Ashdown on Up 

How could $8,370 to charity possibly outgun $400,000 to Sen. Hatch? If you have to ask, you’re already lost.

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Last week in Salt Lake City certainly was a blast, wasn’t it? Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson shouted. Counterprotesters decked in red-white-and-blue and members of the American Legion shouted back, and even yanked on the T-shirts of a few protesters. You could almost smell the fumes of Magic Markers wafting off sloganeered placards as President George W. Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld lugged out, once again, their tired analogy of war protesters as Nazi sympathizers.

All had a good time, as public discourse was kicked out of its atrophy and into some much-needed exercise. In a city as sleepy as ours, I’m all in favor of a good time.

One of the lesser-known stories of last week was another exercise of the quiet type. Rumsfeld and Bush pulled out their Nazi-sympathizer analogies to much Utah applause Aug. 29 and Aug. 31, respectively. Finding anything analogous about the respective fund-raising dinners of Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Pete Ashdown and Sen. Orrin Hatch, also held Aug. 29 and Aug. 31, respectively, would be a lot more difficult.

Oh, sure, both were “fund-raising” dinners in the strictest sense. People shake hands, talk, and then sit down to eat and talk a little more. But the similarities end there.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must confess that Ashdown is something of a friend of mine. Not a friend I socialize with on a scheduled basis, by any means, but a friend all the same. I can bear witness to the man’s ferocious work ethic when he was starting his own business, known today as the mighty Internet service provider XMission, in the early 1990s. Unlike Sen. Hatch, who’s threatened to blow computers up, Ashdown’s business is harnessing the amazing potential of computers. I can testify to the man’s warm heart, his almost uniformly clear head and his peerless taste in music. He’s also done me more than one favor, not the least of which was letting me housesit his residence during the 2002 Winter Olympics after I fell victim to the housing squeeze of that international event.

Also in the spirit of full disclosure, I must confess an active loathing of our Sen. Hatch. It’s simply beyond ken that a man who’s spent so much inordinate time attempting to amend the Bill of Rights in order to protect a national symbol over freedom’s substance can make any political claim worthy of attention. His incessant drooling over Marine Lt.-Col. Oliver North during the Iran-Contra scandal of 1986 betrays, in my opinion, any legitimate argument he could advance or offer regarding today’s “war on terror.” And, for the life of me, I can’t understand why even Hatch’s most staunch constituents weren’t outraged over his efforts to free a music producer caught with 1.26 grams of cocaine and Ecstasy capsules from a Dubai jail. Acknowledging the fact of double standards where rich people and poor people are concerned is one matter. Enacting and reinforcing that double standard on behalf of a well-heeled music producer caught with drugs is quite another.

So, of course, the contrast between Ashdown’s fund-raiser and Sen. Hatch’s couldn’t be more pertinent. Ashdown’s Alta Club fund-raiser, if we can call it that, cost nothing to attend except those who came agreed to give money to a local anti-hunger charity. Hatch’s, on the other hand, cost $500 at the low end, with some even kicking in $25,000 for a photograph with the Prez. By the time Hatch’s dinner was done, he got an estimated $400,000 for his re-election campaign. By the time Ashdown’s dinner was over, charity was $8,370 richer. That may be a modest sum given the dinner’s 150 attendees, perhaps, but it’s money for charity all the same. Then again, it can’t be denied that Hatch had an unfair advantage. Just imagine how well Ashdown’s fund-raiser would have done given a like-minded United States’ president at the center. Yeah, we can dream.

To recap: Ashdown’s fund-raiser put money where his mouth was, while Hatch’s fund-raiser gave mouth to those with money.

Dynamics of dinero aside, the most remarkable aspect of Ashdown’s fund-raiser was its modest tone. With all due apologies to Sen. Hatch, I didn’t have a spare $500, not to mention $25,000, kicking around that would have afforded me the opportunity to attend his event for comparison. Ashdown’s suggested minimum contribution of $50 to charity was so much more affordable for me, and my wife.

There was little or no campaign literature on hand at the Alta Club that night. Aside from a short address from citizen Ashdown about the importance of charity in our community and his disappointment at our president’s bellicosity, there were no lengthy, puffed-up speeches from him, or his campaign manager. This was a chance to break bread with neighbors you never knew you had, neighbors of like political persuasion. That’s a rare opportunity in this state, and a most enjoyable one at that.

I suspect, too, that the overall ethos of the evening fit well with Ashdown’s idea of what democracy in America ought to be more about, and more often at that. You never got the slightest sense that some Karl Rove-like creature was behind the curtain somewhere, working his Blackberry into frenzy. For the most part, this was a dining hall full of everyday people talking about the prospect of political change.

Up against a behemoth like Hatch, that change is, of course, a long shot. More than one person has talked about how Ashdown should simply use this bid as a stepping-stone within the state party for future races'races far easier to win. I’m happy enough to simply enjoy the weeks up to November, braced by the possibility, however small, that someone of my generation might take the reigns of power and steer a better course.

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