Dear Jon And Brian,
I am using your first names not just because I've worked for both of you in Montana, but because I look up to both of you with great respect. This letter is public, personal appeal to urge you, with all my heart, to end your publicly neutral superdelegate stand and endorse Barack Obama for President of the United States.
We are experiencing a moment that requires critical leadership, I look around and see nothing happening, and I would like it to be yours.
I know that only Ed Tinsley out of the Montana superdelegate contingent has endorsed, and he for Obama. I also hope Max, Dennis, Margie, and Jean will endorse Barack. I know that your intention is to stay neutral until after the primary.
But things have changed in the race, particularly in the last couple days. Since I know you (I've met or worked with/for all of you except Ed, actually), since I have supported you with my labor and my heart and soul, and since this community has supported you as well, I beg your indulgence for this appeal.
First of all, there is the practical case.
Jon, your final closing-image direct mail piece was a photo of you with your gun for a reason. You can be a guy everyone likes and respects, but in the Western states, Hillary Clinton = national Democrats = gun control, and you know how Burns tried to paint you.
As one of your organizers, I encountered so many people at their doors who would say, "I really like Jon, but won't he just be Hillary Clinton's pawn?" Absurd, right? Yet it happened over and over. I can't be breaking any news to you.
In your first re-election campaign in 2012, you will be as vulnerable as you will ever be. Whether it's Rehberg or someone else, you know they are saving up for you and will make it a top-tier race. Do you really want to have a re-election defense with Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket? I can't imagine the nightmare of doorknocking in that context.
Brian, you just went through what every veteran political reporter in Montana just described as the most acrimonious, most bitter legislative session in memory, and it happened (for those that don't know) because of razor-thin splits in chamber control in the legislature. Dems had the Senate and Republicans had the House.
As a popular governor who managed the final-scene Republican House meltdown like a maestro, you came out looking better than they did. Yet you know you never want to go through that again. You need a majority in the House and to defend those seats in the Senate. You know this could all ride on as little as 3 votes here or there. And you know that is going to be a brutal battle. Certainly you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that if Hillary Clinton is the name at the top of that ticket, otherwise-demoralized Montana Republicans will pour out of the woodwork to vote against her. You'll start your second term with Republicans controlling both chambers, thirsty for revenge and eager to tear down your reputation.
By contrast, Barack Obama is someone who lights a fire in the hearts of his energized supporters, the kind of grassroots energy you are going to need to campaign in those local House districts. Take a look at this. And please tell me you noticed what happened in IL-14 over the weekend. Imagine 5-10K people at an Obama rally in Billings. Wouldn't Roy Brown (Brian's 2008 tomato can opponent) love that? And you know Obama would actually come to Montana in a general election, pushing John McCain and his resources all over the map on defense.
Second, there is the political case.
Jon, in the final week of the campaign, I was on those statewide conference calls where the celebrity Dems would drop in to pep us up and thank us, and I also know these were the people who helped move a lot of money behind your campaign, without which we both know you would have lost a heartbreakingly close race. Bill Clinton did a call. Chuck Schumer did a call. Terry McAuliffe turned in an absurd call where he spun in one breath from bragging about staying up til 5am cavorting with Bill Clinton and U2 to imploring us to put in those final few sleepless nights.
And I know, Jon, that Matt McKenna (who you, Brian, hand-plucked from MSU back in 2000) is now Bill Clinton's personal communications director. I know there is a sense of personal connection with the Clintons.
But Jon, I also know you are following this campaign closely, because you and I both had the same reaction to seeing your former star organizer Big Dave on the stage with Barack (where Barack publicly recognizes his local field staff) the day before the New Hampshire primary on MSNBC. We both called him to make fun of him for being a big shot.
Well, my great friend Dave is now in his 5th state (Pennsylvania) and near the breaking point of exhaustion. Somehow he keeps going on. Also, your 2006 state field director ran Obama's field campaign in New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont. Many others who poured their souls into your race and saw you as a hero are the same people who see in Barack Obama a hero, and are killing themselves to make it happen.
Brian, you are presidential material someday, all you'd have to do is want it. If it weren't awkward timing and I didn't know how strongly you feel you have unfinished business in Montana, you'd be the most obvious VP choice in about forever this year. You possess every natural political skill there is.
Thus, I know that if it's in the back of your mind somewhere to keep that option open, who you endorse in this race may have implications for you down the road within the party.
For both of you, while there is almost no political risk in waiting on your endorsement, and certainly some political safety in doing just that, I want to stress that there is a great reward possible if you change your minds and endorse right now.
Both of you are heroes in the netroots, a constituency that extends far beyond Montana. Your image with us is safe. But you have a chance to go beyond safe netroots favorites into a territory of reverence (like Mike Mansfield among Montana Democrats) if you were to insert yourselves at this moment, because a few things have now become certain.
First, the calculus is set and will not change before Denver. The math is inexorable and finally internalized. Obama will go to Denver with a definitive and irreversible pledged delegate lead of approximately 159. 140 if you stir in a Florida and Michigan redo and assume the worst-case. That's a clear 4-5% margin of victory in the pledged delegate lead. Both of you gentlemen have run statewide Montana races well under 5% margins, and you know firsthand that the majority of a single vote is as sacred as a unanimous one.
Silly argument-wise, both of you are smart enough to know that either the Cowboys or the Niners were going to crush those Bills and Chargers teams back in that great 3-year NFC Championship stretch, so you're smart enough to know what an insultingly unintelligent line of argument it is to say that Clinton winning Ohio means only she and not Obama could beat McCain there. Both Ali and Frazier were going to beat Chuck Wepner, regardless of who won the particular Ali-Frazier fight.
Second, as we hit the first 6-week lull after a frenetic 9 weeks of contests, this is a moment for all superdelegates to soberly assess the situation, the endgame, and especially the tone of the campaign each candidate has run. And just as we enter this interlude, we hit the ugliest, most divisive moment yet. This is toxic for the Democratic Party in the most soul-deadening way. If you don't know what I am talking about, I refer you to Keith Olbermann who has spoken to it better than I ever could. He, too, has personal history and roots with the Clintons and people close to them. But morality insists that silence out of personal friendship is no longer acceptable.
Third, it appears that Al Gore, John Edwards, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi seem intent on abdicating a moral moment. (I am sure Bill Richardson is planning his next exceptionally high profile NYT, WaPo, MTP comically grandiose conscience-wrestling vanity piece somewhere).
This creates a vacuum, Jon and Brian. One you can step into. You may not consider yourselves influential enough within the party to have a big enough impact to make the risk worth it, but your endorsements, particularly if you did them the right way, would make an impact with a lot of purple state people. You would certainly send a strong regional signal, and as the first post-Ferraro high profile Dems to endorse, you could make your mark with your fellow governors and freshmen Senators.
You can be the heroes. You don't even have to expressly reject the Clinton campaign, because I am sure that would be uncomfortable (though we wouldn't hold it against you if you did). You can simply say the urgency of party unity trumps the value in waiting. You can make it safer for others. Atmospherically, it feels like everyone is waiting for a shoe to drop somewhere. Over the past year since the euphoria of the 2006 wave of which we were the miraculous final piece with Jim Webb, Congressional Dems have been labeled spineless and it has tarred the whole party. Standing up will be welcomed with more enthusiasm than you know. The netroots would always remember this.
And if the Dean-to-Obama next-generation leap of harnessing netroots energy is any indication, by the time you get ready to run again, the power and sophistication of this machine will be even more advanced.
Think about it. Who passionately supports Obama? People 50 and under, where he romps. New, previously disengaged voters to expand the party. People Montana and Mountain West Dems need. Obama's message is the future of the party, and it is the message you yourselves campaign on in Montana: divisiveness is crippling our politics in a way that only serves those in a position to exploit the dysfunction - lobbyists who represent powerful interests.
Courageous stands define leaders.
As the party turns its eyes to Denver and its hopes to reclaim the Mountain West, two iconic mountain western Democrats can plant a flag in the ground and take a stand.
Finally, a personal appeal.
Jon and Brian, I love my country, and I know you do too. Being an American is sacred to me.
When I was a little boy, my mother used to tell me bedtime stories of the Revolutionary War, of Abraham Lincoln, of slavery and the Civil War, of World War II, of the Great Depression, of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, of Gandhi, of Jesus. And the Kennedys.
Especially, of Robert F. Kennedy.
I learned values from these stories, stories about my American heritage, and of people of courage who did the right thing, and who were themselves imperfect but who fought on behalf of humanity, who appealed to the better angels of human nature when bitterness would have been easy.
I learned that the principles of equality, fairness and justice were threshold principles - conditions that must be met before we even got out of the gate on policy. I have never in my life voted for a Republican because during my lifetime that party has failed the threshold test. It doesn't value those things, and generally mocks them. Forget this vote on an education bill, or that platform plank on energy policy. If we are demonizing people and playing to the basest fears people have about one another, we are behaving in a fundamentally corrupt way. A way that is simply unacceptable in the Democratic Party, or at least the post-Civil Rights Era party I have grown up with.
We all know enough about realpolitik to know what it means to run a surrogate campaign for plausible deniability. We're not little kids. We know how this works. What we are witnessing is one of the most breathtakingly cynical moments in Democratic Party history. It stands against every threshold principle of the party.
So it should come as no shock that millions of us are sincerely wrestling with how we will feel about a party should it nominate a candidate who has violated the basic threshold principles that cause us to choose the Democratic Party in the first place. This is no melodrama, this is real. We are in extremely dangerous territory.
There is a moral imperative to shut this down, before it spirals further out of control. And please understand that as of the last 48 hours we are currently spiraling out of control. When it comes from the Republicans we can withstand and overcome, because that's who they are and we know that going in. But when it comes from within our party, we are lost, because we lose the values that bind.
And you, Jon, and you, Brian, have a power that I and others do not. You are superdelegates, entrusted with a vote 50,000 times more powerful than mine to ensure that the party does not nominate a candidate who will harm the party. We need heroes, and the only heroes who can end this thing are the undeclared superdelegates.
Barack Obama has run a noble campaign. He speaks eloquently of valuing our commonalities as the first step in solving complex problems exacerbated by a cynically divisive politics. We are human beings and Americans first.
He has built the single greatest grassroots campaign structure in American political history. If for one moment you think that has happened because of "a speech he gave in 2002," or that his candidacy could be anywhere near this powerful if this man was not authentic and full of integrity, you haven't been paying attention. And I know that you have.
Please, any other undeclared or declared-but-wavering superdelegate out there who may happen to read this.
There are millions of Americans who share this plea. Who have endured decades of mind numbing smallness in our politics. Who have grieved since the day Bobby Kennedy was shot or who like me were born after that tragic moment but have longed for a rebirth of that spirit. We see in Barack Obama the possibilities of greatness, and we have helped him a long way on his journey to help our nation re-engage in its public life in a newly thoughtful, intellectual, and yet calloused-hand way.
But we cannot take him all the way. We have moved into endgame. Your votes are worth 50,000 more than ours. The last legs of this journey are in your hands, Jon. They're in your hands, Brian.
And they are only in your hands.