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The practicality of idealism

Two ways of looking at politics. The first is the norm: Call it “give the people what they want,” or at least what you think they want.

Intuitively, that sounds about right. But it doesn’t square with much of recent reality. Ronald Reagan was a very popular president and won his re-election in 1984 overwhelmingly, but his policy positions – point by point – weren’t especially popular. The key policy stands of George W. Bush 20 years later, on almost every subject save terrorism and maybe Iraq, had very weak support among the American public; if the voters were votingpolicy positions, he’d have crashed and burned decisively. The fact that these presidents pushed unpopular ideas may even have added to their support on a personal level.

This comes up because of an exchange between two Idaho political figures. Bill Cope is a former Democratic legislative candidate who for some years has been writing a column in the alternative Boise Weekly. The man who hired him as a columnist, Andy Hedden-Nicely (who has long since departed the Weekly), has run for office as a Democrat in the past, but this year has bolted the party to run under the banner of the United Party. Both parties disgust him.

That prompted Cope to write a column urging Hedden-Nicely to return to the Democratic fold. “Frankly, nobody but third-party candidates and saloon cynics believe that Democrats and Republicans are the same, anyway,” Cope writes. “And as far as your ‘United Party’ goes, pal … unity my butt. Until Republicans have something other than beastliness to offer, this is one Democrat who thinks we would only debase ourselves by meeting them in the middle.”

And yet, that last point is exactly what Hedden-Nicely seizes on in his rebuttal.

In a recent BW piece your party chairman Richard Stallings was quoted as saying about my candidacy: “when you don’t have a chance to win, you can say anything you want.” What an incredibly damning statement from your party’s leader. Is Mr. Stallings afraid to say what he really means? He chastises me for actually telling Idahoans what I think. I would contend that the reason Idaho voters continue to reject Democratic candidates is because the Democrats are so afraid to say what they really believe that they are no longer trusted.

I know you are a history buff Bill, so you probably remember that the Republican Party at one time was a lowly third-party independent bunch similar to the United Party. This bunch of idealists and thinkers decided the existing political parties no longer represented the ideals and vision of the common people. Abe Lincoln and company decided to take a chance and build a new party around the revolutionary idea that slavery was wrong. You can call the Republicans all the names you want, but one thing you can’t say about them or the United Party for that matter, is that we are afraid to say what we think and take the consequences.

As Idaho Democrats consider how to rebuild their party, and consider whether to go in a Republican-lite direction, such comments would be worth their consideration.

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