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Port: You still have to persuade people

"Is anybody trying to change minds anymore? We tend to think of electoral politics as the process through which a candidate wins over voters, but in reality, it's become an exercise in getting your people to the polls while convincing the other side's people to stay home."

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Deb Erickson, center, of Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, carries a sign during an abortion-rights march Saturday, May 14, 2022, in Fargo.
Michael Vosburg / The Forum
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MINOT, N.D. — Politics is the art of persuasion. Or so the old saw goes, though it can be hard to discern the truth of that saying at a time when politics seems to have become the art of destroying those who disagree with you.

Is anybody trying to change minds anymore? We tend to think of electoral politics as the process through which a candidate wins over voters, but in reality, it's become an exercise in getting your people to the polls while convincing the other side's people to stay home.

At the personal level, millions and millions of Americans make the sum total of their contribution to the debates at the heart of our democracy some indignant social media posts and meme-sharing. Actions not calculated to win over hearts and minds, but to advertise the poster's feelings, while often disparaging the views of others.

Is it any wonder that our politics have become intractable? Our political institutions dysfunctional?

I was thinking about this over the weekend while having a back-and-forth on Twitter with Katrina Christiansen, the candidate for the U.S. Senate currently running for the Democratic-NPL's endorsement.

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This long-shot candidate — who promised during her speech at the Democratic-NPL convention this spring to make incumbent Sen. John Hoeven hear her "footsteps" — has a lot of persuading to do in North Dakota's electorate.

Hoeven is a long-time and extremely popular incumbent who has the advantage of being a Republican in a state where most people are Republicans.

Winning a statewide election here as a Democrat isn't impossible — Heidi Heitkamp was senator as recently as 2018 — but voters need to be convinced.

Yet how is Christiansen spending her time? Posting a lengthy jeremiad on Twitter about my column calling for moderation in the abortion debate. A thread in which she described the overturn of Roe v. Wade as "tyranny."

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"He seems to think we can drop the price 20 cents to be patriotic," Kent Satrang, owner of the Petro Serve USA gas stations, said on this episode of Plain Talk.

I don't begrudge Christiansen her feelings about abortion, which is about as complicated and emotional an issue as we tackle in politics. I welcome interaction with my readers — I'm always up for a debate.

But this is a U.S. Senate candidate we're talking about. One who, through the end of March, had raised less than $9,000 for her campaign. One who seems to be doing very little to put herself and her arguments in front of North Dakota voters. One without the presence of mind to consider that her fellow Democrat, U.S. House candidate Mark Haugen, who was endorsed at the same convention Christiansen was, supports overturning Roe v. Wade and making most abortions illegal .

This seems a microcosm for this moment in American politics.

When you're passionate about a political issue, what are you doing about it?

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Are you engaging in some meaningful, thoughtful way? Or are you merely advertising how angry you are about it on social media and disparaging those who disagree?

If the latter, that's not great, but you're also not alone. Even the politicians are doing it these days.

CORRECTION MAY 18: Michael Steele is also seeking the Democratic-NPL nomination for U.S. Senate. Steele's campaign was omitted in an earlier version of this column. The column has been updated with the correct information.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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