Who you gonna quote?

(Denver Post, Sep. 2) As an editor hiring a food critic, what would you look for? Not someone who has never cooked a meal, and who disdains American cooking in general. Nor would you let your culinary expert pan a restaurant he’d never eaten in. If only such common sense guided the newspapers’ choice of gurus to add gravitas in political stories. CSU political scientist John Straayer has been Mr. Quotable in reporters’ rolodexes for years. Yet he told Post columnist Diane Carman on Aug. 20 we need a “resurrection of interest in politics in America.” Huh? Amid all the intense focus on campaigns, Straayer’s weird comment can only mean that what’s dead is his own interest in the process.

Carman’s column confirms this. The way Americans do democracy is beneath Straayer. Our presidential primaries and conventions are to him (apparently no sports fan) as boring as “a hockey game that goes into 14 overtimes.” The party conventions are dismissed by the blasé prof (no lover of spectacle either) as mere “show time.” He knows that – despite having never been to one.

Embarrassing; but redemption awaits. If Straayer daringly attends the Democratic convention here next August, maybe his stock will rise with CSU students. If Bob Loevy, the Colorado College political scientist who runs a close second in newspaper mentions, watches more O’Reilly, maybe he’ll get saltier. “My feeling is that he misspoke,” Loevy said emptily in an Aug. 23 Post story about Senate candidate Bob Schaffer’s supposed hesitancy.

Reportedly both men are good teachers and competent scholars. But these two stuffy academics, along with a couple of consultants who’ve never run for office, the endlessly-quoted Republican Katy Atkinson and Democrat Eric Sonderman, can’t by themselves provide the varied insights Coloradans need. Journalists should showcase a wider range of experts.

Our two parties’ shortcomings also bother Vince McGuire, but they certainly don’t bore him. “Weak and wishy-washy, both of them,” growls the animated McGuire, who teaches politics at CU-Boulder. Divisive primaries, like those looming for three Colorado congressional seats, hurt representative democracy by blurring the voters’ expressed will, he argues. Party leaders should exert discipline, “rub some noses in the mud.”

The liberal-leaning Norman Provizer of Metro State’s poli sci faculty has the same zest for politics as McGuire, my fellow conservative. The White House in 2008 “is the Democrats’ to lose,” he chuckles, “but they’re quite able to do that.” Winning Congress last year complicated things, Provizer says: “They’re now measured by reality, not just rhetoric.” Yet popular discontent remains deep, “so change is enormously attractive.”

Reagan scholar and former DU political scientist Andrew Busch, now at Claremont in California, mirrored this analysis from the Republican side. GOP losses in 2006 will let the defeated party “redefine its message and run against the Dems as insiders” in 2008, the Colorado native observes. But he warns that widespread Bush fatigue may hurt whoever is nominated.

As for that Senate race between Mark Udall and Bob Schaffer, I asked two former legislators to pose as campaign strategists – crosswise. Ex-Rep. Rob Fairbank (R-Littleton) advises Udall, the Dem, to “discard his Boulder liberal voting record, move right, talk pro-environment AND pro-business.” Ex-Sen. Dan Grossman (D-Denver) says if Schaffer runs as “more mainstream than Mark” and plays up his “image of integrity” for keeping a 2002 term-limit promise, he can hold the Republican seat.

So for political analysis that’s thoughtful but not pompous, who you gonna quote? An afternoon of phoning turned up all of the above -- and none of the usual suspects. Charles Kesler, Andrew Busch’s poli sci colleague at Claremont, even titillated me with talk of Condi Rice’s “Plan B for Iraq after the surge;” but that’s another column. Tomorrow is Labor Day, after which politics get even hotter. Think Prof. Straayer will notice?