Former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer seems to have scuttled his already-long-shot hope of being on a national ticket for the Democratic Party by talking a bit too loosely about his own “gaydar” and by comparing California Sen. Dianne Feinstein to a hooker. Various scolds in the media and inside the Beltway claim to be offended.
Call me a contrarian, but I’m more appalled by the daily blather that comes from the mouths of more conventional politicians. It is almost pointless to listen to what most senators or members of Congress have to say because they religiously follow a list of talking points provided by their respective party’s message machines. When they do get too forthright, it is a twisted kind of fun to watch officeholders, Republicans in particular, frantically retract tweets or emails or spontaneous comments that stray from the script.
That’s never been a problem with Schweitzer. He has no script. He just says whatever pops into his busy brain. Unlike many of the knuckleheads who have been getting themselves elected to office in recent years, Schweitzer is a smart man -- a successful, popular two-term governor with a graduate degree in soil science, deep roots in his state’s ranching culture and extensive experience working on agricultural development in the Middle East. Most of the time when he speaks he offers up a dose of good old Western common sense, but when his flamboyant exuberance gets the best of him, he can get goofy.
Such was the case with a couple of the quotes he recently gave Marin Cogan, a reporter for the National Journal. In a personality profile titled “The Gonzo Option,” Cogan described Schweitzer as “a one-man challenge to the scripted nature of politics” and wondered “just how much can you run your mouth while running for president?”
Apparently, the Big Sky blabbermouth has found out how much is too much.
Asked by Cogan what he thought about House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s defeat in the Virginia GOP primary, Schweitzer offered up this weird analysis: "Men in the South, they are a little effeminate… They just have effeminate mannerisms. If you were just a regular person, you turned on the TV, and you saw Eric Cantor talking, I would say -- and I'm fine with gay people, that's all right -- but my gaydar is 60-70%. But he's not, I think, so I don't know. Again, I couldn't care less. I'm accepting."
Once Schweitzer’s odd comment got circulated, Republicans leaped to defend Cantor’s manliness and Democrats got huffy about the Montanan’s insensitivity to gays (although, arguably, he was actually being insensitive to Southern males). Democrats were equally miffed by what Schweitzer said about Feinstein.
Given how Feinstein has been a cheerleader for the intelligence agencies for years, Schweitzer scoffed at her criticism of alleged CIA spying on congressional staffers. Schweitzer didn’t compare her to a cheerleader, though; he compared her to a far worse female stereotype: "She was the woman who was standing under the streetlight with her dress pulled all the way up over her knees, and now she says, 'I'm a nun,' when it comes to this spying!”
The governor quickly added that, perhaps, that was “the wrong metaphor,” just as he prefaced his Cantor comment by saying, “Don’t hold this against me, but I’m going to blurt it out.” So, clearly, he knows he should sometimes curb his tongue if he wants to conform to the conventional expectation of how a would-be presidential candidate should talk, but he just can’t do it.
Probably, the capacity to self-censor is a necessary skill for anyone who wants to be a player on the national stage (a lesson that Texas Gov. Rick Perry seems unable to learn). Still, as a Westerner who enjoys the colorful straight talk of ranchers and cowboys, I am more willing to give Schweitzer a break. Maybe he shouldn’t be president (although we have certainly done worse), but I hope he isn’t banished from the national debate. We should be able to tolerate the presence of at least one politician willing to buck the dreary conformity and predictability of political speech.