James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

We get a chance to elect a fighter

Marty Sabo surprised most of the state, and his constituents, by announcing a few days ago that he won't seek reelection to Congress.

He has held the Minnesota Fifth District seat, which includes Minneapolis and pieces of a few old suburbs, for 28 years. Until the announcement, he was behaving as he always behaves in an election year, sending out more franked pieces of mail than usual and popping up where constituents gather, but not saying more than a few words to them, and leaving after a few minutes.

Early in February, I wrote a couple of pieces here saying that it is past time for Sabo to retire, and suggesting that what the district needs is a member of Congress who is an intelligent, articulate and energetic liberal. Sabo is intelligent. He is not energetic. He's inarticulate, at least in public. And as for being a liberal: He votes right, but at a time when the country is being ripped apart by right wing crooks, his voice is seldom heard.

So am I gloating?

No. Neither am I contrite.

For one thing, of course, what I say or said has nothing to do with Sabo's decision to quit. He's never heard of me, or at least not in circumstances that he's likely to remember. But judging by a meeting at which he appeared in late winter, a whole lot of his constituents had decided it was time for him to retire. Some undoubtedly told him so.

If the Democrats controlled Congress and the White House, or even if traditional (liberal) Democrats had any voice whatever in the governing of this country, most of us would be content to let Marty Sabo sit in Congress until turns 95 or drops dead, whichever comes first. In fact, we'd probably beg him to stay, because a properly functioning Congress – we used to have some – always is short of honest people who understand and care about the details of maintaining a functioning of government.

Sabo is very good at some of the most difficult, unpleasant but necessary tasks, such as parsing budgets.

But our desperate need these days is for people who will stand up and fight the neocon sociopaths now in control in Washington. We need members of Congress who command attention and can show the people the truth of what is happening and make them understand that truth and lead them to recover this country before it becomes merely an oversized version of a Middle Eastern sheikdom.

Local newspapers, notably his and my hometown newspaper, have been fawning on Sabo since his announcement. It is what they do when people die or retire.

Interestingly, they have been crediting the man with all sorts of wonderful achievements that they either didn't report or grossly underreported when the events apparently took place. Now he's getting credit for Minnesota property tax reform, for getting our fledgling light rail line built, for being the parent of an important low-cost housing project and much more.

Dear editors: If all this is true, and it may well be, you did a rotten job of giving your readers the facts.

Who knew?

But even if true, it doesn't alter the fact that the need of this time is for someone who, operating from what may be the safest Democratic seat in Congress, will stand up and fight on the overwhelmingly important issues of the day: War, the deliberate trashing of the U.S. Constitution, the destruction of the environment and the planet itself, the turning of the United States into a plutocracy.

We are under the thumbs of people who see war and other hideous forms of mayhem as spectator sports and themselves as the owners of the biggest franchise in the league; we need politicians big enough to take them on and win.

Oh, and I'm more than a little sore at Marty for the way he handled his resignation.

If he knew, as he must have, that he is not going to run for reelection, he should have told us before the Democratic Party caucuses March 7, so that people interested in running could test the waters at those gatherings.

The only conclusion one can reach is that making the announcement after March 7 was a tactical move to further the candidacy of the person he has selected to take his place – someone who might not do so well at the caucuses but can be expected to do better, with Marty's blessing, at upcoming conventions, which are attended largely by reliable party regulars.

Strib writers have several times published a list of possible candidates, but it was clear from the start that most of those people will not run. The lists are baloney. For reasons I don't understand, they seem designed to make the public believe we have a wide open situation when, in fact, the real roster of possible candidates is much shorter.

Although Sabo's daughter, Julie Sabo, a former state senator, is on the published lists, I will be floored if it doesn't soon become clear that the congressman is backing Mike Erlandson, his chief of staff and former chair of the DFL (Minnesota's state Democratic party).

Erlandson is the stereotypical party plugger – no discernible talent, but a willingness to plod along the path, waiting his turn to run for office. He was an embarrassing party chair, frankly -- inept, with a talent for saying the wrong thing and for offending both foes and should-be allies. I have no idea what he does for Sabo and his staff.

For liberals, he is an unacceptable choice. Remember those needs for high intelligence, pursuasive ability, understanding of the big issues and what needs to be done about them. He is, in fact, one of the worst possible choices among the people who might actually seek the office.

Voters in the Minnesota Fifth District, and others who want to fight for American democracy, need to make a better choice and put their money and time behind that choice.

For now, at least, the one who still looks best to me is Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, an academic and author of numerous scholarly books, who had the guts to stand up and declare himself a candidate when Sabo was still assumed to be running. Nelson-Pallmeyer provides those things I think we need: He is outstandingly intelligent, articulate, a strong and appealing speaker who has great command of the issues. Of course, I often favor the unconventional choice; I was an early supporter of Paul Wellstone. Look for yourselves.

We'll have to see how some of the others show.