Al Franken and Our Paris-in-the-Terror Moment

Image result for paris in the terrorThe set of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” will never be confused with The Algonquin Round Table. If for no other reason than Dorothy Parker would never allow Joe [Scarborough] to bloviate on as long and as loudly as he so often does. But the show’s cast of supporting characters — plenty of New York Times and Washington Post reporters and columnists — is bona fide, and given a topic in her wheelhouse, in this case th gross sexual misbehavior by men, soon-to-be Mrs. Joe, Mika Brzezinski, (a.k.a. “Mika-Boo”) is a force of nature.

And Mika the Force is all over our “me too” moment. Amid much high dudgeon about sexual harassment she has also been pushing the nuancy questions of proportionate punishment and “What do we do with the apologies?” This isn’t to say Brzezinski is the first to pose these questions, only that she’s making a persistent point of them.

And that it directly affects Al Franken.

Even following the latest accusation of … butt-palming … at the State Fair, liberal women are having a hard time lumping Franken in with Harvey Weinstein and Roy Moore. For her part, (as a very committed feminist and liberal), Brzezinski is conceding her tribal affinities, while arguing that if this “moment” is going to accomplish something of lasting value, every woman has to have the right to speak and every offender should suffer or at least endure some measure of punishment. But, that said … butt palming/patting/caressing is not in the same universe as rape or pedophilia.

What Mika-Boo hasn’t yet gotten into in this Paris-in-the-Terror moment for men, is the twisty down side to a flat-out, unequivocal “believe the women” episode.

Some of us are old enough to remember the truly bizarre (and remarkably under-examined) frenzy over satanic sexual abuse, murder and mutilation of very young children in schools and day care centers in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Sociologically and psychologically, it was a mind-boggler.

Here in Minnesota the focus was in Scott County. A zealous prosecutor, Kathleen Morris — like prosecutors in the McMartin Pre-School case in California and the Little Rascals Day Care case in North Carolina — insisted the public at large had a moral obligation to “believe the children”. (BTW: The PBS series on the latter case, “Innocence Lost” remains one of the most riveting documentaries I have ever seen. If you want a case study in tribal psychosis, there it is.) Eventually, after millions in court costs and the total ruination of reputations and lives, all of the cases fell apart and the frenzy subsided.

The media took the “believe the children” bait, big time.

My point is that in those environments it was difficult-to-impossible to not “believe the children” just as, for progressive liberals and Al Franken in particular it is not functionally,  socially possible to “believe the women” in this environment.

For example: Even if Franken knew for certain the tongue-in-the-mouth business with Leeann Tweeden was a “bit” or that the butt-caressing at the State Far never happened … he can’t in effect call either of the women liars by saying so. That simply isn’t allowed under the rules of this “cultural moment”. Not for liberals anyway. Conservatives, especially Donald Trump and Roy Moore, are free to condemn all female accusers as liars (and in Trump’s case argue that none of them were good-looking enough to warrant his attention, and then threaten to sue them).

It’s a liberal dilemma … and one that is ripe for exploitation.

Now, before I wander off into the bat[bleep] conspiracy phase of this screed, let me issue the disclaimer that: The United States has always been exceptional in the long march of human nature, in that unlike every other culture on the planet, here in the USA malicious adversaries have never ever concocted a plan to destroy a political opponent through nefarious means. That sort of thing only happens someplace else.

Personally, I don’t find it unimaginable that people like Roger Stone, Steve Bannon and the toxic-but-well funded netherworld of Breitbart and the Mercers might find a way to, shall we say, “encourage” women like Ms. Tweeden and the State Fair victim to come forward with stories (and photographs) deeply damaging to a politician enjoying high regard as a clever, mediagenic assailant of their pet policies and personalities.

I know how insane that sounds. It’s real Elvis-stepped-off-the-UFO stuff. But I’m simply saying I can imagine it. (And yes, I’m taking medication to treat the hallucinations.)

Also, as we collectively try to come up with the appropriate scale to judge all the misbehaviors being tossed up, let me suggest that abuse and harassment stories coming through some form of professional vetting — like the editing pipeline of a major news organization — strike me as having more credibility than just someone holding a press conference.

Big news organizations have reputations to protect and don’t like getting sued. But no nationally renown public figure, of the progressive political persuasion, is in any position to denounce much less sue one poor woman recovering, like Ms. Tweeden and the young lady at the Fair, from the terrible, psychological scarring of sexual abuse.

Al Franken, Come On Down.

And now it’s Al Franken’s turn. While he has, first and foremost apologized, then asked for an investigation of himself and promised to cooperate, the chips are still going to have to fall where they may, regardless of his advocacy for issues vital to women and liberals. It’s the new normal. It’s a fact of life we’re all going to have to get accustomed to. If you’ve behaved like a pig, (although in this case not criminally so), chances are good you’re going to get outed.

Having met and interviewed Franken a number of times I can’t say that I, like Claude Rains in “Casablanca” (which I saw again last night at the Icon Theaters in St. Louis Park) am “shocked, shocked” to hear that Al the celebrity behaved badly.

This situation strikes me as very similar to the actor Richard Dreyfuss, who after being accused last week issued a statement saying:

“I want to try to tell you the complicated truth. At the height of my fame in the late 1970s I became an asshole–the kind of performative masculine man my father had modeled for me to be. I lived by the motto, ‘If you don’t flirt, you die’. And flirt I did. I flirted with all women, be they actresses, producers, or 80-year-old grandmothers. I even flirted with those who were out of bounds, like the wives of some of my best friends, which especially revolts me. I disrespected myself, and I disrespected them, and ignored my own ethics, which I regret more deeply than I can express. During those years I was swept up in a world of celebrity and drugs – which are not excuses, just truths. Since then I have had to redefine what it means to be a man, and an ethical man. I think every man on Earth has or will have to grapple with this question. But I am not an assaulter.”

Franken may not have had the same cachet with “all women” as an Oscar-winning actor, but the “asshole” part may well apply. A constant with a lot of the characters outed to date is a sense of being drunk on fame and power, of being transported by manic ego to a realm of impunity for behavior unconditionally unacceptable to others. (Although, lord knows, millions of common guys have pulled the same stunts).

Comparisons are already being made to liberal women’s regard for Bill Clinton, who was without question a reckless womanizer. At Vox, Matt Yglesias goes on at length about why Clinton should have resigned following disclosure of the Monica Lewinsky affair. But he didn’t and he wasn’t forced to because a majority of Americans, not just liberals, made a value judgment that he was doing more good for them than bad, and that the Lewinsky thing was the sordid culmination of a decade-long witch hunt by opponents who had no better option to offer.

Clinton’s um, “interaction”, with Lewinsky was wrong by every measure, and despite leaving office with a higher approval rating than (St.) Ronnie Reagan, Clinton and Hillary have paid quite a high reputational price for it. But … unlike Roy Moore, Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump … even Lewinsky describes their fling as “consensual” and in no way (that we know) did Clinton require sex as a ticket to employment or advancement. So it is with most of the other ladies he is known to have cavorted with in his drunk-on-fame binge.

The episode with Juanita Broaddrick, which she describes as rape, has always been clouded by her way-too tight association/exploitation by the same semi-deranged Clinton-haters who tried to convince us a money-losing Arkansas land deal was a Constitutional crisis. But that isn’t to say it didn’t happen. (This one is an example of a “consider the source” accuser.)

The point, with reference to Al Franken and liberals, is that we are now in an era when what was once secret is being laid out on the table for all to see and judge. I’ve voted for Franken twice, because he votes my interests, which I’ve always thought is the best reason to vote for anyone, not because I liked him personally. And if a full investigation concludes that this supposedly semi-comic groping kissing business was the full extent of this incident I’m inclined to vote for him again.

More to the point, the revelation about Franken, (and we already know about his coke-snorting days), comes in the early moments this “cultural moment.” There’s a lot more to come. You can feel it. And we’re seeing quite a range of skeezy behavior. Some far … far … more ugly than others.

I’ve been trying to imagine the frantic contacts and the amount of hush money that must be changing hands right this moment in every industry from Hollywood to Silicon Valley to to Detroit to Capitol Hill as famous men with a whole lot to lose, (think Bill O’Reilly’s $32 million), buy off the victims of their years of being an asshole.


If Your Privacy Isn’t Yours, Whose Is It?

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3Are you as amazed as I am at the indifference so many people have to their own personal privacy? Practically every day there’s another revelation of prying, “data-mining”, bogus security “filters” and the astonishing trade going — with your personal information. Where you are. Where you go. What you buy. Who you call and text. All of it literally making billions for the tech giants — Google, Facebook, cell phone carriers — while they heavily promote themselves as benevolent giants “bringing us together”.

As someone native to a small town — bucolic, Mayberry-like Montevideo — I grew up accustomed to listening to Mom and Dad grumble about so and so at church, at the Sunday morning-for-pancakes restaurant, at the clothing store that once prospered on Main Street. Nosey busy-bodies constantly working the gossip mill for news, the badder the better, about everyone else in town. “Why didn’t they mind their own business?” Naturally, Mom and Dad were as unconditionally interested in chatter about everyone else … as everyone else. Who doesn’t love gossip? “I heard Donny was so plastered Saturday night they had to carry him out of the club” . Nevertheless, they were as annoyed as hell when they were the primary subjects. Human nature. It’s a beautiful thing.

As a kid I probably took an unhealthy attitude toward “my business”. Being also Catholic, with the sword of eternal fiery damnation hanging over every “impure thought”, mortification came far too easily when word got out of my clueless, hopelessly-bridled carnal fascination with cute little Peggy or Patty or Mary or … well, the list went on.

Anyway … last week I wrote a column for MinnPost on Al Franken’s most recent inquiries into the privacy raiding and trading practices of big tech companies. Namely, Clear Channel billboards and Oculus Rift. Here’s the post. (Please read it, or at least click and pretend you read it. MinnPost likes the traffic.) I won’t reiterate everything, except to say that the ability of these companies to grab, sort and sell damn near every bit of information about you is way … way … ahead of laws to prevent or control it. (And unlike Big Gubmint, feared by every paranoid Tea Party rancher feeding cattle for free on public land, these companies have a powerful profit incentive to play with your business.)

After a couple Franken staffers backgrounded me on what the Senator was up to and why, some effort was made to get Al on the phone for a few minutes. That never happened. So after a couple weeks, I said, “[Bleep] it. Here’s a handful of questions. Pretend it’s him talking and kick something back to me.”

Most of the Q&A is in the published MinnPost piece. But for some reason, what for me was the central question was edited out, probably because it was the one question to which Franken didn’t offer a response. (His answers to the other questions qualify as predictable boilerplate.)

The deleted section was this:


Finally, in terms of a kind of ‘grand umbrella’ piece of legislation, has anyone proposed a law establishing an individual’s full proprietary rights to their personal information? By that I mean establishing that every person must be given, A: Notification that his/her information has been collected. B: Must agree to allow it to be sold/transferred/traded. C: Is notified as to who it has been transferred, and D. Is offered even a micro-payment remuneration for each transfer?

On that one his office sad they were not aware of any such legislation.

The reason I asked it is that it seems to me, watching this astonishing proliferation of technologies Hoovering up personal information … and then trading and selling it … the time really has come for a kind of Constitutional amendment-like declaration of individual privacy rights. I mean, the situation – if controlling the outflow and exploitation of your personal information is important to you (and it isn’t to many, I accept that) — will only get worse, rapidly and exponentially.

Did you catch this on “60 Minutes” last night?

Had I got Franken on the phone, the follow up question to that last one, would have been asking him to speculate on political blowback from the tech industry, in the case of Silicon Valley giants, an enormous and reliable source of cash for Democrats.

It would be a demonstration of Lincoln-like political courage and suicide for Al Franken to purpose legislation requiring, say Google or Facebook, to directly notify everyone whose information they collect, get their explicit approval (i.e. “opt in”) and then remunerate each and every one of us every time their GPS logged us parked in front The Smitten Kitten and sold that information to Latex Fantasies of Hong Kong Limited.

The bottom line questions are really pretty simple: Do you own you? If not, why not? And if not, why should anyone else?

Put Out a Contract on These Campaigns

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterGood lord. This one can’t end soon enough, and I’m tempted to say “badly enough’. There really should be penalties and pain for political campaigns as time and attention-sucking and uninvolving as the one we’re enduring right now.

I freely confess to jaded-induced boredom. I’ve seen too many campaigns. I really should slink away to the Yukon with a faithful dog, a store of hardtack and jerky and let this ceaseless barrage of boilerplate bluster and by-the-numbers attack advertising run its course, which of course would mean killing off the last critical synapses in the last sentient voter walking the land. When (or if) I re-emerged the world might resemble the aftermath of some zombie plague, with the brain-eaters being political consultants and messaging experts.

We all know it’s bad, as in dull, monotonous, predictable and off-putting. Need a fresh example? How about GOP Senate candidate Mike McFadden devoting one day to announcing his “contract with Minnesota” and then another day to signing it? Inspiring stuff. Imaginative, too. Another “contract”. The latest in a 20-plus year run of “contracts” thrown up by imagination-free political candidates who don’t dare, and/or are advised not to dare ever saying anything that might engage the mental machinery of what I refer to as the “actively informed voter.”

Obviously, if you’re one of those people you fully understand that these campaigns, which thanks to the epic flow of money unleashed by Citizens United never actually end any longer, are targeted on a sliver of the population that rarely exceeds 15%. These would be your “persuadable voters”, the folks who, put another way, mostly ignore political/government function, get a lot of their news from headlines they see walking past the few newspaper racks still remaining, overhear at the plant or see on some cable channel in the dentist’s office. That’s who all the money is being spent on. And who knows, a couple of them might even be persuaded to vote … against the other guy.

Meanwhile, it is worse than a Newton Minow “wasteland” for everyone else. If you care enough to follow these processes daily, instead of just for a couple weeks every other year, you’ve come to accept that there’s nothing here for you. You’ve heard every attack thousands of times, seen every grainy video of lock-stepping “ultra-liberals” and lapse into narcolepsy at the hint of yet another “debate”. Essentially you made your mind up months (if not years) ago and are enduring this siege of unrelenting blandness as you might a stand-up comic suitable for your mother’s nursing home.

Obviously, if this were Kentucky or even Iowa, or as Joe has been following, South Dakota, it might a little different. There’d at least be a pulse. But here in Minnesota there’s never been any serious doubt that either Al Franken or Mark Dayton was going to be reelected. If there was it vanished with the nominations of Mike McFadden and Jeff Johnson, two guys with all the inspirational ability of a couple corporate trainers who forgot their PowerPoint.

So what to do? Well nothing, if like Franken your handlers, advisers and kitchen cabinet have wrung every last ounce of wit and risk out of you. (Dayton will always and only do what Dayton wants to do.)

But in (my) ideal world here’s something I’d like some genuinely “courageous” candidate “fighting” for the middle-class and “hard working” Americans everywhere to give a try.

Screw these ritualized debates, which long ago degenerated into a trench warfare of pre-digested catch phrases and attack slogans hurled back and forth like mustard gas.

I’d like to see a (formerly) witty, daring guy like Franken agree to a serious of “thesis candidate” interviews with bona fide experts on a series of issues. Tell the League of Women Voters to go find three acknowledged experts each on economics, public ethics, communications, whatever and you’ll agree to sit, by yourself, not with your opponent, and be cross-examined by them for 90 minutes. No horse-race obsessed professional journalists allowed. Instead, a conversation rewarding actual brainpower, intellectual resourcefulness and humility.

To be revealed: What you do and don’t know about the reality of what you’re selling to the persuadables on primetime TV, in between episodes of “Honey Boo Boo” and Thursday Night Football.

Suicide for the fool who agrees to such a concept? I’m not so sure. If Franken agreed to do it, what’s the predicament for McFadden?

Bottom line question: Does any politician dare talk to adults like adults? I’ve decided the answer is “no.”

Hmmm … must check Expedia for packages to Whitehorse.

And the Stiffs Just Keep on Comin’

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterLacking anything resembling a passionate issue, this year’s political campaigns, certainly here in Minnesota, have acquired a common theme by default. Put one way it is: “How did we end up with this pack of stiffs and maroons?”

Colleague Joe has been lucid about one aspect of this. But then us fringy blogger types aren’t required to stick a sock in what we really think in the interests of, you know, “promoting a civil discourse”.

Translation: If you’re getting paid for what you write, never publish anything that might upset your mega-church going maiden aunt.

Today though, Strib columnist Jon Tevlin ventures about as far out on the institutional branch as he can get when he surveys the recent Tom Hagedorn/Michelle MacDonald/Keith Downey/Al Franken news cycle, and, after five paragraphs of promising never to sully himself with such gutter talk ever again, declares the lot of ‘em … “a bunch of idiots”.

Jon is a quality guy and a talented writer. (I.e. I’d really rip him if he were a putz.) But his first obligation is to play within the parameters of a mainstream commercial news organization, a business enterprise determined to maintain credibility across the entire spectrum of modern American, uh, “discourse”. Within that business plan, calling aspiring/elected officials “idiots” is a journalistic “no fly zone”.

No matter how ill-informed, craven, hypocritical and reckless, respectable/moderated journalism does not go to … “idiot”. Not even if there’s a clinical diagnosis involved. Juvenile name-calling is left to spittle-flecked bloggers with no advertising base to endanger.

These moments always reminds me of a lunch interview I had with the author Paul Theroux years ago. Theroux occasionally wrote for The New York Times, and struggled with the grand institution’s rules of order. Like the time he was assigned a piece on the physical experience of The Big Apple’s 1980s subway system. This naturally involved describing smelly piles of what the Times copy desk insisted he refer to as  “fecal material” polluting stations and platforms.

Said Theroux in essence, “It was classic Times. Struggling not to describe in language everyone understands what everyone sees under foot every day of their lives.”

The essential point here is to ask (again) how much better our political “discourse” might be if the “real media” described characters and events in terms all of us understand instantly and use every day? How much less of Michele Bachmann’s ludicrous circus act would we have had to endure if words like “lying”, “reckless” and “self-serving” had been deployed with near-daily regularity by the Strib, the PiPress, MPR, and the local TV outlets … instead of just the bed-head rabble of dyspeptic bloggers?

Given the appetite of today’s “movement conservatives” for “idiot discourse” and self-serving demagoguery, the media alone won’t be able to nudge that ship/garbage scowl into a channel of sanity. But let me argue that a professional reporting class permitted a vernacular beyond that which doesn’t induce indigestion in devout Mormons might loosen up some of the “stiffs” smelling up our public offices.

Mar(k) Dayton is probably beyond “loosening”. But how much more effective might Al Franken be if he felt comfortable melding both his innate satirical wit with his policy smarts? How much larger a public platform would he have, with benefits both to Minnesotans and national progressives, if he routinely spoke in a language everyone (other than Mormons and churchy aunts) immediately understands and uses every day? Would he, after applying a little comic lubricant, be more or less influential than the glaze-inducing grey cardboard character he’s playing today? A caricature acceptable enough for Times copy editors.

The commercial media’s role in a renaissance of public “discourse” would be, as it is now, to fairly assess the claims of partisan critics who will inevitably shriek and froth for their base any time Franken or any other politician talks and acts like a human being, as opposed to some committee-neutered corporate spokesman in permanent crisis management mode.

I don’t know if any of this would make me walk a block to listen to a stump speech. But it might at least convince me there’s some blood in their veins.


MN Congressional Candidates Take Note: 6 of 10 Americans Want To Keep Obamacare

The reporting on Obamacare public opinion research has been consistently shallow, as I’ve noted for years.  Despite the many simplistic “Public Opposes Obamacare” stories and punditifications, a deeper dive into the polls shows that an overwhelming majority of Americans want to either keep the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as is, or improve it.

The latest Kaiser Family Health Foundation Tracking Poll, which was fielded prior to this week’s positive publicity about ACA insurance exchanges targets being met, finds that this trend is continuing.  Even after a pre-deadline deluge of anti-Obamacare advertising, Americans still oppose repealing the Affordable Care Act, by a huge 29% to 59% margin.  Independent voters, who will be so important in the upcoming mid-term elections, also overwhelmingly oppose the GOP’s repeal calls, by a 32% to 52% margin.

Survey__59_pct_want_to_keep_acaSo, nervous DFL congressional candidates, improvements to the ACA — a better exhange website, a more robust exchange call center, more exchange “navigators,” stronger enrollment incentives for young adults,  and/or a public insurance option — would be welcomed by voters.  But let your Republican opponents blather on about “repeal and replace” all they want, because it simply is not selling.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was featured in Politics in Minnesota’s Best of the Blogs.

Which MN Candidates Will Sign The Pull-The-Plug Pledge?

Pull_the_plugAs a general matter, I despise campaign pledges.  Candidates are continually badgered by interest groups to pledge in writing that they will always do X, or never do Y.

The Problem With Pledges

The problem with most pledges is the “always” or “never” parts of them.  The world changes, and policy positions therefore sometimes need to change with them.

  • Pledging to not increase taxes today may make sense at one point in history, but a few years later the circumstances may have changed dramatically.
  • Pledging to support a policy or project now may make sense, but not after surprising new information surfaces.
  • Pledging to tax millionaires may make sense at a time when they’re not paying their fair share, but not a few years later when circumstances may have changed.

So sometimes making policy shifts isn’t  a sign of weakness or dishonesty, as pledge enforcers often claim.  Sometimes, shifting is a sign of courage, vision and integrity.

That’s why I don’t like most campaign pledges.

Pull-the-Plug Pledge

But I came across a pledge the other day that fits our times, and has an infinite shelf life.  South Dakota congressional candidate Rick Weiland challenged all congressional candidates to sign this simple pledge:

“I hereby pledge that, if elected to represent you, I will never vote to shut down your government, or to place your government in default, in order to force it to act, or to prevent it from acting, on unrelated issues.” 

As a voter, I want to know where every Minnesota congressional candidate stands on this Pull-The-Plug Pledge.

Flat_line-2If there are candidates out there who think it is acceptable from them to pull the plug on the American people’s government and economy, that is their right.  But it’s also the right of the overwhelming 72% percent of Americans who oppose the Republicans’ current plug-pulling scheme to be forewarned of a congressional candidate’s position on that  issue, so that they can vote with their eyes wide open.

Yes, Americans and their policymakers must always be able to make their government a different size and shape as future circumstances dictate.  This pledge doesn’t prevent them from having such flexibility. It simply says it’s not acceptable to completely pull the plug on the American economy and government.

So, Tim Walz, Mike Benson, John Kline, Mike Obermuller, Paula Overby, Betty McCollum, Keith Ellison, Erik Paulsen, Tom Emmer, Rhonda Sivarajah, Phil Krinkie, John Pederson, Judy Adams, Collin Pederson, Rick Nolan, Stewart Mills III, Monti Moreno, Chris Dahlberg, Mike McFadden, Julianne Ortman, Jim Abeler, and Al Franken, will you sign the Pull-The-Plug Pledge?

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also featured in Politics in Minnesota‘s Best of the Blogs.

Can Norm Coleman Recover From His Recent Tea Party Cheerleading Role?

So, Norm Coleman won’t rule out a run for Minnesota Governor.  Well, let’s see, what has Norm been doing to ingratiate himself with Minnesota voters since he lost to Al Franken in 2008?  He:

1)   Moved out of Minnesota at the first opportunity.

2)   Became a Super PAC (Congressional Leadership Fund) political hit man doing the dirty work for a group of Tea Party-controlled House members sporting a 9% approval rating, an all-time historic low.

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Why Are Top DFLers Outperforming DFLers in State Legislature?

Minnesota’s top DFLers got good news from a recent Public Policy Polling survey.  They are receiving public support that dwarfs Minnesota’s leading Republicans.  The approval rating for Senator Al Franken stands at 49% and the approval rating for Governor Mark Dayton is at 48%, while the favorability ratings for former Governor Tim Pawlenty (40%), former U.S. Senator Norm Coleman (35%), and U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann (29%) are much lower.

Moreover, Franken would handily defeat any of the three top Republicans if the election were held today.  Franken would defeat Bachmann by 12 points, Pawlenty by 7 points, and Norm Coleman, who Franken barely defeated two years ago, by 7 points.

Why are top DFLers polling so much stronger than top Republicans?  Some might theorize that these DFLers are simply more talented and charismatic politicians, and that explains the gap.

But in terms of being articulate media magnates, the top three Republicans are more accomplished than the top two DFLers. Former comedian and talk show host Franken is obviously capable of being articulate and grabbing the spotlight.  But the fact is, Franken has been very low key since becoming a U.S. Senator two years ago.  Dayton is an earnest but awkward communicator, and is easily the most low-key of the bunch.  At the same time, Pawlenty, Coleman and Bachmann are very articulate leaders who regularly get themselves on national news programs.   But despite the charisma gap, Franken and Dayton are much more popular with Minnesotans.

If political talent and charisma don’t explain why top DFL politicians are more popular than top GOP politicians, another theory might be that ideology is behind the gap.  That is, maybe Minnesota is becoming a more progressive state these days.

However, that doesn’t bear out in PPP’s polling on state legislative races.

When asked who they are inclined to support in a state legislative race in their district, Minnesotans are split, with the generic DFL candidate chosen by 47% of the respondents and the generic GOP candidate chosen by 44% of the respondents, a 3% margin that falls within the 3.4% margin of cerror.

So, what explains the difference between the strong performance of top of the ticket DFLers and the mediocre performance of the DFLers in the state legislature?

It’s far from the only explanation, but one big factor is messaging.  The messaging of Franken and Dayton is clear and consistent, and it is proving to be compelling with Minnesotans.  On the other hand, DFL legislative candidates are offering up a cacophony of scattershot messages that each individual candidate crafts on their own to appeal to their respective districts.

I’ve argued that legislative candidates should unite under a common statewide campaign theme along the lines of “replace the worst legislature ever,” to make the election into a referendum on the unpopular GOP-controlled Legislature.   After all “worst ever” is the verdict Minnesotans have given the current GOP-controlled Legislature, with a 19% approval rating, which appears to be the lowest level ever recorded.  That kind of sticky, unifying campaign umbrella would convert the the legislators’ confusing cacophony into the kind of consistent messaging that is benefiting top-of-the-ticket DFLers.

Whether caused by messaging or something else, the gap between the performance of the upper echelon DFLers and the DFLers in the State Legislature is striking.  DFL legislative candidates would be wise to study the approaches of Franken and Dayton, and replicate them.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also featured in Politics in Minnesota’s “Best of the Blogs” feature.

Whatever Happened to Firebrand Franken?

When Al Franken announced in 2007 that he was running for the Minnesota U.S. Senate seat then held by Norm Coleman, I was worried whether he could sell in the land of Minnesota Nice.  Like others, I had an image of what I expected to see in Senator Al Franken. I expected to see a wise-cracking, fire-breathing, attention-seeking political hack who was constantly making mild mannered Minnesotans roll their eyes during an endless tour of contentious cable TV and talk radio appearances.

In other words, I expected Senator Al to be a lot like the Al that appeared on Air America Radio, and in books with titles like “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot.”  I expected him to be, well, Michele Bachmann.  And Bachmann doesn’t sell statewide.

Last night, I was reminded once again  how wrong I was.  During MSNBC coverage of the Democratic Convention, host Rachel Maddow, Al’s former Air America Radio colleague, became positively giddy when the network secured a very brief, non-substantive interview with Franken.  Maddow repeatedly noted that Franken doesn’t give interviews to national media outlets, even to liberal outlets, even to outlets populated by his pleading friends and former colleagues. As Senator, Franken apparently has gone cold turkey on cable.

Moreover, what Franken said last night in the MSNBC interview was telling.  He repeatedly tried to put the national spotlight on his fellow Minnesotans, not just himself.  And frankly, he was only mildly funny, and pretty boring.

I have to imagine this is all by design.  Underexposed by design.  Locally focused by design.  Only mildly humorous by design.  Dispassionate by design.   Franken and his team have successfully navigated the evolution of Firebrand Comedian Franken, a national figure, to Thoughtful Senator Franken, a Minnesota figure.

And in Minnesota, it’s working.  Here is what a recent Public Policy Polling survey found about Franken’s political strength at home:

 Al Franken’s proven to be a stronger than might have been expected Senator. 50% of voters approve of him to 36% who disapprove. Democrats have ended up being pretty universally happy with him (85/4) and he’s strong with independents as well (48/33).

Franken leads hypothetical contests with Minnesota’s three leading Republicans. He has a 51-41 advantage over Norm Coleman, a 52-41 one over Tim Pawlenty, and a 57-35 advantage on Michele Bachmann. It’s impossible to say what the political climate will look like in 2014, but at least for now Franken finds himself in a strong position.

In 2008, Franken defeated Norm Coleman, now a Super PACman, by the slimmest of margins.  Now, polls show he would defeat Coleman handily, as well as the state’s other leading Republicans.

The lesson?  Al is minding his Minnesota manners, and it matters to Minnesotans.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also featured in the Politics in Minnesota Morning Report “Best of the Blogs” feature