Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Non-Existent Nelson-Ricketts Decision

by Kyle Michaelis
In the comments section responding to my previous post, a number of honorable and intelligent folks express some very understandable frustration with Nebraska's beloved Senator, Ben Nelson. On the votes in question and the campaign tactics we've seen the last few months, I can't say I disagree with any of the feelings of disappointment. But, come on people....let's get serious. Between Sen. Ben Nelson and Pete Ricketts - the choice before us on the November ballot - our choice could not be more clear. In fact, it is as clear today as it has ever been.

Nelson is the better candidate - hands down. He will be the better representative of and servant to the people of Nebraska. The only reason to vote for Ricketts - practically admitted by Ricketts himself - is if your sole concern is maintaining one-party Republican domination in Washington D.C. If your vote, if your duties as a citizen demand anything more than that, Nelson is your man.

No doubt the extremely popular Nelson has lost some of his luster thanks to his campaign's meeting Ricketts head-on and engaging in some of the same mud-slinging that was in store for them, but - alas - this was probably unavoidable. I like to believe - I do believe - that Nelson could have won by keeping above the fray and demonstrating the character and unwavering decency the people of Nebraska supposedly expect from their leaders. But, Ricketts' ability to drop $10-12 million on this race - a drop in the bucket of his family's billion dollar fortune - would have been a true test of the voters that I can't promise they would have passed. Even the finest and most upstanding leader might not have survived the GOP apocalypse targeted at Nelson's head had he not fought back as hard and as fast as he ultimately did.

As is, Nelson has been able to set the tone of the campaign and keep Ricketts on the defensive. Had Nelson kept positive and refused to engage in this dismaying war of negative attack ads, it would have been a beautiful but risky proposition, and it's almost impossible to imagine he'd be in as strong a position as he is today to win reelection.

As for Nelson's influence on the Nebraska Democratic Party and its down-ticket candidates, we've had this conversation before but I still find laughable the notion that Nelson hurts in either regard. As one of our Anonymous commetators states:
It seems to me from these comments that there are folks who haven't been paying much attention this campaign season. Someone else already mentioned how much money Nelson has put into the Democratic Party in NE, which has financed a terrific coordinated staff that helps everyone. So I don't need to go into that.

But I do want to point out that Nelson has a huge lead over his Republican opponent. He's been very effective in making Ricketts toxic which has a trickle down effect on other GOP candidates....

Nelson has coattails and that's good for all Democrats. Furthermore, he shows Nebraska Republicans and Independents that they can vote for Ds and not end up with people who are anthema to their values. And, let's face it, we need Rs and Is in every race....

Just look at the campaigns of our two most likely pick-ups - Moul and Kleeb. They are running with positions close to Nelson's and they refer to him in their respective races as the type of representatives they would be. Moul talked about nelson in her first ads and Kleeb often mentioned Nelson in his debates. They do this for a reason - Nelson helps moderate Democrats attract Republican support....

Let's not forget that while other Democratic office-holders have stepped down, left the state or left the party, Nelson is still here.

The claim of Nelson's coattails remains to be seen - at least in terms of votes. But, for bringing attention, money, and just plain legitimacy to the Moul and Kleeb campaigns - not to mention the rebuilding of the Nebraska Democratic Party - there's no denying Nelson has been and remains the key.

But, that isn't my concern, not at the moment. This post is simply a little reminder of the choice that isn't this Election Day. Pete Ricketts or Ben Nelson? Whatever else you carry into the ballot box, those are the names on the ballot. That is the choice before you, and for the good of our state and the good of our nation it shouldn't be a question at all.

Ben Nelson is the better man to continue representing Nebraska in the United States Senate, and you damn well know it.

Time. Money. Sweat. Tears. This last month of the election, find a candidate who truly inspires you - Maxine Moul, Scott Kleeb, David Hahn, Jim Esch, even one of the fine legislative candidates littered across the state - and give that campaign everything you've got. Find a channel for that passion. Turn it into something positive. But, please, don't let inflamed passions get in the way of making the right choice in what should be a very simple decision.

Pete Ricketts or Ben Nelson? Enough said. Seriously, are we still having this conversation?


Anonymous Ryan Anderson said...

I've never had to question whether Ricketts was better than Nelson. That's a given. And I knew I was going out on a limb when I suggested that maybe the party would be better off without Nelson. But I still believe there's that possibility. Without Nelson on top, we'd have a vacuum of leadership funneling in resources and legitimacy to the state party, that's for sure. But who's to say that that vacuum wouldn't be filled by someone -someone like a Mike Fahey, or a Chris Beutler, or even a Scott Kleeb- who wouldn't stoop to the levels of clear political oppurtunism which I now see coming from the Nelson campaign.

I'm sorry, but I think this is about more than Nelson's conservatism now. I think this is about perputuating the myth that anyone noticably left-of-center can't win in Nebraska. I think Nelson's just lacking in plain old moral courage, and I think the same of those who are letting him off the hook just in the name of beating Pete Ricketts. We could beat Ricketts without supporting the bankruptcy bill, or the torture bill, or attacking our own party over immigration. I'm afraid Nelson is defining our party in a way that will continue to convince our strongest base in the state -black and Hispanic Omaha- that there is just no place in state politics for them.

This is not to say I'm sure we'd be better off if we threw Nelson overboard, and definately not to say I'm considering voting for Ricketts. But man oh man, do I miss Senator Kerrey right about now.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

So what candidate will you be pouring all your energy into, Kyle?

Blogger Dave said...

You and I have different opinions on what exactly the party is doing to help or hurt our candidates largely because of our locations. The difference in the 1st district vs. the 2nd district is night and day - that's all I will say on the subject for now.

I was one to say exactly what Ryan said roughly four months ago. I thought better of it, though, and realized that Nelson's a good thing. But this was the final straw to me. It's easier for me to say that because I have voted for Nelson already. That Nelson gave a knowing wink to all the conservatives in the state while bashing his base at the same time? Sorry. The only thing I could give Nelson was that he was a loyal Democrat, who didn't attack other Democrats. That's gone. His negative attacks in this campaign cycle have done nothing but dampen the enthusiasm of the Democratic base in an election year where we need as much Democratic turnout as possible.

Our perspectives differ because the Democratic Party in my hometown seems only to care about electing Ben Nelson. In your district, they are focusing efforts on other races as well.

Blogger Kyle Michaelis said...


On the torture bill and the immigration ad, it's simplistic to dismiss what we've seen as political opportunism. Nelson just happens to be well outside the Democratic Party mainstream on these issues - to the point that it's bound to cause some friction and raise a few eyebrows. With about a dozen Democratic Senators voting with Nelson on the torture bill, it's hard to single him out for scorn. And - by putting Ricketts in league with Kennedy and Kerry on immigration (a true statement, at least at the time) - one does have to appreciate the ironic taste of your own medicine factor - even if it is a gentle but direct slap in the face to the Democrats who've stood by Nelson for the last 15 years.


You raise a good damn question. To be honest, I've kept my distance from some of the campaigns - partially to maintain some measure of objectivity and - sadly - also because I'm a lazy hypocrite who has a hard time devoting myself to campaigning with the singularity of focus it requires.

Still, I did take yard signs door-to-door for a legislative candidate this morning and earlier this week I was writing fundraising letters to some friends and associates on behalf of Maxine Moul (my ActBlue page having been a total flop). I would love to be more help to both the Hahn and Moul campaigns, not to mention the immensely important "Not In Nebraska" campaign against the spending lid.

I do try to back up what I write. I don't do enough, but I'm hoping to rectify that this month, assuming I haven't burned too many bridges and made my presence too awkward with my occasional criticism.

I don't know. Who do you think's the most deserving of support in the general vicinity of Lincoln? Wish I had money - that would make demonstrating my commitment so much easier.


You over-estimate the divide between the First and Second districts, even though I understand where you're coming from.

As for Nelson's "base-bashing," isn't that a little bit excessive? The ad mentioned "Kennedy and Kerry" and sandwiched Ricketts' face between their own for about 3 seconds. That, in itself, is not an "attack." Obviously, I'm disturbed by the underlying message here, but it wasn't so overt that we need to get totally up-in-arms. I just hope Nelson's campaign will show more respect for Nebraska's Democratic voters in the future.

Blogger Dave said...

I'd agree if it were just simply that... But since this election cycle began Nelson has done very little to energize Democrats in this party. The negativity that prevailed in this campaigns has especially upset independents. And the only reason why Nelson will win is because they hate him less.

You're right, "base-bashing" is the wrong word. I'm not in Ben Nelson's base. I was under that mistaken impression for some time now. He's still a Democrat, and the fact that he is so very conservative wouldn't even bother me if he or the party did anything to lift up candidates in my district.

But we're lost as a party if Ben Nelson is the only thing we care about anymore. If we have a standardbearer who the activists despise. If we can't get anyone to take us seriously as a party because of that.

I won't make the shortsighted calls to push Nelson out next time around. I should hope that we make progress toward an actual Democratic Party in this state that cares more about electing Democrats than just electing Ben Nelson by that time. Or that we have at least one other Democrat in Congress that can help carry the banner for the Democratic Party.

Anonymous randy said...

for me, to continue to support and enable nelson is not possible. perhaps my response was misplaced given that it came in the thread to your post about his kerry/kennedy spot. as far as that goes--and the preceeding pissing match between nelson and ricketts--i really don't give a shit. your point is well taken, it would have been dangerous to not respond given the financial resources of ricketts. the goal is to win. if a candidate won't do what it takes to win, then why should i expect him to do what it takes to govern. it's irrelevent to me.
also, i can't point to an example where nelson has demonstrably hurt kleeb or moul. whether he has helped or hurt them will be considered after the votes are counted and the polling has been completed. ultimately, both of those candidates will have to win on their own. i think both have proven to be worthy campaigners (kleeb in particular). but this isn't about that either. moul will get my vote.
this is about how nelson votes. i found his last one unacceptable. i think if we're going to dismiss it as his "conservatism" then we're giving conservatism far too much credit. if nothing else, this administration has proven what a failed idealogy it is. furthermore, if we're going to dismiss his vote as simply being out of the mainstream of the democratic party it understates the importance of the bill. this isn't the bankruptcy bill or some bullshit defense of marriage bill (both of which i think demean americans) this gives the authority to this administration to define who is a terrorist and what torture is. when have they proven patriotic or even rational enough to make that decision? more than that, it rips at the heart of what our country is supoosed to be about. the other democratic senators who joined nelson in that vote have to answer to their own constituents. im nelsons.
kyle, we've had this converstion once before. you pointed out, correctly, i needed to accept nelson for who he is, not for whom i wish him to be. and up until this last vote, i had resigned myself to the fact that i would vote for him. i can't do it now. im sure someone will rightly point out that the only way ricketts can win is if democrats completely abandon nelson, not gonna happen, but fair enough. i accept that.
lastly, it's not about nelson, and it sure as shit isn't about ricketts, it's about me. standing there in that booth, im the one i have to answer to. for some it will be a struggle for some it will be easy. i've looked at both sides and this is where i come down. im not saying im right, im just saying im at peace with it. everybody will do what they think is right. i wish you all the best.

Blogger Kyle Michaelis said...


I disagree with you and hope you'll find some reason to reconsider voting for Nelson over the next 30 days. But, you've obviously thought about this a lot and take your duties as a voter and citizen very seriously. No man can answer for another's conscience. On the road to progress, we may not all follow the same path, but that doesn't mean we're not working towards the same vision.

Your voice and your opinions are always welcome here.

Anonymous Ryan Anderson said...

You're right, Kyle. But you'll forgive me if I'm a little upset with our Senator right now. :)

Blogger Don Kuhns said...

Why are we still having this conversation? Because the GOP is still counting on Nelson and other useful idiots to ram through heinous legislation during elections. Nelson is not "triangulating". He is not moving to the middle, but to the extreme right. Those of us who dread what this country is becoming are being told that the only way to put the brakes on the Bush administration's extreme right wing agenda is to vote for a man who clearly enables and quite possibly supports that agenda. This sucks, and it behooves us to wonder why we haven't been given a third option. I find it hard to believe that Ben Nelson is the only Democrat in Nebraska who wants to be a senator. If others are being discouraged from running, I'd like to know why, and by who?

Big tent or not, the Democratic party is a progressive party. The core values we supposedly share-equal opportunity, compassion, multilateralism, tolerance, are progressive values. I am not privy to the inner workings of the NDP, but from where I sit, it appears that the more progressive candidates are being left out in the cold. If the leaders of the NDP won't give progressives the tools to win, we have a problem. The fact that Nebraska is perceived as a conservative state hardly matters. It is their job to overcome such perceptions, not acquiesce to them.

"Anonymous" says that we need to be enticing Republicans and Independents to vote for Democrats. I disagree somewhat. What we should be doing is building a permanent base-changing Republicans and independents into Democrats. That is done by disproving the false notions that have been forcefed to the majority of Nebraskans by the right wing. It is not done by pandering to those notions.

To get an idea what I mean, listen to any of this year's gubernatorial debates. Pay close attention to the words of Barry Richards, the Nebraska Party candidate. Richards is a true Nebraska everyman who respresents the right-leaning independent mentality so prominent in most of the state. This man sees so much disconnect between the reality that surrounds him and the right wing B.S. swimming about his head that he is virtually incoherent. He seems as conflicted as an alterboy that's been raped by his pastor. It's painful to watch. People like Richards are crying out for a political party that truly has their best interests in mind, that talks the talk and walks the walk. Is the NDP going to be that party? Can the national Democratic Party be that party?

Blogger Dave said...

We should be indentifying and solidifying support among indpendents in this state, instead of trying to get Republicans to vote for us. Even with a strong Republican advantage - which wasn't so strong a dozen years ago when we had an evenly split Congressional delegation - independents and Democrats combined still can give you 50%+1 in some parts of this state.

The failure of this party was that we rolled over and played dead for the better part of a decade in this state. That our only signs of life came from a Senator who most of us grudgingly accepted as a necessary evil. The fact that we are even having this conversation should speak to the deep divide between the activists on the ground and the establishment of the party. And since the activists drive the party, not the other way around, it is to the benefit of the party to listen.

Anonymous BlueMonkey said...

Thank you, Ryan, Dave, Randy and Don for expressing so eloquently and honestly what many of us have been feeling for so long.

Leadership is taking a stand, not pandering and "triangulating" to diffuse opposition - which are very different from reasoned compromise (something necessary, but missing from our current policital climate).

Not voting for Ben does not mean I'm voting for the republican. It just means there isn't a closepin big enough to close off the stench of Nelson's recent votes and campaign. Becoming our enemy isn't the goal, is it?

So far, in comments, I've been accused of being "whiny" because I spoke of writing Nelson and having a B.S. excuse in return. I've been accused of not being realistic because I voice dislike of the way Nelson is "leading" Dems in this state (he isn't). Whatever. Make fun of me, ignore me all you want, NDP and accolytes, but I have a checkbook and I'm vocal to friends and co-workers and fellow church-goers and the other moms at the soccer games.

Until this party identifies itself as a strong, principaled answer to the republican greed, corruption and screwing of the little guy, it will be insignificant. As long as Nelson is the NDP poster child, it's going to remain that way.

Yours truly, and not anonymously,

Anonymous Jon Rehm said...

The way I look at it, a vote for Ben Nelson is a vote for Harry Reid as majority leader. Maybe Harry Reid isn't perfect either, but having the Democrats control the Senate makes Bush's life more difficult. I'm all for making Bush's life as difficult possible which is why I contribute to and volunteer for Nelson.

That said, Ben has made many votes that have made me cringe, Alito, bankruptcy, torture, etc. But as of October 10, 2006 Ben Nelson is the only option that progressives have in Nebraska. For me folding isn't an option, I have to play the cards I'm dealt.

As for the future of the NDP, I agree with your comments about Barry Richards. From my dealings with people around the state he definetly seems to represent the "right-leaning independent." Google "The Democratic DaVinci Code" by David Sirota and he talks about a lot of the issues that we could use to get the guys like Barry Richards. But as you pointed out a lot of the changes in the party will have to come at a national level.

I've been visiting New Nebraska for awhile and I'm glad Kyle set up this forum where those of us on the left side of the spectrum can get together. Thanks to all who contribute. I hope to contribute more in the future as time permits.

Blogger Dave said...

Jon, I can say that I have already cast my vote for Nelson. You're right, Kyle's right, Nelson is the only choice for us here.

Now, for all my attacks on Nelson, I will say this: complaining is one thing, we've been doing it for years. But doing something about it is another. You want to make your voice heard in the party? Get a seat at the table. This is a state party that needs a fresh new perspective. It is so easy to get involved and people will listen to you if you speak up. After 2006, we don't have to worry about Nelson as our shameful candidate for the next 6 years. Let's stop using Nelson as an excuse and start working to make the party about more than Nelson.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a young, politically-engaged, self-proclaimed progressive in this state, I'm quite taken aback by the close-minded level of partisanship in this discussion.

When you pigeonhole an outstanding politician like Senator Nelson into a bad-democrat, wannabe-repulblican category, you miss the point. Nebraska politics are unique on a whole host of levels...from the state legislature on up to the balance of power across the state. As a result, vaguely-defined, rhetorically-charged labels don't mean as much here. Senator Nelson is intelligent, savvy, compassionate, and fully aware of his responsibilities to Nebraska. More than that, he has the power to redefine partisan politics for the rest of the country.

And that's what I believe being a progressive is really about-- putting aside labels and embracing intelligent and logical philosophies. We've climbing to the top of the information age, and we deserve represenation that makes use of the knowledge available. As a result, it's time to move aware from quick assessments of a politicians adherence to tired party lines, and towards smart, innovatve, problem solving backed by a tolerant, humane, ideology.

If you want to to discuss the merits of Senator Nelson's leadership, do so thoughtfully, rather than resorting to easy categorizations... our roles as progressives demands better.


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