Monday, June 11, 2007

Quietly Disproving a Republican Lie

by Ryan Anderson
Sorry, but this post isn’t timely because this information isn’t news... except maybe to the Republican hacks, who aren’t listening and probably don’t care. But if not for their sake then at least for the record, allow me to briefly revisit last year’s race for NE-03.

In December, Scott Kleeb posited that the most effective attack on his candidacy was “the claim that was, on its face, the easiest claim to make, but the one that I actually think was the most wrong. Which was... not being from here.” I happened to agree, and so too did the state’s conservative bloggers, who couldn’t seem to cover this race in any capacity without some gratuitous attack on Kleeb’s heritage and identity:

“enough of the indignation about his family being from Nebraska. His parents are. He’s not.” “he has no legitimate ties to western Nebraska”, “I consider him a carpet-bagger, and nothing I can find out about the man changes my mind....”

Not content with merely slashing and rehashing Kleeb’s past (you know, the awful sins of growing up on a military base and attending school at Yale), the conservative attack dogs offered a glimpse into the future, informing us helpfully that Kleeb “already has his saddlebags packed and the stagecoach tickets bought” in order to flee the state after losing the election:

“Don’t cry for Scooter Kleeb, Argentina - by sun-up this morning he was doubtless humming “I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane” while thumbing through his Rolodex in search of what he hopes this time will be a real soft spot in the underbelly of the great American Body Politic.”

So successful was this attack in the blogosphere that by fall the fantasy of a Kleeb exodus had reached more legitimate partners in the “vast rightwing conspiracy”, with the Grand Island Independent suggesting “it will be interesting to see if Kleeb stays on as a highly-educated ranch hand or vanishes like tumbleweed on a high plains wind if he loses this contest.”

It’s difficult to overestimate the nastiness of this attack or its devastating impact on the state as a whole. This was not a policy difference or a shot at Kleeb’s resume and experience. There was no suggestion of either professional or personal wrong-doing, no gaffe-induced feeding frenzy… no attack on anything Kleeb had ever said or done.

No, this was a coordinated effort to rob a man of an identity he’s held his entire life. An identity as a Nebraskan. And in doing so, the conservative blogosphere and its mainstream allies have helped rob this state of a "Husker Nation" that extends far beyond the number of Nebraska ballots or driver’s licenses. A community that includes a great number of people seeking a path that may wind its way around the world but always (hopefully, always) finds its way back home.

Before you make an argument like that, you’d better be damn sure. But on this matter our would-be punditry was damn wrong:

Former Democratic congressional candidate Scott Kleeb turned down a chance to return to his alma mater, Yale University, but says staying in Nebraska doesn't necessarily mean he's decided to run for office again...

This week, Kleeb took his name out of consideration for a job directing the Yale-based World Fellows Program, a training program for young leaders.

Kleeb was a fellow in the program in 2002 and three times has hosted fellows on an educational tour of his relatives' ranch near Dunning, Neb. That is the ranch where Kleeb worked during breaks between studies at Yale and the University of Colorado and where he established his residence.

Kleeb said the Yale job was hard to turn down, but Nebraska "is home. This is where I need to be. This is where I belong."

Kleeb recently married Jane Fleming, the outgoing executive director of Young Democrats of America, whom he met during the campaign. The couple reside in Hastings.

Kleeb has been hired to teach an introductory course in American history at Hastings College, said Rich Lloyd, academic dean of the school. Currently, Kleeb is working for a Nebraska ranch to build its international beef sales and helping form a coalition of agricultural and environmental groups on climate-change issues. (Omaha World Herald April 14, 2007)
Scott Kleeb is a Nebraskan... not just by heritage, but by choice. His journey has brought him halfway around the world. It could've brought him back to Yale, or at least (for those cynics out there) to greener political pastures. But instead it brought him back to Nebraska, the one place that always was and always will be "home".

The least he deserved for making that decision was to be taken seriously as a candidate, to be allowed into a dialog of ideas and to be heard. That's the least Western Nebraska deserved as well. They didn't get it in 2006.

Unfortunately, I think the only thing the attack dogs learned from this ordeal is that such "below-the-belt" strategies work, that they might even be their only weapon against the inevitable erosion of our rural one-party system. Already it seems they're gearing up for the next election, this time turning their rhetorical guns on Kleeb's wife, another (new) Nebraskan by choice.

What can I say? Some things never change. But for the sake of our politics and the future of this state, some things must. We can no longer afford this despicable attack, this self-defeating notion that a man can't cross our borders and remain a Nebraskan at heart.

The Husker Nation deserves better. Scott Kleeb deserves better. And we sure as hell deserve more.

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13 Comments:

Anonymous Dave Sund said...

The same attack appears to be Jon Bruning's weapon of choice in his campaign for Senate. He has, at various points, leveled the "carpetbagger" attack on both Chuck Hagel and Bob Kerrey.

In the face of a complicit media that willfully repeats these lies (particularly when it came to Kleeb) and Republicans who have absolutely no conscience about these things, Democrats have to stand up to these kind of things.

Sometimes, it's as easy as standing up and saying "I'm a Nebraskan."

6/11/2007  
Blogger Ryan Anderson said...

"Sometimes, it's as easy as standing up and saying "I'm a Nebraskan."

Unfortunately, it's almost never that easy. The carpet-bagger attack is more than just a good line, it's an entire story, a complete narrative... and a damn compelling one, too.

Calling someone a carpet bagger paints a pretty complete picture: Candidate X doesn't know what issues effect you. He doesn't care. He's just here to fool you into offering him the power and prominence of "community leader", even if he doesn't belong to the community and has no interest in actually "leading".

That's not bad for two words (or one, or two-with-a-hyphen).

The simple truth can't compete with that narrative, because the simple truth isn't compelling enough to stick. To be perfectly honest, I think that's where the Kleeb campaign fell short. Here was a candidate with a very compelling and unique background, running for office in a state that prides itself in electing people with unusual histories, and the "Generations" ad they cut to introduce him to voters tried to portray him as a Generic, Model A Nebraska farmboy. Which he isn't. He doesn't fit that cliche, and in my mind that's exactly what makes him so Nebraskan. Nebraska is weird. We like people who break the mold... not conform to it.

All of which is besides the point (and for what it's worth, it's very difficult to find flaws in Kleeb's campaign strategy). The claim itself is both untrue and reprehensible. The lowest of the low. But it works, and we shouldn't underestimate its power and potential.

6/11/2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the fact of the matter is that nebraska is becoming a destination for political opportunists of both parties, namely kleeb and fortenberry. it's changing the face of nebraska politics, for the worse.

6/11/2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand the "hesitation" among Nebraskans to an extent, but what they are choosing NOT to see is that Scott is a very educated man who CHOSE to return to Nebraska and give back to/for the good of the state, particularly western Nebraska. Rather than undermining that devotion, the state should have embraced his knowledge, patriotism, and loyalty to coming back willing to make a difference. He appears to be someone who is not jaded by the "political mess" that captivates 24 hour news channels, he seems genuine and willing to make a difference for the good of Nebraska. Isn't that what Nebraskans really want? Someone to support THEIR needs, THEIR desires, when larger cities and states seem to captivate attention and Nebraska is often forgotten. Why NOT have a well-educated and invested person boldly discuss the important needs of the state?! Even within the state and it's legislation, central and western Nebraska is mistreated due to it's lack of population. Shouldn't someone educated and driven speak for those underrepresented populations?
Many may disagree with my following comment but I think at times it means more when one sees the world and chooses to return. That means that they have seen other opportunities and yet they KNOW where their heart and their "home" truly is. To me it means more to have someone reside in Nebraska "at last" versus someone who resided in Nebraska first. Many educated people go off to school in other places, should Scott Kleeb be punished for his Yale degree?
I am a Hastings College graduate and I was more than pleased to see that Scott Kleeb will soon be teaching there. Hastings College is very fortunate to attract such an educated and devoted man, and I hope that the state of Nebraska soon recognizes the value of Scott Kleeb and the strength that he could bring to the political platform and the state as a whole.
I am very proud to be a Nebraskan but I am unhappy with our state's attempt to hold back such a strong candidate. Both Scott Kleeb and his wife appear to be value-oriented, mindful, conscience driven people who are very forward thinking...isn't that what we, as Nebraskans, want to represent us?

6/12/2007  
Blogger Lisa Hannah said...

The comments during the campaign made me sick. They were dripping with hate, and all an attempt to make Scott into something he wasn't.

Scott is a decent, dedicated, HONEST, kind, intelligent, hardworking person. Something a relative of his, Butch, said to me the night of the election has stuck with me: If every voter in the 3rd had been able to talk face-to-face with Scott, he would have won with a wide margin. He's that likable and geniune.

I, too, graduated from Hasting College and am THRILLED Scott will be working under Dr. Rob Babcock (who happened to be my favorite professor!).

But even after all this, what could come out of this is something GOOD. If Scott decides to run again, and if he runs against Adrian Smith again, Smith and his hacks will have lost all their arguments. Scott will now be:
1) A Nebraska Resident (he was before, but they didn't believe that)
2) A property owner (therefore paying taxes they claimed he never paid, even though he did).
3) No longer an "east coast liberal" - he will teach at a private Christian college.
4) Married - that's always a good thing with Nebraskans.

Also, he won't have to start all over introducing himself. He's keeping himself available, and with the help of supports, his name is being kept in the public conciousness. He won't have to start over with introducing himself to everyone.

I think we've only just seen the start of an amazing career - Scott will someday represent Nebraska, and he will make everyone, R's and D's alike, proud of his leadership. That is something I do not doubt.

6/12/2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

unbelievable.

it sickens me how the calculated steps he is taking are not seen as disingenuous. look no further than his costume; i've never seen anyone look so uncomfortable in cowboy boots. his only concern is his political career, and he can't pull his ivy league wool over nebraskans' eyes forever.

this is not just partisan banter, i say the same things about fortenberry. he was recruited by church leaders to come steal a seat in little ole' nebraska just a few years ago.

this happens, people, and to not even acknowledge the fact is irresponsible.

6/12/2007  
Anonymous queenb said...

hopefully this partisan extreme ideal in both state and national politics will be a form of motivation for the "middle of the road" people to get involved.
Yes, i am an idealist, but i have been so turned of by the party system that i am having trouble defending it. But i do understand it, and i understand why Kleeb is staying in nebraska...come on, he may not have decided yet, but if he is going to run again, it IS best he stay. If you are going to be in the political game, you ahve to play. I just wish better players would enter instead of gettin transplant puppets like fortenberry to fill the shoes of our future politicians....

6/12/2007  
Blogger Kyle Michaelis said...

Ryan's article is great, but I've grown weary of the romanticization of the Nebraska voters' independence. While we've elected our share of quirky non-conformists, you aren't likely to find bigger tools anywhere than our own Lee Terry and Adrian Smith. Not to mention, our most recent governors, Mike Johanns and Dave Heineman, are both such cookie-cutter partisans in their respective political scheming that Nebraska nonpartisanship is in danger of fading into myth. Honestly, Ben Nelson's 2006 victory wasn't any great victory for nonpartisanship. That was just plain common sense.

If Kleeb's going to win in Nebraska, more important than proving his credentials as a Nebrakan might be his ability to present himself as larger than life and bigger than politics. More than nonconformists, I think what Nebraskans really want are politicians who make us feel relevant and important on the national stage. When there's no candidate who will do that, we fall back on this sad bunch of status quo Republicans who currently hold most of our elected offices.

Comparing the 2006 3rd District race with the 2004 1st District race, one really is reminded just how much better Republians are on the attack. Kleeb had a lot more ties to the Nebraska than Fortenberry ever did yet got hammered as a "carpetbagger" far stronger and more effectively on every possible front. As a Democrat, I'm not ashamed that we're so horrible at using negative attacks...but we'd damn well find other ways of staying on the offensive with our message or we'll continue to be defined into oblivion by these sorts of cheap political soundbytes.

6/12/2007  
Blogger Ryan Anderson said...

"If Kleeb's going to win in Nebraska, more important than proving his credentials as a Nebrakan might be his ability to present himself as larger than life and bigger than politics. More than nonconformists, I think what Nebraskans really want are politicians who make us feel relevant and important on the national stage. When there's no candidate who will do that, we fall back on this sad bunch of status quo Republicans who currently hold most of our elected offices."

Well put, Kyle. Better said by you than me, perhaps, but this is essentially what I believe. I don't mean to suggest that this affection for "larger than life" figures is the only force in Nebraska politics, but it's there and it's significant. It affords us an opportunity that many red state Democrats don't have.

And, of course, encouraging and participating in these romantics makes Nebraskans feel important and relevant. We're special because we think of ourselves as special.

Like Tinkerbell, Kyle. It's our belief in that independence that helps keep it alive.

6/12/2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i hate to burst your bubble, but the man at the top of nebraska's larger than life list couldn't beat a painfully unimpressive heineman.

kleeb has done nothing more than get a couple degrees, one of them at the liberal bastion that is boulder. his best chance was, like fortenberry, to steal an election in his first year or two in the state while people knew nothing of him. galavanting around with his talking head wife and her buddies isn't going to make him any more accepted as a nebraskan, or any better of a candidate.

6/12/2007  
Blogger Lisa Hannah said...

You know, the fact that the "anonymous anti-Kleeb's" of Nebraska are so dedicated to continuing with their attempts to make him into something he's not, and this many months after the election, show just how much influence and presence he had last year, and continues to have.

He IS a Nebraskan, he HAS worked on the family ranch for many many years (and long before he ever thought of running for office), he IS dedicated, he IS a threat to all they want to keep holy - the hold of the "R" in Nebraska.

And while most active progressives in the Nebraska blogging community are proud to show their faces and identify themselve, most of those who considered themselve right-wing continue to remain anonymous and hidden.

And to the person that felt Scott had on a "costume", the picture Ryan put up was from, I believe, 1999, LONG before ever ran...and while he was working his summers and holiday's on the ranch. Go figure!

6/12/2007  
Anonymous Jacob Riley said...

To whomever mentioned how "the church told Fortenberry to come steal away a seat in Nebraska":

Anyone who makes such a ridiculous claim is either being deliberatly obtuse or hasn't been paying attention to Nebraska politics for very long.

By the time the 2004 election rolled around, Fortenberry had already served a term on the Lincoln city council AND had lived in the state for 10 years. I don't think you can even remotely compare that to the Scott Kleeb situation. And no offense to Mr. Kleeb, but Adrian Smith would have to do something profoundly stupid for 3rd District voters to boot him out after only one term.

6/13/2007  
Anonymous Dave Sund said...

Jacob -

He's well on his way.

6/13/2007  

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