Thursday, October 30, 2008
Kihne was building up to a condemnation of Sen. Joseph Biden:
Joe Biden got a little taste of shame himself this week in a letter to the editor written by his Bishop in Wilmington.
Biden had claimed that the Catholic Church 'has wrestled with [the abortion issue] for 2,000 years,' defending a non-dogmatic approach to the issue.
In Bishop Malooly's letter, the cleric responds 'The teaching of the Church is clear and not open to debate.' That is, of course, nonsense; many people find the Catholic Church's teaching quite debatable--and no less so due to its clarity. Even conservatives such as Kihne seem willing to debate the matter.
Malooly--like many--confuses the Catholic Church's officially-sanctioned dogma with The Catholic Church. In reality, there's a huge difference between what self-identified Catholics believe and what Malooly wants them to believe. More US Catholics support abortion rights than oppose them, for example; Catholics are only very slightly more antiabortion than the society at large.
The diversity of belief among US Catholics is generally underappreciated. Fewer than three-quarters of self-identified US Catholics are certain god exists--for example--and 1% don't believe in god at all. (Yup--approximately 700,000 American Catholics are simultaneously atheists.) About one-third of US Catholics grumble about the crummy God service levels they're experiencing--seldom or never having prayers answered. And about four-fifths of US Catholics believe There is MORE than one true way to interpret the teachings of my religion--entirely rejecting orthodoxy of the Maloolian variety, in other words. Indeed, about four-fifths of US Catholics don't even think you need Jesus to get into heaven: They affirm Many religions can lead to eternal life. (Add to that the equally liberal 1% who believe Zero religions can lead to eternal life.)
During his thirty-six-year tenure in the Senate, Joe Biden has not been a very strong supporter of abortion rights. But he's provided some support, and in doing so his bishop has called him out for it. He should feel pride for that--not shame.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
A mystique builds up around a congressional representative. We ascribe lofty attributes to powerful people. In my lifetime here in CD3, citizens have always respected and deferred a great deal to our congressman. I was nine years old when Bill Frenzel was first elected. (In junior high school we politicos stuck his orange bumper stickers on our notebooks.) Frenzel served for two decades, one term longer than Ramstad. The orange-themed campaign became a tradition among Republican candidates in CD3.
When politicians have been in office for awhile, people assume they know what they're doing--and that they take their public role seriously, in the awareness that a politician's reputation is of the essence: It must be cultivated and on occasion defended. Since reputation is of such importance, a politician is going to think first before announcing a position...you might think.
In CD3, we have two reputational masters-of-the-universe, politically speaking--in Bill Frenzel and Jim Ramstad. People respect these two men hugely. They believe Frenzel and Ramstad are above the sickening rent-seeking and horse-trading of all of those lesser politicians: Frenzel and Ramstad care deeply and passionately about honesty, honor, integrity and the public weal.
Citizens assume Bill Frenzel and Jim Ramstad to be honorable gentlemen--high above perpetrating a cheap campaign hoax on the public. So when Frenzel and Ramstad observe a heated congressional campaign and issue a joint statement exclusively condemning the advertisements coming from one side, people assume that they have reviewed all of the campaign's negative advertising, and have determined that one side is disgraceful and one side is blameless.
Alas, that is not the case. I emailed the former and soon-former Congressmen:
Can I ask you to clarify something? Do you mean to say that the the advertising which has attacked Ashwin Madia--some from Erik Paulsen and some from independent groups--has steered entirely clear of 'gutter politics' and 'utter fabrication'? Do you mean to claim your side has refrained from gutter politics?
Tom Hauser of KSTP recently bestowed a dismal D on a recent Paulsen attack. And some of the most objectionable rhetoric has come from your side of the current contest. Does this cause any concern?
I think it would be great were you to release a statement evenhandedly condemning all unfair attacks, while acknowledging some embarrassment concerning your earlier, politicized statement.
Readers know that Jim Ramstad refuses even polite, fair questions from this blogger. But Bill Frenzel did answer. In his response, Frenzel admits he had reviewed none of the Republican attacks on Ashwin Madia.
So any citizen who assumed Ramstad and Frenzel used an ethical, fair process before issuing their statement would be wrong. Furthermore, in writing the Star Tribune's account of the Ramstad/Frenzel statement, Mark Brunswick committed a serious journalistic error in not making clear that their investigation--Frenzel freely admits--could not have been more one-sided.
Jim Ramstad had done the math--and knew he wouldn't be questioned by the perpetually Ramstad-worshipping paper of record. Ramstad knew he could get away with it--that his hoax would be interpreted as 'the wise judgment of an even-handed elder statesman.' Frenzel--the product of another political era--seems genuinely to have not thought through the ethics of participating in such a statement. But as I meant to argue in my penultimate post: In politics, good intentions are secondary.
In issuing their extremely misleading statement, Jim Ramstad was acting with calculation; Bill Frenzel was genuinely duped. But both betrayed poor judgment, recklessly abusing the public's trust in their honor.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Well, dumb endorsements continue:
Twinwest Chamber of Commerce organized a lavish debate on Aug. 21, extorting $35 for tickets. On Sept. 25, they issued their endorsement--for Erik Paulsen. Twinwest's endorsement statement is pure political BS: It identifies no issue position separating the candidates, it lists not a single fact learned during the debate nor does it identify one meaningful biographical distinction among the candidates--other than a false distinction: It says Paulsen is to be preferred for his business experience. (David Dillon's business experience certainly dwarfs Paulsen's.) Holding the debate was simply window-dressing for Twinwest; this endorsement is a sham.
In evaluating the three candidates, Twinwest admits it didn't weigh each on his merits. It took into account--as Twinwest says--electability. So Twinwest wanted to endorse David Dillon, but saw Erik Paulsen as the only person who could prevent Ashwin Madia from winning. What other thing could Twinwest mean when using electability to defend this dumb endorsement?
The Eden Prairie News has issued a surprisingly shallow endorsement for Erik Paulsen.
Thankfully, the Strib has decided against issuing any endorsement in the CD3 fight.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
In many areas of social life, the incentive to dissemble about what one believes or wants is so overwhelming it's a wonder anything truthful ever gets said by anyone. (To say nothing about the additional complication brought in by people's confusion over what they really believe, and how we prioritize our shifting allegiances.)
David Runciman lectures on political theory at Cambridge University and published Political Hypocrisy in April of this year. In September, Will Wilkinson interviewed Runciman on Bloggingheads.
Runciman argues that Thomas Hobbes is our greatest teacher on political hypocrisy. In explaining Hobbes' position, Runciman says [my paraphrase] that all public identities are riddled with dissembling--that there is no non-hypocritical terrain available to the fledgling politician. Playing 'hunt the hypocrite'--finding some minor contradiction within a politicians various statements--is a recipe for making political life worse, not better. We have to differentiate between acceptable and unacceptable forms of hypocrisy, Runciman/Hobbes might argue. Runciman says:
Hobbes is not calling for full disclosure, truthfulness, accuracy—Hobbes, of all people, wasn’t saying that to rule a state was to expose everything you do to anyone who’s interested. He’s not pushing the whole way to the anti-hypocrisy of complete openness or honesty in any aspect of political life. But what he’s arguing against is the hypocrisy of people who draw a veil over—not the specific day-to-day details of political life—but its foundations in principle. Hobbes thinks that one way you can be a hypocrite in politics is to put too much weight on personal sincerity. Hobbes doesn’t want a politician to tell you everything they do during the day—but he does want politicians who do not pretend that in politics pleas of conviction and sincerity trump other kinds of arguments. That, for Hobbes, is political hypocrisy.
For Hobbes, it doesn’t matter whether [political actors] are sincere or not. For Hobbes, you can be genuinely sincere—you can believe god speaks to you, you can believe you are acting on the basis of convictions that run all the way through your heart—and yet you can still be a political hypocrite, not because of the sincerity of your convictions, but you ought to know, that in politics sincerity is not what counts. What counts are results.
[that's my somewhat speedily-typed transcription of Runciman speaking]
Thursday, October 23, 2008
During a campaign candidates voice bold certainties on a host of topics--as Dillon, Madia and Paulsen have. On occasion, all have likely voiced commitments they don't strongly feel--that's the political world. They each have, on occasion, sought to hide some of their actual opinions, as people do.
The One Hundred Eleventh Congress will almost certainly pass EFCA again, in 2009. Opponents of EFCA's passage are banking on the Senate to stop it--so it would not be a sensible issue upon which to base one's vote for House, imho. Ashwin Madia has long voiced support for EFCA.
Over the course of the campaign, Republicans and MNIPfolk have often alleged that Ashwin supports EFCA due to the 'special interest money' dangled in front of him by unions. In fact, union money was of secondary importance. Madia participated in a ferocious intraparty battle for the DFL endorsement--which he locked up on April 12, 2008. Had Madia failed to support EFCA, he wouldn't have got the nomination. Simple as that.
So Madia's support for EFCA wasn't quite a free choice act; it was a Hobson's choice. Don't get me wrong--overall, Ashwin Madia and Terri Bonoff's tough internecine combat benefited Ashwin-the-candidate immensely, by ratcheting up grassroots interest and by honing the raspy, shy advocate into the formidable candidate we see today. If that education saddled Madia with one minor [unpopular] position, that's life in the big city.
During the campaign, Madia hasn't shown passion on EFCA. He's argued that it has been mischaracterized by the opponents of organized labor--and then he pivots away from the matter entirely, saying that CD3 residents care more about other issues. A good sign, I think.
On EFCA, David Dillon and Erik Paulsen have not elevated the discussion. They grandstand the issue as if it constituted trading the Constitution for Mao's Little Red Book, looking at the proposal through an entirely moralistic lens. It would have been great had Paulsen and Dillon attempted a rational discussion on the likely practical effects of EFCA--and acknowledged that it will pass the next congress under any realistic scenario.
Madia is far less wed to a rigid ideological worldview than his GOP opponent. Personally, Madia is vastly more curious and social than Paulsen--who refuses nearly any interaction with critics. As a practical matter, Madia is smart enough to realize that this district isn't looking for an Ellison/McCollum clone--and dissenting with DFL orthodoxy, on occasion, will only solidify the esteem in which his constituents hold him.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Debate Minnesota held the last of the CD3 debates this evening, at Edina High School--your blogger's alma mater. David Dillon, Ashwin Madia and Erik Paulsen approached the event with somewhat updated deliveries--and a number of oft-heard lines. Moderators Steve Berg and Greg Huff started off this episode with the expected formulaic homily [on the elder statespeople's horror at the negative campaigning on display]. Yawn... A few observations:
David Dillon--the straight-talkin' anti-BS CEO--opens blasting partisan politics and special interest money as being at the core of our current woes. Partisan politics simply isn't going to go away anytime soon; basing a candidacy on opposing it doesn't add up. (Join a major party and try to make it support sensible policies, I say.) But campaigning to end partisan politics is really quite pie-in-the-sky, coming from the Rick Blaine character.
Dillon doesn't appear to be seriously seeking to win, as I've noted--though he clearly doesn't seek to hand the election to either Ash or Erik--even as I maintain that deep down, he does prefer one to the other.
Ashwin Madia's constant subtext is honor--and he's making use of this tone with greater fluidity than ever. As he has throughout the campaign, he's engaging in a radically different form of public speaking than any of the other men on the stage--employing an understated plea to the listener's conscience.
Erik Paulsen speaks slowly this evening, essentially reading his opening statement (which he hasn't entirely committed to memory), while making eye contact with every single audience member, looking there and then here and then over there, etc. Paulsen's delivery tonight is entirely managerial in tone. Normative questions have been solved, in Paulsen's mind; his campaign is merely a value-neutral effort to impose sound business practices upon a cacophonous assembly of [mainly] non-Lutherans. This evening Paulsen gestures often, with slow-sweeping hands/arms. His head moves up and down; his brow furrows. When listening to others, he has a hunched, neutral posture. He's the adult candidate; he is without an emotional life. At one point he refers to 'my opponent,' when sitting alongside two challengers.
Madia is advocating democratic solutions (entailing reciprocity and social interaction) in contrast to Erik Paulsen's Stephen Coveyesque deus ex machina. Paulsen invokes his beloved Congress is broken and I want to fix it; delivered in squinting math-major monotone. Paulsen--in some ways the most Ralph Reed-like candidate we've seen in some time [among GOP nominees for CD3]--has proved to be the candidate least adept at igniting any deep buy-in among supporters. Rep. Paulsen is not asking you to put on a uniform to join him in marching into the hills. He's asking for you to hire him as your middle manager.
Many Madia signs were waved outside the event, as usual. Among the 300 attendees, Madia t-shirts vastly outnumbered Paulsen shirts. Overall, the audience leaned Madia.
Questions took the candidates through the standard territories: Iraq/Afghanistan/Iran, EFCA, immigration, education, the financial crisis, energy, health care, budget-cutting and biography/district ties. All quite fun to listen to--and with considerable good humor--but not a great deal of new substance if you've been listening to these guys for months. Paulsen--the last concluder--ends with a surprise left-hook on taxation, when he knew his opponents would have no opportunity for rebuttal.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Monday, October 20, 2008
Michael Brodkorb finds Esquire's endorsement of Norm Coleman worthy of a blogpost, so I took a look. Never having gone through an Esquire phase, I have no sense for that magazine's politics. The editorial line at Esquire reveals itself as 'stupid.' John Kline gets the Esquire nod; Kline 'fits his district,' just as Betty McCollum does hers...though Franken should be rejected since he's 'a knee-jerk partisan...' This is a 'politics' for people who haven't given politics a moment's thought.
And I'm sick and tired of every CD3 candidate having to be the real heir to Jim Ramstad--as Esquire tells us Ashwin Madia is. (Madia has many virtues; who cares whether he's Ramstadish or not?) During Geoff Michel's recent 17-minute self-immolation several weeks ago, he described Ramstad as being 'a titan' in the House of Representatives. In fact, Ramstad will be forgotten by spring, in the House. After almost two decades in office, the non-partisan Congress.org ranks Ramstad the 203rd most powerful member--right smack in the middle. Ramstad will be remembered as one of the best-dressed, least interesting Reps of his era--a man who enjoyed a neverending love affair with the media--while making no effort to build an effective moderate wing within his party. A vain failure, in short.
If Erik Paulsen loses, he will lose because he has failed to inspire. His own supporters can point to no courage or honor narrative. He's the stereotypical teacher's pet: Paulsen waited in line to run for Congress for more than a decade--he's a dull clock-watcher. Ashwin Madia took on his own party's establishment in a manner so shocking that observers had difficulty acknowledging what they were seeing: Out of nowhere, the rank-and-file found a voice that inspired. And the rank-and-file showed determination and moxie in rejecting the know-it-all advice from on high--and following their gut with Madia.
Having neglected--in a stodgy political career and in a somnambulant adulthood--to author a compelling autobiography, Paulsen thrust his daughter to the fore, in the hope his 12-year-old could fill the void where 'candidate identity' is supposed to go.
Please, Ashwin Madia, win.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
The event starts a bit late, with Lawrence Jacobs introducing Paulsen. Paulsen presents himself as a non-ideologue moderate-conservative, using his frequent line 'Congress is broken and I want to fix it.' He has slides underscoring key points; he puts in a serviceable performance, without any serious mistakes.
He talks at some length about the dangers of allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire. He wants to reduce the corporate income tax and simplify the US tax code. Paulsen wants to promote competitiveness by emphasizing science, technology, engineering and math education. His entire interest in China and India, he again makes clear, is as trading partners.
After Paulsen's talk, he sits down with Lawrence Jacobs for what amounts to a public interview.
Paulsen criticizes members of Congress of both parties for failing to maintain fiscal restraint. He criticizes John McCain's recent $300 b proposal for solving the financial crisis. Throughout the discussion of the financial meltdown, Paulsen emphasizes his pragmatism and resistance to excessive government involvement in resolving the problem.
He mentions his concerns as the father of four on occasion; at one point he refers to having grown up 'a good, German Lutheran.'
I was sitting in the front row; when the interview is finished, I ask Paulsen if he supports any other constitutional amendments (beyond the two just mentioned). Do you agree with Jim Ramstad--that we need a Flag Desecration Amendment? Would you support an amendment banning abortion? Paulsen reiterates his support for the Budget and Marriage amendments, but won't state clearly any position on Flag or Abortion. Then I see he's reminding himself Never Acknowledge Sullivan and I abruptly disintegrate in the candidate's field of vision; my words no longer come out in English. Logically, it couldn't make much sense--given Paulsen's voting record--to oppose an antiabortion amendment.
To the extent that the current CD3 election is a referendum on Erik Paulsen, much of the chatter concerns how conservative is he? If you take him at his word, he's a pragmatic, low-tax, economic-growth-focused competitiveness wonk.
On the other hand, he received a 100% rating for six consecutive years from Minnesota's leading antiabortion lobby and opposes stem cell research. (A state representative with a similar rating sees benefit in statutorily equating abortion with homicide.) He wants to write restrictions on gay rights into the US Constitution. His campaign orchestrated some disturbing attacks on his DFL opponent. In addition, Paulsen is a leader in a church which teaches that if you're not a creationist, you're not a Christian--and that Catholicism is a form of satanism. So many people just can't take Paulsen's claim--that he's a post-ideological problem-solver--seriously.
A good deal of personality gets suffused in conflicts such as Paulsen-Madia. Paulsen exudes a business executive's persona. He has almost no sense of humor. For a smart, well-educated, presentable early-40s suburban dad, it's surprising how little affection or excitement he can inspire. The Ramstadian back-slapping friendly gruffness has not rubbed off. (Paulsen was a math major at St. Olaf, lest we forget.) While he's comfortable speaking at the lectern, he cannot tell an anecdote or establish any warmth with his audience, nor does he give evidence of knowing sports. Those boardroom business suits strengthen our perception of his aloofness.
On the way into this afternoon's talk, Paulsen runs into Steve Kelley, calling out to him and sharing a self-confident handclasp. Momentarily one could see a personable Paulsen, opening up briefly to a fellow insider.
Monday, October 13, 2008
Larry Jacobs. This discourages aggressive questioning. I peg the crowd for young liberal policy wonks; the Q&A is soporific. I'm pretty sure they liked Ash; I had to leave before it was finished.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
The CD3 congressional candidates met for a brief debate on Twin Cities Public Television the other day. (Click on Third District Debate Live!) The debate was a clear Madia victory.
The MSM has been reporting recently about the negative attacks in the CD3 contest. Outside money has been pouring in, mainly tarnishing Erik Paulsen's name with bullshit accusations. Why can't we do like our noble Senator, and forswear negativity?
On the other hand, Erik Paulsen engineered a coded racist attack against Ashwin Madia.
In other words, both sides went negative, but Erik Paulsen went a lot negativer. Paulsen's filthy smear was so disgusting mainstream journalists (such as Mary Lahammer and Erik Eskola) couldn't consciously ponder it. But the attacks against Paulsen (on behalf of the Madia candidacy) weren't as shocking, so the MSM deemed them mentionable on the public airwaves.
That put the DFL candidate in the hot seat in Friday's debate. Ashwin Madia is asked to defend the independent attack ads. Madia gives the standard BS line [that candidates give in such situations]: He condemns unfair attacks against Erik Paulsen but regrets he has no control over the advertising put on by outside organizations.
David Dillon chimes in with naive good-governmentism: 'I think we've reached a new low in Minnesota politics. I'm embarrassed for both of you.' Dillon tells Madia that after one particularly egregious anti-Paulsen ad ran, Ashwin should have called the group and told them to pull the ad. So Dillon is also giving Paulsen a free pass.
Paulsen then chides Madia for failing to contact the independent group requesting that the ads stop. 'If you had the right moral standards, you would make that phone call.'
Were you Ashwin Madia, what would you do? Would you make a serious effort to end the scurrilous anti-Erik ads, or would you earnestly--though not too earnestly--condemn them, allowing them to continue?
Were I Madia, I'd cry crocodile tears over the ads, and allow them to continue, just as the candidate is in fact doing. With the Paulsen-orchestrated he's-not-one-of-us attack confirming long-held suspicions about Erik Paulsen's character, the Democrat would be a fool to adopt a unilateralist approach to political purity.
Late in the TPT debate, Lahammer--carrying water for Paulsen--rephrases the Michel-Carey attack in sanitized form; Paulsen's he's-not-one-of-us attack against Madia isn't even presented as 'an attack.' Sadly, Dillon uses the question to promote his own candidacy. Paulsen lies, claiming Geoff Michel and Ron Carey acted without coordination with Team Paulsen. Remember:
1) The word carpetbagger was supplied to Geoff Michel by Erik Paulsen.
2) The accusation concerning Madia using his parents' address on his affidavit of candidacy was supplied to Geoff Michel by Erik Paulsen.
So Lahammer instructs us to consider he's-not-one-of-us a minor though legitimate line of questioning and Paulsen is allowed to deny he's even behind it. Bigotry gets a free pass.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Monday, October 6, 2008
Projecting an image of intellectual curiosity can benefit an aspiring politician. When such a person makes claims to being interested in the wider world, we should ask whether the person is serious--or simply striking a pose for the gullible.
Erik Paulsen takes considerable pride in his love of travel and interest in foreign countries and cultures. This is of particular interest now, since he's that odd public figure who shuns interaction with the opposition, no matter how polite. An enigma indeed, Paulsen: A person with zero curiosity concerning the battle of ideas within his chosen realm--the political world--claims great open-mindedness with regard to the wider world. Could it be so?
In the past week, two Erik Paulsen surrogates have spoken out on their candidate's behalf--with Paulsen staffers present--in an attempt to stir up provincialism and bigotry in the service of their candidate's electoral success.
So, deep down, is Paulsen someone who takes a sensible multiculturalism seriously? Or would it be more accurate to think of him as Chanhassen's Lester Maddox, as Ron Carey and Geoff Michel have inadvertently suggested?
Is the real Erik Paulsen a tolerant, multiculti St. Olaf global citizen--who only rarely employs bigotry, when his pollster tells him he's in trouble? Or is Paulsen's claim to internationalism an easily-dispelled hoax?
Fortunately, in this case we have good, hard evidence--in the candidate's own handwriting:
Last year, Erik Paulsen maintained a blog which he titled Paulsen's Travelogue. In it, he describes his travels in China and India in late 2007.
While traveling in the world's two most populous, ancient nations, Paulsen does not experience a single interesting thought:
When I saw China for the first time that year, my initial reaction was “Wow!” – there was so much development and activity evident everywhere.
He does not describe any interesting interaction with anyone, nor does he engage in any introspection of his own. He makes no attempt at probing beyond superficiality. At one point he encounters a group of the very poor--people who subsist on less than $2/day. Paulsen makes no attempt at interviewing any one such person or listening to such a person's story. (He identifies exclusively with yuppies.) Paulsen's travelogue includes many lists of economic statistics and gee whiz statements about the economic growth he observes. But Erik Paulsen expresses nothing but the most antiseptic 'curiosity.' He takes no interest in the day-to-day lives of the Chinese or Indians. He never asks anyone about their opinion of the United States, about their hopes, dreams, pastimes or troubles. It does not occur to Paulsen that average Indians or Chinese might feel ambivalence--perhaps even some dissatisfaction--concerning the current historical moment, or the global order. Paulsen accepts the most superficial drivel his blue-ribbon hosts spoon-feed him, and then he moves on. He does not establish a single personal connection during the entire sojourn.
Calling Erik Paulsen 'an internationalist' would be similar to mistaking Geoff Michel for Abraham Lincoln. It's bullshit.