The Minnesota State Fair is going on right now. Unlike many state fairs, Minnesota’s is located in the heart of the metropolitan area, just north of St. Paul, just south of the University of Minnesota. And so the fair becomes a huge magnet, not just for people coming out to eat pronto pups, but for politics. If you’re a Minnesota politician, you’re going to have to put in time at the fair. Indeed, former Sen. Rudy Boschwitz, R-Minn., best known nationally as the guy Wellstone beat, built a huge following based on the fact that he had a booth at the state fair where you could get root-beer-flavored milk. I am not making this up.
Anyhow, because the state fair is a magnet for politicians, it’s also a magnet for political activists. And here in the silly season, that means that there are roving bands of teabaggers looking to challenge DFL elected officials on health care.
One of these roving bands decided to take on freshman Sen. Al Franken, DFL-Minn. And the discussion that followed was exactly the sort of discussion that we should be having.
I have expressed concern about Al Franken being too partisan as a senator; I’m not opposed to him being liberal, but by the same token, I know that successful politicians are able to fight their opponents with a smile.
This discussion is Franken at his best. Franken doesn’t talk down or attack people who want to attack him, lays out a sensible case for health care reform, stresses points of agreement between everyone, and generally disarms people who see this as a socialist plot to steal sick people’s bodily fluids.
The reason, though, that Franken is successful here is that he knows what the hell he’s talking about. He’s not rattled by the hokum; he’s interested in countering it and refuting it, and trying to bring along as many conservatives as he can.
I understand the argument that Democrats should give up on seeking GOP votes for health care reform, that we can water down the bill so far that it only realistically allows the poor access to high-deductible plans, which they then are required to purchase. There are health care bills that are a cure worse than the disease. And while I am not in the camp that thinks jettisoning the public option is the point of no return (I’m far more concerned about making sure subsidies are robust), I am decidedly in the camp that thinks that progressives are right to push hard for as good a bill as possible.
But that doesn’t mean we should stop talking to Republicans. Yes, GOP politicians are going to spew bile, and GOP talk show hosts are going to spread conspiracy theories, and there’s a big chunk of GOP activists who really believe that Barack Obama is going to use mind control powers to steal their children. But there are also Republicans out there who are Republican because they haven’t been engaged by anyone who knows what they’re talking about. Republicans who might not agree with the health care reform bill that’s passed, but who could at least be persuaded that it isn’t a Trojan horse for Stalinism.
Part of a politician’s job is to engage with people that disagree with him or her. To show those people respect. To listen to them, and to attempt to persuade them. One can do that the way the Republican party does, by endlessly looping a few basic talking points. Or one can actually try to, you know, engage adults like adults, talk to grown-ups like grown-ups, and explain what one believes. In the end, the Democratic Party needs its leaders, including the President, to start emulating Al Franken here. To fight opponents of health care reform, not with anger, but with truth. To accept that we may disagree with each other, but to believe that disagreement is no reason for bitterness. Yes, it sucks that Democrats have to be the grown-ups — for it is more fun just to shout back at the shouters. But someone has to be the grown-ups. It might as well be us.
(Via Dusty Trice.)
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