Pat Powers has gleefully documented Democratic District 18 House candidate Chris Svarstad’s arrest record, as well as Svarstad’s apparent easy distraction. But a couple of Svarstad’s online comments may distract Democratic voters from whatever message Svarstad hopes to pitch them in his primary against Democrats David Allen and Peter Rossiter.
On March 10, District 18 Senator Bernie Hunhoff (D-18/Yankton) shared rancher Paul Seamans’s Facebook post noting Willie Nelson’s endorsement of Bernie Sanders (Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be Republicans…). The next morning, Svarstad, who flies a photo of Hillary Clinton for his Facebook banner and says he managed Hunhoff’s 2014 campaign, responded with concerns that a President Sanders would mean “Lots of free stuff. Driving up the national debt,” and expressed his hope that “this nation doesn’t turn into the Soviet Union. Don’t forget the hammer and sickle.”
Svarstad’s rhetoric against Sanders is no harsher than some of the wild vitriol I hear Sanders people throwing at Clinton. But Svarstad also compared Bernie Sanders to George McGovern:
“That’ll be the scene after the old man gets bear by the Republicans George McGovern style. Same thing, different bat s— old fool.”
There’s nothing wrong with reminding us that Nixon clobbered McGovern and that a Sanders nomination could take Democrats down the same path (if you can effectively liken incumbent President Richard Nixon to any of the potential mostly unpopular Republican candidates in any way other than noting that Nixon and Ted Cruz both have unflattering noses… and Svarstad gives that historical analysis a shot in this thoughtful March 12 Medium article). There’s a minor generational quibble to have with referring to 1972 McGovern as “old”, given that he was 50 at the time, relatively young compared to U.S. Presidents.
But to call George McGovern a “bat s— old fool” probably gets you thrown out of the South Dakota Democratic Party’s McGovern Day Dinner.
On March 9, Svarstad used his own Facebook page to attack President Barack Obama for not attending Nancy Reagan’s funeral:
Carping that President Obama dishonored Mrs. Reagan by not attending her funeral, is the result of historical ignorance. The last time an incumbent President attended the funeral of a former First Lady was the 1962 one of Eleanor Roosevelt, as much due to her power within the Democratic Party as her being the widow of a past president. The only other three occasions where an incumbent President did so were Theodore Roosevelt’s attendance at those of Ida McKinley in 1907 and Julia Grant in 1902, and Zachary Taylor’s attendance at that of Dolley Madison in 1849 [Carl Anthony, “Nancy Reagan’s Funeral Follows First Lady Tradition,” Carl Anthony Online, 2016.03.10].
Svarstad is on record declaring President Obama a “liability” to South Dakota Democrats (an opinion I’ve heard other South Dakota Democrats express) and has tacked rightward with his condemnation of the Affordable Care Act and his support for the Keystone XL pipeline. Criticizing the President on those policies might be acceptable political strategy for someone trying to resuscitate the Blue Dog label, but adopting Fox News tweet-bleats about the President’s alleged pettiness splashes more of that paint on oneself than the wall.
Svarstad is not an old fool—he has some sensible things to say about the Koch brothers and the threat of corporate fascism. But he’ll be a sad, sad man come June 7 if the Democratic base—also known as the folks voting in the primary—hears more of these unnecessary and ill-informed attacks on icons of the Democratic Party.