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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Hurst to Dems: Save Ire for 2012 Primary on Herseth Sandlin

I've been chewing on this one all week: in a brilliant and blistering essay, Sam Hurst of The Dakota Day calls Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin a "self-hating Democrat" who attacks liberals and her own party. Hurst brands Herseth Sandlin a cynical opportunist who when not flat wrong on the issues is "timid and disinterested." Hurst says Herseth Sandlin sabotaged real health care reform and "has not given Democrats a single reason to vote for her."

Hurst concludes we Democrats should vote for her.

Why? Because in the binary world of red-light/green-light, she does not need to be a good congresswoman...just a better one than Kristi Noem. That is an easy case for Herseth-Sandlin to make. And in a season where the balance of power in the House is at stake, that is enough. This is a frail reason to vote. It is utterly without imagination or enthusiasm. It is a strategy built on the most crass understanding of practical binary politics. But this November, that is reason enough [Sam Hurst, "The Logic of Binary Politics Compels Democrats to Vote for Herseth Sandlin," The Dakota Day, 2010.09].

Hurst wants the 3834 Weiland Wildcats and other crotchety Dems to hold their noses through November... and not one day longer. Come Wednesday November 3, Hurst says it's primary time!

His thinking here matches a thought I've been toying with even as I've watched Stephanie Herseth Sandlin surge and Kristi Noem repeatedly shoot herself in the lead foot. Perhaps the message from Dems to our incumbent in this race needs to be something like a warning ticket. We're giving Herseth Sandlin a pass this one time because Noem is a bad candidate. She is ill-suited to represent South Dakota effectively. Allowing her to take the House seat by our inaction is unconscionable.

Besides, unseating an incumbent Noem with a Hurstian McGovernite in 2012 would be significantly harder than launching a successful lefty Dem to Washington against a Republican non-incumbent following a spectacular primary victory over a four-term Democratic incumbent.

Let's take Hurst's advice and put Herseth Sandlin on probation. We keep her in office so we can keep up the pressure and demand that she return to Demoratic principles. We tell her she has a year and a half to turn things around, and we vow to test her in spring 2012 with a serious primary challenge.

But a challenge by whom? There is the question with which at least 3834 Democrats will cudgel their brains in the weeks and months to come. Stay tuned!
Update 2010.09.23: Mr. Hurst's missive provoke more blog conversation at Mount Blogmore and the Decorum Forum.


  1. safe food, safe water, safe shelter, safe sex.

  2. I simply don't understand why the Dems are so eager to take out SHS, but are content with giving Thune a pass. Where's our "Take Down Thune" rallying cry? It's frustrating, embarrassing and cowardly.

  3. There is a contradiction there, Carmen, and I don't know how to resolve it. I sure as heck wanted a challenger for Thune, but none rose to it. We missed our chance with Thune this time, and now we're stuck for at six years. Our state party failed to make hay out of its open primary and to build its bench of candidates.

  4. The decision to vote for Herseth-Sandlin is hard. The failure to find a candidate to run against Thune is even ,pre humiliating. Both situations lead back to the same problem for Democrats...the institutional weakness of the SD Democratic Party. I am the first to sit back and laugh at the absurdity of the Tea Party program, but I have great respect for the willingness of the GOP to "fight it out" over principle in their primaries. They have a confidence that over the long term it will make the Party stronger. Democrats have no such confidence, and as a result, live in terror of their incumbents. "Vote for me, or else..." That has to end. If the Party cannot find its voice, its base, and its enthusiasm, then the only kind of candidate it will ever find to run against Thune is a sacrificial lamb who loss 90-10. That's not good for anyone.

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  7. Sam's eloquence and astute observations on the local level notwithstanding, this is a tough year to be a Democrat nationally for any number of reasons.

    Transitions are a bitch.

    It's difficult (for me at least) to admit that the GOP has become as skilled at managing chaos (via the Tea Party) as we Dems once were, but it seems — at least for the time being — they have.

    It's amazing what kind of power a group of people can generate when they're not ashamed to go all the way crazy.

  8. Resistance is futile. Flee South Dakota.

  9. I'm a bit surprised Sam would on one hand make a case for a principled stand and then advocate a Machiavelian response.

    When I lived in another legislative district, I used to refuse to vote for one of the Republicans because I didn't think he represented my party in a way I appreciated.

    While I didn't vote for the Democrat either, I just decided a non-vote was an expression of my view "When people thought "Republican," I didn't want them to have this guy as their definition or picture.

    Sam, it is amazing how much better it is for one's soul to stand up for principle.

  10. Troy. If only a non-vote mattered I would join you. Red Light-Green Light. Kristi Noem is going to be elected or Stephanie Hersth-Sandlin will be elected. "No vote" won't win. My approach is hardly Machiavellian. If anything I am overly transparent. "Come first Wednesday in November, Stephanie, here I come, along with anyone I can find who wants to confront you about principle. And this time the challenge won't be at the last minute without money or Party support."

  11. Sam,

    There is a story I once read about a Southern family at the start of the Civil War. I'm going to try to write it as I remember it in the vernacular and style I rember it.

    The family had three sons. Father called them together and said, "We are either going to fight with our neighbors or stand against slavery but we are going to fight as a family. One son said, "I know slavery is unjust to the Negro but the Yankees are going to destroy us. We must fight for our home and family." Another son said "I know the Yankee will do us harm but we must stand with the Negro."

    The father turned to the third son and said, "What will we do?" The third son said nothing, went outside and hitched up the team and began to work in the field. When he came in at dark, the father was waiting and said, "We are a family and we will fight as a family. Where will we fight for your brothers disagree on our course but are looking to you for leadership."

    "Father, I can't stand with my brother whose victory would keep the Negro in chains. Nor can I fight with my brother who rain down death and destruction on our home and family. I choose instead work the field beside the Free Negro."

    The father persisted and said, "We must choose a side for not to choose is to be a coward." But, the son perservered and said "Father, to allow another to define where I fight is cowardly."

    When the war was over, the son who fought with the Union came home and said, "My heart aches with the destruction we have wrought." The son who fought with the Confederacy said, "My heart aches for if we had won, the Negro would still be enslaved."

    The third son looked at his brothers and said "My brothers, my heart aches for I could join neither of you."

    The son who fought with the union said, "I will help my neighbor rebuild his barn destroyed by the Union army but first I must help you with the harvest." The other said, "I will help the homeless Negro build a home but first I too will help you with the harvest."

    The third son said, "While we were once separated, we are now together. First, we will build the home. Then we shall build the barn. And, when we come home, we will harvest our crop."

    Sam, my advice is you choose which son you are deep in your heart. For if any of these sons had not followed their heart, they never would have been able to come together as they did.

  12. I reject the argument that the positions of the three sons are morally equivalent. I would fight with the North, without reservation, to overthrow a form of violent political and economic feudalism that rotted the union. This is, by the way, exactly the same position that my own family of east Tennessee farmers took during the Civil War when they decided to fight as pro-Union guerillas against the Confederate Army.

  13. Sam,

    You are missing the point of the parable. While it might be hard to overlay our belief in the evil of slavery into the story, this story isn't about slavery. It is about the challenge of reconciling conflicting values. In this case it was love of country (the South), hatred of slavery, and love of hearth. Because of a desire to be brief, I couldn't give the full story. The son who stayed home was conflicted by leaving his parents, especially his mother who wanted none to fight for all she could see was the death of her sons. Each of the sons agonized over a decision they couldn't reconcile.

    Using this analogy to your situation:

    1) Voting for Herseth is like the son who fought for the Confederacy. He still desired abolition but couldn't join the other side or allow the other side to win. He preferred dealing with slavery in the future.

    2) Voting for Noem is like the son who fought for the Union for he couldn't allow South to stand another day.

    3) Not voting in this election is like the son who stayed home. He didn't wash his hands of his values for he worked side by side with the free black man in the field.

    My words don't have anything to do with this race. Bill says you are a good man and that is good enough for me. All I'm trying to say is the right decision for someone at a particular time is a very personal decision. At a different time, a different decision might be right. Or it might be one you might come to regret. But, the worst decision is one you regret immediately after you do it. I just want you to know is you have three choices which only in the depth of your heart you can find the best one.

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  15. Troy, Sam and I lived through a similar moral dilemma back in the '60's. He and I are both the same age — about 10 years your senior if I recall.

    In those days, we had brothers who volunteered to go to Vietnam and fight, brothers who were drafted and fought reluctantly, brothers who went into the military but refused to carry weapons—serving as medics instead, brothers who burned their draft cards and went to prison — later to be pardoned by Jimmy Carter, brothers who went to Canada until it was safe to come home, brothers who stayed on student deferment, and brothers who were just lucky enough to draw a high draft number in the lottery.

    Then, as now, there were no good options. And you're right. We each had to just look into our hearts and chart our own best possible course.

    I suppose the rest of it involves weighing whether the decision as to which legislator we vote for is as significant as deciding what to do with facing a draft of soldiers fighting in unjust wars.

    It might be helpful to know how each of our legislators stand in that hypothetical.

    It might help us decide.

    It might even be more important than knowing which of the candidates had the most traffic tickets.

    Whaddya think?

    (p.s. and don't even get us started on the immigration issue, okay?)

  16. Arguments by parable, fable, or allegory, etc are mostly worthless.

    The choice between Herseth-Sandlin and Kristi Noem is a hold your nose one at best, but even if Herseth rates only a "D", Noem is an "F" or zero.

    The SD Democratic Party and our candidates fail to communicate with voters and supporters. All we ever get is fund-raising appeals with no rational or exceptional issues or programs or alternatives presented to justify supporting the party or them.

    The GOP relies on fear and farcical mythology. The run on morality and virtue and have neither in larger supply than any other group, or any of the rest of us..even if we blog. Mostly the GOP is irrelevant, but they have fooled more than some of the people more than some of the time.


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