in '04 to help Connealy in the 1st? Can we expect him actively to help Esch, Moul and Kleeb?

Zorinsky had an easier fine line between Rep and Dem to walk than Nelson does. Back then it was unheard of for corporate lobbyists actually to participate in the writing of bills. Zorinsky didn't always have a corporations vs. citizens choice to make in his votes, while Nelson does much of the time. And that's what disappoints me so about Nelson. While he often votes procedurally with the Dems, when it comes to the important, life altering issues he votes for the corporations vs. the people.

Blogger Kyle Michaelis said...


You are no doubt correct that Nelson has NEVER put the emphasis on party-building that it deserves. Nevertheless, it is the importance of getting Nelson re-elected that is the driving force behind what resurgence we have seen (that and Howard Dean's "50 State Strategy").

I can't really speak to Nelson's involvement with the Connealy campaign - to make a judgment on a thing like that, you'd have to know what expectations and desires Connealy actually had of Nelson. As for Moul, Esch, and Kleeb - even David Hahn - I do believe Nelson realizes he's going to be sharing a ballot with these folks, so he has an obvious interest in their mutual success. The extent of that interest and what form it will take, however, remains to be seen.

Indeed, Zorinsky's was a different time. But, the players and the issues haven't really changed, only who holds the keys to the kingdom. I reject the notion that the corporation-citizen dichotomy is more real now than it was in the 1980s. What we see now is simply a Democratic Party locked out of the legislative process, unable to temper the Republicans or to secure the benefits they once shared in from American corporations.

There are budget and environmental issues on which Nelson has voted against the ruling corporate agenda - inadequate as such occurrence may be. All in all, I'd say that Nelson doesn't fit-in today because he harkens back to earlier times and stands fairly solitary in bridging this divide that was once bridged by many, Democrats and Republicans alike.

The current balance of power exaggerates Nelson's being historically out-of-touch with the Democratic Party. I can support the notion that he's out-of-touch with these partisan times but not that he's out-of-touch with the people who elected him.

That's no compliment, mind you, but if we're not able to win people over with better ideas and stronger principles, I guess I don't know what more we can possibly expect.

Anonymous randy said...

is he pandering to bigots or is he a bigot? who gives a shit? i'll vote for him, but as i have said, it will be without enthusiasm (now it will be with disgust). he is not a leader nor independent. political expediency has taken precedent over decency. a common theme where nelson is concerned im afraid. when i was younger, i looked for inspiration now i just want some goddamn leadership. how does this constitute leadership? it doesn't.
what a fuckin' slug. sadly/fortunately, he's less of a slug than the scumbag slug he's running against. so let's anty up and send him back to congress where he'll be paid a great salary (then he can not support raising the minimum wage), and he'll be provided with a health care plan (a plan he wouldnt fight for us to have). we wont see nelson making any speeches on the floor of the senate about high gas prices, or billions of missing taxpayer money in iraq. we'll get more of the same...his support for fucked up policies and that ridiculous haircut.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Frankly, I'm surprised to see the anger at Nelson over what is, even by Kyle's admission, mostly a symbolic vote. You can disagree with him on gay marriage - I certainly do - but first of all, it is being true to his beliefs on state rights. After a federal judge overturned DOMA and other state laws, this no longer became a matter states were allowed to decide for themselves.

Second, in Omaha and Lincoln, we can ignore the work Nelson has done for small towns and rural areas, but we shouldn't. He has supported rural infrastructure and the farm economy farm more than our other representatives and standing up for this part of our society is basic Democratic principle AND smart politics.

Third, Nelson has been an important moderating voice on both sides. We can scoff and say it's for political expediency, but look at the results - he stood fast against privatization and helped kill that awful idea, he got over $100 million for the state in fiscal relief at a time when important programs were being cut to shred - programs democrats support every time, and he has consistently spoken up about high gas prices, the shortsightedness of drilling in ANWR and the need to promote renewable fuels.

Frankly, it's in the Republicans best interest to divide us over issues like gay marriage and flag burning. The really hard issues, like helping working families and protecting schools from NCLB aren't as headline-grabbing, but are core democratic values. Nelson has been good on these issues.

As for party-building, I would bet dollars to donuts that Nelson has done more to bring experienced people into the state party than any other figure in recent memory. He's certainly been a big reason why Nebraska continues to get headliners like Obama and Clark at our party gatherings. The infrastructure he's building will help all our candidates and shouldn't be forgotten.

It's not fancy, but it's hard work and I'll vote for Nelson without reservation.

Blogger RightDemocrat said...

Thank God for Ben Nelson.

Anonymous randy said...

with all due respect, i don't consider it merely symbolic. sure, it's not going to pass, and that's a good thing. it does, however, fuel hatred and ultimately that hatred will manifest itself into violence. furthermore, it is the antithisis of what we, as democrats, are supposed to stand for. gay or not, they are american citizens who pay their taxes. many have defended this country. i don't really care if he likes gays or not. i do care that he would use his position to deny them full citizenship.
also, i can't seperate this position from his vote for alberto gonzalez, condelezza rice, or that pernicious bankruptcy bill. nor his support to build a goddamn fence...jesus. don't misunderstand me, i don't need him to be the raging liberal that i am, but i do need for him to demonstrate a belief in core democratic principles. the votes above don't demonstrate that...not to me.
lastly, a serious statesman wouldn't engage in such rhetoric nor dignify it with anymore than scorn and ridicule. we live in "interesting" times. we need serious men and women to lead us. i see him as a serious opportunist. still better than ricketts, but that isn't saying much.

Blogger Kyle Michaelis said...


Nelson has shown what I believe to be genuine concern about gas prices and, in his own little way, he has worked to expand access to health care - particularly for employees of small businesses. Sure, he's not going to be giving vehement, outraged floor speeches on the floor of the Senate - that just isn't his style - but, as a voice of moderation and compromise, the man has a proven value to the Democratic Party and, more importantly, to the American people.

The charge of political opportunism simply doesn't hold much water with me. I'm pretty sure this is just who Ben Nelson is - and who he's always been. If there's opportunism in that, it's on the part of Democratic voters who would rather take Nelson for who and what he is than face being shut out of power entirely.


Go sell that BS about this Amendment supporting state's rights to some other fool. States still have the right to define marriage as they please. That right HAS NEVER been in question. This is all about whether they must afford recognition to same-sex unions entered into beyond their borders.

Well, that remains undecided and will remain so until the U.S. Supreme Court is ultimately heard on the matter. But imagining this Amendment has been forced by the Courts is patently absurd. Here, Nelson has not broken faith with the Democratic Party's approach to Gay marriage - he's broken faith with the authors, purpose, and principles of the U.S. Constitution.

If the federal government has a role in defining marriage, then there is no limit whatsoever to its power. I'm by no means a fierce federalist, but I am horribly concerned by the ramifications of such all but irreversible over-reach flying in the face of 200 years of Constitutional expansion of individual liberties.

On a side note, I take no issue with Nelson's fundraising prowess. His failure to build the party is more a function of his lack of concern for developing a farm team of future candidates during his eight years as Governor. But, that blame certainly doesn't rest at his doorstep alone, and I'm happy to move on from the past so long as he remains somewhat committed - as he has seemed of late - to helping forge a new identity and a better future for the Democratic Party in Nebraska.

Anonymous randy said...

perhaps i should focus more on what nelson has done, but it's very difficult to do so when i weigh it against some of the more high profile votes he has cast. many of those would have passed whether he voted yey or ney. but he is our senator and he hasn't been held to account. how to do that? i don't know. but i do know with his support for the marriage ammendment he enables this administration. whenever we excuse this craven behavior we enable him further--not saying you have, but in general he has been given far too much slack.
also, i don't need for nelson to give vehement floor speeches, but at some point he has to stand up. why not now? this gay marriage ammendment is ridiculous. why even take part in it? because it's easy? it's certainly much easier than to take a principled stand on equality. what's worse, he's climbed in bed with a president who is slithering along anywhere between 29% and 35% depending on which poll, and a republican congress that isn't fairing much better.
more frustrating than even all of that, this was an opportunity to knock this shit down. this wreaks of desperation. let democrats stand up, and say in a unified voice, this is bullshit. too many other things are of pressing concern and this is a waste of our time. when he didn't, the most popular senator in the senate, gave it validity. not that it can be passed, but that it can be used as a tactic. not just this cycle, but down the road. this thing should have been quickly condemned by every single democrat (no matter the reason--doesn't have to be in support of gay marriage). that was opportunistic. score some short term success with some bigots.
however, it doesn't seem as if we disagree on this particular position. i think our differences are with nelson himself. i want to quickly point out, again, that i will vote for him. but change, for our party, should come from the top. here he is, the most popular senator in the country, playing into the repulicans hands. and if this position, is his true beliefs, he should fuckin' keep it to himself. not only because it offends me morally and intellectually, i think, ultimately, it's a bad move politically.
then again, scweitzer in montana--someone who has achieved so much success in a ridiculously red state--has come out against gay marriage, so maybe this is what we should expect.
now im more angry than i was when i read your original post.

Anonymous randy said...

also, i don't think it's opportunistic to vote for him. what power do we have with him there? i don't feel he's responsive to me. i know that ricketts wouldn't be though. my hope is that we make up ground if not take back the senate. so when i vote for nelson, im voting for heads of committees in the hope that they will be responsive. im voting for oversight. im voting for nelson for corrective change. has little to do with him.
so, where do we have power? maybe here is where we have it.
i think i was wrong about change coming from the top. more i think of it, change for our party will come from us.

Blogger Kyle Michaelis said...

"I think i was wrong about change coming from the top. more i think of it, change for our party will come from us."


You made my point from my Monday post (about the state of the NDP) for me. Change does begin with each of us. That's why, though I agree with you that Nelson is wrong on the Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage, my feeling toward Nelson is one of disappointment, not anger.

I've never been able to pull off the "Angry White Man"-act very well because I believe VERY DEEPLY that ones politics should be guided first and foremost by ones own sense of personal responsibility. Ben Nelson does not owe me a damn thing just because he has a D next to his name. What that D means - what it stands for - is decided by you and me, THE VOTERS, by the leaders we elect to represent us.

In a democracy, all power flows from the people - we grant it to them whether we do so knowingly or not. If we are unhappy with the votes of our leadership, we have a responsibility to seek better. If we fail in that, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

That's the thing about Ben Nelson - he hasn't lied to Nebraska Democrats about who he is or what he believes. He is who he is - who he always has been - and we've accepted him as such, holding him up as our standard-bearer. If he'd made some radical departure from our reasoned expectations, he would invite our scorn. But, as is - where there has been no misrepresentation - we have little grounds for complaint except at our own sacrifice of principles to serve the best interests of our state and nation.

Hope that makes some sense. I'm probably more passionate about political/democratic theory than I am about actual issues. Don't know what that says about me, exactly, but I'm sure it's not good.

Blogger Nick Bravo said...

It's repulsive how so many democrats and others in Nebraska politics pander to the republicans. They're like that nerd in high school who desperately wants the head cheerleader to like him. Pathetic! When will Nelson and others sto wanting to be liked and start changing things for the better?


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