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Gazette opinion: Stick with the issues, not the insults

March 13, 2017

Wow. That escalated fast.

Within a day of the state Democrats nominating Rob Quist as their candidate to replace former U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, the rhetoric was turbocharged.

The GOP had taken to social media — or anyone who’d listen — to criticize the musician-turned-politician. We’re not going to comment on Quist’s qualifications or drawbacks in this editorial; nor are we commenting on Republican nominee Greg Gianforte’s bonafides either.

Instead, we’d like to address how this short election is playing out.

Sen. Steve Daines talked about liking Quist’s music, but that the musician supported Bernie Sanders, supported sanctuary cities, supported single-payer health care and supported gun registration. All of those things are true, according to The Gazette’s interview with Quist.

But Daines then drops the hyperbole, calling all of those things “socialism.” Instead of discussing those issues and substantive differences Daines obviously has, he resorts to what is political name-calling and tired talking points. It seems like anytime a Republican doesn’t like an opponent’s idea, it instantly become socialism.

It’s about time to get a new line.

Meanwhile, Gianforte offered this gem: “We don’t need to send Nancy Pelosi a court musician who wants to socialize medicine.”

Gianforte would do well to dust off a civics textbook and realize we wouldn’t send Quist to serve Pelosi anymore than Montanans would send him to serve House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Calling Quist a “court musician” seems like an unnecessary insult — as if he’s serving next to the court jester.

Finally, National Republican Chairman Steve Stivers called Quist “a Nancy Pelosi clone in a cowboy hat.”

Stivers doubtless is unfamiliar with Montana’s dress code. You can pick on a person’s musical career. You can even call them a socialist. But we’d suggest once you start mocking the cowboy hat, them’s fighting words, pardner. Savvy, Mr. Stivers?

It seems that the venom stream coming from the GOP represents a very scared response to what should be considered a serious challenger to GOP’s stranglehold on Montana’s lone congressional seat. More importantly, though, the attack on Quist seems emblematic of the kind of highly-charged politics that seem to turn so many people away from politics. In other words, this seems like business as usual.

There are real differences between the choices to replace Zinke, who left to become President Donald J. Trump’s secretary of Interior. Those differences are important and shouldn’t be minimized. They are good things to talk about.

But calling someone a socialist, a court musician and making fun of their hat? Well, that’s just a distraction and a petty one at that.

Montanans like talking about guns. They need to talk about health care, especially in a state where the hospital and health care choices can be limited by geography. And, we should talk about what we value as a state.

But those weren’t conversations about serious policies and politics. It was just more meaningless name-calling from politicians who rallied voters around the idea of swamp draining just a few months ago.

We guess that when those swamps were drained, it left plenty of mud to sling.

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