Last Friday evening I attended the MinnPost Roast 2013 as the guest of former republican Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch. Koch is both a friend as well as a client. She was one of several individual and ensemble acts that performed throughout the night. As republicans there was something of the "in the belly of the beast" feel to the evening but nothing that wasn't able to be surmounted by good will and a sense of humor. The evening couldn't have been better if I had learned Israel bombed Iran.
Koch had humor in spades. Going onstage relatively early at the Pantages Theater in downtown Minneapolis, she was effortlessly unselfconscious and completely hilarious. People might say I'm not objective about this because we are friends but I have many friends about which I've remained objective, including in a public way on this blog. Koch, as I tweeted that night, brought down the house with her funny, perfectly pitched routine which she wrote herself. She alone out of everyone who appeared onstage that night did so without notes. People know when they are in the presence of a natural and last Friday night the elite of the DFL knew it as well, many not for the first time. I consciously but at times with difficulty pushed away thoughts of "what if" and stayed in the moment.
Other DFL politicians and activists performed and I found myself smiling at them and otherwise having something of an out of body experience. Sen. Franken was but two seats away; he was oddly flat onstage and tethered to notecards he seemed to be racing to get through. I did manage to get a nice picture of him & Koch, though. Sen. Klobuchar was quite self-deprecating to my mind but I know her personally not at all. Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak performed well as did St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman, each with their very different demeanors but both being themselves and enjoying it. Governor Mark Dayton came on toward the end of the show, together with his press spokesman Katie Tinucci and did a perfectly adequate job of speaking a few lines while Tinucci essentially performed--quite well--a one woman show.
The after party at the Chambers Hotel was equally fun, giving us more time to visit with the loyal opposition. We happened upon Tom Horner and Jim Graves which proved amusing in an altogether different way than the stage show. Graves took a sudden, strong interest in me when I located myself in the political firmament by saying I was Andy Parrish's attorney. He asked to have lunch, instantly pressing his card into my hand. I look forward to it but am wistful about what is surely a downward slide in my fortunes: trafficking in Andy Parrish's reputation. On the upside, if you can't have good food at lunch with Jim Graves you can't have it anywhere in the Twin Cities.
We also had an opportunity to visit with former Sen. Ember Reichgott, a frequent commentator on local Twin Cities political news shows. She was as pleasant and nice in person as she appears to be on tv and radio. In passing she expressed admiration for Brian McClung recently coming out in support of same sex marriage and termed it courageous. She was fascinated when I said I didn't think taking such a position now involved much courage. Other republicans had done so when it was risky--Jake Loesch is probably the best example--and then, some time after, came Sen. Branden Pederson and Pat Anderson. I said taking a position in favor of traditional marriage was now the courageous thing, given the shower of praise from media any given republican receives for supporting same sex marriage. She believed me, believed I was serious in my observation but was struck nonetheless.
What must Reichgott think of my party, I wondered after our discussion ended, moving further amidst the beautiful people dressed mostly in black? Is it all Torquemada all the time? Does she think there's a certain suffocating orthodoxy imposed and from which deviations are acutely punished? We all understand the stereotypes of both major parties. What was striking to me was that as sophisticated an observer of the scene as Reichgott was surprised by a not particularly surprising revelation of how things actually are in the Minnesota Republican Party. How off base, then, am I and many others about the DFL? Maybe we need to get out more together? Within reason, naturally.
We don't, though, and there's the problem. Republicans are routinely sought for the Minn Post Roast and its organizers have great difficulty finding any. Yes, Minn Post is filled with a lot of retired Star Tribune and Pioneer Press employees but our absence isn't going to do anything to help them think about issues (or republicans) somewhat differently. Schmoozing isn't going to change policy positions; it might help us understand each other better and on our own terms, the best kind of understanding.
I thought the same thing when the week prior I attended the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival to watch Mira Nair's movie adaptation of the well regarded book by Mohsin Hamid "The Reluctant Fundamentalist." Screen after screen of sponsors were shown before the movie began. Not one of them was remotely conservative. What, the Freedom Club couldn't have sent $500 to get a spot?
It's not that hard; the bar is very low. Still we republicans fail.
The point is that by ceding so many fields we play on very few and increasingly just to ourselves. Democrats do that to some extent but to the degree the larger cultural arena is friendly to them (if not owned outright) our absence becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of increasing marginalization.
Minn Post deserves congratulations on putting together a splendid evening of fun and enjoyment. Perhaps next year, instead of one talented, brave, and delightful republican on stage, we could provide several. Doing so would surprise both sides of the aisle.