Enough With the Negativity - The Ben Nelson Idealby Kyle Michaelis
In the next few days, I hope to shine a light on the positive, but - first - my final word on the debate below.
It's easy to be a critic. It's easy to point fingers, pass judgment, and make bold declarations of betrayal that don't do a damn thing to push us forward as a society. What's far more difficult - and important - is actually advancing a progressive political agenda and defending its 100 year legacy from attack.
I recognize that. I always have. Though there have been some ominous signs the last few weeks that have discouraged and dismayed many faithful Nebraska Demcrats, we cannot give in to our weaknesses of the moment. Although we should not refrain from criticism of our own - when it is warranted, when it is fair - we must also be careful to avoid political cannibalism that would sacrifice the well-being of our nation and the future of our state in the name of vague goals of long-term partisan glory grounded in dream and conjecture.
The dream is a beautiful thing. Keep it in your heart - never lose it. But a dream it is and a dream it shall remain if we can not break ourselves from slavish service to ideology divorced from our personal and political reality.
I respect the opinions of those who question whether the independent (almost unidentifiable) brand of Democratic politician represented by Ben Nelson truly serves the interests of the Democratic Party, but I reject the idea that Ben Nelson hurts Nebraska Democrats or our Democratic candidates.
Let's be serious here. Talk as much as we want about the liberal base Nelson's record of proven conservatism might alienate, that is a small, harely hypothetical population that cannot possibly out-weigh the potential for reaching new voters made possible by Nelson's stereotype-shattering style of leadership.
I can disagree with Ben Nelson without turning my back on him. I can believe him out-of-step with some Democratic Party principles without questioning that he is a Democrat and that we are lucky to have him. The Nebraska Democratic Party cannot and should not refashion itself in the likeness of Ben Nelson - or endorse his every action - but when those differences arise they need not divide.
Nelson is not an albatross wrapped around our necks. Other candidates can stand on their own two feet, and the Democratic Party can benefit from the diversity of ideas and approaches they bring to the table. We are not the party of dogma. We are the party of getting things done and doing them right.
Therein lies our greatest strength. Therein lies our greatest opportunity to win back the voters of Nebraska. We need to prove our competence, win their confidence, and - from there - the progress we make possible and the principles to which we hold true will take care of the rest by proving ours is the better way.
The Nebraska Democratic Party is not hurt by Ben Nelson - not by his impressive record as governor, not by his remarkable popularity as a United States Senator, not by the resources he's newly (and thankfully) seen fit to direct towards rebuilding the NDP.
Nelson is an opportunity - more than just a foot in the door to political influence, he is a well-respected man with a proven record who voters know and trust. While some of his positions pose a challenge to our desire for a single Democratic identity or an appealing Democratic narrative, that challenge can be overcome by our party and its other candidates crafting their own messages with the same independence, creativity, and common sense to which Nelson has, himself, so long laid claim.
There is a powerful idea here somewhere - Ben Nelson the political figure vs. Ben Nelson as an idea to which we should all aspire. Not knowing the man personally, I can't say how closely the two meet in reality, but those who would have us forsake our independence of thought and criticism in the name of raw partisan allegiance ask us to forsake that which is most enviable about Nelson and the example he has set.
In unity is strength. In independence is truth. I don't know if Ben Nelson, the man, cares at all for discovering the path by which these ideals can be reconciled, but I believe he can and does help serve that purpose, while making America a better place, whether or not that is truly the star that guides him.