I was good friends with Republican political consultant Rob Stutzman at Placer High School.
This article captures the bloke I knew. Rob was always civil. He played hard but he played by the rules. He valued our institutions. He valued friendship. He had all the traits you would expect for success in politics. Not only did he never cross the line into the socially unacceptable, he didn’t even get close. He was a difficult guy to dislike. He was a fair dinkum Christian but he carried his religiosity lightly and I don’t recall anybody who hated him.
Even in high school, I often operated outside the lines of decency. I was my school’s bookie. In the summer of 1983, I led a trip of my mates through San Francisco’s tenderloin to find the porn theaters. I said shocking things. I was unpredictable except for my attention seeking. I challenged my teachers.
While my life fell apart in my early 20s from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Rob built a good life. He married. He had kids. He developed a good reputation.
He was always a solid bloke. He was predictable and stable. And around him, I calmed down a little bit.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Rob never lost a friend. I’ve lost over a dozen. I always put a priority on self-expression over connection. Rob took other people’s feelings into account and he preferred his relationships to attention-seeking.
Many people in my life have been disappointed that I put more value on my pursuit of truth than on loyalty to my friends.
According to Chris Mooney, conservatives are “less willing to pick a fight with their friends, less likely to issue a corrective when they need to issue one, less motivated to step out of rank and call out bogus assertions.”
Rob was always willing to play the game established by the powers that be while I tended to rebel against authority. He went on to success within the system and he was appalled by Donald Trump. I’ve largely played outside the system and I was on board with Trump from July of 2015.
It helped that Bera tends toward the center-left, with a business-friendly bent. (“Organized labor does not like Bera and neither do we,” the liberal group Progressive Scorecard asserts in giving the six-term congressman a thumbs-down rating).
Stutzman, for his part, is no longer as socially conservative as he once was. (After running a 2000 campaign to ban same-sex marriage in California, he has long since renounced that position.)
It also helped that both are self-described institutionalists: people who fundamentally believe in our government and political system and want to see them function better than they have in recent years.
Which means more maturity and pragmatism and less performative bombast and schoolyard antics.
“This next decade, I believe, you’re going to have very narrow majorities” controlling both houses of Congress, Bera says. Whether Democrats or Republicans are in charge, a relatively small group of extremists can grind things to a stop unless more lawmakers are willing “to negotiate toward the center … each side getting a little of what they want and each giving up something.”
Stutzman nods in assent.
“At the end of the day, we’re all for the same type of success for the state, the country, local government,” he says. If a willingness to recognize that and seek common ground “makes us an odd couple” — he refers to his friendship with Bera — “I think that’s a sad commentary on today.”