Port: Heitkamp’s angry goodbye

Rob Port

MINOT, N.D. -- This week Sen. Heidi Heitkamp said farewell with an address on the floor of the Senate.

The timing was less than ideal.

Delayed a week because of the passing of former President George H.W. Bush, Heitkamp ended up delivering her goodbye while her fellow Democrat, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, was in the White House mocking the importance of election victories in North Dakota.

I’m not sure what Schumer’s point was, beyond his political party’s generally dismissive attitude toward rural America, but if he’s saying Republican victories in “red” states like North Dakota are no great accomplishment he should remember Democrats had held the seat Heitkamp current occupies since John F. Kennedy was elected to his first term in office nearly six decades ago.

North Dakota may be a deeply Republican state, but that Senate seat has been a Democratic stronghold longer than most of us have been alive.

Losing it was, as former Vice President Joe Biden might say, “a big [expletive] deal.”

But I digress.

The content of Heitkamp’s address was downright painful. Equal parts opprobrium, tearful self-pity and sanctimonious lecturing, the outgoing senator scrambled to manufacture a meaningful legacy out of the thin accomplishments of her tenure in office.

Perhaps the most insufferable part was Heitkamp’s harangue on the topic of bipartisanship, a topic often turned to by indignant politicians forced into early retirement by the voters.

"This process we go through is brutal and quite honestly obscene,” Heitkamp said of elections.

If we want to talk about obscenity, earlier this year her rabid campaign apparatus was outing sexual assault survivors and describing her opponent as “crooked” because he pays his wife a modest salary to be his campaign manager.

“We should do an experiment,” a stammering Heitkamp continued to the Senate chamber. “Have the Democratic Caucus make a list of the 10 problems that ... they want to solve and have the Republican Caucus do the same thing. ... They probably are identical. So when the American public sees that you know the problem but can't find the will to solve the problem, they become understandably discouraged.”

This description of the rancor in American politics might be endearing coming from a middle schooler in civics class.

It is insipid coming from a senator who knows better.

Problems aren’t hard to identify. It’s that we disagree on what the government solutions, if any, should be.

It’s a bit rich to be lectured on the subject of bipartisanship and the spirit of let’s-all-get-alongism from a politician who didn’t even have the grace to call her opponent on election night and congratulate him on his victory as is the wont of politicians with tact.

Heitkamp’s goodbye was a fitting end to her time in public office. Rife with hypocrisy and double standards and self-aggrandizing pronouncements, it was an encapsulation of all the things that turned voters against her in the first place.

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.