Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Getting Bohl'ed over

Montana Democrats have repeatedly shown us that right now they know how to run circles around the Montana GOP when it comes to managing the press and massaging public perception.

Consider the flap over Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger, who was told he wasn't welcome at the GOP convention, even though he considers himself to be a Republican. The Billings Gazette gave it (and the Lt.Gov's case of the pouts) front page, Dr. David Crisp pronounced the time of death for the GOP, Left in the West demonstrated that this impoliteness was of a piece with the nefarious conservative strategy of running primary campaigns against Republican incumbents who aren't as conservative as a potential challenger.

You know, unlike the progressives who have never talked about challenging Max Baucus in a 2008 primary for occasionally voting with Republicans, and unlike Republican Rep. John Bohlinger running a primary campaign to unseat a more conservative incumbent Republican state senator before he was term-limited in the House (picking off an incumbent Republican state senator who was a minority, no less,) and unlike Republican state Sen. John Bohlinger running a general election campaign against his own party's slate of nominees.

But this is a digression.

It shouldn't take a rocket scientist to know that he wasn't going to be welcome at the GOP's party. Don't look for Sen. Zell Miller to be welcomed to banquets of the Democratic party faithful anytime soon. Granted, someone like Miller would have enough respect to stay away in the first place, but that's not what's at issue here.

The important thing to note is that Bohlinger's unblushing effrontery was a brilliant political move. Whoever came up with the idea (certainly not Bohlinger himself) knew good and well that Republicans were being cornered into a no-win situation.

If he had been allowed to attend, it would give credence to Bohlinger's claim to be a Republican in good standing as well as to the Schweitzer/Bohlinger ticket's claim to be one that crosses party boundaries to bring Montanans together.

If he was told he wasn't welcome, then we would get headlines like the ones we saw today, confirming that Republicans are mean-spirited ogres who eat small children for entertainment or merely to relieve boredom.

The GOP reaction was technically justified -- after all, what we saw from the executive branch (of which Lt. Gov. Bohlinger was a key part) in this last legislative session was a determination to win every battle, to sustain every veto, to get every desired program, to get every spending measure to the penny. In short, a determination to defeat the Republicans at every turn. That determination paid off, and as Montana Headlines has detailed repeatedly, the result was a nearly complete absence of compromise in Helena during this last session. There was rather only a Democratic victory that some tried to portray as a compromise.

If Lt.Gov. Bohlinger's job was meant to be one of building bridges and forging compromises between the Democratic and Republican parties in this state, well, the only certain conclusion is that he's pretty miserably poor at it. The governor should, if that was the goal, recruit a different Republican to be his running mate in 2008. In fact, there are any number of Democrats who would have done a better job at that task.

When the Lt. Gov. spoke in Billings during the break between the end of the regular session and the beginning of the special session (ostensibly an informational talk on what had happened in the legislature,) all he did was repeat the Democratic executive branch's talking points line by line. If there was anything in Bohlinger's head that was of a mind to forge compromise between the parties, he certainly was careful not to let any of it escape through his mouth.

So, a good case can surely be made that Bohlinger isn't a member of the Republican party in any meaningful sense of the word -- Sen. Baucus would be a far better candidate for that honor, truth to be told. And so the GOP was within its right to tell him to stay home.

But was it good politics? No -- it was pretty ham-fisted to tell the truth.

Would allowing him to slip in the back and attend the banquet be good politics? No, that would be even worse.

So what should party central have done? Well, Lt. Gov. Bohlinger is one of a handful of Republicans holding state-wide office right now, and when he expressed a desire to attend the GOP convention, he could have been invited to come and give a major address to the convention.

Consider: party conventions exist for one main reason -- to rally the faithful and organize the party to win elections. As such, there is always a series of addresses on a variety of subjects, all of which work together to lay out a strategy for electoral victory. The main item on the agenda at any convention is... how do we beat the opposition?

And that's what Bohlinger should have been told was to be the title of his address: "How do we defeat the Democrats?" Bohlinger, as a self-described good Republican, would doubtless have been more than happy to get up and give a speech advocating the importance of gaining Republican majorities in the state House and Senate. He could have talked about the importance of defeating Sen. Baucus, and of keeping Rep. Rehberg and Sec. State Johnson in office. He could have publicly lamented the Tester Senate victory.

Bohlinger wants to be an active Republican again? Then for heaven's sake don't give him the cold shoulder. Tell him "welcome, back, John -- we're excited -- we need all the help we can get to get the governorship back!"

Give him a place of honor, publicize it widely that Lt.Gov. Bohlinger wants to help the GOP win elections. The prodigal son has come home -- so kill the fatted calf, put a ring on his finger, let the dancing begin. All the men could show up in bow-ties. All the ladies could wear vintage dresses from Aileen's.

These are just ideas, and not by a stretch the only possible ones -- let's just have a little creativity, a little sense of humor. Something. Anything.

Anything, that is, other than accepting one of the two losing choices that Bohlinger was baiting Republicans with when he tried to buy those two banquet tickets in Helena.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your idea is humorous and it just might work. But it would be difficult to get around a press that is so eager to please one side of the political aisle. That was driven home by today's MSNBC report on how journalists, by a 9 to 1 margin, have given political contributions to Democrats and liberal political causes over Republicans and conservative causes. For Republicans, that sort of bias is just an awful big hurdle to overcome.