Debate? What for?

One of the quieter races of the 2008 campaign season was Democratic Congressman Jim Oberstar's reelection over Republican Michael Cummins in Minnesota's Eighth District. Oberstar will soon begin his 18th term, having served since 1974.

The margin of victory in the race was huge, with 78 percent of voters agreeing to send Oberstar back to Washington. Don't worry about the power of that mandate going to his head, though, because it's too late. His arrogance is already out of control.

Days before the election, Oberstar appeared on WDSE-TV's Almanac North program and made a statement that should have been jaw-dropping to anyone who tuned in.

Julie Zenner, co-host of the show, asked Oberstar why he never debated Cummins. "He claims that he's offered to debate a number of times and that your campaign has refused," Zenner said. "Is that a fair characterization?"

Congressman Oberstar responded: "I don't recall. That's a standard gimmick by challengers. (They say) 'I want to have a debate every day.' There's not much to debate with him, frankly. He's a nice fellow. I've met him. I met him up at the Chisholm Fire Days parade. We had a picture taken together with him and his daughters, and he's a very nice fellow. But I don't think there's anything of substance to debate."

The interview went on as if the congressman's haughty response was no surprise. Maybe it all went by too fast, and a replay is in order.

First, Oberstar claimed to not remember if Cummins wanted to debate at all. Then, he suggested that Cummins' wanted to "have a debate every day."

After declining to participate in any debate, Oberstar actually had the nerve to refer to his opponent's desire to debate as "a gimmick." The public exchange of ideas between political candidates is apparently not something a high-ranking member of the United States Congress should feel obligated to respect in the interest of informing voters; it's really just a trick to get votes.

Oberstar also said he didn't think there was "anything of substance to debate," as if there are no issues in contemporary American politics that citizens should be concerned about at this time. Well, if that's the case, there isn't much to lose by voting out the incumbent. Maybe next time.

Paul Lundgren is a newspaper columnist and a very nice man. He'll take back everything in this column if Oberstar will pose for a picture with him at the next Chisholm Fire Days. His e-mail address is mail @ paullundgren.com.