Monday, April 29, 2013

What I Saw At The Minn Post Roast

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.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Margaret Thatcher: The Lady Doesn't Vanish

Margaret Thatcher was buried today in a funeral ceremony at renowned St. Paul's Cathedral in London attended by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen last attended the funeral of a non-royal in 1965 when she was present for similar rites for Winston Churchill.

Thatcher was an extraordinary political figure whose place in history is assured. That place is one of honor and accomplishment.

Her most vicious detractors do not warrant a response or serious engagement. It is apparent to all but the most invincibly ignorant or ideological that 2013 Great Britain would be impossible without her election in 1979 and subsequent governance through 1990. The unremarkable, unimpressive men who followed her in No. 10 Downing were but variations on her theme, the theme known loosely as Thatcherism. They, and each of them, suffer by comparison to her.

This is not to say she was beyond criticism: no elected leader is and Thatcher would have been among the first to say so, to welcome criticism and debate about how to keep a free people free, how to unleash their economic power for their own well-being and how to avoid suffocation by bloated, crushing government set up by mandarins pretending to know best while deliberately putting themselves out of reach of the programs they enact and foist on others.

Some ideas are right; others quite wrong. It's not just in America that the banality of compromise and meeting half way holds sway. Some ideas and the consequences of them needs must be rejected outright. Thatcher's genius was having the courage to speak the truth to the governing, corrosive, poisonous lies of her domestic political milieu.

The peoples of Eastern Europe are especially in her debt and readily, gratefully acknowledge such. The end of that monstrous, wicked, thoroughly evil enterprise known as the USSR would have been impossible without her. Of course, she is grouped with President Reagan and Pope John Paul II in this regard and rightly so. Those three helped bring freedom to more people in one general time than ever before in human history.

Thatcher stands as an enduring rebuke to all things collectivist, in personal or public life, except for the collective action of free peoples where ever they may be found in the world in support of maintaining and defending that freedom. The mute presence of her Sovereign at today's farewell is the most eloquent testimony possible to that fact.

The entire ceremony may be viewed by clicking here.

Click on the above photo to enlarge.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Parting Genius: Shortridge Unites MNGOP

Tonight I attended as a guest of Gov. Julianne Ortman (NQY: not quite yet) the Lincoln Reagan dinner hosted annually by the Minnesota Republican Party. Remember them? It was held at the hotel which most resembles Stalin, the Minneapolis Hilton Hotel. NO floor contains a bike path. Can you believe it?

The dinner represents pretty much the people who don't necessarily need nor want to get into the State Central Committee but influence it as much as possible. Think of the Minnesota Republican Party a fish out of water, gasping.

Yet it was anything but tonight.

The highlight came without warning from a man most of the crowd had either written off or didn't know of really to begin with. With my friend Pat Shortridge, I'm somewhere in between. However, he'll most likely return my calls whenever for a decent time in the future. Send the bill to Golnik.

But Shortridge didn't make his place in party history tonight by talking about the future. He talked about the recent past.

Shortridge rubbed our noses in it.

Almost without knowing it, Shortridge said outloud about ourselves publicly what his audience had been saying to each other for some time.

I tweeted the following about what Pat said:

"Standing ovation when Pat Shortridge calls out republicans for allowing our divisions to cause Coleman & Emmer to lose #Truth #LincolnReagan"

My friend, the most competent non-elected Republican woman in Minnesota, Leslie Rosedahl and I discussed who stood first for that comment.

Shortridge suggests he'll have more to say Saturday, when press are allowed in.

I'm doubtful. Tonight's significance escaped even him.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Why Can't Minnesota Republicans Message?

I've been meaning to write a blog post on this evergreen topic for some time. What causes me to do so now is my accidental discovery last night that some house republican communications staffers (and their equivalent) stopped following me on Twitter. I don't use a program that tells me how many people have unfollowed me or how many have decided to follow so this bit of delightful news was completely an accident. Some of them had unfollowed a rather well known friend of mine which bothered him. We have both noted on Twitter, pointedly at times, the messaging failures of the republican house & senate caucus. I'm serenely indifferent to who does or does not follow me on Twitter in the same manner I'm unlikely to care if people take umbrage at what or how I blog. All within reason, of course: your true friends tell you what you may not want to hear. They don't grow many people like that in Minnesota for some reason, to the perpetual astonishment of those of us who move here from other places. My previous blog post brought that truth home again to me with spectacular clarity.

At any rate, cutting off those who critique you probably isn't the best route to improving your job performance but of course that presupposes one wants to improve rather than tread water. The evidence is demonstrably thin in that regard when it comes to republican messaging. As I quipped on Twitter not too long ago: to point out our abject messaging failure is to become the problem. It's as though getting a job on the basis of friendship should not come with the obligation of being competent for the job so given. Friendship should be no bar but being able to get the job done--and being held accountable when it is not--should count just as much at a minimum.

The problem with house communication staffers isn't just (or even mostly!) with them: it's with their bosses. What should this group of young adults do regarding messaging when they can't get an accurate, ongoing read from them? It's too easy--and manifestly unfair--to focus only on minority leader Rep. Kurt Daudt. There are others in leadership and we see nothing from them concerning consistent, strong messaging. Do they think the DFL simply sat on their hands while they were in the minority? The opposite was the case. Where's the rest of house leadership? You don't deserve a future or a position further up the greasy pole by doing nothing and acting virtuous about it. Disheartening as it may be to the rest of leadership (including the failed, disgraced leadership from last session), people are watching. Is it going too far to suggest they are happy to see Daudt up front and struggling in difficult times while doing little or nothing to support him? No. Indeed, that seems to be the very case.

Maybe our messaging problem is cultural, a republican political culture poisoned by the unspeakable mediocrity of Tim Pawlenty such that every republican south of 40 thinks appeasement, pandering and "what's in it for me" is the way to stay in place if not get ahead. If that's all you know, that's all you know. Many want to be the next Brian McClung, as preposterous as that may sound.

Unfortunately, this amounts to a unilateral surrender on our part against a very well messaged, well funded machine on the other side, replete with union strength which tends to repel me but also commands my respect for sheer effectiveness. If I had to call myself out on the matter, I'd confess to liking conservative unions (they used to exist) as opposed to liberal ones; hence the problem isn't with unions per se.

Perversely, in the absence of decent, effective messaging we get nightmares like Rep. Glen Gruenhagen shooting off their deeply ignorant mouths and becoming for a news cycle or two the face of Minnesota republicans. I can't fault entirely the younger set for wanting to be somewhat cautious in the face of such embarrassments. All this does, of course, is underscore the lack of leadership during these dark days of one party, paleo-liberal rule.

The Bellevue Hospital that is the senate, of course, makes the house leadership, caucus & staff look like Madison Avenue on the Mississippi. Sen. David Hann is too busy thinking about running for governor to bother to lead or formulate a consistent message. His right hand man possesses a junior title to the head of senate communications but she seems consistently outflanked by him and by his closeness to the man in erstatz charge. This is a genuine pity because she actually does know how to message. Just our luck the old boys club freezes out yet another talented republican woman. Sen. Dave Thompson is also running for governor so there is no natural interest in the overall welfare of the caucus and its messaging. Apparently being deposed in the Brodkorb lawsuit gives him no pause. That, of course, would take thoughtfulness. Sen. Dave Senjem, having made a hash of the Brodkorb situation and his federal lawsuit, is content to wander the halls being photographed sharpening his pencil with a pocket knife. This isn't entirely true: like Annette! Meeks, he seeks to force taxpayers to fund yet another development boondoggle, this time in Rochester with the destination medical center or whatever horrid moniker the consultants came up with. One assumes she's getting paid now while Senjem will be in some form or another further down the line. Throw in those supporting the corrosive National Popular Vote and we have a party devoid of principle and integrity.

Gov. Dayton is falling in popularity but you wouldn't know it from his supporters in the media. It took Ben Golnik to ferret out the polling data from the middle of yet another disengenuous Star Tribune story. What did republicans do with this important information? Not much. The next time someone criticizes political consultants to my face I'm going to hand them a class picture of the republican caucus in both chambers.

How do republicans start messaging effectively? Thinking is a start and hopefully not too high a hurdle. What do we stand for? Admittedly, after our time in the majority it's not as easy to articulate as it once was. But we can get back to a few solid principles that need not be trotted out here.

How about contrast? The DFL is overreaching in ways that disturbs many on the other side with whom I speak in confidence. It simply isn't difficult to craft a sustained message that this isn't what Minnesota voters were asking for last November. Gov. Dayton got 43% of the vote and many 2012 legislative races were quite close. Couple those facts with the Governor being under-water in the polls and it takes a particularly incompetent group of politicians, staff, activists and hangers-on not to come up with messaging that works.

Timidity, though, may be the biggest obstacle. Even if a good message is created, it has to be used. The image above is a case in point. I first saw something like it on Twitter from a UK Conservative party politician I follow. It had different faces, naturally, and text but the idea was excellent. I brought it to the attention of Derek Brigham & Nancy Laroche who worked their magic and came up with what you see. Succinct. Accurate. Immediately effective.

Naturally the senate and house caucuses did nothing with it. It appeared on the True North blog, was tweeted a few times but never really was utilized.

Too mean, too aggressive we were told. The Pawlenty effect, shall we say. Obviously one graphic does not make for a messaging campaign. Effective messaging requires attentiveness to the other side and its missteps, taking immediate advantage of them in order to discredit them and then pivoting in an advantageous way to one or more of our strengths.

Rep. Sarah Anderson gave me the metaphor of those inside the fishbowl of the legislature (members & staff) and those outside of it. It's a useful metaphor because the mental image is so immediately apparent.

Those of us outside the fishbowl want those on the inside to succeed, do well, achieve. We believe our ideas and policy proscriptions are not only right but good for Minnesota. We are desperate to take back the majority in the house so as to act as a brake to the stale, outdated, failed, nay ruinous liberal ideas being foisted upon us.

Those inside the fishbowl tend to think too highly of themselves and resent it when their glaring failures are pointed out. If an idea doesn't come from within the fishbowl, it will die a lonely death like the graphic above. I have no doubt that those of us on the outside fail at times to appreciate the unique environment in which they work; I say this with all genuine goodwill. I will also hazard a guess that we outsiders cut them more slack and understanding than they do with us. In fact, I've been regaled with tales of what they think and say about us. Really, those with such thin skins & insecure psyches ought not to be anywhere near politics.

Fishbowls are transparent, however. Those inside appear oblivious to the fact that we see what they do and don't do. This seems to be one of those hard truths those guppies can't quite accept.

Here's another: it's you who are accountable to us, not the other way around.