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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.

[C.J., Star Tribune]

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.]

SCSU Scholars

The Weekly Standard

Bold Color Conservative

College Republican Nation

Blogs for Norm! (aka Minnesota Democrats Exposed)

Captain's Quarters

Power Line

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.

Since my initial enthusiasm, I've been repeatedly disappointed by Al, and am now wavering between Mike Ciresi and Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer's candidacies.

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.



Originally posted to Mark Gisleson on Sun Jan 27, 2008 at 06:17 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  THIS rates a diary? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kkjohnson

    I know Sundays are slow newsdays, but today they are apparently down to a crawl.  I am no particular supporter of Franken, but jeez is this a nothingburger of a story -- right-wing schmuck is rude to Franken, Franken is less than kind in  return.  Thhere may well be good reasons to vote for someone other than Franken, but this sure isn't one of them.  The fact that virtually no one outside of the wingnut blogosphere (and now you) ran with this story tells you something right there.

    •  Read the entire story (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mia Dolan

      On my blog I excerpted the entire story. Nowhere in it does it say that the Republican student was rude or anything but polite. I also confirmed this story with another eyewitness.

      My point is that all the Republicans in Minnesota are being given access to this story, but Democrats don't even know it happened for the most part.

      IF you're not from Minnesota, you probably don't realize how nothingburger stories like this can cripple a campaign. Not a "macaca" moment, but not far off. A simple apology would immunize Franken.

      The more Democrats fight, the more we win.

      by Mark Gisleson on Sun Jan 27, 2008 at 06:57:23 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I read the story in CJ's column (0+ / 0-)

        I am a MN Dem. I'm undecided between Ciresi and Franken for Senate. College Republicans don't have a good reputation, sorry. I'd guess most independents also think that way. I think we'd need a video of it to see for ourselves the deal.

      •  Trifling (0+ / 0-)

        The phrase Minnesota nice is not a joke.

        Minnesotans - or people who live in Minnesota - can be just as rude as anyone else. Been there personally and can confirm it first-hand.  ;o)

        Having said that, what Al Franken did WAS rude - if he actually behaved that way.  I just don't think it's as big a deal as you make it out to be.

      •  Racial slur = cheek chewing (0+ / 0-)

        You are seriously comparing Allen's use of the North Africa equivalent of the n-word to what comes across as Franken's mild mockery of s student who rudely refused to be photographed?  Ridiculous.  And again, you seem to miss the point that the GOP is all over this story whule the Democrats are not -- clearly, that is because there is no there there, just an effort by Republicans to make much ado about nothing... with support from you, oddly enough.  No, I'm not a Minnesotan, but I trust in the intelligence of the people in your state to realize that with a crashing econmuy and a quagmire in Iraq, the GOP has been reduced to complaining about cheek chewing.

        •  Sorry to turn this into a debate (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Mia Dolan

          when the excerpt and my remarks are fairly self-explanatory. I said "not far off." Allen ridiculed an oppo researcher, i.e., a Democrat who was tracking him. Franken ridiculed a kid who didn't approach him, who was just taking pictures of his friends who were posing with a celebrity. Cheek chewing? It's not the cheek chewing, it's the mocking of the cheek chewing. How is that different than mocking a stutterer or someone with any other kind of nervous twitch?

          I'm not trying to make too much of this, but Franken's behavior is not, um, Senatorial. And that is one of Franken's biggest issues he has to overcome. He has worked hard to present himself as a serious candidate, and not the SNL guy.

          Crashing economy? Quagmire in Iraq? If you actually were following the Minnesota race you'd know those issues are "owned" by Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, the St. Thomas prof and former Wellstone foreign policy advisor.

          Franken needs to resolve this now, or it will be thrown in his face next fall if he's the nominee. That's what the primary season is all about. And, like it or not, if the Kossack community wants to be Frankenites, you need to hear more, not less, about the issues impacting this particular race and Minnesota voters.

          The more Democrats fight, the more we win.

          by Mark Gisleson on Sun Jan 27, 2008 at 08:51:19 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  It does (0+ / 0-)

      This kind of behavior plays right into the Republican meme for Franken as "Angry Al."  

      Franken is completely unelectable, and has fucked our chances of beating Norm Coleman.  

  •  Wasn't Jesse Ventura rude? (0+ / 0-)

    He did ok.

    •  Rude? to who? (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Jeffrey Feldman, techno, Mia Dolan

      Ventura's rudeness was aimed at the powerful.

      Jeffrey, you of all people should understand this story and its possible import. After all, you're a Carleton grad.

      On the face of it, without any suppositions or speculation, do you see a positive side to this story for Franken? He was rude to a nobody. Not just rude, but mocking. That's harsh.

      Maybe the real story wasn't as bad as C.J. says, but again, her version was confirmed for me by a Democrat who was there (and who wishes to remain anonymous because he's sick to death of the wingnut vitriol that's been spewed about this already).

      I'm putting this in play in the hope that Franken will apologize to the kid. It's what you do when you act badly.

      The more Democrats fight, the more we win.

      by Mark Gisleson on Sun Jan 27, 2008 at 07:05:56 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I think I do understand (0+ / 0-)

        hence the reply. And thanks for the post--I'm glad you wrote about this. In a sea of pie flinging candidate diaries, it was nice to see some actual reporting today.

        I trust your reading of MN, particularly Northfield.

        I just remember Ventura being a famous rude guy and getting elected. Could be that times have changed.  Sometimes Minnersodans like irreverence, sometimes they like earnestness.  

        Is it your sense that Franken's politics-as-humor approach is falling short with the folks in the provinces?

        ---
        Support kossack authors! Buy Framing The Debate...

        by Jeffrey Feldman on Sun Jan 27, 2008 at 11:09:32 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  My sense (0+ / 0-)

          has been that Franken's been keeping to a more serious tone as much as possible. Even when Al came to Drinking Liberally he was pretty serious, if not wonkish.

          But mocking isn't irreverence or puckishness. I can't think of any circumstances in which it's appropriate for a candidate to mock anyone.

          Jeffrey, you're into nuances: given a straight up reading of C.J.'s account (confirmed by the head of the Carleton Democrats), isn't this anecdote problematic for any candidate, not just Al?

          The more Democrats fight, the more we win.

          by Mark Gisleson on Sun Jan 27, 2008 at 11:44:57 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I think this is the kind of incident (0+ / 0-)

            that tends to get snowed over in spin. So I think he's OK.  Al's an idiot for being too childish to shake a profs hand,though.  That's for darn sure.  His handlers now have to run circles around this nonsense instead of taking care of more important matters.  And Northfield is very symbolic because of Wellstone.

            Honestly...I'm not sure who's best for the nomination in MN. I just don't want 6 more years of abnormal Norm.  

            ---
            Support kossack authors! Buy Framing The Debate...

            by Jeffrey Feldman on Sun Jan 27, 2008 at 11:59:53 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Correction (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Jeffrey Feldman, Mia Dolan

              Not a prof, a student. And not a student that confronted Al, but a student Al confronted.

              The media's given Al a free pass on this, all the coverage is from Republican blogs so his handlers haven't had to do anything.

              I'm raising this issue because Al needs to learn a little hubris. Next fall, when the YouTubes of Al's hard-to-explain-away humor explode onto the scene, a little humility might help save his hide. An apology on the record now would help him enormously later.

              Voters forgive candidates who show maturity and growth, but Al still refuses to discuss straight up his initial support for Bush's war. The peace community here has rallied behind Nelson-Pallmeyer as a direct result of Al's inability to help DFLers understand why he thought Saddam was a threat. This is important because many in the peace community are still seething over the way the national party helped Amy Klobuchar steamroll her way to the nomination despite being a person who, unsurprisingly, is emerging as a very weak Senator.

              The more Democrats fight, the more we win.

              by Mark Gisleson on Sun Jan 27, 2008 at 01:30:37 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Mark (0+ / 0-)

                Your arguments regarding Franken lose a lot of steam when you start talking about Klobuchar and Ford Bell.  While I agree that she is emerging as a weak Senator, she was a very strong candidate, and Ford Bell really was a joke.  The national party steamrolled an ant.  

                Franken, on the other hand, is a really, really bad candidate.  And unlike Klobuchar, he went on record as a initial supporter of the war.  

                •  I beg to differ (0+ / 0-)

                  Early on in that race the money dried up for Bell because of DC-based calls telling money people to steer clear of that race. Without money, the campaign collapsed and did become a joke, which is why Bell withdrew. Before those calls were made, the money was coming in at a pretty good clip.

                  Mark Kennedy was the weak candidate, and Ford Bell or just about any other Democrat running would have beaten him.

                  But this cuts right to the heart of why the DFL sucks: their endorsement system. Klobuchar ran for the endorsement, and that let her get away with running what was pretty much an issues-free campaign. I blogged plenty about how there was no "there" on her website's issues pages but most of my readers (and nearly all of the primary voters) weren't caucus attenders and therefore had no voice in the endorsement process. [For non-Minnesotans, the DFL endorses nearly three months in advance of their primary, and if you don't get the endorsement they really do expect you to drop out of the race.]

                  You're right that Klobuchar was probably unstoppable, and I blame unions and other endorsing organizations for that. She received endorsements from people she had never helped and probably never will just because she was the perceived winner and everyone figured she was exactly the kind of candidate who would engage in petty retributions against those who opposed her.

                  The more Democrats fight, the more we win.

                  by Mark Gisleson on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 10:46:00 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Well (0+ / 0-)

                    I agree regarding the DFL endorsement system.  I have gone to caucuses and told people I would only support candidates who won't abide by the endorsement to counteract the people who hold the endorsement above everything else.  The DFL endorsement process is the main reason the Republicans have done so well over the last 20-30 years in this blue state.

                    As for Ford Bell, you need to let that go because it discredits your other arguments.  Klobuchar was unstoppable because she had 100 percent mostly positive name recognition and was a prosecutor.  She didn't need the endorsements.  They could have found Osama bin Laden hiding in her basement and she still would have crushed Bell.  

                    Do you think there is anyway Franken doesn't win the nomination?  I don't even know how the endorsement is going to work since people will be focusing on the presidency.  

                    •  Senate (0+ / 0-)

                      The details about Senate preferences are wonderfully vague. I don't think prospective delegates will be talking about their Senate preferences. All sides have told their people to try to get elected, but whether anyone else in the room knows who's on whose side is hard to say. Probably a caucus by caucus thing.

                      Not at all transparent, and in no way a process that can claim to speak for all MN Dems as even caucus attenders won't really know who the delegates they select will represent.

                      I will support any candidate who bucks the endorsement and continues to run. The primary should be a live election with something at stake to help keep the voters focused on the Dems, and not boring old Norman Bruce Coleman.

                      The more Democrats fight, the more we win.

                      by Mark Gisleson on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 08:20:38 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

    •  Ventura got 37 percent (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Jeffrey Feldman

      Which is about what Franken will get if the DFL is stupid enough to nominate him.

  •  It's hard to believe... (0+ / 0-)

    ...that the man who wrote Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot would have a rude bone in his body.

    Shocking!

  •  Franken just doesn't do retail well (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    WellstoneDem, Mia Dolan

    Franken frequently appears bored at debates and public events, and downright uninterested in rank-and-file DFlers and ordinary people.  A typical example was reported by a St. Cloud area blogger just yesterday. I had a similar experience myself. It didn't surprise me that he'd mock a college student for a difference of opinion.

    If Franken wins endorsement and beats Coleman, credit should go to his campaign staff and to Coleman's weaknesses. Retail politics still matter in Minnesota statewide contests, and Franken doesn't yet have the ability to feign interest in average people. Genuine interest in individuals like Wellstone had would be best, of course.

    •  Feigned interest (0+ / 0-)

      I'm a fellow DFLer and I have to agree with your assessment of Franken at public events. I found him inspirational the first time I saw him. After that, his usual stump speech seemed to lose a lot of its effectiveness. I've had a chance to shake hands with him on a couple of occasions. On one occasion, Al stopped by a meeting to give his talk and then meet everyone. He was friendly enough, but everything was just so rushed. Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer stopped by a few minutes after Al departed. Jack actually stayed for a long time to talk to each of us. He didn't seem to have one eye on his watch, in a hurry to get to his next stop that night. He stood for a few minutes to discuss the state of health insurance (or lack thereof) with a friend and myself and I felt he genuinely connected with both of us. I am still in the undecided column for the Senate race, although I'm leaning between Ciresi and Nelson-Pallmeyer. Although I initially supported Franken, I'm having trouble going down that road now. I'll fully support him if he wins the endorsement (and subsequent primary) but he's dropped to #3 on my list.

      As for how this may play out in Minnesota, I agree that his remarks to the Carleton student is not a big deal on the surface. However, you must remember that the DFL candidate for Governor in 2006 (Mike Hatch) lost his temper to the press just days before Election Day. His running mate for Lieutenant Governor committed a slight flub by not knowing anything about E-85 (aka, 85% ethanol blend gasoline). Hatch blew his stack when the local press and the GOP tried to make political hay over her flub. I don't recall the actual words, but he bascially called the press 'news whores.' Although many of us would claim that was an apt term, it certainly didn't win Hatch any votes and perhaps cost him in his narrow loss to Pawlenty.

      It also happened in the 2002 election, after Wellstone's death and the aftermath of his public memorial service. Right or wrong, I believe many people formed their opinion about how to vote (or made their decision to stay home) after the media lambasted the DFL for making the memorial a horrible, partisan side show. (I don't agree with that assessment totally; however, I DO believe the DFL made a huge mistake by not reviewing the speeches and make sure they did not give the Repugs any ammunition.) Emotions were raw during those days between Wellstone's death and the 2002 Election.

      People put a LOT of weigh on the candidates' words. Heck, look at how we all super analyze whatever Hillary or Obama say? Minnesota is not New York. People tend to want the candidates to fight fair (or at least give the appearance of fairness). Franken publicly berating a mere student could come back to bit him in the butt if he gets the nomination for Senate.

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