Thursday, August 6, 2009

Pushing Matheson: Balancing Support with Public Pressure

I've been amazed (but not too amazed) at the amount of "Why you gotta dog Jim?" email we've been getting here after some healthy and warranted criticism of the Congressman after his conduct in the past weeks of the health care debate. And I think it's a discussion we should all find time to have outright.

A Democrat in such a conservative state (and district) has to walk a fine line between 1) being a Democrat in practice and vote and 2) maintaining a tenuous political future. Basically, breaking from your party on high visibility and controversial votes is politically expedient. It may be frustrating, but it's important to remember that it can also be a political necessity for such a representative, and that is the reality of the position Jim is in. In a gross oversimplification, it can be expressed this way: Matheson may draw the ire of liberals and progressives for the occasional "no" vote on a big issue, but for each one of those, he's there for the Democratic party with ten "yes" votes that are also important (his commendable position on importing nuclear waste is a good example).

That said, there is also a fine line between "political cover" and running away from an opportunity to lead, and influence ones own constituents and political climate. When to run, and when to fight isn't a black and white decision ever for someone in Matheson's shoes, but part of this responsibility falls on us, the public. Specifically those in his district, but also every one of us who will be effected by something as important and as broad as health care reform.

With health care, Matheson had a choice. He could run from it with a "no," or he could spend time, money and energy in a fight to educate and sway the opinion of his constituents, in the long run benefiting not only the reform debate, but (assuming the reform plan is as popular a year or two from now as it's potential implies... especially for rural residents in Matheson's own district) but also boosting the image of the Utah State Democratic Party and future candidates. Instead, Matheson chose to not only cast a quiet "no" vote, which would have given him all the cover he needed, but in addition appear on Fox News -- twice! -- perpetuating myths and fallacies straight out of Frank Luntz's talking point playbook for the wingnuts. It was not a necessity for him to do so. Opposing the plan is one thing. Feeding the flames of Cavuto's Wingnuttia is another matter entirely, and that is exactly what Matheson chose to do.

In response, we now have a choice. We can act and speak in opposition to Matheson overall, or we can acknowledge he is there for us 95% of the time, but has let us down on this issue, at this time, and apply what public pressure we can to make sure that it stops, and that it -- hopefully -- never happens again.

Blue Dog conservative Democrats have long excused their every action with the "I'll lose my election if I do otherwise" justification. And often, this is a simple if irritating truth. But in other scenarios I believe we are letting pass under the radar in Utah, Matheson can afford to fight, should fight, and in fact has a duty to fight by simple job title alone ("Representative").

Just as we need to be realistic about what Matheson cannot do if he hopes to stay in office, Matheson and those who defend him need to be admit that "I'm a Democrat in Utah" is not a sweeping excuse for every position and every course of action. There is an opportunity to change the narrative, and raise the voter education bar. On health care reform, I believe Matheson has not only taken the path of least resistance, but has also made a mistake by being a cog in the GOP campaign against reform with his public statements.

We can put a little pressure -- respectfully, and while still acknowledging the benefit of having him in office -- on the Congressman to offer us more in the coming weeks and months without losing him entirely in 2010, and I urge every Utahn to do so.

Contact Jim @ (202) 225-3011 and let him know he owes every Utahn more than shilling for the GOP on Fox News, and actively undermining reform by doing so.

1 comment:

  1. If Jim would have just let us down on just this one issue then I might let it slide but he has basically folded on every tough issue.

    Lets say what needs to be said, he is only with the Democratic Party when being with the Democratic Party is easy. If being a Republican was easy he would go with that, he goes with whatever requires the least amount of work.

    Some might call him an opportunist, I would just call him lazy.