Thursday, August 24, 2006

Bob Kasten and the dustbin of history

The 1980 election was tragic for American liberals. Nationally, conservatives targeted vulnerable lefties and ran well-funded campaigns that resulted in a liberal bloodbath. The Reagan landslide was the final wave that put Republicans over the top and gave them control of the Senate.

In one night, we lost Birch Bayh, John Culver, Frank Church, George McGovern, Warren G. Magnuson and Gaylord Nelson. Almost the only survivor who was targeted was Alan Cranston of California.

We're reminded of that in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article pointing out that the sons of Birch Bayh and John Culver -- and of Jimmy Carter, who lost to Reagan -- are all in the political mix this year.

For Wisconsin Democrats like me, to whom Gaylord Nelson was an icon, what made the loss especially hard to swallow was that Nelson lost to Bob Kasten, a lackluster politician whom we thought -- and hoped -- we had seen the last of when he lost a GOP primary for governor to Lee Dreyfus in a stunning 1978 upset.

Kasten reportedly celebrated his victory over Nelson so hard that he was barely able to speak an intelligible word -- or stand up -- when it finally became clear he had won. He went on to distinguish himself as a drunk driver and, after losing to Russ Feingold in 1992, reportedly found work as an arms dealer. Classy guy.

One critic who reviewed by biography of Nelson said I should have sought out more negative opinions, perhaps interviewed Kasten. I didn't interview Kasten for a reason: He wouldn't rise to the level of a pimple on Nelson's rear end.

Maybe it's because he beat Nelson, or because the first campaign I ever ran was against Kasten, but whatever the reason I still detest Kasten so much that I have probably run on to excess and ruined this observation by David Shribman, who wrote the article:
But -- and we can see this clearer in 2006 than we could in 1980 -- the most important part of that election was who won. Many of the winners turned out to be ephemeral characters, of course, remarkable mainly for how peripheral and idiosyncratic they were. No list of Senate greats would include Bob Kasten of Wisconsin, Jeremiah Denton of Alabama, Paula Hawkins of Florida, Mack Mattingly of Georgia, Steven D. Symms of Idaho, Alfonse D'Amato of New York or John P. East of North Carolina. Not one of them is in politics today, nor remembered for much of anything.


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