Something strange and tangy is happening in the Rocky Mountains. The Democratic Party is being reborn, with a raft of colorful candidates who have won the hearts of independents and moderate Republican voters, or so says an article in Time Magazine by Joe Klein – and convincingly so.
As the 2008 presidential campaign begins, there are lessons to be learned here for both national parties, but especially for Democrats, lessons involving both style and substance. The top-line Democratic candidates for President in 2008–people like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards–are a decidedly un-Western crowd. They tend to be coastal, urban, legislative. They tend to talk too formally–and too much about too little. They tiptoe and kowtow when confronted by the gothic array of Democratic interest groups. At a time when political pomp and blab have come to seem prohibitively pompous and bloviational, Rocky Mountain politics is fresh and innovative and fun. It might not be a bad idea for Hillary and Barack and the rest to pause for a moment before the big show starts and take a look at what’s happening just west of Iowa, in an electorally overlooked region of the country that just may hold the key to winning the White House in 2008.
Interestingly, this article paints the Western Democratic agenda in the same colors I’ve tried to apply to all Democrats. Colors of pragmatism and moderation. Take, for example, Buffie McFayden, a local state rep whose district had 12 prisons and a solid Republican majority that voted for her because “the right’s gone so far to the right, you can’t recognize them anymore. When the wingers accuse me of being a liberal, I say, Sure, if you mean that I’m in favor of staying out of people’s private lives and balancing the budget and I’m against stealing.”
Then there’s Barbara O’Brien, a candidate for Lieutenant Governor, who says, “I doubt you’d find a Democratic ticket like us anywhere else in the country. Bill Ritter is pro-life, and I’m not even a politician. I ran a children’s advocacy group and took positions that upset Democrats in the past–like, I testified in favor of a limited, targeted school-voucher program. But that’s the way it is out here in the West. People like their politicians independent.”
Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer (who earned bonus points with me for calling Hugo Chavez a thug,) is often mentioned as a presidential candidate. A cowboy to be sure, has a master’s in soil science from Montana State University and spent seven years building irrigation projects in Saudi Arabia. He speaks fluent Arabic and has a sophisticated grasp of Middle Eastern politics and the history of oil. He has an alternative fuel plan involving coal. Klein asks him how a Democrat could sell an energy pitch in a presidential campaign.
“I can do it in a 60-second spot,” he said. “Put me on the clock.” And he was off to the races: “Folks, we’ve got a problem. We Americans use 6.5 billion bbl. of oil a year. We produce 2.5 billion ourselves. We import 4 billion from the world’s worst dictators. We need to stop doing that. We can save 1 billion bbl. through conservation. Things like more efficient cars, homes and appliances. We can produce another 1 billion bbl. of biofuels with agricultural crops like corn, soybeans and canola. We can produce 2 billion bbl. a year turning our enormous coal reserves to clean-burning gas. We can achieve energy independence in 10 years, create a whole new industry with tens of thousands of high-paying jobs, and you’ll never have to send your grandchildren to war in the Middle East. I’m Brian Schweitzer, and I approved this message.”
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