Sunday, October 29, 2006

Patrick Gets A Big Boost

After seeing a note on the front page of the Bucks County Courier Times today that their endorsement in the 8th district U.S. House campaign between Patrick Murphy and incumbent Mike Fitzpatrick appeared on the editorial page, I opened up the editorial section of the paper expecting a predictable result.

Instead, I almost fell out of my chair when I read this.

A Change Of Course

Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy holds out the promise of needed change in Washington, where the one-party rule has led us widely astray.

President Bush came into office calling himself a uniter, not a divider. But our nation is more divided today than it has been since Vietnam. And, once again, an ill-conceived and misdirected war bereft of allied support and without a clear mission is at the core of our fractured nation.

But it is not the only issue driving a wedge between our citizens - and our nation and the world.

A Republican Congress that has acted more like a rubber stamp for the president than a constitutional check on presidential power is both enabler and accomplice. Howling partisanship trumps thoughtful deliberation, corruption arises, ethics pale.

We are worried.

Against this troubling backdrop, congressional races are playing out across the nation. Here in Bucks County freshman congressman Mike Fitzpatrick, hard-working and earnest and with an accomplished 10-year record of public service, faces Democrat challenger Patrick Murphy.
As always, don't forget the "ic."
Needed change

An Iraq war veteran who has never held public office, Murphy is an experienced military and civilian prosecutor and a former West Point professor. As a former Army captain, Murphy is used to commanding others and making tough decisions.

As a congressional candidate, he embodies the promise of needed change.

First and foremost, Murphy backed a timed withdrawal of our troops from Iraq, now gripped by sectarian violence - if not civil war. Yet he is not proposing to "cut and run," as he's been accused. He would get our military men and women out of harm's way but redeploy a strategic strike force of 20,000 to 30,000 troops outside Iraq.

A timeline for withdrawal, he believes, would encourage the Iraqis to take control of their nation's security and their citizens' future. We think he's right. And we think his desire to keep a low-profile toehold on Iraq makes sense.

Too little, too late

Fitzpatrick no longer backs Bush on Iraq. He has called for a new strategy and is awaiting the recommendation of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, appointed by Congress with the president's approval. We're encouraged by the congressman's changing view, but President Bush has already made it clear that he will not be bound by any of the study group's recommendations.

Our concern is that we could be in store for more of the same.

This is our central fear in returning Fitzpatrick to Congress - that he will not be as strong a force for change as Murphy.

We are likewise concerned that the congressman will continue to cast votes advancing this administration's short-sighted and unfair tax cuts. We also believe that his conservative beliefs put him out of step with his mostly moderate district on the promising science of embryonic stem cell research and on the pro-choice vs. pro-life debate.

That said, the congressman's values are among his strongest points. A former Eagle Scout, Fitzpatrick is honest and thoughtful. He shows a command of detail. That's why his willingness to engage in sleazy negative campaign tactics is disappointing. Unfortunately, this isn't new.

Negative campaign

In his race against Democrat Ginny Schrader two years ago, the congressman failed to keep a check on the tactics of national party operatives. When Schrader was slimed, Fitzpatrick said he wasn't responsible.

He sang the same refrain when Iraq war vets questioned Murphy's war record while appearing at a press conference he convened a few weeks ago. Fitzpatrick should have prevented this from happening at his own event - or at least denounced their comments immediately.

We are likewise offended by Fitzpatrick's television ads and mailings.

They diminish the quality of character we've come to expect from him. They also raise legitimate questions about how independent he can really be within his own party if he can't control the tone of his own campaign.

We do want to note that Fitzpatrick has had a distinguished record as a county commissioner and that his solid work as a freshman congressman deserves praise. In his first term, he authored 24 bills and proctored several measures into law - an uncommon achievement. And he demonstrated a willingness to break stride on a number of issues with his party and president. Indeed, he's been cited as one of the most independent members on Capitol Hill.

Right on the big issue

This is the sort of bipartisanship we need in Congress. Unfortunately, on the overarching issue of our time, Fitzpatrick for too long was unable to break rank. The Courier Times Editorial Board has had its own lengthy, spirited and even contentious debate - perhaps paralleling the national debate - and has decided to issue its congressional endorsement to Patrick Murphy.

Murphy's young, we know. But we regard him as bright, accomplished for his age, and committed to public service. He has insights from his first-hand experience in Iraq that are not to be discounted. His values and character are also strong.

Murphy is committed to a new direction, and at a point when so many Americans believe major change is necessary, his timing provides him with a significant boost to secure an edge over the long popular and respected Fitzpatrick.
I really hadn't planned to say much about this because I expected an automatic endorsement from the Courier Times for Fitzpatrick, but as I said above, this absolutely shocked me.

Even at this shining moment for them, I believe the Courier Times still gives Fitzpatrick too much credit for his accomplishments. However, though I believe Fitzpatrick has been an utter pestilence as a congressman, I should admit that I've had some direct communication with him, and I have to give him his due for being professional (albeit I categorically disagree with him on just about everything). If I had actually worked one-on-one with him on a regular basis, it's possible that I may have a slightly different attitude.

The message I receive from this endorsement, though, is that Fitzpatrick was absolutely sunk by the NRCC in the eyes of the Courier Times, a spot-on assessment if ever there was one. This little tease of Mikey's where he expects his precious Iraq Study Group to bail him out on the war may have been good enough to earn him the endorsement if it weren't for Kevin Kelly's swift-boat nonsense on Patrick Murphy and, as the paper noted, some of the sleazy mailings from his campaign. That stuff plainly was too far even for this very conservative newspaper (which also rightly gives Patrick credit for being an outstanding candidate). Another message I receive is that even the Courier Times is astute enough to recognize that the Republican Party, primarily because of Iraq but other issues also, has absolutely lost the moderate voters in this country.

I'm not sure it's possible to overstate how much guts it takes for a newspaper in this area (Bucks has a lot of moderates, but it has a lot of bedrock, "God and guns" Republicans too) to give Patrick this endorsement, something much more thorough and deliberate than that joke of an endorsement the Inquirer gave Fitzpatrick a week or so ago.

I've pilloried the Courier Times in the past and rightly so, but not now. Endorsing Patrick, aside from the fact that it was simply the right thing to do, took true courage, and they should be commended.

And speaking of Iraq, Max Cleland slaps down "The Beard" on CNN and anyone else spinning this fiction that, somehow, disgust in this country with the Iraq war is somehow mobilizing "the base" (hat tip to the Daily Kos).

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