A reader of my blog, Norwegianity, recently emailed me to ask why he couldn't find the story about Al Franken and the Carleton College Republican in any of the liberal blogs. I was surprised to hear that and told him I'd linked to the story, which in turned surprised him.
So I searched my blog and discovered that while I'd linked to the Star Tribune's account of what happened, it was the sixth of many items I had put in that post, and I hadn't done much to draw attention to it.
Here's what C.J., the Strib's gossip columnist, had to say about the incident.
Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Al Franken didn't exactly leave 'em laughing in Northfield.
Earlier this month Franken was at Carleton College, where the late Sen. Paul Wellstone was a professor, for a student rally related to a special election in the state Senate District 25. After the rally in the great space of Sayles-Hill some students crowded around to take photos with the "Saturday Night Live" alum, author, satirist and celebrity.
Franken's spokesman Andy Barr said via e-mail Tuesday that Al "remembers having a spirited convo w/ College GOPer at the urging of some of the kid's College Dem pals. Seemed like everyone was having a good time, or as good a time as you can have debating Reaganomics."
Franken apparently had more fun than senior history major Peter Fritz.
According to Fritz, things started out fine with him taking photos of fellow Carls (that's what students call themselves) with Franken. Then Franken's curiosity was raised about why Fritz didn't want to be in a pic.
He's a conservative, another Carl yelled out by way of explanation.
At that point, Franken reportedly began peppering Fritz with questions about supporting President George W. Bush and former President Ronald Reagan's tax hikes. Fritz told me he got tense and, as he does in those situations, started chewing the inside of his mouth, a gesture he said was mimicked by Franken; Fritz also thought his style of speech was mocked by Franken.
An aide eventually interrupted Franken's act, Fritz said, by announcing to the candidate that it was time to go.
Fritz told me Monday that he then stuck out his hand to shake Franken's. "Well, at least it's nice to meet you," the GOPer said he told Franken, who reportedly replied, I can't say the same.
There was no handshake, said Fritz.
Barr, Franken's handler, said, "Al doesn't remember saying that, but if the kid does, then okay. ... Al takes enough pictures with people that he doubts he would 'take umbrage' at someone not wanting one."
...Fritz's version of the encounter was backed up by Pablo Kenney, prez of the Carleton Dems.
I bolded that last bit, because up until that point in the story I was mentally dismissing this as a he said/he said nonstory. (The italics are also mine.) The eyewitness confirmation by the college's top student Democrat makes this a serious story. [This is, btw, the college Paul Wellstone taught at before becoming a U.S. Senator. The seat Al Franken is running for was previously held by Paul Wellstone.]
This set me to wondering, so I tried Google News. If you click that link, you'll see that other than the Strib, the only news account is a next-day rewrite of the Strib account by the always sleazy and disgusting NewsBusters. NewsBusters, of course, availed themselves of this opportunity to repeat every tacky story they have on file about Franken, capped by some tedious sermonizing (as opposed to my witty and judicious sermonizing).
So I checked Google's BlogSearch. That pulled up some more responses, but the vast majority of them were, um, a bit on the wingnutty side.
Minnesota Democrats Exposed [Who shamelessly quoted me without a link. MDE is a Thune style blog run by a former paid Republican party officer, activist, consultant and all round hack who insists I have somehow broken his ability to link to me. Uh huh.]
Blogs for Norm! (aka Minnesota Democrats Exposed)
Liberal blogs? I may have missed some, but having compiled City Page's original list of MN Blogs, I know the territory and almost everyone seems to have been missing in action except for Carleton Democrats, who obviously found the story newsworthy. As did Free Republic.
This story wasn't buried. Cheryl Johnson's gossip column is one of the most widely read columns in the Star Tribune, and I saw this story when they linked to it from the front page of their online edition. Trust me, everyone who follows Minnesota politics saw this, and with almost no exceptions, the liberal bloggers all chose to ignore this story.
And that is going to bite us on the ass next fall if Al Franken is our nominee. The phrase Minnesota nice is not a joke. If you drive up to a four-way stop within half a minute of your average Minnesotan, they'll wave you through the intersection even when they have the right of way. Even when you stick your head out the window and scream at them, no — it's YOUR right of way you moron! (Yes, I have done that, and no, it didn't work.)
I've always been a fan of Al Franken's work, and so far as I know, I'm the first Minnesotan to have publicly called for Al to run for the Senate (while I was working at City Pages). Sure, you can see a cruel streak in his humor sometimes, but the truth is all humor stems from hurt or anger of one kind or another. The point is, Franken's targets were always people of consequence who were acting badly. I don't think Peter Fritz merits that kind of attention.
No, this Carleton incident isn't a big deal, but it's exactly the kind of little deal that voters understand and react to. It's also the kind of little deal that adds up, and on the basis of little deals alone I no longer feel comfortable with Franken's candidacy.
I think he'd do wonderfully in New York or Philadelphia or any East Coast city with a reputation for in your face politics. But in the sleepy Midwest, things like this bother people. Al was rude.
Rudeness just doesn't fly in Minnesota. If it did, I'd run for governor. I'd win in a landslide, too. Compared to most native born Minnesotans, Iowans like me are abrasive, potty-mouthed bastards. And on that level, I like Al a lot. Al the campaigner? Not so much. Which is not to say that an apology from Al to Peter Fritz wouldn't be a good idea.
That's something Franken's campaign should think about, because I can think of no reason why this rudeness shouldn't be known by everyone, and not just Franken's enemies. It also wouldn't hurt for some other liberal Minnesota blogs to address this issue. Sticking your head in the sand isn't the best offense in an election year.