Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The ballad of Conrad Burns

Finding himself in a surprisingly tight race for re-election, due to his well-documented ties to a disgraced former lobbyist and his well-publicized struggles with on-the-job narcolepsy, Montana Senator Conrad Burns is fighting back with a barrage of bizarre behavior and inflammatory statements.

This type of extreme electioneering is unusual in American politics, but is not without precedent. Only two years ago another incumbent Republican Senator,
Jim Bunning of Kentucky, rode a similar technique to victory. Although, it should be noted, the Hall-of-Fame right hander started out with a huge lead and was probably suffering from dementia.

While the casual observer might fall into the trap of thinking Burns has also lost his mind, a more careful analysis reveals hints of a strategy.

Burns kicked things off earlier in the summer when he
accosted a group of tired out-of-state firefighters in a Billings airport and publicly admonished them for doing a poor job on the brush fires they had flown to Montana to help fight.

I like what Burns was trying to do here. Since 9/11 the glorification of the firefighter has been out of control. Especially when it's obvious firefighters are just a bunch of reckless pyromaniacs, extremely lucky that their psychosis can be channeled into something useful to society. The firefighter should be thanking us everyday for the accidental fires we set -- which keep them out of the looney bin.

Unfortunately -- and maybe it's because we are so close to the five year anniversary of 9/11 -- the voters of Montana weren't ready to accept this reality. The former cattle auctioneer's poll numbers dipped.

He followed that up with a story about
"a nice little Guatemalan man" who paints his house. Burns became worried the man was in this country illegally and demanded to see his papers. Again, Burns is on to something. In this country we are too quick to blame the illegal immigrant for wanting to a better life. Shouldn't it be the responsibility of the employer to follow the law of the land.

This time Burns's important message was lost in the words that he chose. Three terms in the melting pot of Washington DC had tricked Burns into thinking his constituents back home would know what a Guatemalan is. When, in fact, to a Montanan "Guatemalan"sounds like a Maccaca-like slur against Hispanics or a dish you get at Houston's.

This plays right into Burns's repetition as either a racist or someone so senile he would confuse a day-laborer with an appetizer. Again, the poll numbers slide.

But I really think his campaign hit its stride last week when he said the terrorists drive
taxi cabs by day and commit acts of terror by night. I might not be a Montana voter, but I have been looking for ways to aid our war on terror for years. Since I often ride in taxi cabs at night I now know that by keeping the terrorists on the street I have probably prevented numerous acts of death and destruction. This realization gave me an incredible sense of self-worth as well as new-found good-will towards the man who showed me the light.

Will Montana voters feel the same way? While some would argue only a very confused terrorist would target The Big Sky state, Montana has been a consistent recipient of 9/11 and anti-terror
money, thus it behooves the state's residences to pretend this is viable scenario.

By empowering the citizens of Montana to help fight an imaginary war on terror, simply by calling and hailing cabs at night, Burns may have stumbled upon a winning issue. We don't have any
poll numbers since his revelation, but expect good news for the Burns camp and six more restful years as a United States Senator for Conrad Burns.

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