Yesterday, Jeff Merkley and Steve Novick debated at the Portland City Club.
He brought up several Novick blog postings in which Novick lampooned presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
Merkley: "I keep trying to picture you going to Senator Obama or President Obama and saying, 'I’ve called you a special interest fraud, be please help me with those timber payments for Oregon.'"
Novick concedes some of his comments were deliberately over-the-top. But the Portland political consultant says it shows that he’s not afraid to criticize fellow Democrats when he feels they’ve compromised their principles.
Novick: "Sometimes in expressing my passionate criticism of specific policies, specific votes that Democrats have cast, I have certainly been undiplomatic."
On stage Friday, Merkley began by casting himself as the man who led Oregon Democrats back into power in the Oregon House - holding together a slim majority to pass a wide slate of progressive-leaning legislation, from a crackdown on the payday loan industry to a bulk purchasing pool for prescription drugs.
Novick began with a theme that's followed him not just in his campaign, but in his life: He pledged his faith in the power of public services, and the need to pay for critical services through fair taxation. ...
But the real fireworks began when the two candidates were each allowed to ask each other three questions.
Novick led off, bringing up the recent poll from the Merkley campaign that cast him as a "pro-tax advocate" and a "professional political consultant," and asking whether Merkley really considered that rhetoric to be fair game.
Merkley responded that Novick had been on the offensive from day one, jumping on a Republican talking point against Merkley, that he once voted for a legislative resolution expressing support for the troops at the beginning of the Iraq war, which also praised the courage of President Bush.
Merkley then hammered Novick on previous statements about Democratic leaders, informing the audience that Novick had once called Obama "another captive-of-special-interests fraud who doesn't really care about global warming and doesn't deserve to be hailed as some great Kenya-Kansas hope."
"I keep trying to picture you going to President Obama, and saying, 'I know I have called you a special interest fraud, but please help me with county payments,"' Merkley said.
Novick acknowledged that some of his language may have been "over-the-top" and noted that he'd also offered praise for Obama, but said he wasn't afraid to criticize fellow Democrats when "they depart from progressive principles."
The most curious exchange came late in the debate and centered on Bono, lead singer for the rock band U2 and an activist on world poverty issues.
Merkley read a statement by Novick in which he called Bono "the most hypocritical human on the face of the Earth."
"Do you stand by that statement?" Merkley asked.
"Bono is a tax evader," Novick replied. "His band stashes their money in tax shelters in the Netherlands" while supporting tax-subsidized debt relief for Third World nations. "I think that's hypocritical."
"The most hypocritical human on the face of the Earth?" Merkley asked, incredulously.
"Yes!" Novick exclaimed.