"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

Cantwell: A portrait from the inside

Washington Senator Maria Cantwell has put some emphasis on her time as an upper-level type at RealNetworks, and there could be something relevatory in that. We have no particular insight into the management at Real, but many leading high-tech companies are led by people who are, to put it simply, difficult to work for or with. A description by a former staffer running in this week’s Seattle Weekly suggests Cantwell picked up the industry’s executive ethos in spades.

The piece was written by a former press staffer, Mike Seely (who has also been a staffer for the Weekly). Its basic point was that critics from the left who have blasted Cantwell for being insufficiently anti-war should bear in mind that the alternative in this year’s election, Republican Mike McGavick, would likely be a loyal vote for Republican President Bush.

By way of establishing bona fides for his position, he makes clear that the reasons for his support for Cantwell – he calls her “a brilliant, driven public servant who rarely lets political expediency enter her sphere of consideration” – didn’t result from personal charm.

“The seven months I spent in her charge felt like seven years,” he wrote. “The campaign, larded with her RealNetworks stock windfall, spent more money on Red Vines than most candidates spend on direct mail. And conspicuous consumption during happy hour became all but a necessity, as it was invariably better to be half in the bag when Cantwell, a paranoid hellcat of a boss who rolls through staff like toilet paper, would make her daily sweep through the office, berating everyone in sight. On the trail, Cantwell often handled small groups of constituents in closed settings well. But she was not what you would call warm—a trait that should be preternatural for politicians of her stature. Her stump speeches were uninspiring and her grace with would-be donors flaccid at best. Most of the people who helped guide her to victory were motivated almost exclusively by their disdain for her opponent . . . Essentially, we worked for Maria in spite of Maria. Yet if you were to ask Cantwell, the only person responsible for her victory over [Slade] Gorton was the person who stared back at her in the bathroom mirror each morning. Her lack of gratitude and common human decency were simply repulsive.”

This election, Cantwell still seems to be massively out-fundraising and spending McGavick and has loads of advantages in what looks like a solidly Democratic year, and yet has maintained only modest leads in the polls that have surfaced. Might Seely’s portrait be touching on some reasons why?

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