Montana Politics

A Somewhat Cynical Observation about Mansfield-Metcalf


While it was certainly gratifying to hear so many Montana political leaders talk about how proud they are to be Democrats last night, it was interesting to see how many of them minimized their party affiliation on their campaign signs. There were an awful lot of tiny donkeys and tiny font sizes on the banners at the event. In fact, some did not even note that the candidate was a Democrat at all.

We’re certainly not going to restore the Democratic Party to state-wide leadership and respect if we’re afraid to tell people we are Democrats. We are, and always have been, the party of the majority in this country. We’re the party of workers, the elderly, children, the middle class. We’ll never regain that majority if we’re not proud of what our party should represent.

The best example of how our candidates should act might be seen in our national officeholders. To some extent, Max Baucus’s campaign site says as much about the Senator as anything else does. By contrast, Jon Tester, who won a hard-fought fight for the Senate by energizing the Democratic Party, has a slightly different page.

Were Mike Mansfield or Lee Metcalf ever embarrassed to be Democrats? I think not. Nor should we be.

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  • the interesting thing about the banners you observed has to do with federal vs. state campaign finance law. state law requires candidates to note their party. federal law does not. given the low “brand” value partisan politics has these days, i’m not surprised candidates are touting their personal merits over those of their party.

  • A giant “Max” on a blue field hardly touts personal merits. I’m not suggesting that the candidates devote half of their signage to the party, but they certainly shouldn’t try to hide their affiliation, either.

    The only way the Democratic “brand” is going to get stronger is by having standard bearers of the party proud of that affiliation, reminding voters what it means.

    The left is in an upswing right now, but we can’t rely on the Republicans self-destructing forever.

  • I was in DC in ’68. It was weird…poor peoples march, tent city on the Mall, half a million at the Pentagon over the war, death of MLK, LBJ announcing he wouldnt run for a second term, Southern Dems. threatening to leave the party over CIvil RIghts, George Wallace getting a huge amount of Democrat support, Ted ‘Spiro’ Agnew taking bribes in the Maryland State house. A lot more interesting than back in Billings.

    The high spot, for me, was a Montana Senator on his way, late night, to the Senate office building. He came across a large group of, I think Georgetown Students, holding a rally at the edge of the US Senate ‘campus.’ Some DC city cops were whacking on the students and pushing them around. The Senator said, dressed in cowboy boots, Levis and a Pendleton shirt went to see what was going on. He turned to one of the cops and said, approximately, ‘leave the kids alone. They have a right to speak out.’

    Then the cop pushed the Senator, pushed him in the chest, and told him it was none of his business. Thats when Lee Metcalf hit the cop so hard, it knocked him to the ground. Yeah…this is not a made up story.

    The cops came over to Mecalf and were about to arrest him for assaulting a cop, after they were done beating the crap out of him, when Senate campus police escorted Metcalf into the building and told the cops they had no authority to be where they were.

    The story made front page news in DC and in the Missoulian. In 1998, the story was reprinted in the Missoulian.

    Why am I telling you this? Because Max is a pale comparison to a rancher from the Bitterroot who stood his ground for the rights of some kids he didnt even know. Because NOBODY screwed with Metcalf. He was one of the few people that LBJ avoided and Johnson was a notorious bully.

    The thing was, Metcalf was an ultimate conservationist and served Montana well. He was against the Viet Nam war, as was Mansfield, from its acceleration under the Kennedy administration. He was an advocate of 18 yr. olds voting and was an avid hunter and fisherman. You could also find him on Christmas vacation, sipping a Coke and eating peanuts at Howard Gavins electrical supply store, next to Luke’s Bar. You could ask him anything.

    He had a terrible temper, but he served all Montanans well and no Montanan would be turned away from his DC senate office. He wouldnt fit well in today’s Senate, but he was just the kind of guy most Americans felt would be from Montana ranching country.

  • Thanks for telling a great story. I’d sure like to have some more political leadership in Washington that might be a bit rough around the edges, but honest and direct.

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Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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