Heidi Heitkamp has had better weeks. She’s probably had better train wrecks. “Nobody told me there’d be days like these,” John Lennon sang. “Strange days, indeed.”
Last week, her campaign, scrambling for momentum, included in a newspaper ad the names of 127 women purported to be sexual abuse victims. The ad called out Kevin Cramer for his insensitivity to the #MeToo Movement. Indeed, Cramer spends so much time with his foot in his mouth he may have athlete’s mouth.
The ad identified the women as “survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault or rape.” The problem is, some names on the list were never vetted. What’s that they say — you hurt the ones you love? You couldn’t miss the irony. Heitkamp has long championed victims of abuse and sex trafficking. She, as much as anyone, understands that in today’s toxic environment, those coming forward face a gauntlet of misogynistic dismissal, slut-shaming, and poo-pooing.
True to form, Cramer, mumbling through one of his wingtips, said of Christine Blasey Ford’s claims against Brett Kavanaugh, “They were drunk. Nothing evidently happened in it all, even by her own accusation. Again, it was supposedly an attempt or something that never went anywhere.”
Because everyone knows you get a pass on attempted rape. He then doubled down, calling #MeToo a movement toward victimization. Yes, it’s scary out there for would-be rapists.
Heidi’s misbegotten ad pushed unwilling victims into the spotlight, so last week, in an abrupt turn, Trump cultists were suddenly wringing their hands over the way these women — presumably no horse faces — had been treated. Disingenuous, yes, but they had the high ground. They were so unaccustomed to the perch, vertigo became an issue. To his credit, Cramer, an avowed enemy of women in white pants suits, kept his foot out of his mouth. He called the ad “re-victimization,” and he was right.
Then he went back into hiding. He refused to reschedule a high-profile statewide Prairie Public Television debate bumped by the Kavanaugh drama, and he has even balked at national debates on Fox News. His astute campaign manager, wife Kris Cramer, knows that with Kevin Cramer, less is more.
Once, during a James Taylor concert, a woman shouted, “I love you!” He responded, “It probably helps that we don’t know each other.”
A Heitkamp staffer was fired after the debacle, but during what media critics dubbed her “apology tour,” Heidi took the blame. Her anguish was evident, and even in the North Dakota Newspaper Association debate last week, it was obvious she was still reeling. But again, she did what every lawyer would advise against — she took full responsibility before 200 attendees, calling it a “grave and horrible error.”
From adversity, character is revealed. Heidi’s vote against Kavanaugh was unpopular with many North Dakotans; her vote for Gorsuch was unpopular with Democrats, but leaders lead. Leaders are independent thinkers with a conscience, not a rubber stamp for an amoral man. That’s not winning and it’s not the American way. Leaders don’t play it safe. Followers do.
The contrast between Heidi and Cramer during the debate revealed exactly why Cramer is avoiding them. She listed accomplishments. He couldn’t. But the most obvious difference is character and authenticity. One is someone you’d like to talk with, someone who has the ability to negotiate and build necessary bridges to move the country forward. If you want memorized bullet points and haughty self-righteousness, don’t look to her.
Everyone faces adversity. It’s how you handle it that matters. By wading into a fight that was already lost and taking her medicine, Heidi Heitkamp showed the kind of character this country desperately needs.
Her election is in doubt. Her character is not.
© Tony Bender, 2018