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COLUMN: Congressman Collin Peterson: Not a bastard by Rush Limbaugh's definition


That's what conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh called those who voted in favor of the health care reform bill. "America is hanging by a thread," he shuddered, in his inimitably arrogant manner.

Our readers in the 8th Congressional District might be pleased to learn that Congressman Collin Peterson is not a bastard, based on Rush Limbaugh's social order.

Peterson is a conservative Democrat-who voted against the bill. I'm sure Limbaugh-a man of such class, intellect and eloquence-could come up with some other, slightly-less derogatory label, for Peterson. Maybe he already has.

Perham Rotary hosted Rep. Peterson last week for a noon lunch. The two-decade Congressman had very interesting things to say about polarization-on both sides of the aisle.

"Political acrimony sort of goes through cycles," said Peterson to a crowd of about 100 Rotarians. Peterson dated the modern area of Democrat vs. Republican angst to the Newt Gingrich era of the early 1990's.

"But I've never seen it this bad," said Peterson, shaking his head over the partisan warfare of Washington, D.C. "It's hard to be a practical, middle-of-the-road guy."

Interestingly, Peterson attributes the rancorous relationship between Democrats and Republicans, in part, to redistricting of political boundaries; and ethics practices changes that discourage elected officials from patronizing for dinner or coffee.

"We used to see our colleagues from the other party, get to know them, get to know their families...but that's not happening any more," said Peterson.

On redistricting, Peterson said the lines are drawn with such zealous partisanship that-particularly in urban districts-Republicans never have any reason to talk to Democrats and vice-versa.

"A Democrat from a solid district never talks to anybody from the other party...they don't want to even chat," said Peterson.

His district, spanning most of northwest Minnesota, is evenly split between left and right.

"I talk to people from both parties, and I talk to people in the middle." But in most districts, and on capital hill, "they just choose sides and start shooting at each other."

Peterson wasn't particularly kind to the left wing of his own party, either.

Theoretically, said Peterson, it would be refreshing if moderate voters would "rise up and put the (left and right wing) ideologues out of office."

Unfortunately, Peterson sees it going the opposite direction: The extremists are pushing good people out of politics.

"People quit. They just can't take it any more," he said.

Here are a few examples of moderates retreating from public life:

-Rep. Byron Dorgan, North Dakota won't run again.

-Rep. Stupac, Michigan's conservative Democrat with an ability to listen to both sides, threw in the towel earlier this month. He was one of Rush Limbaugh's bastards.

-John McCain, admired by moderates and independents his entire career, is being challenged by the right wing of his own party. Sadly, McCain continues his degrading descent into right wing kissassism that escalated about the time he began hanging out with Sara Palin.

-Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens is retiring. He's almost 90-years-old, but still, his long history as a moderate clashes with the current Republican extremists. Let us not forget that a fellow moderate Republican, Pres. Gerald Ford, appointed Stevens to the Supreme Court.

It is sad to think that one of the most admired Republicans of the past five decades, Gerald Ford, if he were alive today, would very possibly be another one of Rush Limbaugh's bastards.

I could go on and on with this discussion. But I'll conclude with a battle cry I've been hearing increasingly from a number of political observers and commentators:

It is time for moderates and independents to stand up and be just as radical, passionate and determined as the "wingnuts" in charting a civil, sensible course for America.

It is time for decent Americans to hold extremists accountable for their conduct.

It is time to run the bastards out of office-and I'm not talking about Rush Limbaugh's bastards.

Who's with me?

Please write, and we'll share your views in the newspaper and/or the website.