Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Nebraska Republicans: Democrats in Disguise?

by Kyle Michaelis
It's often beneficial to look at the world from a different perspective, but the below column written just before the election by former North Platte Telegraph editor Don Simpson offers such a contary view of Nebraska politics that it's hard to even reconcile it with the reality we know.

Responding to the endorsement of Democratic Congressional candidate Scott Kleeb by many Republicans in the Third District, Simpson wrote:
Where the heck are the Republicans in this state?

When you look at the high taxes and the enthusiasm for solving problems with more government, you soon realize that a Nebraska Republican would be called something entirely different in most other states:

A Democrat.

So, it makes perfect sense that a Nebraska Republican would vote for Scott Kleeb, because Kleeb's a Democrat, which is a lot less threatening to most Nebraska Republicans than an Actual Republican.

The problem with Nebraska is that you can't tell the Hatfields from the McCoys. You think you're buying a Ford, and you end up with a Chevy. You order mayonnaise and you get mustard. You think you're rooting for the Cubs, and they turn out to be the White Sox. The lions have lain down with the lambs so often that you can't tell one from the other anymore.

Vote for whomever you want on Nov. 7.

But, to borrow a phrase from Jeff Foxworthy, if you're a lifelong Republican voting for Scott Kleeb, you might be a Democrat.

What's funny is that Simpson's thinking is precisely the opposite of the all-too-common contention that Nebraska Democrats, particularly Sen. Ben Nelson, are so conservative that they would be Republicans in any other state.

Moreover, his rhetorical question of where are the Republicans has to be laughable in certain areas of Nebraska where this very question is often asked for real of the ever-elusive Democrats.

Simpson was clearly hoping to persuade the overwhelming Republican majority in the Third Congressional District to vote the party line by scaring voters with the possibility that next time they look in the mirror they might see a Democrat looking back at them. With Kleeb losing 45%-55% to so clearly inferior an opponent as Adrian Smith, such tactics may have proven effective.

But, what of the 45% that voted for Kleeb? Is Simpson right? Might these people actually be Democrats?

And, there's no reason to stop there. By his logic, the same question can and must be asked of the 64% of Nebraskans who voted for Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson in his reelection, including an estimated 42% of Nebraska Republicans.

According to Simpson, 64% of this state might as well have just registered as Democrats for having the audacity to vote for the better candidate rather than voting against the label that he wears.

This is a pretty clear example of the with-us-or-against-us, all-or-nothing philosophy that holds so much sway amongst Republican power brokers. It's precisely the thinking that forced the Republican County Chair in Sioux City, Iowa to speak up against the extremists who are driving moderate and common sense voters - not to mention anyone with the slightest independent streak in their thinking - away from the Republican Party in droves.

You do have to give Simpson credit for the simplicity of his thinking. And, on some basic level, some of what he said makes sense. Although he intended to shame Nebraska Republicans for not being sufficiently conservative, hoping to radicalize them with a pre-election scolding, Simpson was more right than he probably realized in asserting that a Nebraska Republican could just as well be an Illinois Democrat. That's because, when all is said and done, people are people, no matter the cultural and political divides so exaggerated in the press and in public perception.

Most voters - whether Republican or Democrat - will always prefer good, practical government over rigid, partisan-driven ideology. They will vote for the right candidate before they vote for the right political party. Damn straight! That's the way things should be. That's the way democracy should work.

But, Simpson doesn't think so. Nor is he alone in such thinking. In fact, across rural America, scare tactics about votes for any Democrat being votes for Godless, tax-hiking liberals are the only message Republicans have left to run on.

If you vote for a Democrat, you might be a Democrat.
That's the best they can come up with. In a year of transition, such a message might still have carried some weight and been enough to get a very weak candidate through a single election....but eventually the truth is going to hit home.

Gradually, people are going to be fed up with the false promises. The hypocrisy. The neglect. The incompetence. The petty provocation of personal biases. The pandering to special interests. And, then, they are going to be forced into a very difficult realization. Maybe I am a Democrat. And, maybe that's not so bad.

If Simpson wants a Republican Party of only the ideologues and the mega-rich, that's precisely what he'll get - as both our state and our nation embrace the possibilities of a Democratic future.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice try .... but it will never happen in Nebraska. I lived in another state before moving to Scottsbluff 39 years ago. I was a registered Democrat. Being a Republican in Nebraska is a matter of survival for your job, your business and your way of life. So, we all wave red and go vote blue (I don't vote in the primary). Sad? I am retiring to Florida

Blogger Kyle Michaelis said...


Things can change. And, they will change - in time. I've heard this "Republican as a matter of survival"-theory advanced in the past, but can it really be that bad? Ben Nelson got 52% of the vote in Scottsbluff County. That may not make it a bastion of liberalism, but it's definitely a number on which Democrats can build. I hope this site helps progressives feel a little more empowered and a little less isolated all over the state.

But, party registration is not so important as the battle of ideas and ideals. Make people think - make people question - and I hope/believe the politics will take care of themselves.

Thanks for reading. Don't forget us, and don't give up on us when you find yourself in sunny Florida.


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