There’s an interesting exchange today on the Montana blogroll about the popular progressive blogger and movement leader David Sirota and what influence he could have on Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s popularity.
It’s been no secret that Sirota and Schweitzer are good buddies. Sirota’s wife (Emily) afterall is on Schweitzer’s staff and the Sirotas and the Schweitzers go way back, personally and politically. One could even go so far as to imply that Sirota’s online presence and know-how has been one of the things that has helped propel Schweitzer into the national blogging fame he enjoys (and watches very, very carefully). (This could also be linked to the Swing State Project’s Bob Brigham, originally from the Hi-Line, who is a good friend and contributor to DailyKos.) There is no problem here. It’s all out in the open and there aren’t any shady dealings or anything. But, as Sirota’s profile gets more and more national note (he launched this Progressive Legislative Action Network (PLAN) this week in Seattle, which is expected to be based in Montana or the West), one has to wonder how the link between the him and the Governor will play out.
And, today, Mike over at the Last Best Place blog slings an insightful query (that’s just been waiting to be asked): Will Sirota’s connections to Vermont’s Socialist Rep. Bernie Sanders turn off the Republican (or rather, “pragmatic”) stronghold Schweitzer has built in Montana? Mike makes a good point here: One of the reasons Schweitzer has been so successful is because he plays the moderate, folk appeal like a fiddle. He knows how to talk to Montanans and listen to Montanans and he’s got an amazing amount of appeal to ranchers and farmers who have otherwise considered the “left” the enemy. He is touted as the West’s great hope to recast the Democratic party into one that speaks for the pragmatism and moderation the West (and hopefully the American public) harbors.
So, if Schweitzer all of a sudden gets linked to a prominent socialist it seems only likely that once those ranchers in eastern Montana (or Central Montana as it were) get wind, they’ll sour on him pretty quickly, which I tend to agree with. But, I am less worried about the socialism link than I am about Schweitzer cast as becoming too heavily involved in an orchestrated, national Democratic party effort to take back the country.
We Montanans resonate with politicians who are for the people, not for the movement. That’s why party politics are on the downhill slide here in the West. Like I’ve said, it’s not because Westerners are turning blue, it’s because Westerners like pragmatic leaders and if Schweitzer starts playing too much politics (which is what PLAN is afterall — a movement to coordinate local and state leaders on a certain set of policy positions), it could be bad.
Matt Singer rebuts Mike’s sentiments and says there is no need to worry, namely taking on his comments about Sirota’s agenda.
Mike writes: “Sirota seems to spend a lot of time railing against the influence of big money in politics but what he really means is that donors are giving more to Republicans than Democrats or progressives.”
Matt says: “That’s not what Sirota means. It really isn’t. Sirota, on this count, is pure. He doesn’t want corporate money. And he’d sooner give up a check than give up his ability to speak out on issues that count. That’s pretty rare in American politics. It’s even more rare in the consultant class.”
Matt then dispels the notion that Schweitzer should try to downplay his friendships for political gain, writing, “Much of what so many of us like about Schweitzer is the fact that he has a pair. We shouldn’t ask him to neuter himself because we’re afraid of his electoral chances.”
Well put, Matt, I agree with you here.
That said, one must argue (as I believe Mike is) that we’re all just watching in hopes that Schweitzer stays the leader he is touted to be — non-partisan, value-driven and for Montanans, not a top-down agenda crafted by someone other than the folks with dirt under their fingernails.