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Friday, November 3, 2006
The Republican Rally and My Dark Inner Thoughts

How my political career ended yesterday before it even wanted to be begin, and my dark thoughts on the occasion of a Republican political rally.

My apologies. I inadvertently posted a draft of this article yesterday, not the final version. Here is the final version, which isn't a lot different, except that it might be clearer and easier to read.

The Event

There was a little Republican campaign rally at Robinson Park in downtown American Fork yesterday, around lunchtime. The focus of the rally was 2nd District US Congressional candidate LaVar Christensen, but there were other interesting people there, too, including US Senator Orrin Hatch, local Utah legislator John Dougall, and Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. About 80 people attended in all; about 25 of them were elected officials, candidates, or campaign staff. The weather was gorgeous and the lunch was perfectly adequate, not to mention free.

I'm told that this "whistle stop" tour, which features a big red bus, is the product of other major Republican candidates' campaign staffs running out of things to do in their lopsided races and trying to help Christensen in his, which is, alas, quite lopsided in the other direction. I suppose the tour will win Christensen a few points, but it won't be enough. He looks poised to lose to Democratic incumbent Jim Matheson by a 20- or 30-point margin on Tuesday, if he's lucky -- and if the Democratic National Committee can keep Senator John Kerry muzzled for a few more days, so he doesn't completely poison the election.

After This, I Can Never Run for Office in Utah

Senator Hatch and I have met before, but there's no reason he should remember that. I interned in the office of Senator Jim McClure (R-Idaho) a long time ago, during Senator Hatch's third term, and I happened to meet him when he came to speak to some interns. But that's not the point. The fact that, whenever I see the Senator in person, he is always taller than I remembered . . . is not the point, either.

I don't know that I ever would run for office, but if I ever do, and if I need a vote from the Utah State Republican convention, I might as well not bother. You see, as of yesterday there's probably a photo or two out there somewhere of the Senator hugging me, because he did.

The state Republican convention doesn't like Senator Hatch very much, and sometimes they are quite rude about it. As they would see it, I might as well have been drinking, carousing, and campaigning with Senator Edward Kennedy as getting hugged by Senator Hatch at a rally. I couldn't run as a Democrat now, either -- a bizarre thought anyway -- because yesterday's photo for them would be like a picture of me hugging Satan, or perhaps even someone really offensive, like President George W. Bush. Fortunately, I wasn't planning to run for Congress anyway.

Sometime I'll explain in detail what I like and don't like about Utah's senior Senator. I like more than I dislike, and what I like, I like a lot. But for now let me assure you that the hug was quite apolitical. He was shaking hands, and people were telling him their names. He came to me, heard my last name, and asked me if I am related to a certain LDS missionary companion he had about half a century ago. I am related; I'm his son. Learning this, he said he was going to have to hug me. He also said some nice -- true -- things about my dad and asked a few questions about him, before moving on.

There you have it. If those photos ever get around, I may be persona non grata in my own political party.

In fact, the feeling is somewhat mutual; I'm not very happy with the Utah Republican Party. I'm very disappointed -- every two years, it seems -- with the quality of Republican candidates we get in the 2nd Congressional District. I'm even a little angry about it sometimes. I don't want to abuse LaVar Christensen too badly on the eve of his big election, even in front of my small (but elite and appreciated) gang of readers, so I'll save the full account of my displeasure for another time, when it will not automatically be taken as criticism of a specific candidate.

Dark Thoughts

I actually went to the rally with a sort of dark, secret motive. I was seriously considering a write-in vote for someone else, perhaps my favorite state legislator, John Dougall, instead of Christensen. I think Dougall would make an excellent congressman. Writing him in -- and voting for him in his own race, too -- would allow me to vote for a Republican I think could excel in Washington. (As an added benefit, I could tell people that I had voted for the same person twice in the same election -- legally!) With thoughts such as these, I went to the rally mostly to give my party, including Christensen himself, one more chance to persuade me to be a good party guy and vote the party line for US Congress on Tuesday.

I already knew that, if elected (which he won't be), Christensen won't vote to impeach President Bush or to make Nancy Pelosi Speaker of the House or to force US surrender in Iraq, and that Congressman Matheson (an excellent candidate, by the way) will likely do one or more of those. But my one vote is extremely unlikely to swing a congressional election, let alone change control of Congress. (If it did, I'd be like that baseball fan who might have cost the Chicago Cubs a trip to the World Series in 2003: a pariah. But what are the odds of that?)

In his public remarks at the rally Senator Hatch said what I knew he'd say, what he has to say, and he said it well, as usual. Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff spoke well, too, as did Representative Dougall as master of ceremonies.

The Candidate

The current state of affairs in the 2nd District race is no secret to the Christensen campaign. You can see it in the staff's eyes and their gait. At this point in a campaign which still thinks it might win, the campaign staff should be quite exhausted, but still have a little fire in their eyes and a hint of spring in their steps. Everyone else seemed energized yesterday, but the handful of folks in Christensen for Congress shirts lacked the fire and the spring. They can't quit -- it's just not done -- but it's awfully hard to keep going through the motions when you know that's all you're doing.

To his credit, Christensen himself showed that he still has some fire, which says something about a man's stamina and his character. In his words, as in the others', I heard a lot of the reasons why I earnestly hope the Republicans hold Congress, even if they don't deserve to. I don't question his character or his motives, really, or the validity of his conservative credentials. He even pushed all the right buttons, including the Ronald Reagan button -- which worked better for me before I had it pushed for a quarter-century, legitimately or otherwise, by nearly every Republican and a lot of Democrats, too.

I suppose that if we compared my own conservative principles to Mr. Christensen's, we'd find a 70 or 80 percent overlap, which is about the best a voter can reasonably hope for in a candidate, and a lot better than one often sees. Principles are important, and you might wonder why they are not enough to satisfy me.

I'm probably much too hard to please -- not a new idea here at the blog -- and I don't fancy myself representative of the average Utah voter. But, speaking for myself alone,  I wanted to hear at least a little in candidate Christensen of what I've always heard a lot of in Senator Hatch: a sense, even a vision, of what can be accomplished in Washington and how. Beyond a recitation of conservative values, I wanted to hear what we need to do legislatively and why, and how the candidate will help get it done. I was looking for some sense that doing the actual work of a lawmaker is more complex than preaching conservative principles in soundbites. I was looking for a well-grounded sense of how those principles might be transformed into actual policy for a large and diverse nation -- or even for Utah's specific benefit, now that I think about it.

Maybe Christensen is every bit the wonderfully effective legislator some claim he was in his four years in the Utah Legislature, but I am skeptical. I accept the reports that he had a lot to do with the amendment to the Utah Constitution defining and defending the definition of marriage. But I don't think that's earthshaking in Utah, and even if it is, I think a moralist could evangelize his way to that particular accomplishment here with a combination of affability and persistence, without much in the way of legislative prowess.

I don't know why his campaign is not resonating with Utah Republicans, of all people. But one of the pillars of my personal indifference is his language. True, his speech yesterday was much too political for a Mormon (LDS) sacrament meeting, which is deliberately apolitical. But it was the cultural language of Mormonism (or would that be the language of cultural Mormonism?), not the more inclusive language of American government. That language doesn't play as well as people think in Utah elections, even with Mormons, and it rarely plays well at all in Washington. I'm not saying one should hide one's religion or other principles. I am saying that, when in Rome, you'll get more done if you know Italian.

Anytime you assume that a candidate is saying what he thinks and feels, you take a risk. But I was quite persuaded that we were seeing the real LaVar Christensen. If we were, that says something positive about the candidate, too. If we weren't, if he was just being the guy he thinks Utah voters want him to be, well, that's another problem, isn't it?

Where This Leaves Me

I'm a Mormon, and so is LaVar Christensen -- not that I care about that, for political purposes. I do care that I am a conservative, and so is he, and that I'm a Republican, and so is he. I've decided to vote for him, because I don't think the way to change a political party is to bail out, and because I don't think John Dougall would appreciate getting my vote for Congress this year, when he's not running for Congress. (He seems to be a better team player than that.)

Even as I vote with my party, I remain fairly certain that it won't matter. LaVar Christensen and I have something else in common. I won't be a Member of Congress next year, and neither will he.

Somewhere in the 2nd District there have to other good men and women, who can be as good and articulate as candidates and politicians as Congressman Jim Matheson -- but Republicans, and conservatives at least on the national spectrum, if not Utah's. Finding one or two such candidates would be an excellent project for the Utah Republican Party to undertake in the next six months. 2008 is fast approaching. Besides that, beginning on Wednesday they could probably use something to take their minds off what's going to happen on Tuesday here in the 2nd District.

A final note: Please, third party fans, let's keep to a reasonable minimum the invitations for me to embrace your third party party of choice. I may sound like a potential convert today, but I'm really not. Trust me.

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