Columns » John Brummett

Lincoln caught in middle



U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln stands for re-election next year in a state where her party's president got creamed a few months ago and is scarcely as popular today.

She sits conspicuously on a key health care committee, Senate Finance, at the very moment of epic health care debate in America.

Democratic proposals for health care reform, though still merely evolving, are engendering fear and backlash in her state, which goes Democratic at the state level but aligns conservatively on federal issues.

Lincoln is a tad under 50 percent in the latest approval ratings poll, partly because of the unpopularity of her president and his national party in her state. But it's also because rural Arkansas politics is a good ol' boy culture. As a good ol' girl she faces a little more of a challenge than Mike Beebe or Mark Pryor or Mike Ross in keeping Bubba in her camp.

So one day she gets wound up and tells a reporter that it's un-American to shout down the other side, as is happening to Democrats holding town-hall meetings on health care.

She has to apologize for that one quickly. It's rude and boorish and uncivilized to behave as some of these oddballs are behaving at these town halls. But, after all, America has free expression and is entitled to become the United States of Jerry Springer if it chooses.

Lincoln makes a reasonable and tactical decision not to hold any town-hall meetings of her own on health care back home during the recess. She doesn't yet have a bill out of the Finance Committee to defend or assail. So she would be in a void, impaired by the legislative process as she stood before raging notions, rumors and fears.

But she agrees to make a few obligatory appearances of tamer description, including at the annual Benton County Democratic committee fund-raising picnic, which was Saturday. This is an annual event, a $10-a-plate affair for Benton County's long-suffering but vibrant Democrats to raise money and do a little socializing and pep-talking.

So then this happens: Blanche's party's president, the one who got beat in her state by 20 points, even by a ticket that included that Palin thing, gets beleaguered that he's taking such a beating on the Internet and in these town halls. So he activates a division of his political arm, the Democratic National Committee, to set up an Organization for America.

The purpose is to try to foment online and town-hall fervor akin to what these angry TEA Party people and others of the extreme right-wing persuasion have been displaying to ubiquitous coverage on the vast wasteland that is American all-news cable television.

This Obama outfit beholds Lincoln's public schedule, and, without talking with her or anyone in her office or campaign, puts out an e-mail targeted to supporters saying Blanche will be having a public rally for health care reform Saturday in Benton County.

That's not accurate. It isn't fair to the Democratic senator. It isn't fair to the Benton County Democrats.

This being the Internet, TEA Party organizers in Northwest Arkansas find out about this supposedly secret rally only among friends and put out the word to show up Saturday at the Samaritan House in Rogers to protest and demonstrate and infiltrate this little event.

The people at the Samaritan House in Rogers get nervous about the size of the crowd and the changing tenor of the event. So the local Democrats meet Friday evening, less than 24 hours before their long-scheduled fund-raiser, and hustle around to find another location, a park in Bella Vista.

When that's announced, the TEA Party people scream that Lincoln and the Democrats are trying to run and hide. But they aren't.

All along, Lincoln's sighing position, once her president has undercut her, is this: Just tell me where to go and what time.

Anyway, these TEA Party people have 24 hours to figure out how to drive up the bypass from Rogers to Bella Vista.

About as many protesters show up as Democrats. The behavior is altogether restrained and appropriate.

Lincoln takes a few questions and gets caught between local partisan Democrats wanting a mostly government-oriented solution on health care, which she eschews, and right-wingers fearing any kind of government solution, an increment of which Lincoln favors.

She's caught in the middle in more ways than one. The middle may be the sane place to be, but that's hardly the same as the safe place, at least for the moment.


Add a comment