Columns » John Brummett

Beebe fails a finesse

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Modern Republican cultural values tend to fall in line with the values of rural conservatives, who still decide Arkansas elections. But rural conservatives in Arkansas will still vote Democratic out of habit and from a personal connection. That’s true, though, only if the Democrat doesn’t get strung out placating liberals. Thus the Democrat must finesse.


Republicans enjoy the advantage of being themselves on cultural values. If rural conservatives are going to vote against them, it will be for other reasons.


Maybe the Republican hails from Northwest Arkansas and the rural conservatives don’t trust the shift of money and power that way. Maybe the Republican held a high position on border security, but the borders aren’t secure. Maybe the Republican comes to rural Arkansas talking about farming, but doesn’t appear to know much about it.


The Democratic candidate’s challenge is to connect with rural conservatives while taking the liberal base for granted without appearing too much to be taking it for granted.


Something may be implicit. It is that the Democrat is more supportive of liberals than he is comfortable saying. Or it may be explicit. It is that at the very least, the Democrat is better for liberals than the Republican.


Clinton, both Pryors, Bumpers, Lincoln, Marion Berry, Mike Ross — that’s how you do it.


The Democrat doesn’t mind if liberals are mad at him. He just doesn’t want them to get too mad. Clinton in the ’80s, Mark Pryor in 2002 — that’s the perfect balance. You want liberals to curse you as they vote for you. What you don’t want is for them to become unable to tell the difference between you and the Republican.
Mike Beebe had been doing very well on the finesses of his Democratic gubernatorial bid until he stepped in it the other day with gays. He got caught finessing, which is not to finesse at all.
Now he’s doing only all right. He’s still all right, frankly, because you can’t really go wrong with rural conservatives by having the gays mad at you.


But Beebe could go very wrong if he slips up on his calibration to the point that liberals get so mad at him that they choose the tactically insane thing and vote for one of the alternative candidates. That would raise the prospect that Beebe could get Naderized by independent Rod Bryan or the Green Party’s Jim Lendall. That would send the man from Bob Jones University, that’d be Asa Hutchinson, to the Governor’s Mansion.


Beebe got a contribution from a gay group called Stonewall Democrats. He thought he ought to give it back lest Asa make something of it with church-going rural conservatives. But he wanted to tell the Stonewall Democrats personally, thus shoring up the implicit or explicit understandings. He got asked in this meeting about gay foster parents, and, depending on the version, either he said he would resist a ban or he Clintonized that he would resist a ban so long as the resistance was constitutional.


Then the state Supreme Court took any abstraction away by overturning a state administrative ban on gay foster parents. Beebe first responded with a moderate course, saying we must honor the court. The next day, after Hutchinson and Mike Huckabee gay-bashed, he thought better of his moderation and added that he, too, would support legislation enacting such a ban. Some gays say they’ve been lied to.


Honest to goodness: Beebe couldn’t very well run for governor as the only politician in sight wanting gays to be foster parents. That would be a loss of calibration reminiscent of Clinton’s when he began his presidency by championing gays in the military.
Rule of thumb: When liberals are praising a Democratic candidate for courage, the Democratic candidate is losing.


What would Beebe do as governor on such a ban? He’d fix it. That’s what he is, a fixer. How? Beats me, and he’d be a fool to say.
Republicans call all this cynical. With their flag-burning and gay marriage amendments, they know whereof they speak.

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