It’s interesting how Congressman Tim Walz has transformed in a matter of a few short months from a darling of progressives and proof that Democrats can stand by their principles and still win in Deep Red districts into a miserable DINO and shameless political opportunist.
Not that that’s actually the case, of course. Rather, I think what we see is an object lesson in the dangers of getting trapped in your own perspectives. We all do it … and we should all be wary of it.
Take Walz and the NRA for example. His former view of the NRA was as a gun rights advocacy group, which it certainly is. Millions of other Americans still see it that way. It is also a lobbying group for gun manufacturers and a fundraising arm of the GOP, which is how progressives see it. Myself, I see it as an Establishment front for radical political action, potentially including armed insurrection.
While serving as the elected representative of MN-01, accepting money from the NRA wasn’t much of a problem for Congressman Walz. He represented a Deep Red district. But then he started getting strong criticism and pushback from fellow Democrats, other progressives and gun laws advocacy groups. He reacted to that pressure — which he refers to as “a kick in the butt” — by rethinking his position on the NRA and the need for more restrictive gun laws and by changing his position accordingly. After the Las Vegas massacre, with 59 dead and more than 500 wounded, he broke with the NRA and donated all of the money they had contributed to him to a support group for the families of fallen veterans.
For some progressives, his conversion was too slow in coming and too convenient.
But isn’t that the foundation of representative Democracy, that the will of the people made known will cause political candidates and elected leaders to react accordingly and to conform their positions and policies to better accord with that will?
Or is intransigence on important issues now some kind of Gold Standard of Integrity of which I am unaware? If intransigence in the face of polarizing issues is the Gold Standard, then both King George III and Louis the XVI had more integrity than the Founding Fathers. Look how things turned out for them. In my view, intransigence on the part of any person when confronted by new, compelling information and cogent argument — political candidate or not — is the Gold Standard of Stupidity.
Walz is not the only Democrat to evolve his position on guns, gun rights, and the NRA. Senator Bernie Sanders took a lot of heat in the 2016 presidential campaign for his 2005 vote on a bill that gave gun manufacturers immunity from prosecution. At the time, Clinton campaign chair John Podesta saw Sanders’ conversion as a calculated reversal:
Regardless of his motivations, Sanders knew he had to modify his position to better accord with the voters and he did.
With regard to another polarizing issue, Hillary Clinton herself was never an advocate for same-sex marriage. In her New York senate race in 2000, she said: “Marriage has historic, religious, and moral content that goes back to the beginning of time, and I think a marriage is … between a man and a woman.” By 2013 the American people had changed their minds about marriage equality. Clinton knew she had to modify her position to better accord with the voters and she did. I believe to this day that our dramatic cultural change in attitude towards gay people resulted directly from the millions of individual acts of courage in “coming out” and in claiming their right to live in dignity, as every extended family learned it had one or more gay folks in it who deserved to be loved and protected just like anyone else.
President Obama was no advocate for same-sex marriage either, even after he took office. As late as 2010, in a Q&A session with progressive bloggers, he stated that, while he was “… unwilling to sign on to same-sex marriage,” times were changing and “… attitudes evolve, including mine.” It took Vice President Biden getting out ahead of the president that forced Obama to rethink the issue. He decided he needed to change his position, so he did.
Were Sanders, Obama and Clinton all DINO’s and shameless political opportunists who only changed their views and their positions to gain political advantage? That’s one way to look at it, I suppose. You could also see it simply as the machinery of democracy in action, of our democracy working in exactly the way it was designed to do.
Political leaders are always leading ahead or leading behind on the issues, in their districts, and with the voters. Attempting to divine what the voters think and feel, how fast and in what direction issues are moving, how strong constituency and issues advocacy groups might be, and how to strike a balance between competing and conflicting interests lies at the very heart of what successful politicians do. The surest way for a political leader to find himself out of a job is find himself out-of-step with his or her constituents, or unable to find a serviceable balance between competing interests on important and contentious issues.
To effect changes in gun laws — such as universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons in Minnesota, which is what Walz advocates for — we’ll need the support of responsible gun owners across the state, the vast majority of whom already support reasonable gun laws. To paint Walz as a political opportunist because he changed his thinking and his positions about gun rights and the NRA to better align his politics with those of the people he wants to serve, if that is what he did, and to denigrate his motives and his character for that reason, is a classical political smear cynically disguised as reasoned criticism and perpetrated by those who have no claim to the moral high ground, but who claim it anyway.
Unfortunately, those who vilify Walz for having been a member of the NRA and having taken political donations from them also vilify those responsible gun owners and members of the NRA whose votes and support we’ll need. It drives them deeper into a radical camp whose leadership stubbornly advocates for total resistance to any restrictions on gun rights of any kind. By vilifying responsible gun owners, those critics also contribute to the very culture of political polarization that inhibits and impedes passing effective legislation. You can’t work a deal if the other side doesn’t show up to sit at the table. And they won’t show up if they don’t feel respected and believe that their views and concerns will get a fair hearing.
Furthermore, an assault on the character of a man they have not met, do not know, and whose heart and motives they cannot plumb — for no purpose other than political expediency, or moral self-validation, or the advancement of an opposing candidate’s campaign — is a dehumanizing act. Walz may be a public figure but he is still a person, not a thing. When assessing the character of a man, you need to look at the whole of his person: his life, his actions, his words, his works. The whole of the person of Tim Walz is a man of integrity, of abundant good will, and of a deep desire to serve the people and the communities of the state he loves. He is, like Hubert Humphrey before him, a Happy Warrior.
To the extent that Walz’s critics attack his character in service to their own political goals, and who thereby contribute further to a culture of political polarization and a deeper entrenchment by those who have different views, we might ask who will bear the greater responsibility for the next failure in the Minnesota legislature to pass reasonable guns laws, Walz or his critics?
From Mac Hall: For discussion sake, can we postulate that with President Trump vowing to protect gun rights, Congress will take no action in the near term … thus any legislative change must be at the State level. The next governor — be it Republican or DFLer will have to deal with a legislature … and that may not be on the top of their “to-do” list considering that any change will be branded an infringement on federal rights. (BTW … Currently, Minnesota is one of the few states that do not have a right to keep and bear arms amendment in its state Constitution … although now retired State Representative Tony Cornish did try to get an amendment approved.)
And Tony Cornish definitely made his mark on Minnesota gun rights … it was his efforts in 2003 that got the Conceal-and-Carry law on the books … and as it was Governor Tim Pawlenty on his WCCO-AM radio show that said other states have not experienced more gunplay after making concealed weapons permits easier to get. “The 38 other states that have the (`concealed carry`) law, on a per capita or pro rata basis, are not experiencing any worse incidences of violent crime or gun violence than Minnesota…people will be safer and crime will be deterred.” April 28, 2003
IMO, two factors — Congress letting the Assault Weapons Ban expire in 2004 and the Pawlenty-backed Conceal-and-Carry legislation — fostered an environment that changed views on gun rights.
So, let’s discuss Walz … and recognize his background on a family farm. Ya gotta suspect that guns were prevalent … just as raccoons, possums, skunks and weasels were there … and hunting was for deer meat. Back then the NRA was probably seen in the same light as 4H …. and NRA grants were often provided in equipment with schools providing rifles, ammunition, safety gear and updates to shooting ranges. Read his bio : “Completing his first rifle marksmanship class when he was just a Cub Scout, Congressman Walz was a natural and frequently took his first gun, a .22 caliber rifle, to the shooting range with his dad.” Would anyone be surprised that he would get a NRA endorsement … sure, why not he is a sportsman.
But times change. Earlier this month, my bride and I were walking to the bank and had to wait for the light to change. My bride noticed the motorcyclist had stopped for the red light so we could cross and said to me “when I see guys like that I think of Don” ( a friend who had died after a motorcycle accident.) She saw that he was not wearing a helmet … I noticed something else and told her not to worry, he was protected — he had a firearm on his belt. This was in Mankato … Tim Walz’s city.
WHY did this guy need a gun ? There were no raccoons running across the street … he did not seem to be transporting diamonds for sale and needed protection from being robbed. IMO, he was just expressing his Second Amendment right and compiling to the law that he is not required to wear a helmet since he was well over 18. It was more important to him to be the “good guy with a gun willing to take down the bad guy” than protecting himself from a head injury. Think about it … in 2016, 161 people died in motorcycle crashes were not wearing a helmet … versus … in 2014, 5 incidents in which “good guys” exchanged gunfire with a shooter, leading to either the shooter being killed, wounded or taking his own life. But that’s his call of Freedom from government intrusion.
So Walz has evolved … great ! He will take backlash from some NRA devotees (which is understandable) … but if he has evolved, should he be bashed for his previous positions ?
Let’s acknowledge that it does take political courage to put yourself in cross-hairs of NRA voters (as well as the Moms Demand Action, Sandy Hook Promise, et al.) … especially for those that evolve.
Walz says he has … Pawlenty?
Yet, the real question has to be : How much does the governor matter?Isn’t it really the state legislature ? Didn’t Dayton advocate for gun control legislation and got nowhere ?
So, let’s take hope in what happened yesterday in Virginia. After the 2017 elections when the Democrats improved their leverage in the state legislature, they were able to pass a legislation providing for roughly 400,000 newly eligible low-income Virginians to begin enrolling in Medicaid at the start of next year … the Virginia Senate approved it when four Republicans joined Democrats for 23-17 margin.
If you really care about changing gun laws in Minnesota — and I do — well, ask yourself “Who would be more likely to win over Republicans and Democrats than a man who had earned “A” ratings from the NRA ?”