Wednesday, September 9, 2009

His Heroes Have Always Been... Conservatives?

Tonight when President Obama addresses a Joint Session of Congress, legislators from every state in the union will have the opportunity to listen to the administration's plan for reforming health care. Members of Congress will have the opportunity to listen to the unadulterated truth, truth that has largely been missing as they have listened to Tea Party protesters, anti-reform activists, and astro turfing at town hall meetings throughout the month of August. One member, Congressman Walt Minnick (D-Idaho), will have one last chance to take the Democratic message to heart, a message he has largely opposed and ignored throughout the congressional recess and in the months preceding it.

This morning as President Obama offered his own remarks at the memorial service for former CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite who passed away in July, two thoughts came to mind about Obama and heroes.

Remember last year when then candidate Obama made a campaign stop in Boise, speaking to some 14,000 in attendance? Remember how then candidate Minnick strategically placed himself in the crowd behind Obama so nearly every camera in the place caught Minnick's smiling face in the crowd? Was Minnick smiling because he was truly excited about Obama's campaign or was he simply pleased to see his political mentor, Cecil Andrus, introduce Obama that day to a crowd of potential Democratic voters? Tonight in that congressional chamber as President Obama takes to the podium, will Minnick get excited about Democratic politics and real progressive reform as so many progressives did that day when Obama flew to Boise to give a stump speech? Probably not.

Just after Congressman Minnick took office in January 2009, he gave an interview to Idaho Public Television's Idaho Reports wherein he spoke about partisan politics and his political heroes in the House.

Immediately Minnick pointed out in the interview that he "was never involved in Idaho politics, [he] was a businessman." Whether this was a way of distancing himself from the traditional political fray or a way of saying, as he often does, that he was bringing a certain political independence to the office is unclear. What was clear in that interview was that Minnick had absolutely no qualms when it came to associating himself with the other members of the Idaho delegation:
"We feel strongly that most things are not partisan... The fact that we have representation in both parties allows us to work both sides of the political street and work the administration."
Minnick has certainly been "working" both sides of the aisle. Within the span of a month, Minnick spoke to faithful Democrats in Blaine County and Boise's North End to explain his conservative voting record and then turned around and spoke to TEA Party Boise, certainly a fringe group of conservatives who of course cheered when Minnick referred to North End Democrats as "crazy." The "working" of the administration that Minnick appears to be guilty of resides in the campaign enthusiasm for Obama and progressive policies and the disconnect he exhibits daily in his anti-reform statements and anti-Obama votes. Keep in mind Minnick has voted against Obama's stimulus bill, cap and trade and the Pay for Performance Act, while promising he will vote against health care reform (what he terms "socialized medicine"), even if it turns out to be something penned by Max Baucus. Where's the Obama love now, Walt?

Not only did Minnick say he's willing to work whichever side he needs to work to accomplish his own political objectives, he did something that is becoming Minnickesque--he sang the praises of his colleague and fellow member of the House, Congressman Mike Simpson. His first mention of Simpson in the Idaho Reports interview on January 23, 2009, went as follows (with Minnick's added chuckle):
"It turned out [Simpson and I] voted 100% the same on all the issues that had come before Congress the first two weeks... It won't always be that way...It doesn't matter if you're Republican or Democrat, and we all feel that way."
As of today, Open Congress lists Minnick as having voted with his party 64% of the time, Mike Simpson is listed as having voted with the Republican Party 85% of the time, Senator Crapo 93% with the Republicans, and Senator Risch 94%. By numbers alone it would appear that while Congressman Minnick may say that partisanship doesn't matter to the Idaho congressional delegation, it would appear that the only member partisanship, or even loyalty to one's party, doesn't matter to is Minnick himself.

Now, backing up to the two ideas that stemmed from listening to Obama's remarks at the memorial service for "the most trusted man in America," the concept of heroes is now at the forefront.

The death of Walter Cronkite reminded us that it was President Kennedy, a liberal hero in his own right, who promised we would send a man to the moon and we did, something we celebrated the 40th anniversary of just last month. However, we didn't send a man to the moon while President Kennedy was alive to see it, it was Walter Cronkite who came into American homes to break the news that the young, inspiring president was fatally shot in Dallas. Cronkite brought us news of our heroes, while serving as a hero for many who would be a part of the news media in the future.

Today Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric spoke of their hero, Walter Cronkite, today and tonight President Obama, a hero to many in this country and throughout the world, will speak to a chamber full of potential heroes--congressmen and women who have the opportunity to speak up now to make access to adequate and affordable health care a reality for Americans who have for too long dreamed about the day when health care would be attainable. Hopefully Congressman Minnick will take this opportunity to let the message resonate, but it is doubtful that Congressman Minnick will step up and be the kind of congressman he stated in his interview on Idaho Reports he hoped to be:
Idaho Reports: Do you have any role models in the House of Representatives? Anybody you would like to maybe model your leadership style or decision-making style after?

Minnick: "I'm a Blue Dog Democrat... Congressman Ross from Florida, Congressman Tanner from Tennessee... They are role models for me and frankly, Congressman Simpson is as well. He's been very responsible. He's been pragmatic. He's willing to work across the aisle... Those kinds of congressmen that I hope to both emulate while I am in the Congress and be remembered as that kind of congressman who wants to get things done. Not particularly partisan and willing to solve problems whether the idea originates with Republicans or Democrats."
Congressman Minnick could not be more indecisive in his choice of role models. He points to Congressmen Ross and Tanner because they, like him, are Blue Dog Democrats. As we all know, the Blue Dog Democrats are largely responsible for the breakdown of discussion about health care reform prior to the August recess. Though Ross and Tanner are more supportive of Democratic ideals and progressive policy initiatives, they share the responsibility with other Blue Dogs when it comes to losing support and legislative momentum for the passage of health care legislation that would include a public option. Blue Dog Democrats claim to be fiscal conservatives, but in all reality, they are Democrats who were elected from districts that would not elect them should they bow to all the forces of their designated party affiliations.

The difference between Ross, Tanner and Minnick is that Ross and Tanner are fiscally conservative Democrats and Minnick is simply a fiscal conservative hindered in his district by the (D) behind his name.

Ross and Tanner have some allegiance to their party whereas Minnick only needed his party prior to getting elected and has since abandoned his party, especially Blaine County Dems and North End Boise Dems who gave liberally to his campaign, in governance. Congressman Tanner votes with the Democratic Party 95%, at 66% similarity with Minnick. Ross votes with the Democrats 95% of the time, with a 65% similarity to Minnick. Closest to Minnick of them all is Congressman Simpson, voting with his party 85% of the time and Minnick 68% of the time.

Is Minnick tossing the 'hero' label at Mike Simpson's feet because he sees independence in Simpson or because Simpson really deserves to be a role model of any sort? Or does Minnick admire Simpson because of Simpson's ability to vote with the other side from time to time without losing the support of hard-line Republicans?

In a state that has been greatly served by elected Democrats like Frank Church, Cecil Andrus, John Evans and Richard Stallings, Walt Minnick would appear to have a great pool of potential role models, but even if the question were opened up to include role models outside of the House, Minnick may have continued with praise for Congressman Simpson or maybe would have branched out to praise Senator Crapo as he did at the TEA Party event last month at the Owyhee Plaza. In a legislative body of many distinguished public servants, he isn't impressed with a single Western Democrat or lifelong progressive? There are true American heroes serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, but Congressman Minnick would rather look to obstructionists. That alone speaks volumes to Walt Minnick's character.

Tonight when that historic chamber is filled with the nation's leaders, let's hope they are listening. Let's hope Congressman Minnick listens to the message of our president and let's hope he remembers that once upon a time he paraded as a progressive Democrat who was going to support President Obama's policies. Let's hope Congressman Minnick realizes that pandering to the conservative base is not going to secure him the Democratic base that strongly supports health care reform and the public option. Congressman Minnick can praise Mike Simpson all he wants, but at the end of the day it is the Democratic base he needs to be re-elected and those voters couldn't care less about Mike Simpson.

(H/T: The MountainGoat Report)

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