Lessons of 2016 lost on both parties

May 17, 2017
by David Crisp
Last Best News

In 2002, Mike Taylor was an up-and-coming Republican politician challenging Max Baucus for a Senate seat in Congress. Taylor’s wire-rimmed glasses and mustache called attention to his resemblance to Teddy Roosevelt, the Bullmoose war hero, explorer, rancher, president and all-around he-man.

Then Democrats unearthed old footage of Taylor in an earlier role as a hairdresser with an open shirt and sharp-pointed collar, rubbing lotion around another man’s eyes. The substance of the ad was that the hair salon was running some sort of scam.
Nobody remembers that part, but everybody remembers that wildly incongruous image of the rugged Montana rancher playing disco Stu. Even today, the first thing we learn about Taylor from his Wikipedia stub is that he was a hairdresser.
The ad went as viral as anything could in 2002, and Taylor dropped out of the race, then re-entered 12 days later, promising to run a campaign focusing on restoring honor and integrity to American politics. That worked out no better than his campaign to unseat Baucus.
Which brings us to 2017 and the race to replace Ryan Zinke in Montana’s U.S. House seat. No single ad has been so awful, or memorable, as that 2002 hair salon ad, but the campaign as a whole has been as dispiriting as any in memory. If the candidates have persuaded us of anything, it’s that we’re sick of the lot of them—not an encouraging sign for a healthy democracy.
Both political parties seem to have misread the 2016 election. Democrats thought it meant that inexperience is the highest qualification for high office. Republicans thought it meant that business acumen is a greater virtue than political savvy.
The worst of it is that the relentlessly obtrusive ad campaigns have so little to do with issues that actually matter. Instead we are reminded endlessly that Greg Gianforte came from New Jersey, that he once favored a sales tax and that he was involved in a dispute over public lands access.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent to remind us that Rob Quist is a member of the same party as Nancy Pelosi, that he has no hunting license, that the National Rifle Association has given Quist a grade of F and that Quist has a history of bad debt. One bizarre ad from Photoshop hell shows Quist holding hands with Pelosi as they stand behind a clump of weeds in front of a barn door.
On their rare ventures into positive campaigning, Quist is depicted with guitar and cowboy hat, Gianforte in hunting gear and work shirts. Shouldn’t someone tell them that they are running for a desk job? The only time I’ve seen either one in a coat and tie was in an attack ad against Gianforte. Apparently, wearing attire suitable for the job is now a disqualification in congressional races.
Does any of that matter? Gun rights might, if there was a chance in a thousand that Congress actually would do something about it. And Quist’s debt does, at least to anybody who has ever run a small business that depends for its survival on people who are willing to pay their bills. But Gianforte has yet to attack Donald Trump for his long history of scamming investors, contractors, foundation donors and Trump University students. Anybody who voted for Trump despite his debt problems has no grounds to vote against Quist because of them.

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