I thoroughly enjoyed the debate between Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and Kristi Noem at the State Fair in Huron Sunday (well, except for the silly partisan chest-thumping and sign-waving from the crowd—I’m with B.-Thom on that). When done right (and contrary to Dennis Daugaard’s opinion), a debate is the best format available to test candidates ideas and abilities side by side, to pull candidates off their scripts and teleprompters and challenge them critically analyze and explain issues.
As I mentioned in my opening post on Sunday’s debate, the State Fair tilt between our Congressional candidates provided me with one major revelation: Stephanie is not our princess; Kristi thinks she is.
Noem demonstrates her princess attitude in her arrogance and inattention. We have seen Noem’s arrogance and inattention toward the law in her court record. She disregards traffic laws. She has yet to straight-up forswear her behavior: instead, she continues to include excuse-language in her “apologies,” mentioning her “nature,” her desire to “get things done,” and those “flat, empty country highways.” Six times she has skipped court dates, as if she’s just too important to deign to appear before a judge like some common citizen. Twice that arrogant inattention has earned arrest warrants. And apparently this same arrogant disregard for the law runs in the family: Noem’s husband, two brothers, and her mother, who have a shared total of 84 traffic citations over the last two decades. (Remember, the Noem campaign opened up candidates’ family court records as a campaign issue. Thank Josh Shields for another bonehead campaign move.)
Noem’s princess attitude was clearly on display at the State Fair debate. She carries herself with dour hauteur… though if I were entering a debate ill-prepared to talk issues, I’d probably come across sour and restrained as well. While moderator Michelle Rook huddled with the candidates before the show to discuss the debate rules and format, Noem drifted away to chat with someone in the audience. During the debate, Noem ignored the two-minute limit twice, rattling on even after Rook called time. And most tellingly, Noem didn’t pay attention to the questions and failed to respond to what specifically was asked.
Noem’s campaign is based on emotion and image. Even her advocacy of repealing the estate tax is couched in the emotional story of her father’s death and her personal sacrifice. She doesn’t answer the practical policy questions of just how rich the Arnold family had to be to qualify for the estate tax in the first place, how much estate tax they actually owed, why they were paying it at all when Mrs. Arnold was still alive to own the farm, and the extent to which the over $3 million in farm subsidies they received helped ease that tax burden. (Hey, Noem has brought it up, so she should answer those questions.) She just trots out the story and expects us to get all weepy and vote for her. I get weepy for all sorts of people, but that doesn’t mean I pick them for Congress.
Noem wants this race to be all about who she is. Herseth Sandlin wants this race to be about what she does. Where Noem spent half of her opening statement on Sunday talking about how wonderful the State Fair is, Herseth Sandlin mentioned her family and then got straight to business, talking about specific programs and votes. Throughout the debate, Herseth Sandlin piled her answers with specific examples of what she’s worked for in Washington. Throughout the debate, our Congresswoman did not speak like someone who feels she’s entitled to the job just because she’s a nice South Dakota girl: she spoke like an eager job applicant, working hard to convince us to hire her based on her record of proven performance. Noem seems to think we should elect her because she’s… well… Kristi Noem.
At numerous points in the debate, Noem said, “We need someone in Washington who…” and then filled in the blank with something relating to her life. Someone who understands the ethanol industry, someone who understands farms, someone who’s been proactive on the issues, someone with real-life experience…. Latent in those Noem lines is the suggestion that Noem’s life experience is somehow more real, more valid, than Herseth Sandlin’s. Everyone lives a valid life. Everyone learns from different struggles. Suggesting that farming or running a business is somehow more valid experience than teaching or lawyering or other public service is elitism, and it stinks.
Saying you’re smarter because you live in Castlewood is just as offensive as saying you’re smarter because you went to Georgetown. You don’t hear Herseth Sandlin saying things like “We need someone in Washington who has made life choices like mine.” She doesn’t feel the need to downgrade anyone else’s life choices to prove she’s the right person for Congress. But Noem apparently needs to validate her own life experience by invalidating the life experience of others.
In other words, Noem thinks she’s special. She thinks she’s the princess. She wants us to hand her the crown as a prize for being the wonderful person she is.
Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin wants us to hire her for the work she’s done for South Dakota. I may not agree with all of the work she’s done, but at least she’s not asking me to hire her on emotion and image. Princesses don’t get my vote.