I’ve attended, watched or listened to all four three-way debates in the Minnesota Senate race (there’s one more at the Fitzgerald Theater Sunday evening), talked to all of the candidates, seen the ads, studied the platforms. As I watched Debate Number 4 Friday (it was on the “Almanac” couch and was the liveliest one so far) I found myself wanting to construct my version of the bluntest and, for me at least, most logical and pragmatic appeal that each of them should make if they had to boil down the case for why-you-should-vote-for-me. Some of it is what they and their surrogates and their ads are saying, some not. Here’s my stab:
Dean Barkley: I actually care about the national debt
Many of you probably don’t know much about me because I can’t afford any TV ads. That’s because my party doesn’t have a bunch of special interests to fund our campaigns. But that also means that if you send me to the Senate I won’t owe anything to anyone except the people of Minnesota.
The best reason to vote for me is this. I’m the real fiscal conservative in the race, in the old-fashioned balance-the-budget sense of the word. Reducing the deficit and ending the obscene run-up of the national debt is the issue that has motivated my whole political career.
To me, the debt we are leaving for our children and grandchildren is not just a fiscal issue, it’s a moral issue. We borrow the money, year after year, spend it on ourselves, and will leave the bill for our children to pay interest on (and I mean hundreds of billions of interest a year, for their whole lives) unless someone starts getting serious about paying down that debt.
People who really know what they’re talking about tell us that the projected growth of the big entitlement programs — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — will soon cost more than the entire federal budget costs now. So Republicans and Democrats continue to make those programs more expensive without adding new ways to pay for them.
My opponents will tell you that they care about this problem too. But I think it’s pretty clear by now that Democrats are too addicted to new spending ideas and Republicans to tax cuts to convince us that they will ever make it a real priority to start paying down that debt. Look into your own heart and consider whether you have had a sick feeling for a long time that these goodies that the two parties keep giving you will have to be paid for someday, and “someday” means “by our kids.”
It’s my number one issue, but I’m not insane on the subject. Even though it sent the national debt to unimagined new heights of more than $10 trillion, I have reluctantly supported the $700 billion bailout of the financial system — excuse me, we’re supposed to call it a “rescue package,” not a bailout — because we can’t allow a meltdown that would permanently damage the economy and wipe out the life savings of too many ordinary Americans who have done nothing wrong.
It won’t do our kids any good to leave them a shrunken, broken economy. So maybe we have to do some pretty expensive things in the short term to avoid that. But as soon as possible, I say we start making the tough decisions to bring down that deficit and that debt. And let’s not kid ourselves that it will be pleasant or easy. It will mean tax increases and spending cuts and a lot of us will feel it.
If saying that makes me unelectable, then I’ll just live with that, but someone has to say it. I suggest that from now, when every new tax cut or government giveaway program comes down the pike, we ask ourselves: Do I want that so badly that I’m willing to borrow the money for it and charge it to my kids’ credit cards? Someday we have to start answering “no” to that question.
I said I wasn’t insane on the subject. But I am insane enough to suggest that we can defend our country without spending as much on military as the rest of the world combined. I question whether we need large permanent military bases in Germany, Japan, South Korea and all the other places where we have them. And I do think we need to get our troops out of Iraq and stop spending $10 billion a month on that misadventure.
One freshman senator from a party most senators never heard of cannot force fiscal discipline on the rest of those drunken sailors (with apologies to drunken sailors). But I will be guided by my concern for our children’s fiscal future every day I am in the Senate. I will give the issue all the visibility that I can. I will try to raise some consciousness around the country about this and hope that others will send reinforcements until we finally have enough real fiscal conservatives to do the right by our kids’ future.
Al Franken: I’m not a Republican
I’m a Democrat. I believe the government can help solve problems.
We need to focus the government’s attention, and its efforts, and its spending on helping ordinary people deal with serious challenges, like staying in their homes, sending their kids to college, affording health insurance for their families. We need to get our troops out of Iraq, stop subsidizing corporate behavior that sends jobs overseas and other policies that mostly enrich the already rich.
But George Bush and his enablers, like Norm Coleman, have driven our country into a very deep ditch. For the sake of civility, let’s not impugn their motives. Let’s just say that their ideas of how to govern are just wrong. They don’t work. We need something different.
We saw what happened when neocons controlled government in the early Bush years. A war in Iraq sold to us with lies. Tax cuts for the rich. Turning energy policy over to oil companies, health policy over to health insurance companies, Medicare drug policy to the pharmaceutical companies and environmental policy over to polluters. And if they had had a few more votes and a few more years, they would have turned Social Security over to Wall Street.
But in 2006, you put the Democrats back into majorities in Congress. For the last two years, we’ve seen gridlock. With President Bush’s veto power and unlimited view of presidential powers, better ideas and policies generally couldn’t become law. With the Republicans able to filibuster in the Senate, many of those ideas couldn’t even be put to a vote.
So, we’ve tried the all-Republican plan and we’ve tried gridlock. I suggest that we try the Democrats. I hope and believe that we are about to give Barack Obama the keys to the Oval Office. Help is on the way.
Look, I have my own ideas about most of the issues and I would gladly dazzle you with my policy knowledge. But the short version is that I’m a Democrat. At a fundamental level, I agree with Barack Obama and Amy Klobuchar. If you like their ideas, you’re going to like mine on the basic change that is needed on taxes, health care, education, environment, promoting a new green energy economy, rebuilding infrastructure, ending the war in Iraq, finishing the mission in Afghanistan, focusing on Al Qaida, ending the cowboy diplomacy and restoring America’s image in the world.
Most of the country hungers for change. But if the Republicans control enough votes in the Senate to maintain a filibuster, we still face the potential for gridlock.
I’ve apologized many times for jokes that I made during my career as a comedian that gave offense. I get it now. I won’t be making jokes like those in the future. The situation is no joking matter. We need a fresh start with the full power of hope that Barack Obama will bring to the White House and we need to give that new direction a fair trial by giving him a Congress that will implement those ideas.
Norm Coleman: I think there will be enough Democrats in Congress
I’m proud to be a U.S. senator from Minnesota. I might as well get the tough part out of the way and confess that I’m a Republican. Certainly if I forget to mention it, my opponents will remind me, because they know how tough it is to run for reelection as a Republican this year.
Look, I have the conventional Republican position on a many issues, not all. I’m leery of big government. I think promoting economic growth and job creation are two of the most important things government can do. A good job is better than a government handout. Most good jobs come with health care benefits. People with good jobs can pay their taxes and pay their mortgages, which is a better way of keeping them in their houses than a government bailout. That’s the kind of Republican I am — a jobs, jobs, jobs Republican.
I believe in reaching across the aisle to get things done. I’ve done it many times. I’m currently party of a group called the Gang of 20, 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans, who favor an “all of the above” approach to energy issues. Drilling, conservation, more alternative sources of energy. The bill we are drafting is an example of bipartisanship at its best.
I’ll gladly run through some of the other areas on which I’ve worked across the aisle, others on which I’ve broken party ranks and others on which I’ve disagreed with President Bush. But that isn’t the point of the argument I’m making right now. The Bush era is ending. America wants change and it’s going to get change. I pray it will be change for the better. I’m not running because I want to impede that change. I have no desire to try to govern by filibuster and I couldn’t even if I wanted to.
It looks like the Democrats may end up with a lot of power in Washington after next week. I hope they make good use of it. Some of them, including my opponent Al Franken, are putting special emphasis on the importance of beating me this year so the Democrats can have a filibuster-proof 60-member majority in the Senate as well as majorities in both houses and control of the White House.
I think that ought to concern you. We haven’t had that much power concentrated in one party for a long time. It’s a recipe for excess. It’s a request for no checks and balances. I’m worried, and I think you should be worried, that they will go overboard.
Listen, I have always disagreed with the idea of setting a hasty or arbitrary timetable for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. I think the withdrawal should be based on progress toward our goals and the recommendations of the commanders on the ground. But the Democrats don’t need 60 votes to withdraw the troops. The new commander-in-chief is all they need. There will be nothing to filibuster.
The same goes for the Democratic desire to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire. Those tax cuts are scheduled to expire. No filibuster can save them. The Democrats will have a fair shot at legislating their ideas, and I fully understand that Americans want to see some new approaches.
But are you really so confident of the Democratic approach to all of our problems — and let’s face it, it tends to a big-government approach — to want to see it adopted on every issue with no checks and balances? Do you want them to not even have to discuss these matters with a few of the most moderate, pragmatic Republicans like myself, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, and a few others who have clearly demonstrated independent spirits and open minds?
If you do me the honor of a second term as your senator, I will raise my voice and cast my vote in the interests of Minnesota and of our country, as I see those interests. But there’s a reason we have two parties in our system. The best laws come about as the result of discussion and even compromise between the two parties.