Peanut Butter Knife

Friday, February 17, 2006

Mr. Hackett Doesn't Go to Washington

I think one of the reasons I finally got up enough gumption to begin writing this blog was in reading the endless amount of anguish from keyboard jockeys around the country over Paul Hackett being "forced" from the US Senate race to give Sherrod Brown a clean run at the nomination. I hadn't spent a lot of thought on Hackett. I live in Northeast Ohio and am well familiar with Sherrod Brown and his work in the House. I will be extremely proud to call him my Senator come November 2006. Hackett seemed like a stand-up guy and when he spoke about the Iraq War, he could wipe the floor with any candidate who could take him on. Unfortunately for him, a US Senator is going to have to deal with a spectrum of issues, and as Bush's speech on HSAs illustrates, the decisions the next Ohio Senator will make are going to have a profound impact on our everyday lives. When he veered off his Iraq message, Hackett seemed to mostly have his heart in the right place; but his positions lacked substance, especially when stacked up against Rep. Brown, who has been fighting these battles his whole life.

Still, I couldn't help feel some sympathy for Hackett's web supporters. It caught me off guard how large and how loyal his blog following was, but I'd been in their place 2 years ago when political pressures forced Howard Dean from the presidential primary. When people new to the political process see the sausage getting made (to use a tired metaphor), its tough to swallow. The key difference for me was in the reaction. Governor Dean's campaign put us on a path to reform. He gave us the tools we needed to get involved and stay involved in Democratic party politics, at a time when many of us had given up the party as hopeless. Hackett's followers on the other hand spoke not of staying involved in the process, but of seeking revenge. They pledged not only to withhold support for a committed progressive like Sherrod Brown, but to withdraw interest in races in Pennsylvania, Illinois and elsewhere. Some even were threatening to leave the party altogether.

I watched Frank Capra's film last night and I suppose the Hackett people see themselves as a bunch of online Jefferson Smiths, shocked and betrayed by a political force they once saw as their ally. It's a compelling story, but one I think misses the big picture. If the Hackett supporters are so insistent on "letting the people of Ohio decide", can they tell me how they thought Paul Hackett was going to get through a Dem primary heavily reliant on urban votes with his libertarian stance on guns? Or how about what voters in a state where public school funding may be the #1 issue would view his candidacy once they learn that his children are home schooled?

These Hackett supporters may resent how this whole thing played out, but Paul Hackett made the choice to drop out of the Senate race himself. What I resent is out of state bloggers for whom the war is the Only Issue That Matters, trying to tell us in Ohio that only Paul Hackett is an acceptable candidate. The truth is, we will never really know what went on behind the scenes, who said what to whom, etc. Hackett may be hurt that things didn't go his way, but there's no reason to believe that this was as diabolical as he made it seem. And who is the real Jefferson Smith in this story? The war veteran who saw DC politics up close and personal and decided to take his toys and go home, or the congressman who has spent his whole life fighting an uphill battle for progressive issues (what Smith might call "lost causes")? When I see Jimmy Stewart on that screen, I think of someone like Sherrod Brown who put his whole career on hold in order to try and derail an awful piece of legislation like CAFTA (and almost succeeding).


  • At 12:10 PM, Anonymous human said…

    The Hackett supporters' frustration and anger is absolutely understandable. I think you are spot on when you highlight the need for candidates to "lose gracefully" not for their own sakes, but for the sake of their supporters. Howard Dean gave a crushed following a reason and a blueprint for staying involved in politics. Paul Hackett didn't - he just took his marbles and went home, and, predictably, many of his supporters are threatening to follow that example.

    It's just one more way in which he has shown he was not quite ready for prime time. There were things to recommend him as a candidate but in this as in other instances he failed to adequately predict or understand the effect that his words would have, amplified in the papers.

    Candidates have to conduct themselves differently from ordinary citizens, even as they are desperately trying to fit the image of an ordinary citizen. They can't just say whatever they are thinking to a reporter, or curse and threaten voters (even obnoxious ones). The egalitarian character of blogs leads many bloggers to resist this truth but it remains true still.

  • At 3:25 PM, Anonymous Tina said…

    I would buy the whole "Candidates have to conduct themselves differently" line if Brown conducted himself in a manner befitting his position. Problem is, Brown has a little problem with yelling at and belittling his constituents, even the 80 year old veterans.

    The argument that Hackett didn't conduct himself with grace doesn't hold water. He's been very matter-of-fact about why he's dropped out, and it was actually somewhat refreshing. The truth of the matter remains: the only way that Brown could even run as the democratic candidate was to run unopposed in the primary. Instead of gaining a Democratic senator, we'll lose a representative and DeWine will win again. It's sad, really, but as you've said, that's politics.

  • At 4:18 PM, Anonymous human said…

    Hackett's been screaming "no fair" in the media throughout this entire debacle. That definitely counts as not conducting yourself with grace, and just makes you look like a whiny kindergardener to boot.

    I have it on good authority from someone who would know that Sherrod Brown is an asshole. But the difference between Hackett and Brown is that you have to actually talk to someone who has personally encountered Brown in order to know he's an asshole. When I found out, it was news to me even though I had been a big fan of his and followed his career for over a year. Hackett, on the other hand, spread his whiny no-fair crap all over the New York Times and other major newspapers practically from day one. Big difference there.

  • At 4:25 PM, Blogger 54cermak said…


    First off, thanks for commenting here, I've admired your blog for a long time even if we disagree on this particular issue.

    I'd like to know when Brown belittled 80-year old veterans? My understanding has always been that part of Brown's electoral success has been strong support among veteran's groups. Without Sherrod's backing they likely would not have the Ohio Nat'l Cemetery in Rittman.

    I'll agree that Brown stumbled on his entry into this race. But as I said, we don't really know what was said behind closed doors.

    I'm not sure why you think Brown couldn't win in a primary. I think the concern that party regulars had in the primary was the fund-drain since they are going to need every penny of Sherrod's war chest to go up against the DeWine campaign which will likely be funded by every major corporation in the state. Hackett has no base among the traditional Dem primary voters and the polls all back that up (except the bogus "positive description" poll, which was much more flattering to Hackett than Brown and is a methodology that is highly suspect).

    Finally, if Dems lose a congressman in the 13th, it won't be Sherrod's fault. All of our candidates should be able to defeat Foltin if they run an even halfway decent campaign.


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