Amid the worst recession in 50 years and with unemployment at record levels, Montana GOP congressman Denny Rehberg is focusing on what matters: a statue of Jesus.
For the last three weeks, Rehberg, who is challenging Jon Tester for a Senate seat, has been entirely consumed with a small statue of our savior that sits next to a ski slope at the Big Mountain Ski resort in Whitefish, MT. Rehberg began with a press release, followed by a blitz of national TV appearances, including one on Fox and Friends. He then put up a Save the Jesus Statue website (the site was constructed with his congressional office funds, by the way). Then he went on a whirlwind Save Jesus tour with an email action alert about a rally and a “DRAFT legislative solution” and robo-calls to thousands of Montana voters, telling them that he is working hard to save Jesus and urging them to support him in this important work. (You can hear the robo call from Rehberg here: Rehberg Robo-call). Finally, he spent Veterans Day meeting with veterans to tell them their support for him (Rehberg) in this important cause is crucial. Other Republicans this week held an “Occupy Whitefish to Save the Jesus Statue.”
So from here on out, it’s going to be all Jesus, all the time. Why?
The statue was erected on a piece of National Forest land in the 1950s and the permit has now come up for renewal. The Forest Service was notified by some silly group from Wisconsin that if it renewed the permit, it would be in violation of the establishment clause. And so the agency said it might consider moving the statue a few feet onto private land. That’s an outrage, says Rehberg.
At first I had thought maybe Rehberg had seen an opportunity to make inroads among persuadable churchgoing voters.
But I now realize that all of this Jesus stuff is being aimed at Tester for his strength: support from veterans. The statue was constructed 50 years ago by World War II veterans, as a memorial, an homage to a similar statue that these vets had seen in Italy during their tour of duty.
And Jon Tester’s star is very high among veterans, and has been so ever since he took office in 2007 and immediately made vets a centerpiece of his domestic policy. He focuses not on statues, but on services–health care for veterans, jobs for veterans, loans for veterans, things that matter. Veterans like Tester, a lot.
Naturally, Montana Republicans (who after two decades of dominance have been virtually eradicated as statewide officeholders, thanks to Schweitzer, Tester and a resurgent Democratic party) believe that the veteran vote is a GOP birthright that can never be taken from them. And now that Tester has taken it from them, Rehberg had decided to pander to vets. He is has taken up a meaningless issue, trying to seem as if he is fighting a battle for their statue, when in fact the statue never stood any chance of being moved.
Tester also believes the statue should remain unmolested. But after making his opinion known, he moved on to doing real work on things that matter, because he understands (unlike Rehberg who is a man-child) that if you are in Congress, you should be acting like an adult.
And so Tester is in the news this weekend, for example, fighting for a bill that would help decrease unemployment among veterans by offering tax credits to businesses who employ them. He is fighting for soldiers who fought foreign wars, while the dunce Rehberg is looking for credit for fighting a fictitious War on Jesus.
As between nonsensical pandering and real results, I suspect veterans will see the difference.