August 10th, 2006

Martha Rainville Will Answer Voters When and Where and If It Suits Her, Jack

by Philip Baruth

The Lamont/Lieberman primary turned out 43% of eligible voters, one of the clearest signs of life in US Democracy in decades.

In part, that energy was produced by a hard-hitting campaign that engaged the issues — the War, Bush foreign policy, support for subsidies to Big Energy.

And in large part, it was a single debate that brought that conversation to Connecticut voters. It was a debate that allowed a respectful and useful contrast between the two.

Closer to home, Martha Rainville remains determined to bypass debates in the run-up to her own primary. She is content to treat her opponents as non-existent. In this she’s been aided and abetted by the mainstream media, who’ve consistently pretended that Rainville is already the Republican nominee, when in fact she is not. She faces a State Senator in the primary, but those watching WCAX’s coverage of the race can be excused for forgetting that fact.

Welch, for his part, not only proposed debates — his “Conversations on the Green” — but organized them, and ran them when Rainville demurred.

Yes, it was in Rainville’s momentary strategic interest to refuse debates. But strategy is, and has always been, beside the point when it comes to public democratic exchange: candidates should be encouraged, or pressured finally, to make their views know, and to allow voters to see them side by side with their opponents on the ballot.

Anything less involves a tacit attempt to dampen the energy of a primary, or a general election. Anything less is encouraging voters to remain unaware, uninvolved.

Rainville knew there were risks in refusing to debate. But she took them. Why? Because her campaign has been based from the beginning on obscuring rather than illuminating her positions.

Too harsh? When asked by PRI’s The World whether she was trying to have it both ways on the Iraq War, Rainville replied, “I think if we’re smart, we’re all at one point supporters, and we’re all critics, because we need to think for ourselves, and we need to cut through to the truth.”

That’s her stance on the major issue of our time, the major issue thus far in the twenty-first century. And that, my friends, is the sort of response that cripples a candidate in a debate, for all the world to see.