Our democracy depends on the ability of its people to rigorously debate ideas, to outline values, and to develop policies that will be in the best interests of citizens and future generations. When we elect our representatives we entrust them to engage their best thinking skills to solve our biggest problems. We are often grievously disappointed when our legislators act in vacuous ways to make partisan votes and work in their own self-interests. We know that many don’t even read the bills they vote for, but simply vote with party leadership.
While rigorous debate is essential to a democracy, many career politicians have developed the ability to stick to talking points to avoid addressing difficult issues. Indeed, Rep. Erik Paulsen is one of those whose rehearsed talking points are so slippery and genuinely spoken that those who aren’t listening closely are often fooled. Paulsen’s easy grin and folksy speech even earned him the nickname “Opie” in the Minnesota legislature where his participation in the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) taught him that the conservative elite can do all of his thinking for him and he is simply a tool to be used to advance the conservative agenda.
We wonder, what does it take to get to a place where the skill of using talking points to deflect from a genuine discussion is considered a badge of honor? Is it just a matter of time? Or does it take a special set of immoral instincts to deliberately steamroll over the critical issues of the day?
And steamroll, he does. If you pay close attention to Paulsen’s techniques, his easy dismissal of serious problems will take your breath away. He rolls right over them. For example, in a recent robo-call, when asked about whether he would support legislation to protect the Mueller investigation, he claimed that that “the average person that you talk to doesn’t talk about Russia or the Mueller investigation.” Really? No one cares? While advancing the American Health Care Act, he delivered interview after interview about how everyone would save money in premiums as a result of the plan. Non-partisan analysis indicated that was not true, and that the plan, in fact, would make health care unaffordable for many older adults and millions would lose coverage. When advancing the GOP tax plan, Paulsen used his GOP talking points to avoid discussing the impact of the bill on the debt and deficit, and to this day continues to ignore data that does not support his agenda. Not only does he ignore data, but he has become a pitchman for scam sending dozens of tweets and publishing articles in newspapers touting the benefits of the tax plan while ignoring the real harm it will do to the American economy in the long run.
But how can Paulsen, with the boyish grin and Opie charm, sell policies based on a bunch of half-truths and lies? What should we call that kind of behavior? Can you say that someone who deliberately ignores the available data to make false, misleading, or incomplete claims about legislation is an honest man?
We don’t think so. While some may dismiss Paulsen’s deflections and misrepresentations as politics as usual, we see his speech as evidence of something more sinister. His willingness to misrepresent policies for personal and partisan gain is evidence of a serious moral failing. The fact that he does it with a smile and a nod is even more disturbing.
Minnesota’s Third District deserves honest representation in Washington. We will replace Paulsen on 11-6-18.
Minnesotans for Real Representation is a grassroots organization in Minnesota's Third District with the goal of replacing Erik Paulsen in 2018.