Thursday, April 26, 2007

Looking ahead -- neither discouragement nor stubbornness, please

There really is little further to say about what happened up in Helena with Rep. Lange. GeeGuy over at Electric City nailed it by combining a no-nonsense "this was stupid of Lange" with a cold-eyed appraisal of some of the "cluck cluck clucking" going on by Democrats and by the press.

The episode does provide an all-too-vivid illustration of why Montana Headlines has, throughout the session, been talking (at the risk of sounding like a nag) about the need for the Montana Republican party to rediscover the apparently lost art of rhetorical discipline. Leaving aside things that should be highly valued -- like good manners and intelligent discourse -- it demonstrates that Republicans are always going to come up on the short end of things when we don't pay attention to little details like not letting someone get you to lose your temper in public.

We would add, parenthetically, that there are elements of Hellenic tragedy in this, one of the final scenes in the last act of the play. Specifically, we observe a lesson in the concept of hubris, since some Republicans have made a point of criticizing the governor for his reported temper. We had heard a couple of predictions that the governor would lose it at some point during the session. While he has certainly had his little moments, barring something completely unexpected, the final and most memorable outburst will unfortunately be chalked up in the "R" column.

Because of the bad press coming at a most politically inopportune time, a temptation for Republicans is going to be discouragement, but that would only compound any problems caused by Majority Leader Mike Lange's now-famous hortatory oration. Lange did the right thing by apologizing to the governor, and now it's time for Republicans to get back to negotiating the best deal possible. Attempts will be made to capitalize on this by making it seem like a larger-than-life occurrence -- with the goal of cowing Republicans into compromises they otherwise would never make.

Another misstep would hurt even more, so whoever does the negotiating needs to be under extremely good self-control. Republicans can expect that there will be subtle attempts to draw them out into more intemperate language. It's just part of politics -- there's nothing personal about it. Anticipate it and mentally prepare for it.

On the other end of the spectrum of possible Republican responses is stubbornness. Negotiation involves give and take, bargaining chips, and shifting positions. Again, there's nothing evil or personal about any of this. It's just how things are done.

If a line in the sand is going to be drawn, whoever is drawing it had better be very certain that it is a line that the entire Republican caucus is going to back up no matter what disaster comes down the pike. Otherwise, don't draw that line -- it is very demoralizing to watch the other guy step across once your ability to hold that line disappears.

When mistakes are made, there are costs. We suspect that the costs don't need to be terribly high for this mistake if the GOP handles things well from this point on. We expect that getting schooled like this will result in lessons learned and that things will now be handled with a little more attention to detail.

Republicans should continue to be grateful to Lange for all of the hard work he has put into this session. His position hasn't been an easy or eviable one, given that it was a pre-determined fact of life that Republicans would lose a lot more battles than they would win. We hope that he dusts himself off and goes back to the work of finishing out the session -- and he has our support as he does that.

Finally, thanks to our friend Jay over at 4&20 Blackbirds for his concern -- both head and keyboard are on the road to recovery.

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