I have long been an ugly American: I’ve hated soccer. I didn’t understand it and resisted watching it until this summer, when the beauty of the game was revealed by the Euro 2008 championship. It turns out that soccer is a beautiful, intricate game in which incredible teamwork and individual virtuosity are required for success. The only flaw in the game? When inferior teams, lacking an effective playbook or skilled players spend the match flopping all over the field, hoping that the referee will save them.
Soccer is an apt metaphor the political scene in Montana these days. Frustrated by a lack of vision, their recent defeats and inept leadership, the Montana Republican Party has resorted to falling all over the campaign field, hoping that the public will agree that some foul has been committed. Unable to win the game on the merits of their ideas, they hope to win simply by making the other team look bad.
The latest Republican flop has been the gnashing of teeth and wailing by the Montana Republican Party about some remarks made in jest by Governor Schweitzer at a July meeting of the American Association for Justice. I wouldn’t waste your time reading any of it; despite the feigned outrage about the sanctity of the electoral process, the real significance of the posts and the official response of the Republican Party is what it demonstrates about their platform for Montana. It’s nothing. It’s empty. Because they lack substantive means to criticize the Governor or to prefer their MIA candidate Roy Brown, the Republican and their attack dogs have tried one pathetic narrative after another to discredit the governor.
First, it was that Governor Schweitzer was out of touch with Montana. That didn’t ever fly, because it was so transparently stupid that even people who read right wing Montana blogs could tell it wasn’t true. The second narrative lasted a bit longer. Republicans didn’t like the governor, because he was a big, mean, bully. Despite their John Wayne fantasies and psychologically questionable hyper-masculine behavior, Republicans wanted to make Montanans believe that Governor Schweitzer picked on them and pushed them around unfairly. Most Montanans see through that narrative, too. Where people like Mike Lange see a bully, we see an effective leader, who has gotten things done.
Now, we’ve entered the third the development of the third narrative: Governor Schweitzer is corrupt and has behaved unethically, or even illegally over the 2006 election. Even if you put aside the instinctive disbelief generated by supporters of George Bush and Conrad Burns getting indignant about the sanctity of elections, and you choose to ignore that voter suppression is not something practiced by Democrats in Montana, it’s an absurd charge. There’s no substance here, but the Republicans will use it to smear the Governor as much as possible, without ever actually needing or being able to prove anything.
These accusations will never move past the stage of vague aspersions against the Governor’s character. Why? Because that is how the modern Republican Party operates: smear, innuendo, and feigned outrage. (Oh, and let’s not forget hypocrisy. I, for one, look forward to a Montana right wing blog and Erik Iverson to demand that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin fully cooperate with the Troopergate investigation). These allegations would not last two minutes in a courtroom, and that’s why the Republicans want to extend the story in the pliant press, milking it for what little it’s worth.
What’s it all about in the end? The emptiness of their ideology. Republicans know that Roy Brown’s campaign has been a joke, and have not been able to come up with one good reason to elect him, so their strategy is to smear. It’s no different than the obscene tactics used by George Bush against John Kerry and the increasingly hostile and dishonest way that John McCain has turned the 2008 presidential elections from issues to dishonest distractions.
Governor Schweitzer probably shouldn’t have made the remarks—conservatives aren’t very good at satire, and it makes them angry. But it’s time in this state and nation to stop letting trumped-up outrage and partisan politics matter more than the real meaning of political life: good governance.
What progress can we make as a nation if it’s better to flop, hoping for a phantom foul than to advance the ball? It’s time that we stop rewarding the Republican Party for being so damn outraged and offended—and time to make them prove that they have a substantive vision that will actually improve our lives, rather than just coarsen our politics.