Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Is it really that hard?

We won't even bother with links and examples.

Here at Montana Headlines, we have been drawing attention to the need for rhetorical discipline amongst GOP lawmakers in Helena. Silly us, we were talking about more advanced stuff like not getting drawn into school-yard "did not/did too" arguments on the House floor.

It seems that after reading Republican political headlines in recent months and years, perhaps Montana Headlines should, in retrospect, have stuck to some more simple suggestions:

1. Don't get arrested or cited for wrongdoing that most Montanans would find offensive or reckless between election-day and the end of the session.

2. Don't be associated with behaviors that you're on record as being committed to stamping out.

3. Don't say things that can be interpreted as racist -- if you don't know what those things are, remain silent and just push red or green.

4. Don't engage in endless Quixotic (that means hopeless) legal crusades that only 5% of Montanans won't view as bizarre unless you have the rhetorical ability and magnetic stage presence to sway to your side most of the 95% who will.. (See the second half of #3 for more guidance.)

5. Don't send offensive attack mailers -- especially not during the middle of a delicately balanced session.

6. Don't embezzle money.

7. Realize that if your kids would be embarrassed or turned off by your actions or words, then multiply that by a few thousand, and kiss good-bye any hopes of expanding the ranks of the College Republicans and ensuring the future of conservative principles.

8. Know that you will make the papers, usually repeatedly, probably on the front page, if you do any of the above (or perform similarly creative self-destructive acts.)

It's not enough just to win elections and legislative majorities. No-one is perfect, and anyone who reads MH regularly knows that we are Exhibit A at saying things that might better have gone unsaid. But razor-thin margins in the legislature (whether a majority as in the House, or a minority as in the Senate) are going to highlight mis-steps that could have been shuffled off to the side (ignoring tut-tut's from the press and squeals from the left) back when Republicans had 60% majorities in both houses, held the state house, and comprised 2/3rds of the U.S. Congressional delegation. And those weaknesses can be enough to derail legislative agendas and make it hard to win future elections.

Perhaps we're being school-marmish, but we don't think so. There was certainly a day in Montana's political history when someone stopped for DUI merely because of having bumped up against a curb might be formally censured by the state legislature. Censured, that is, for failing to enter into the spirit of the session because of not drinking enough. But that was a long time ago.

We're not going to stop rooting for the home team, and we're not going to stop filling in the circle beside the "R." We know that Republican legislators tend to vote according to conservative principles, and that even brilliant and politically nimble Democratic legislators usually vote the wrong way. We thus fully support and are grateful for every one of our elected officials who votes right -- at least until the next competitive primary. Any Montana Republican should be able to grasp that basic concept.

But we ask some of our elected officials and party leaders again, is it really that hard to keep from shooting your own party in its collective foot?

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