Readers respond to Salon's new series on Democrats, "The Life of the Party." Plus: Fish eaters' mercury worries.

Published April 20, 2005 8:40PM (EDT)

[Read "Life of the Party," by Tim Grieve.]

Brian Schweitzer represents all that is good with the progressive populist branch of the Democratic Party. I'm a progressive populist from Texas, where we hold our caucuses in shoe boxes. I share Mr. Schweitzer's passion for justice and equality in education and healthcare. I'm a conservationist, but I drive a pickup and I hunt. I'm a Lutheran, but I'm pro-choice and I don't care a lick whether two guys or gals decide to get "married" or form a civil union.

I'm deeply concerned about the present administration's fiscal policy, foreign policy and church policy. I don't care for our nation's tax code or the present administration's attempts to "reform" it. I'm a tweener -- I make too much money for the Democrats but not enough for the Republicans. I want the government to be responsible when they spend my tax dollars. Spending on neocon wars is not responsible. Spending on education and science is responsible.

I'm a Christian, but I'm stridently opposed to the right-wing forwarding an evangelical Christian agenda. We are a representative democracy, not a theocracy, and I think we should stay that way.

I like the idea of leading with your heart and ignoring the political hacks that try to frame debates.

Message to the DNC: Run candidates that speak my language and understand the issues that I consider important. Focus on the things that matter for all of us. Healthcare, education and tax reform. Focus on taking action to reduce the national debt. Focus on healing the rifts that we've opened in the Middle East and around the world. Stay out of my personal life, and don't try to legislate morality. Demonstrate compassion and care, and really mean it. Don't give up.

Mr. Dean, I hope you're listening.

-- Ian Martin

As an liberal Idahoan, and soon-to-be-Alaskan, I am delighted that Montana has a Democratic governor. But as I read the interview with him on Salon.com, my delight soon turned to disgust.

Unfortunately, it sounds to me like Gov. Schweitzer is advocating the same dumbing-down of issues so that "John and Mary Six-Pack" can understand them that the Republicans have been doing ever since Ronald Reagan was president.

If I were an educated adult in Montana right now, I would be insulted by my governor's characterization of me. I don't see why the hell the Montana Legislature should bother spending money on education. It doesn't sound like these well-educated children are going to be welcome in Montana when they grow up.

On the one hand, the governor praises education as the great "equalizer," but on the other hand, he doesn't seem to think being smart and well-informed about issues is important for either voters or candidates.

Gov. Schweitzer: "But if you're real, you're normal, you're halfway bright, and you're willing to stand up -- that's the most important thing."

I'm all for politicians being real and willing to stand up for what they believe in, but I personally would like a governor, or even a president, who was more than just "halfway bright." And I'd be thrilled if an even brighter voting public were responsible for putting her or him in office based on wisdom, knowledge and experience rather than a high score on the good ol' boy meter.

-- Susan Seefeldt

Your "Life of the Party" article on Gov. Schwietzer of Montana left this New Yorker with only one word in his head: "Oy!" It's the same anti-intellectual regular-guy crap that Democratic Leadership Council types have been laying on with a trowel for years. When he hit the interviewer with that line about "Maybe you need gun control in New York City," I could hear the subtext: "Yeah, where all the niggers live." And that nonsense about "just shooting" people who "cause trouble" (as if terrorist operatives show up and cause trouble; or was it a veiled threat against Arabs traveling to his neck of the woods?) was positively fascistic. If he's the savior of the Democrats, I'm gettin' on my horse and riding outta this town.

-- James P. Levy

After reading Salon's interview with Gov. Schweitzer of Montana, I'm even angrier than I was the day after the election last November.

He's right. It seems Americans want the kind of easygoin', back-slapping, plain-spoken "straight shooter" they'd be happy to go out of their way to shake hands with at a bowling alley or ball game. Trouble is, the "straight shooter" will sure as shit leave you high and dry even as he looks you dead in the eye and pats you on the back: He'll lead your country into a war it didn't need to fight, then send your sons and daughters to fight and die in it. Then he and his bunch will gut your children's security like a catfish.

Let's not forget to mention that he knows "how you feel" as you struggle to educate your children to be able to compete in an increasingly complex, globalized economy with meager resources while a good chunk of his political base daily lays siege to the science curriculum that is supposed to, in part, prepare your children to compete in that economy.

Gov. Schweitzer's comments signal to me that the body politic is weak and crumbling. Americans owe it to their kids and themselves to get past the bullshit of political stagecraft and "gut politics." To continue down this road is to walk the primrose path straight to the gates of hell, wherein America, once revered and reasonable, will fall by its own hand.

To me, America has become like Walter Sobchak in "The Big Lebowski": "Aw, fuck it, Dude. Let's go bowling."

-- Gus Gonzales

I agree wholeheartedly with Gov. Brian Schweitzer that a presidential candidate, to even think about succeeding, has to strike a chord with "Joe or Mary Six-Pack" and has to discuss issues in terms that the average person can understand. But I think the statement that a candidate who speaks "with big words, in a strong way" is doomed to failure speaks volumes not of the candidate him- or herself but of society in general. What a pitiful statement and condemnation of society it is when a candidate who has the audacity to use a three-syllable word is considered a poor choice to be the commander in chief while someone who seems like an average Joe is the best choice. Shouldn't we expect more of our leaders? Do we really want a Vice President Cletus?

-- Todd Bunnell

"Live and let live"? Like hell. I went to college in North Dakota, with more than a few Montanans. Gov. Schweitzer is quite right when he says there are more cows than people in Big Sky country -- and given the recent (and gratuitous) gay-marriage ban there, the general intellect and engagement level of the populace seems to reflect the bovine more than the biped.

My gay husband and I won't be visiting the vast (half-vast?) emptiness of the governor's countryside soon, but if we should find ourselves marooned in Billings, Helena or Sydney, both of us are damn good shots, and Montana along with the rest of the Flyover Nation needs to realize that "guns and gays" are not mutually exclusive. I'll be happy to share a rifle range with any American who enjoys the sport, but I'll also defend myself -- and my own marriage tradition -- when and where I need to.

-- Joe Smith

For what it's worth, my parents, both lifelong Montanans, think Schweitzer is an idiot. They're progressive, intelligent, informed voters. After reading the interview with him in which he explains how average Montana voters are ill-informed and too busy drinking beer and bowling (bowling?!) to pay attention to politics, I have to agree with them. Interesting that he gave no credit for his election to the outrageous and borderline illegal behavior of his Republican predecessor, Judy Martz, who responded to a fatal drunken-driving accident involving a staffer by doing his laundry and letting him sober up in the governor's mansion. I miss many things about living in Montana, but the frequently poor choices of the voters aren't among them.

-- Courtney Wilder

That Schweitzer sure is a plain-spoken, lead-with-the-heart kind of guy. You can tell by the way that he shoehorns down-home, country-boy, aw-shucks lines into every breath. "I'm just a rancher from Montana." "Those big shots over in Washington." "What the heck do I know about a national campaign?"

Maybe he has to do that in Montana, but too much "authenticity" sets off alarm bells in the blue states.

-- Tim Moerman

Brian Schweitzer says that people will vote for a Democrat who's a stand-up guy, who believes in something, who speaks from the heart. Sounds great, except the state of Texas and then the United States (in 2004, not in 2000) voted for George Bush -- a Texan who went to Andover and Yale, lived in the suburbs, and never met a business he couldn't run into the ground until he got involved in a baseball consortium that grew fat on a municipal teat. There is nothing stand-up or from the heart about George Bush; it's all appearance right down to his fake ranch.

What has Bush stuck with in the face of failing polls? Social Security reform so far, but that won't last much longer because there are congressional elections coming up in 2006. Reason for the war in Iraq? Pick a reason, he's got about 19. Record executions in Texas? No, culture of life.

It's not about who you are; it's who people think you are. And the more people try to sandwich making the decision about who should lead the most powerful country in the world in between their jobs and their hunting and bowling and drinking beer with the guys, the easier it will be for slick operators like Karl Rove to craft a stand-up guy from a ball of Play-Doh.

-- Carol Ann Bonner

[Read "Mercury Rising," by Katharine Mieszkowski.]

Early last year, the Natural Resources Defense Council analyzed the EPA's data on mercury in tuna (something the EPA had not done adequately on its own). My family discovered that according to the NRDC's analysis, our toddler daughter could safely eat one can of tuna fish every two months. Every two months!

So we stopped feeding tuna to our children altogether. It's a shame, considering there are plenty of good, brain-building aspects to tuna fish. Unfortunately, with all the mercury in tuna, it can also cause brain damage.

Our kids love tuna fish, and this made us mad. So we decided to mail the cans of tuna on our pantry shelf to President Bush in protest. We packed them up and went off to the post office. The desk agent at the post office asked me if my package contained any hazardous or toxic materials. I wanted to reply, "Not if you ask the Bush administration and the EPA," but I wanted to get my package mailed, so I held my tongue.

Since we mailed our tuna cans to the president a year ago February, things have gotten worse. The Bush administration has given up on getting Congress to pass its Orwellian-named Healthy Skies Initiative and has just changed the EPA's rules to suit its cronies in the coal-burning power industry.

This is another alarming, depressing example of Bush administration ideology trumping good public policy. The president's pals in the power industry take precedence over the health of children. My children. Everybody's children.

I encourage your readers to send their cans of tuna to the president. Perhaps if the front portico of the White House is suddenly clogged with thousands of cans of tuna, President Bush will be sufficiently reminded of who he's really in the White House to serve.

-- Dale Bengston

As an avid fish eater, I'm grateful for the articles highlighting a problem that I've been all too willing to ignore. However, while both of Ms. Mieszkowski's pieces explain the link between mercury contamination and fish, I was left with one major question: If, by cutting fish out of her diet, the author dropped from 1.08 micrograms to .91, should I infer that there are other, more pervasive factors contributing to that .91, or that her level will continue to decrease as long as she avoids seafood? An exploration of these alternatives would have been appreciated by those of us who are hesitant to take such drastic measures.

-- Michael Rudd

Ms. Mieszkowski's article illustrates perfectly the dangers of the conservatives' economic libertarianism. Weakened regulations, or no regulations at all for that matter, will not result in polluters embracing their responsibilities to the common good. Rather, they will continue to myopically look to their bottom line.

I was disappointed that Ms. Mieszkowski did not mention some of the more fascinating research into mercury toxicity that is ongoing. Studies are finding that mercury poisoning may play a part in the origins of autism. In areas where fish consumption is high, particularly in societies that consider fish to (ironically) be "brain food," there are rising levels of children diagnosed with autism-spectrum disorders. As children develop (especially in the fetal stage), their brains lack the barriers to mercury that older children and adults have. While mercury's role in autism has not been definitively decided, the growing indications of its involvement, coupled with the incredible impact autism has on families and society, should have agencies like the EPA standing up and taking a stronger stance with polluters.

The argument that fish consumption will remain a problem due to the international nature of mercury pollution is specious. America leads by example, and as the world's principal economic powerhouse and consumer, where it goes, the world will follow.

-- James Elliott

By Salon Staff

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