U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and her opponent in this fall's election, Kurt Bills, a Republican state lawmaker, recently engaged in a boisterous debate at the State Fair, with the event broadcast live on Minnesota Public Radio. The back and forth introduced voters to Bills' way of thinking. And it shined a spotlight on Klobuchar's service in the Senate.
Sen. Klobuchar is an intelligent person who is easy to like. We've had the opportunity to talk with her on a few occasions, and she grasps the issues facing the nation. But what's troubling about her tenure and candidacy is whether she makes any difference on the big issues. The Democratic-controlled Senate has not been responsible on the federal budget - it has not passed a budget in three years. Meanwhile, deficits widen and the debt piles up. Klobuchar is regarded as a moderate, temperate voice. But we don't hear it. Does anyone? She could make a difference in shaping a budget solution with colleagues across the aisle. But the State Fair debate revealed she is fundamentally off the mark, calling for tax hikes in the middle of tough economic times. She believes the government needs more revenue. It does not. It must spend less.
If Klobuchar is off target on the economy, deficits and debt, does that mean Bills is the answer? Voters should understand that he has put forward a flat tax proposal that would shift and reallocate who pays and how much. Voters also should know that Bills is an economics teacher and has revealed himself to be quite rigid in his approach. He criticized Klobuchar for voting to bail out the nation's largest banks at the height of the financial meltdown in 2008. But she was simply following the (sage) advice of the Treasury Secretary, Federal Reserve chairman and others who were working to avert a financial collapse. Would Bills have let the banks fail? Then what? Finally, Bills' Libertarian streak does not extend to social issues. One has to question the contradiction.
If voters are left wondering which candidate is right for the times, we have to admit we're not sure. Perhaps it is a troubling sign of our politics today that we just can't seem to find well-rounded candidates. It does not bode well for a nation so mired in problems.