Sunday, August 20, 2006

My views on the Cindy Sheehan visit

One of the big news stories in August was the decision by Mayor Rocky Anderson to invite Cindy Sheehan to Salt Lake to participate in an anti-war rally during the American Legion convention. Much has been said about the importance of respecting free speech, which I agree with. Sympathy has been expressed towards Cindy’s loss of her son. Since my son is in the military, I perhaps empathize with her better than many of you. The horror of losing our wonderful son would be incomprehensible. Surely all Americans must respect her loss. I have also been a vocal supporter of the Mayor over the years. He’s controversial and relishes the role of maverick, but it’s hard to argue that he’s done an excellent job running Utah’s largest city.

My thoughts below are directed toward plain, practical politics. I think in terms of boring, practical stuff. When solving a problem, the first step is coming up with a clear problem statement. In this case, the problem statement might read as follows: Utah Democrats disagree with the conduct of the Iraq war by our President. But many of our fellow Utahns are looking at this issue with rose-colored glasses. They’ve bought the Sean Hannity line that disagreement with the President during wartime is unpatriotic (although the ever hypocritical Hannity was an unrelenting critic of President Clinton during the Kosovo conflict). So how do we get our fellow citizens to see the light?

I’m picturing a hypothetical brainstorming session where we’re all trying to come up with effective ways to help Utahns understand the truth about the Iraq war. Suddenly, somebody says, “Hey, I know! Let’s invite Cindy Sheehan to Salt Lake! Utahns will surely listen to her!” Now, one of the rules of brainstorming is you’re not allowed to call any idea stupid. But surely, wouldn’t this be one of the first ideas politely discarded?

Please note this is not about right versus wrong or good versus evil. This is about what works versus what doesn’t. How do we make the most effective argument that will change the hearts and minds of the greatest number of Utah voters?

I’m not sure what Mayor Anderson’s “problem statement” is. What problem will be solved by featuring Cindy Sheehan in a rally during President Bush’s visit? I obviously can’t answer that for him. Maybe he hasn’t thought about it himself. But it will certainly not help convince Utahns that the President is wrong about the war. It seems obvious that this visit will in fact cause us to lose ground in that effort.

One argument I’ve heard from rally supporters goes something like this: We want to convince the rest of America that not all Utahns support the President. I hate to keep coming back to that nasty practical stuff, but I have to ask: Who gives a rat’s behind what the rest of America thinks? If we could import voters from California or New York, breaking the Eagle Forum’s stranglehold on our state government would have already been done. The voters we need to care about and communicate with are Utah voters. Worrying about voters outside Utah is a deadly distraction we cannot afford.

In my tours around the state, I’ve been asked the following question innumerable times: How do we get through to these hard-headed Utahns? I know it’s frustrating, and I haven’t been at it nearly as long as most of you. But an example might prove enlightening. A few weeks ago at the Tooele County Fair, we gave a copy of our booklet to a nice young lady in the booth next to the wonderful display set up by the Tooele County Dems. When we met the next night, she was so full of enthusiasm about the message she almost couldn’t contain herself. We’d gained ourselves a convert. But here’s the interesting part. She admitted she and her husband had been Republicans since their marriage, but that her father-in-law was a Democrat. She said, “I’d tried to ask him several times about his political views, but all he ever did was growl about how Bush was an idiot. Your booklet was the first time anyone had really explained to me what Democratic values were all about.” I think you see the idea here.

Here’s an observation from the new guy on the block. It seems there are two types of Utah Democrats. One type seems to relish the role of the noisy minority. The second type believes Utah Democrats will best serve our citizens by governing. To govern, we need to get Democrats elected. To get Democrats elected, we need to communicate our message to Utahns in a way that will convince them to vote for us.

Personally, I’m with the second group. I fervently believe, with Rocky-esque passion, that the old-fashioned populist values of our Utah Democratic Party are the values of the average Utahn – and that our state and nation need elected Utah Democrats at all levels for our society to solve the significant problems we face. I’ve committed to Wayne Holland that whatever the outcome of my race, I’m with you guys forever, and will commit my time and treasure to the goal of Utah Democrats governing in this state.

I hate to be blunt, but it seems clear that a large, successful anti-Bush rally featuring Cindy Sheehan during the American Legion convention could result in a potentially significant loss of votes for Utah Democrats at the polls in November. Every Democrat needs to make his or her own choice in this matter. But now you know where I stand.


At 4:38 PM, Blogger CDW said...

I got here through a link from Pete Ashdown's blog, who said you hit the crux of the argument spot on. I agree as well. Just wondering if the idea of inviting Cindy Sheehan was tossed out, then what? Also, I agree with your point on getting people elected who are good at governing (see mayors Caroon and Anderson). I also think that the party needs a few of the old cranks and noisemakers to call 'BS' when warranted. I think in the past, a big frustration of many my friends (who are not Republicans, but are not active party members) is that the Democrats in Utah were a lost cause, if they weren't going to be in the majority, the could at least be rabble-rousers. For a long time it seemed like there weren't any rabble-rousers, until Rocky Anderson. I guess the ideal situation would be to have a mix of both, with the balance leaning toward more governors than rabble-rousers.

On a somewhat related point, I think more point about electing people who understand the role of government is key. Molly Ivins has pointed out repeatadly that since its days in Texas, the Bush team has been great at campaigning and politicking, but horrible when it comes to the actual business of running the gov't (see Katrina, Hurricane). I just saw Enron, The Smartest Guys in the Room and was reminded that Ken Lay, someone whose company was personally responsible for the California eregy crisis, was being considered for Sec. of Energy. Ughh.

Anyway, thanks for running, I have your sign in my yard.

At 6:53 AM, Blogger Emily For Utah Senate 28 said...

Steve -

Once again, right on. We won't make strides as the minority party if we're constantly belittling the majority. Protesting won't help Utah Democrats win, it just makes us look unpatriotic.

At 8:10 AM, Blogger Velma Pickle said...

I also got here through Pete's link. I'm torn about what you say. Cindy Sheehan to me represents the most personal aspect of this war -- I lost a brother in the AirForce in 1963. So, I think the problem is not having Cindy speak, but how her speech is framed. No, she's not a crank, she's speaking for me.

One aspect of my scorn for Bxxh is that he didn't speak to her.


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