I haven't been much of a fan of Independent Larry Pressler, either during his years in Congress (as a Republican), or now in his poltical dotage trying to capture the U.S. Senate seat that he lost to Tim Johnson way back in the 90s. But after an hour of some heated go-rounds in tonight's televised debate, Pressler impressed me in an unexpected way--he came across as the most reasonable and realistic pol in the entire bunch.
Maybe it's a holdover from his legislative, compromise-demanding days in Congress (late '70s-mid 90s), maybe it's just a sign of wisdom that comes with age--and maybe it's just that his style isn't combative but conciliatory by nature. Whatever it was, it came off well. When the matter of the Keystone XL pipeline started drawing table-thumping harangues, cheering and sneering from Rounds, Weiland and Howie, Pressler rather calmly explained that he wasn't particularly for or against the pipeline itself, but rather for a different route, passing eastward through North Dakota and south through Minnesota to refineries in the Midwest. In one masterful diversion, Pressler deftly avoided the economic and environmentsl arguments and came up with a suggestion that suits everyone.
When gun control took center stage and Republican Rounds and Democrat Weiland were tearing each other up over who most firmly embraced the 2nd Amendment and the matter of background checks, Pressler kept his cool. He explained that he was for the Dole plan, which I checked on to find that former Kansas Republican Senator Bob Dole essentially called for harsher penalties on criminals toting guns and some limited background checks. There wasn't anything around that could be called a "Dole Plan," but from memory and this nice piece about the aging senator from Kansas in a Wichita paper last year, I could see where Pressler's coercive, not combative, style got its inspiration. Dole was a master at creating alternative proposals and presenting them as an option when competing interests couldn't reach a compromise.
Pressler came across just like that tonight, and it sure seemed like an amiable reasonableness. After Mike Rounds spent much of the evening tearing President Obama down on policy after policy, calling him all wrong for South Dakota in an obvious appeal to what seems to be a visceral hatred of the President among many of Rounds' supporters, the people near me noted that it was refreshing to hear Pressler remind everybody that Obama is still the President and that South Dakota's incoming Senator would have to work with him for a couple of years. Imagine a Congressional candidate acknowledging that he'll actually have to work with opposing politicians in Washington. What on earth has this world come to?
Filled with passion and hatred, Rounds for Obama and Weiland for rich folks, the mainstream candidates were predictably animated, which I guess is part of their job description . . . but the histrionics did get tiresome. Meantime, eternal outlier Independent Gordon Howie kept bobbing up with a reminder that he's the only true conservative in the bunch, as if we needed to hear it again for the umpteenth time. And then there was LP. Maybe it just fell to him, maybe it's just because that's the way he is, but Larry Pressler turned out to be the composed and senior statesman in the crowd. He did himself a lot of good tonight.