Reminder: Ben Nelson Works For YOUby Kyle Michaelis
A site like this has no real power with which to influence Nebraska's representatives in the House and the U.S. Senate. That's especially the case with our lone Democratic Senator Ben Nelson, who is likely 6 years removed from ever again appearing or even thinking about appearing on a ballot.
Sure, blogs can exercise some limited power in shaping public opinions and firing up one party or another's political base, but the farther removed a candidate is from an election the less weight such concerns carry. Oddly enough, elections have never really been my passion, yet - in many ways - they are the only thing that make my writing and this site remotely relevant.
Recognizing this relative weakness, it becomes more important than ever that common Nebraska citizens make themselves heard on the issues about which they are passionate. The New Nebraska Network supported Ben Nelson's re-election with every ounce of its online being not only because he was a better choice than the alternative but also because I respect Nelson and take him at his word that he has been and will be a voice for all Nebraskans.
Of course, he's still a Democrat, and I hope he will be more emboldened to vote with his party's leadership in the coming Congress after his stunning landslide victory in November. But, this hope is not one upon which Nebraska Democrats can truly rely. While Nelson has been rewarded and entrusted with a very powerful position on the Appropriations Committee that will no doubt maximize his influence and benefit the people of Nebraska, there is little in Nelson's history that suggests his loyalty to the Democratic Party goes very far beyond the label he wears.
Maybe that's as it should be, but it's certainly a sobering and inconvenient realization when Democrats have returned to power and stand on the verge of true victory by keeping faith with the American people and enacting - at long last - a legislative agenda about which they can be truly proud. Although it pains me to admit as much, Nelson could still prove a roadblock to much of that agenda. That's especially the case with ailing South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson convalescing in a Washington D.C. hospital. For the time being, in the U.S. Senate, Democrats hold only a 50-49 majority, just when there is the most potential and the greatest need to define themselves and prove their character to the voters.
Every vote counts in the Senate. By Senate rules, each member already wields quite substantial influence and independence. This may, however, be doubly the case for Nelson. At the end of the day, Nelson has largely kept faith with the Democratic Party. He lived up to his end of the bargain, locally and nationally, by wearing the Democratic Party's colors into battle and winning re-election against a scarily well-funded but thankfully incompetent opponent. With that accomplished, Democrats appear to have little leverage. There were no promises of party fidelity on the campaign trail. Quite the opposite, in fact. Besides protecting Social Security and raising the minimum wage, most of the issues that dominated the election actually put Nelson outside of the Democratic maintream, and there's no honest reason to expect him to fall in line. That wasn't what he was elected to do.
This is not an expression of regret or remorse. I'm just admitting that there are likely to be significant frustrations ahead. In victory, Nelson's greatest asset - his independence - becomes Democrats and progressives' greatest liability. Those with ideas otherwise are likely to suffer for the disillusionment on its way.
But, don't get me wrong - there is reason to hope. While we're in no position to ever take Nelson's votes for granted, there's also no reason to write them off entirely. Our work simply didn't end on Election Day. It falls to us to do everything we can to make Nelson's independence and assumed open-mindedness work for us.
If Nelson is to be our voice, we must make ourselves heard. He has to know what we think and where we stand. And, we can not possibly do enough to persuade other Nebraskans to our causes - with letters to the editor, political rallies, testimony before the state legislature, coffee shop discussions, even writing on blogs - thereby making it that much easier for "Nebraska's Senator" to vote with that conscience that has kept him a proud Democrat through all these years.