Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Our Lost Opportunity to Expose Nebraska GOPs Extremism

by Kyle Michaelis
Now that our somewhat entertaining but not particularly enlightening discussion about the feasibility and desirability of a national sales tax has winded down, I'm actually more convinced than ever of just how preposterous a proposal it truly is. It's not a good idea for America or the right idea for Nebraska...which shouldn't surprise after the expert framing of the issue by Sen. Nelson's reelection campaign, turning challenger Pete Ricketts' mere openness to the idea into a disastrous political liability.

This does, however, raise one essential question: considering how effective the national sales tax was in portraying Ricketts as out-of-touch with Nebraska voters for wanting to shift the tax burden onto the working class to benefit billionaire families like his own, why didn't Nebraska's 2006 Democratic Congressional challengers do more to piggy-back on the issue to make it work for their own campaigns?

At the very least, incumbent Representatives Jeff Fortenberry and Lee Terry, along with Congressman-elect Adrian Smith, should have been forced by their opponents and the media to choose whether they would take the idea off the table as Ricketts famously refused to do. The fact that they could escape the 2006 political season without committing one way or the other (and accepting the consequences) is not only a failure of the campaigns they faced but of the entire citizenry who lost their best opportunity to force these men to carve out an honest position for which they could be judged and held accountable.

Nebrask FairTax provides a "Congressional Score Card" that reads accordingly:
* Ben Nelson – Completely misrepresenting the FairTax in his re-election campaign. Unabashed #1 FairTax-enemy in Nebraska.

* Tom Osborne – Officially listed as leaning AGAINST.

* Jeff Fortenberry – Officially listed as leaning TOWARD, but not committed yet.

* Chuck Hagel – Officially listed as un-committed. Running for President so he really owes us a position.

* Lee Terry – Officially listed as un-committed. Has personally told NE volunteers that he supports a ‘flatter’ Income Tax instead.
It's unfathomable that Fortenberry could get through the campaign season without being called out for his supposed support of so dangerous a scheme as a national sales tax. Considering the flack Ricketts took throughout the summer for holding a similar position, it's hard to understate the lost opportunity of turning this into a multi-pronged, party-defining issue by which down ballot candidates could have gained some early, much-needed momentum.

No mention is made on Nebraska FairTax's website of Adrian Smith's position, but he often spoke in favor of a broad overhaul of the tax system, providing no real specifics. Smith did, however, bring Iowa Congressman Steve King, the defacto leader of the Republican Party's "Right-Wing Wacko" caucus, to Nebraska to campaign on his behalf. No surprise, King is the most vocal supporter of the "FairTax" in Congress.

Considering the lengths to which Smith went to avoid taking a public stance on this unpopular idea, it seems safe to say he'll be following the lead of King and Fortenberry rather than Osborne and Nelson. That we were not more vigilant in demanding honesty and accountability from Smith in his bid for elected office leaves me ashamed as an activist, a Democrat, a journalist, and a citizen.

We let ourselves down with this one. Absent Nelson's stature and his campaign's funding, the same opportunity will not present itself in 2008. But there are lessons to be learned in terms of unity, constant vigilance, and foresight that are universal and eternal. We must recognize those and take them to heart if our passions are ever to translate into significant and sustainable Election Day victories.

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Dave Sund said...

Moul's campaign is a study in lost opportunities. The first district needs the same sort of grassroots barrier-breaking thinking that we saw in the 2nd and 3rd Districts in 2006.

Kleeb took every opportunity to portray Smith as an extremist. And, for the most part, he was very successful. Consider how many lifelong Republicans ended up voting for Scott Kleeb.

Unfortunately for Esch, he just didn't have the money to get the sort of media coverage that could portray Terry in that light. Also, the issues that Esch's campaign centered around - independence from special interests, engaging the community, and getting out of Iraq - were far more effective than the issue of the national sales tax. It was one of the most remarkably clean campaigns of this entire cycle.

The fact that Nelson's attacks on Ricketts' support of the national sales tax drew so much attention (and endless protestations from the Ricketts camp) is part of the reason why I don't think this would have mattered.

Kleeb didn't have a problem drawing contrasts at all. He successfully portrayed Smith as an extremist Republican. Unfortunately, it was an extremely Republican district. I don't know if we'll ever have a better shot at that seat again.

Esch's problem wasn't the issues he focused on. It was the lack of media coverage. Most of that was money, and the lack of any party support (indeed, Joe Jordan said the party told him "not to worry" about covering the Esch/Terry race, it wasn't close. That should never happen).

So, I think the one campaign that really fits with what you're speaking of is Moul's campaign. And hers is a study in failures of many different kinds. Esch and Kleeb's losses can largely be attributed to the severe disadvantages they had going in: for Esch, running against a 4-term incumbent, and for Kleeb, running in an insanely Republican district. Moul's problems run deeper. She is the only Democrat among the three that didn't improve on the 2004 numbers. In fact, she did significantly worse.

Maybe 2007 will see the roots of something better for Lincoln and the 1st District in general. But in 2008, we need to see a candidate in Nebraska's 1st District that's willing to try something other than the strategies that have failed us for so long.

1/02/2007  
Blogger Kyle Michaelis said...

I agree that the lost opportunity here was sharpest in focus in the First District and against Jeff Fortenberry. But, had Kleeb been able to "piggy-back" on Nelson's campaign and use the National Sales Tax issue to his advantage over the summer months, it could only have helped him and hurt Smith....perhaps as much as Smith's connections to the Club for Growth. Everyone has mixed feelings about farm subsidies but NO ONE wants to pay anywhere from 30 to 60% more when buying groceries.

Even Esch might have gained by using the free media Nelson v. Ricketts generated on this issue to attack Terry for his support of a similarly risky and regressive "flat" tax rate on income. Races in which Smith looked more like Ricketts and Terry came across as Nebraska's version of Steve Forbes were races we could win.

Of course, there is the possibility that any such efforts would have invited the ire of the Nelson campaign for co-opting their message. I'm not aware enough of the inner-party, cross-campaign dynamics in 2006 to offer more than this simple speculation. But, I think there's a lot to be said in response to all those who've complained about the lack of a true "coordinated campaign" effort that the candidates who suffered for it simply weren't being creative enough in making Ben Nelson's name at the top of the ticket work for them, with permission or without.

Anyone running to win takes their opportunities when they come. I wouldn't have advised any Democratic candidate to disrespect Nelson or to intentionally run afoul of his ever cautious campaign, but any candidate who wasn't pushing the envelope and causing them a little aggravation wasn't really trying.

The only defense I'll offer of Moul is that Fortenberry is a much more talented politician than either Terry or Smith....perhaps combined. If we're going to be competitive in any of these races in 2008, though, we start holding all of their feet to the fire NOW.

1/02/2007  
Blogger D'Anne said...

What GOP "Extremism?"
You're far too talented to waste your time babbling about what the Democrats 'should' be doing! The national sales tax is not worse than the current income tax. It's merely different. Either way, the biggest corporations are not only NOT going to pay their fair share, but they're going to continue their long drinks at the public trough. That's the kind of fascism I fret about, my friendly correspondent. (Although I agree with your statement in our last exchange about a needless war.)

And the cause of this effect is: BOTH the Dems and Repubs skew tax policy in favor of lobby bucks.

So you don't like the Repubs skewing tax policy in favor of individual billionaires. Why not? Billionaires are paying the aggregate majority of all taxes collected. And there aren't that many of 'em. Shouldn't those who pay get the cuts?
Personally I don't like individual millionaires getting stuck with their aggregate share.
Why not individual wage earners?

Everybody needs to be paying taxes at the same rate in support of the same government. Period. That's a true definition of what's "fair."

At least the consumer tax and transaction tax ideas ARE IDEAS! All you're doing is repeating a mantra, ---'yeah, the income tax is not fair but that's no reason to trash it.'
Being unfair is reason enough Kyle.

Nelson gave himself a raise in the Senate and voted with the President's tax cuts for big business and billionaires. So much for the Dem tax policy, huh?

And who else 'ya got? One need look as lowly as your state legislature to find another Dem in elective office. Right? Your guess is as good as mine beginning tomorrow as to what they will do. But I assure you that I know v-e-r-y w-e-l-l what the Dems who have been "serving" the people of Nebraska over the last decade have done and it 'ain't pretty!

What was it you said in our last exchange? Oh yeah, your pragmatism is different than your politics. Right? So WHEN will the Dems act like Dems, starting with you, Kyle?

...like I said, you're much too talented to waste yourself merely 'hoping' for Nebraska...

P.S. I can't get this Google Account to work reliably. Can we talk?

1/02/2007  

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