Being civil and respectful: A lesson from Don Bacon

On March 24, 2015 a mere 2.5 months into the tenure of Representative Brad Ashford’s tenure in Congress, Don Bacon announced his candidacy to run against Ashford in the 2016 election. In his announcement, he said, “Nebraska does want our elected officials to be civil and respectful, and I promise to be that way…To change Washington, we need new leadership with moral courage to make tough decisions.” Bacon was able to defeat incumbent Democrat Ashford 49.4 – 47.3 thanks in large part to the conservative Sarpy County.

Unlike Fischer, who I covered previously, Bacon did not hold an elected office prior to running for federal office. So the extent that we know about his public stances and ideas is the record of public statements that he has made, the bills he has supported, and to an extent constituent mail. Each member of Congress does respond to constituent mail through their staff. In theory, the responses that you receive via mail or e-mail are vetted by staff. The staff sign off on their respective issues. So a healthcare staffer will sign off on the position of the member of Congress for healthcare. Of course, this may not always be the case. In numerous instances in the office, we had letters held up because we were waiting on approval of positions taken in these letters. If you send an e-mail, the system that is used to reply to the e-mail, is generally filtered by category sending out a response for that particular category. They are essentially canned responses to try to limit the time taken by staff and interns in responding to constituent mail, where they can help it.

Again, while this piece will touch on certain policy aspects, I want this to serve as an introduction to Rep. Bacon so I will leave a number of the heavier policy areas to subsequent posts where I can touch on all of the people in Nebraska running for office in 2018.

Civil and respectful

Bacon has touched on this idea of being “civil and respectful” multiple times. He even went so far as to make a speech on the House floor to the same effect. Unfortunately, he does not follow through with his own advice. His own press releases throughout the campaign uses “Democrat Party” or “Democrat establishment” instead of the grammatically correct phrase, “Democratic Party” or “Democratic establishment.” Oxford noted in 2014, that “it is in keeping with a longstanding tradition among Republicans of dropping the -ic in order to maintain a distinction from the broader, positive associations of the adjective democratic with democracy and egalitarianism.” The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage states “do not use Democrat as a modifier (the Democrat Party); that construction is used by opponents to disparage the party. It is a pet peeve of mine because saying as Bacon does when he says “the Democrat Party”, he is being grammatically incorrect to score rhetorical points with his base of support.

Criticism of Rep. Bacon is almost always perceived as a personal attack and he, or rather his staff, counter that the other person is lying. On February 21, 2017, The Omaha World Herald published an article about Rep. Bacon not wanting to hold town halls. They wrote

One member who rejected the idea of in-person town halls was Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., who said he has no plans to hold any this week – or ever – citing the potential for some people to hijack the session. Bacon represents the Congressional district including Omaha.

On February 23, after I reached out to Rep. Bacon’s office as a concerned constituent, I received an e-mail from his staff

Recently, it has been reported that I will not be holding any town halls as the Representative of Nebraska’s Second District. That is simply not true. I made a promise to do town halls across the district, and I stand by that…I have been working with my staff, alongside groups throughout the district, and we have established a schedule for our town halls and will continue to add more to the list.

A tele-townhall was announced on March 7 with the understanding that if it went well, there would be a live townhall at a later date.  The editorial staff at The Omaha World Herald held to their reporting on the issue writing in an editorial on March 13

New U.S. Rep. Don Bacon now says he plans to hold town hall meeting with his Omaha-area constituents, softening his previous position that he never would.

Just noting that on March 9th, was the first time that he said publicly that he was willing to hold public town halls (although in his March 1 newsletter, he stated that he would hold an upcoming town hall) and The Omaha World Herald stood by their earlier reporting then, too.

Unfortunately, this was consistent with Rep. Bacon’s campaign which offered misleading statements, highlighted policy platitudes, and offered personal attacks on both Rep. Ashford and Hillary Clinton. If you blindfolded me, I could read a press release from Rep. Don Bacon. Off the top of my head, the press release would read

My opponent is a career politician who votes for failed leadership of Obama/Pelosi. A vote for him is a continuation of the Democrat establishment. We have a $19 Trillion debt that we need to address. Thanks to my 30 years in the Air Force, I understand the national security issues facing our nation and my opponent does not.

If you do not believe that is representative of the press releases, you can read a number of them. Ashford Wrong on ISIS; Ashford Continues Pattern of Misleading Constituents; Clinton Email FBI Recommendation A Disappointment; Don Bacon: Clinton Speech Continues The Failed Obama/Pelosi Policies That Brad Ashford Embraces; Response To Ashford’s Demands on Denouncing Attacks on Gold Star Families; Fact Check: Ashford Starts Campaign Season By Misleading Nebraskans.

On August 2, after Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump attacked a Gold Star family, Bacon issued a press release concluding with

Both presidential candidates, as well as Brad Ashford, should focus on critical issues such as our national security and the massive debt crisis and less on personal attacks on each other and their supporters. In my nearly 30 years in the Air Force it was important to make one’s point in a civil way, and focus on the key issues at hand.

The previous paragraph in the press release said that Clinton “lacks integrity.” Less than a week before that Bacon had attacked Clinton for her mishandling of classified information and calling Ashford a career politician. These are also personal attacks and not at all focused on the key issues at hand. Saying someone lacks integrity is a brazen personal attack.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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