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Monday, September 6, 2010

Marking on Stage: Intelligent, Critical of Party Games, Still Not Ready

B. Thomas Marking will not be a factor in South Dakota's U.S. House race. He lacks the enthusiasm and resources to mount an effective campaign. But he was at Sunday's Congressional debate at the State Fair, and he said some things worth considering.

First, let me emphasize that Marking is intelligent and articulate. I suspect we could have an engaging conversation about political philosophy as well has his vast experience as a public servant and world traveler. His comments at Sunday's debate were not Lyndon LaRouche crackpottery or Tea Party hyperventilations.

Marking leveled some reasonable criticism of both parties. He noted with disdain that while the South Dakota Democratic Party invited Independents to vote in their primary (a blatant attempt at seducing Indies into the Party, said Marking not so inaccurately), the national party leaders swung into action to quash a challenger who threatened a real primary challenge.

Marking also criticized the culture of political parties and the press. "In the culture of the party," said Marking, "It's all about the game" and scoring points. Marking pointedly observed that "game" attitude was on display in the rowdy cheering sections at the debate. "I want to thank all of you people who didn't come here waving signs and wearing t-shirts but actually came to learn." Scolding your audience may not be the best debate tactic, but I give credit to Marking for courage and zingers.

Marking offered similar criticism of the press. He proposes an innovative online voting system, an unprecedented revolution in how we conduct democracy (well, not really: see Estonia), and the press ignores him and runs headlines like "Sparks fly between Kristi and Stephanie." Marking likened the press coverage to America's Next Top Model.

(On a related note, Marking tied with Herseth Sandlin for best-dressed candidate at Sunday's debate. Marking wore a conservative dark suit and white shirt, lacking, alas, a necktie. Herseth Sandlin wore a vibrant blue blouse and black slacks, but the open-toed black shoes don't work for me. The bright pink nail polish also lacked complements in the outfit. Noem slummed in blue jeans, all to informal for the occasion. Even if there are cows and horses outside, you should debate looking like you are ready to govern.)

Marking decried the big money the parties funnel to candidates, promoting a culture of party loyalty over candidates with integrity, talent, and vision. He said he is annoyed by party candidates who claim to be "Independent Republicans and Independent Democrats." That's like labeling a product "genuine imitation," said Marking, emphasizing that he is the only real Independent in the race. Marking won applause from a fair chunk of the audience by calling for campaign finance limitations, saying voters could best trust a candidate to rein in the federal budget who first runs a campaign on a limited budget. Unaddressed by Marking or those who applauded were the Constitutinoal complications of telling candidates that they and everyone who supports them can only spend a fixed amount on First Amendment expression.

Alas, once out of his prepared remarks, Marking sunk back into weak sloganeering and demonstrations of the shallowness of his understanding. Asked what cuts he would make to the Farm Bill, the first words out of his mouth were "This is not my area of expertise" (oops). He said he couldn't compete with the Congresswoman or Noem (double oops). On a question about the ag lending situation, he said he would defer to the Congresswoman (then get off the stage!). Even pitched a softball question asking the candidates to name "the most critical issue facing the country" (dozens of cards from the audience, and the moderator picks this puffball? Come on!), Marking muffs a chance to expound on his vision and says he'll cover that in his closing comments.

Oh yeah, and Marking still thinks a revenue-neutral 30% national sales tax would bring fiscal and economic magic to America. Wrong. (And new debate rule: I automatically vote against anyone who uses the phrase "Fair Tax," on grounds of talk-radio karaoke bubbleheadedness and dishonest addvertising. You can call rubbing my armpits with sandpaper the "Good Wash," but that doesn't make it good. Call it a national sales tax, and we can talk.)

As I said, Marking isn't stupid. He says some reasonable things about the state of American politics. He just lacks the breadth of policy knowledge necessary to be an effective Representative for South Dakota.

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