Editor’s Note: This is the seventh article in a series about Nebraska politics, particularly as pertains to the Nebraska Republican Party and closely connected groups and their relationship to the “tea party movement”. We recommend starting with the article “Nebraska’s Ruling Class and the Perils of (Assisted) Political Suicide” which includes links to all other articles in the series.
I was a devoted “Trekkie” in my younger years, even taking a “class” about Star Trek that was offered at the University of Missouri when I was an undergraduate there. (In my defense, I paid my own way through college, so I traveled down some rabbit holes like this at my own expense.)
Star Trek was unique in its day, taking on some social and political issues that had previously been taboo in commercial television. I found myself thinking about one of the episodes in the process of organizing my thoughts to write this article. The show was titled “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” and revolved around the two sole survivors of a world devastated by a race war. You see, although the skin color of both of the two dominant races on the planet was one-half white and one-half black with the dividing line right down the center of their bodies, one of the races was white on the right side while the other was white on the left side. To the officers and crew of the Starship Enterprise, the difference was not even noticeable, but it meant everything to the two survivors.
How is this relevant to the political landscape in Nebraska? In a country divided into red states and blue states, Nebraska congratulates itself on being red — not just Husker red, but Republican red. I’m going to make the case that, although Nebraska Republicans may be red on the right, they are blue on the left, making them indistinguishable from Nebraska Democrats who bear the same coloring, only reversed. In fact, the two major political parties in Nebraska are, in many essentials, mirror images of one another, and this has been a fact of the political landscape in Nebraska since very early in its history.
My point is exemplified in the lives and careers of the two most famous Nebraska politicians — William Jennings Bryan, a Democrat, and George W. Norris, a Republican. Although both of these gentlemen called themselves by different party labels, their politics were much more similar than different. Neither gentleman ever met a Progressive idea he didn’t like.
What is Progressivism? Shelli recently addressed that question at length in response to an inquiry we received from a reader. Her description of Progressivism is reiterated in a footnote below1For the record, Progressivism, very broadly, is the philosophy that there are no fixed principles over time, that it is the “progress of history” ...continue. For our purposes here, I would summarize Shelli’s comments as follows:2Some of these bullet points were taken from Milton Friedman’s introduction to his 1962 book, Capitalism and Freedom.
- Progressives view mankind and society as flawed, but perfectible.
- Progressive objectives are welfare and equality (e.g., social and economic justice) rather than freedom.
- Progressives rely primarily on the state (i.e., state intervention and paternalism) rather than on private voluntary arrangements to achieve those objectives.
- Progressives are committed to action and confident of the beneficence of power so long as it is in the hands of a government ostensibly controlled by the electorate.
- Progressive government is actually controlled and administered by “expert” bureaucrats, with elected officials, particularly those in the legislative branch, serving as figureheads with little actual power.
- Progressives favor centralized government, resolving any doubt about where power should be located in favor of the state instead of the city, of the federal government instead of the state, and of a world organization instead of a national government.
In his article describing the members of the ruling class on a national level, Angelo Codevilla asserted, “Differences between Bushes, Clintons, and Obamas are of degree, not kind.” In the same sense, differences between Bryan and Norris were of degree, not kind. Regardless of political party, first and foremost, they were both Progressive ideologues. I will be publishing articles over the next few days/weeks about each man and his political career in order to make this point crystal clear.
Historians refer to Wisconsin as the birthplace and home of Progressivism, tracing the movement back to 1900 and the election of Progressive Republican Robert LaFollette as governor of that state. But, in doing so, the historians ignore Nebraska, where the roots of Progressivism were planted deep in the prairie soil between 1870 and 1900 with the agrarian revolt and the formation of the Populist Party. Those same historians ignore the fact that it was Nebraska’s William Jennings Bryan, not Wisconsin’s LaFollette, that assimilated the Progressive movement into one of the two majority parties, the Democratic Party, and, by campaigning for the presidency as a Democrat and as the nominee of the People’s (Populist) Party in 1896, first exposed and legitimized Progressive ideas before the national electorate.3Progressive Republican Theodore Roosevelt resurrected many Populist planks and re-cast them in new forms during his 1912 run for the presidency. ...continue Republican George Norris would take up the Progressive banner in Nebraska where Bryan left off.
If Wisconsin was first, Nebraska was a very close second in adopting and furthering the Progressive political agenda. As a result, differences between Republicans and Democrats in Nebraska, even today, are of degree, not kind. That’s not a good thing, but it does explain:
— Nebraska State Senator Kathy Campbell.
This is a Republican senator who cannot remember the name of a new health care entitlement program, but is still “really excited” by it.4At a hearing before the Health and Human Services Committee during an exchange between Senator Campbell and the Director of the Division of Medicaid ...continue She’s the Republican state senator who introduced a bill last session to double the gasoline tax and then attempted to deflect criticism by claiming she wasn’t serious, she just thought we needed to have that conversation. Senator Campbell is also the Republican author of LB1110, the measure Shelli and I refer to as the “Night of the Living Dead Bill” because Sen. Campbell and her “posse” keep resurrecting it. If you recall, LB1110 is the proposal to extend Medicaid coverage to pregnant women who do not qualify for Medicaid under federal law.
Did I mention, she’s a REPUBLICAN????
Need I say more? If you’ve read the linked articles and others we’ve published on this site about Senator Campbell and her abysmal record in the Unicameral, you’d know that “NO” is the correct answer. On the other hand, it is possible that mere words and logic cannot account for the phenomenon that is Senator Campbell. For those requiring more than her example, I offer the following:
Understanding that Nebraska is, essentially, a one party state helps to explain:
Commission on Industrial Relations (CIR)/Collective Bargaining —
With a Republican administration and a Republican super-majority in the Unicameral, the issue of CIR reform was STILL commandeered by Democrats and Unions? Really?
- Our state legislators in the Unicameral, who are a Republican super-majority in numbers capable of monopolizing committee chairmanships and enacting any piece of legislation without the support of a single Democrat, elected a liberal Democrat, Steve Lathrop, whose campaigns for office have received sizable donations from labor unions, to chair the Business and Labor Committee at a time when the issue of revision or abolition of the Commission on Industrial Relations (CIR) was going to be considered by that Committee.
- Forty-eight state senators, 36 of whom were Republican, were content to wait for months for the aforementioned Senator Lathrop to amend a shell bill he introduced at the beginning of the legislative session with language recommended by a blue-ribbon committee selected from the community by Lathrop, most of whom were pro-union and with no members drawn from the general taxpaying public, to amend the collective bargaining statutes administered by the CIR.
- At the same time, persons who inquired about the wait were told that March 10th was the deadline for priority bills. “Out of respect for the committee process,” the entire Unicameral was content to let the process take its course and wait to see what Lathrop came up with, assuring the inquirer that, if Lathrop didn’t have something by then or if his proposal was not meaningful reform, nothing he came up with would proceed.
- Governor Heineman chimed in to assure Nebraskans that, if the Legislature failed to pass “substantial, meaningful reform” of the CIR, he would not support it, yet the Governor’s own bill, introduced at the Governor’s behest by Senator Utter, was utterly (pun intended) useless, providing for no real reform at all.
- While everyone else twiddled their thumbs waiting for Lathrop to return from Mount Sinai with the tablets, the Nebraska Republican Party (NEGOP) used the whole procedural circus at the Unicameral in an attempt to lighten the wallets of gullible donors, implying that, but for the lack of sufficient funds to defeat Senator Burke Harr, “substantial, meaningful reform” of the CIR would be a done deal. So, metaphorically, the NEGOP was worshiping the golden calf, if you will, in Lathrop’s absence. Who says history never repeats itself?
- In the end, Lathrop’s bill to reform the CIR was UNANIMOUSLY passed by the Unicameral and signed by the Governor. It was touted as a COMPROMISE, but is, in fact, a COMPROMISED bill, which, in many respects, is no reform at all. Score 1 for the Progressives. A non-elected state governmental entity retains the power to tell state and local governments what they can and cannot do with respect to the people they employ, and the taxpayers are on the hook to pay for whatever those unelected bureaucrats dictate.
Health Care Reform —
Obamacare will never pass. Oh, wait, it did? Well, we’ll sue saying it’s unconstitutional. We won? Uh, okay, but we’re still going to implement it, just in case . . .
- Shelli and I spent a substantial amount of time at the Unicameral both before and after the Affordable Care Act was passed by Congress. When we asked Republican legislators why they had failed to introduce and back any meaningful state response to Obamacare, every single one justified their lack of action by saying they never believed Congress would pass the health reform law. Governor Heineman was apparently of that opinion himself.5Following GiN’s “Stop the Health Care Bill Before Christmas Rally” in front of Ben Nelson’s Lincoln office on Tuesday, ...continue
- When the Cornhusker Kickback came to light, Nebraska’s Governor Dave was seen on national television objecting to that deal, not on the grounds that the health reform law was unconstitutional or that Nebraskans overwhelmingly opposed the legislation. No. Heineman rejected the Cornhusker Kickback, saying that it was not fair to the citizens of other states to make them pay Nebraska’s increased costs under the proposed reform. He said, quote, Nebraskans wanted a “fair deal.” In fact, Nebraskans wanted no deal at all and no part of Obamacare.
- Once Obamacare did pass, our state’s Attorney General, Jon Bruning, joined with other states’ attorneys general to challenge the health reform law in court and WON. Still, he neglected to advise our governor and our state legislators to stop implementing that unconstitutional law in Nebraska. Implementation of the act by the victorious states in that lawsuit was cited by Judge Vinson as one reason for his decision NOT to enjoin implementation of Obamacare pending appeal of his decision that it was unconstitutional in its entirety.
- Nebraska has led the way in the implementation of medical records information technology, receiving $6.8 million in funding from the stimulus bill to develop that technology that is a necessary precursor to Obamacare.
- Governor Heineman applied for and received a $1 million grant to develop the health care exchange required by Obamacare.
- The Unicameral, with its super-majority of Republican senators, has approved a number of study resolutions to research how Obamacare can and should be implemented in Nebraska.
- The same Unicameral has voted on various occasions to expand Nebraska’s Medicaid program to cover individuals who make 185% of the federal poverty level or, at times, even more, regardless of the fact that Obamacare only requires states to cover persons who earn up to and including 138% but WILL NOT ALLOW STATES TO ROLL BACK COVERAGE LEVELS IF STATES CHOOSE TO EXTEND COVERAGE TO THOSE WHO EARN MORE, EVEN IF THE STATE IS UNABLE TO AFFORD THAT LEVEL OF COVERAGE IN THE FUTURE.
- While all this is occurring, Attorney General Jon Bruning is running for the U.S. Senate claiming he considers the health reform law to be unconstitutional and touting his record as a leader in the court challenge against Obamacare, regardless of the fact that the administration he represents continues to implement that law here in Nebraska.
Smaller Government/Fiscal Responsibility —
Do as I say, not as I do.
- For some inexplicable reason, there is a mythology that Nebraska is a very fiscally conservative state that is in so much better shape than many others. Yet, Nebraska has the highest overall taxation rate in a nine state area – – – fiscal responsibility, anyone? The state ranks in the top ten nationwide in the number of employees who work for state or local government – – – is that SMALL GOVERNMENT??? Nebraska ranks in the top ten states in its number of illegal immigrants. There’s been a recent push in the Unicameral to extend Medicaid coverage to illegals and to grant them in-state tuition and other benefits of citizenship…this is fiscal responsibility??
- Governor Heineman claims he “balanced the budget without raising taxes,” ignoring the fact that almost half of the money the state spends each year comes from the federal government, and the Governor and the Unicameral have been hard-pressed to balance their HALF during the last two biennial budgeting periods. So, it is more accurate to say that the freaking budget was “balanced” by sucking up federal dollars with a huge fire hose AND by cutting aid to cities, counties, etc. Now, those local governmental entities are raising taxes. Of course, local tax increases are more difficult to lay at Heineman’s door come next election season.
- Our Republican governor, Heineman, endorsed Mitt Romney for president, saying, “Mitt Romney has a proven record of balancing budgets, keeping taxes low, and creating an environment for job growth,” ignoring the fact that RomneyCare is bankrupting the State of Massachusetts;
- Republican State Senator Deb Fischer introduced a legislative resolution stating Nebraska’s opposition to the implementation of Real ID in the state and committing NOT to implement the law in Nebraska. However, Senator Fischer subsequently introduced a series of bills that incrementally adopted Real ID provisions into Nebraska law and resulted in Real ID’s implementation here, expanding the reach of government into the heretofore private lives of Nebraska’s citizens.
- Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, a Republican, spends money like nobody’s business while, simultaneously, talking about how he’s leading the charge in Congress to restore fiscal responsibility. Fortenberry…
Chairs the U.S. House Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry, which, until recently, had jurisdiction over nutrition programs, including the food stamp program. In his capacity as chair of that subcommittee, he created the impression on at least one “telephone townhall” he held that I “attended” that he’s comfortable, to some extent, with the government telling people what, and what not, to eat;
Thinks that, even though the U.S. government is losing money hand over fist by subsidizing AmTrak, a national rail system that makes a positive return on its operations in only one region of the country — the Northeast, “the country has to have a national rail system” and he dismisses the possibility that the operation should be privatized;
Has voted to increase taxes.
- Nebraska’s two U.S. Senators, Johanns (a Republican) and Nelson (a Democrat) joined together to vote against a bill abolishing the ethanol subsidy.
- The Lincoln Arena Project, a public works boondoggle that will most likely end up costing the city money rather than encouraging economic development, received public support by many Republican luminaries, including Attorney General Jon Bruning, who participated in a press conference in favor of the Arena just before the public voted on the issue. In fact, Bruning even appeared in a television commercial urging Lincolnites to vote “Yes” on the project.
- The Platte Institute, supposedly a conservative think tank funded, in part, by no lesser light in the Nebraska Republican Party universe than Pete Ricketts, apparently agrees with Nancy Pelosi that welfare spending gives the most bang for the buck in stimulating the economy. When I pointed out how lame that position is, I was told the Institute does not need “narrow-minded people” like me reading their newsletters.
I could go on . . . and on . . . and on. Unfortunately, there’s an abundance of material. But this article grows long, and I fear my readers tire. I know I do. I’ll conclude with the following thought. The ancient Greeks carved the maxim, “Know Thyself,” on the wall of the forecourt at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. These half red/half blue Nebraska Republicans need to heed this maxim. They’ve been taught that Nebraska is a red state, has always been a red state, and will always be a red state. But the Nebraska Republican Party is not truly red, has never been truly red, and, absent a come to Jesus moment, will never be truly red, if “red” stands for constitutional conservatism. The Nebraska Republican Party has stared at only one side of its reflection for so long, it’s never really confronted itself by looking straight into the mirror. It’s long past time that it did just that.
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Notes & References [ + ]
|1.||↑||For the record, Progressivism, very broadly, is the philosophy that there are no fixed principles over time, that it is the “progress of history” that should affect policy. Human beings, laws, and policy should evolve. It’s evolution applied to people and policy. Over time, therefore, people and policy can be perfected; Progressive philosophy is ultimately utopian. The Constitution was constructed by men who had studied all of human history and believed there were repeating patterns and that human nature does not fundamentally change over time. Having capacity for good and evil, there were certain corrupting forces — power being one of them. Therefore, government, run by men, should be limited, and its power separated and balanced. But Progressivism, with its evolution-based thinking, embraced and embraces the idea that documents such as the Constitution can and should be viewed as “living” and ever changing. We’ve “moved forward” this thinking emphasizes. It may have worked in 1789, but things have changed since then and men are better and different because they have evolved. This sort of thinking explains why Progressives believe men, and therefore, government, can now be safely trusted with power. The result has been a transfer of power to government generally, the centralization of it, transfer of power from legislative to executive branches, and explosive growth in government bureaucracy. The whole school of thought is that elected officials should be little more than show ponies while people specially trained in particular areas, the experts, are trusted with ongoing decision making. Progressivism is all about having a good plan and the right planners. Every problem can be solved and society can be perfected using government power to do so. If there’s income disparity, for instance, we can redistribute wealth.|
|2.||↑||Some of these bullet points were taken from Milton Friedman’s introduction to his 1962 book, Capitalism and Freedom.|
|3.||↑||Progressive Republican Theodore Roosevelt resurrected many Populist planks and re-cast them in new forms during his 1912 run for the presidency. Roosevelt tentatively expanded federal regulations of business corporations. The Progressive Party, which Roosevelt headed in the “Bull Moose campaign” of 1912, also echoed many People’s Party concerns. By constitutional amendment, direct election of U.S. Senators became law in 1912. Other Populist planks–particularly those calling for aid to farmers and employment on public works in time of depression–became reality during the 1930s, under the New Deal administrations of Democrat Franklin Roosevelt.|
|4.||↑||At a hearing before the Health and Human Services Committee during an exchange between Senator Campbell and the Director of the Division of Medicaid and Long Term Care for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, Senator Campbell could not recall the name of the PACE program, calling it the PATH program. She was corrected by the Director and responded to the Director’s correction with the statement, “PACE, why can I — I can never get that correct. . . . I mean, I have to say, I’m really excited by that program.”|
|5.||↑||Following GiN’s “Stop the Health Care Bill Before Christmas Rally” in front of Ben Nelson’s Lincoln office on Tuesday, December 22, 2009, and coverage of it in the media, Governor Heineman’s Communications Director, Jen Rae Heine, contacted Shelli to discuss Shelli’s remarks to reporters regarding the need for the Governor to reject the “Cornhusker Kickback”. Ms. Heine reported to Shelli that the Governor’s administration did not believe that the health care bill would pass because there were not adequate votes in Congress.|