A Sad Day for Nebraska Blogsby Kyle Michaelis
Today is a very important day for blogging in Nebraska. I would propose that it is a sad day as well. Although sites such as SmithWatch, Paging Power, Leavenworth Street, the UNO Democrats Blog, and New Nebraska Network each have their respective political agendas, they have always seemed works of passion, reflecting on who their contributors are and what they honestly believe.
But, our Republican counterpart at Leavenworth Street has changed all that with the anonymous Street Sweeper's allowing his site to be used as a tool of shameless, outright political manipulation. Some might contend that Leavenworth has always been such a tool, but - in our own way - the same could have been said of the other sites mentioned above as well (including NNN).
That changed today. With no pretense of fairness, objectivity or public service - without even the author's identity that there might be some measure of personal accountability - Street Sweeper has crossed a line from which I fear there will be no turning back. The world of online Nebraska politics just got ugly, folks, and that ugliness is probably here to stay.
Below, you see a personal note published this morning at Leavenworth Street. It is from homegrown corporate giant David Sokol - CEO of MidAmerican Energy - to U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel, expressing Sokol's continued support of Hagel in whatever decision he might make for his future political career.
With Sokol having allied himself with upstart Hagel challenger Jon Bruning - not only paying for Bruning's statewide opinion polling but also recently announced as the Bruning campaign's Finace Chair - the above note might seem a statement of outright hypocrisy that would be relevant to interested political observers. But, this is politics, and a careful reading of Sokol's qualified statement reveals only continued support and "friendship" for Hagel, along with a promise of future contributions. The note does not swear any particular allegiance or fidelity to Hagel that would preclude Sokol's pursuing other options and lending his support to other potential candidates.
Regardless, I don't really care who some Omaha multi-millionaire is hedging his bets with in the 2008 Republican primary. Sokol isn't an elected official. He's a guy with money, and he should be able to do with it whatever he damn well pleases within the confines of the law. If there's some suggestion of corruption here, there's a story to be told. But, if Sokol just wants to play games with Hagel and Bruning - pretending to be buddies with both while playing one against the other in the real world of electoral politics, it's hard to see how that justifies turning the tables on a private citizen in so public a forum with no concern for the principles at stake.
Here's what's probably most disturbing - this correspondence could only have come from Sokol's people or Hagel's. And, considering the tone of Leavenworth's commentary and the site's history of publishing inside information directly from the Hagel camp, it looks to definitely have come from the latter. In fact, Street Sweeper might very well be a paid Hagel lackey.
In my mind, release of this note can only really serve two possible functions - (a) embarrassing Bruning for over-stating Sokol's support or (b) reminding Sokol that politics is a two-way street and that an experienced politician in a free fall makes for a very dangerous enemy. In either event, this is a leaked document that is strictly private in nature. By publishing it, Leavenworth Street has gone beyond the pale. This article is nothing more than an instance of raw political manuevering, making a private citizen a pawn of an anonymous blogger's (not-so) hidden political agenda.
Of course, Leavenworth Street has always been suspect. Despite its first introducing itself as a site for humorous, middle-of-the-road, independent political commentary, it was obvious from the start that Street Sweeper only took the part about being funny seriously. Other than that, the site has proven itself little more than an occasionally amusing online weapon of Nebraska's Republican establishment.
But, no matter how ugly things have gotten in the Nebraska GOP, no matter how quickly, this latest post simply goes too far. Leavenworth has gone beyond the free-for-all world of politics with an attack on a local business leader's integrity that is very, very personal. For this, I don't feel much sympathy for Mr. Sokol, but I am very worried by the precedent it sets across the spectrum of Nebraska politics.
When this sort of private correspondence is fair game for leaking to local bloggers who are without principle and accountable to no one, there is no logical end to the ugliness and stupidity that will eventually result. This day has been a long time coming. From this point forward, I'm afraid we are likely to see more of the same - even if I expect it to be quite amusing should two powerful factions of the Nebraska Republican Party engage in the full-on, open warfare that seems to be developing.
Their loss could be our gain. What troubles me is the just-as-likely scenario in which, quite simply, we all lose.