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David Danbom, Published September 19 2010

Danbom: Berg needs a script

The Republican campaign formula, candidly acknowledged by the party’s strategists and operatives on cable news every night, is simple: Blame everything on President Barack Obama, tie your opponent to Obama, and avoid discussing what you would do differently.

With the discipline of one who has carried water for Republican governors for many years, state Rep. Rick Berg, R-Fargo, has generally stuck to this script, and it’s a good thing he has. When he has exposed his ideas, such as his bizarre notion that national parks should be plundered by oil companies to “fix” Social Security – which has a positive trust fund balance of $2.6 trillion – he has sparked questions about his fitness for office. Any office.

The reaction to Berg’s ill-conceived foray into resource policy and Social Security will likely convince him to avoid controversial statements and shun the press, a la Sharron Angle and Rand Paul, but the people of this state deserve more than pandering platitudes about taking “North Dakota common sense” to Washington. We deserve to know what he would do differently from what has been done.

Berg’s television ads and his website inveigh against “Obamacare,” but he doesn’t really say what he thinks is so bad about it. Is he angry because people with pre-existing conditions will get coverage? Maybe he’s mad because 40,000 uninsured North Dakotans will receive coverage, or because Blue Cross Blue Shield will get some competition. We don’t know because he hasn’t had much to say on the subject.

Berg’s television ads are also critical of the economic stimulus plan, which he dishonestly conflates with the Bush administration’s bank bailout by claiming that the “failed stimulus ... bailed out AIG.” He clearly opposed both of these very different policies, but he ought to say what he would do instead.

Everyone hates the bank bailout now, and most people hated it in the fall of 2008. But what was Berg’s alternative? Hank Paulson, Ben Bernanke and all of the other financial wizards said that without the bailout, there would be a banking collapse, foreclosures might touch most people with mortgages, business failures would be massive, and unemployment would rise to three or four times what it is now.

It’s easy to sit in Fargo and talk about “North Dakota common sense,” but Congress had to deal with a real-life catastrophe, and it did so correctly.

And what about the stimulus? It didn’t end the recession, but economists agree it saved 2.5 million to 3 million jobs. Does Berg think the country would be better off economically with those people unemployed? If he does, he should say so.

Berg wants us to fire the guy who made the hard decisions and hire him instead. But would you hire an employee who avoids telling you what he would do on the job? We deserve better, and that’s the real “North Dakota common sense.”

Danbom, a regular contributor to The Forum’s commentary pages, is a retired university history professor.