MINOT, N.D. — An unfortunate side effect of our style of government is that it makes ample room for the performative politics of ideologues.
It is possible to achieve a position of power and influence and then use it to perform as opposed to making the more banal and often difficult choices necessary to govern.
Ideologues, when put in the positioning of actually governing, often become more pragmatic. Former President Barack Obama, as an example, never actually closed the terrorist detention facility in Guantanamo Bay during his eight years in office despite it being a high-profile campaign promise. Saying on the campaign stump what we ought to do with a bunch of dangerous people detained in a military facility as a byproduct of the war on terror is much easier than being the one on the hook for the consequences of making that decision.
So it goes with state Rep. Rick Becker, a strident ideologue who could use his position to promote competent governance for his Bismarck-area constituents but instead uses it as a platform from which to perform for the small cult of personality he's cultivated in state politics.
Because he's a marginal figure in the Legislature, he's free to introduce idiotic pieces of legislation as an exercise in grandstanding because he knows the adults he serves with won't actually pass them.
Like House Bill 1260 from earlier this year which, if passed, would have denied pay to public officials who, say, order or enforce a curfew.
Apparently, Becker thinks of public workers as slaves, obligated to keep the water going and put out the fires, even when punitively denied their pay. The bill went down in flames when the grownups in the House of Representatives — which is to say those who aren't matters of Becker's nutty Bastiat Caucus — voted overwhelmingly against it.
I bring this up as a way of explaining Becker's hissy fit on his television show last night, which you probably didn't see because you have better things to do than watch an anthropomorphized can of Axe body spray lick his wounded ego.
Becker is irate because he isn't used to being held accountable.
He's used to standing on the sidelines, preening in his imagined political purity, while more responsible public servants do the dirty work of debate and compromise.
He's supposed to be the critic, not the criticized.
Like Obama, he imagines himself the adored and not the abhorred.
I wouldn't have mentioned the television segment at all, since it was mostly just Becker venting his personal spleen at me for the imagined hypocrisy incumbent to thinking someone like former Gov. Jack Dalrymple was, overall, a decent and competent leader, despite my vigorous disagreement with some of his fiscal policies.
Unlike Becker, I'm used to being criticized. It comes with this gig. I suspect the criticism I get is mostly boring to you folks.
What was interesting was Becker acknowledging that his little cult is shrinking. He said people are leaving the Bastiat Caucus behind, and while he blames me for that trend, I'm hesitant to take credit.
I suspect people are leaving Becker's movement because they're tired of being associated with people like disgraced former lawmaker Luke Simons, who was expelled from the Legislature earlier this year after multiple accusations of sexual harassment.
People Becker and the Bastiat Caucus's milieu have, so far this year, censured several long-serving Republican lawmakers for, among other things, voting to expel Simons. They've launched a recall effort for popular Gov. Doug Burgum, as well as long-time conservative lawmaker Rep. Dwight Kiefert.
They're pushing a term-limits ballot measure, organizing anti-vaxxer events, pushing a resolution to defund schools and hospitals over masking or vaccine requirements, and they even attempted to install an anti-vaxxer crank as chairman of the North Dakota Republican Party.
I suspect there are many in the public, having observed these things, perhaps sometimes by having read my columns, are thinking it's all a bit much.
Becker's problem isn't Rob Port.
Becker's problem is that he has begun believing too much of his own malarkey. He has, figuratively, been getting high on his own supply.
It's costing him.
Originally this column indicated that House Bill 1620 would have applied in the instance of a natural disaster. That was incorrect. Natural disasters were exempted in the bill.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.