Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Michele Bachmann Denouement

Very early today we learned via email that Rep. Michele Bachmann had decided not to run for reelection in Minnesota's Sixth Congressional District. Anyone who said they got a heads up about this news is simply lying.

The reaction in Minnesota was typical and frenzied. The reaction nationally was typical and frenzied. Suddenly all of political life seemed exceptionally stupid. I spent most of the day next to my friend and client Andy Parrish, who, as twice chief of staff for Bachmann, was in high demand by the media. He, we, were both criticized on the Twitter by those without a clue for doing so. Validation by the stupid is both depressing and reassuring.

I can't imagine what it must be like to live in Minnesota and care what others think about you. This sets me apart. I watch what other people think about what other people think about them. I'm clinical about it now.

The Bachmann exodus from next year's race sets up a host of possibilities for republicans. Initial reactions were not reassuring. Those who had thought of running in CD 6 as a secondary or tertiary consideration now had that race advanced substantially in their thinking, if only to decline it.

Mostly, however, it emboldened the worst among my party to think that they, too, could be a Congressman. Even granting that the bar is low, what I saw today challenged my gag reflex.

First, though, why announce now? I have my theories, none of which violate attorney-client confidences. Bachmann bought a modest buy of airtime a few weeks back. Mostly that was seen as a sign she was running again and a warning to lesser talent not to challenge her in a primary. I'm amused by the idea we possessed any republicans at all with the onions to challenge this woman. We don't. To do so might even be considered mean.

Clearly something substantive has happened between that ad buy and today. Yet only Steve Perry of Politics In Minnesota asked me that question directly out of all the media calls I had today. I hope the story he writes isn't paywalled because sometimes you need a reason to get people to subscribe. The usual free PIM usually doesn't do that. But I'm no expert on their business model; maybe once in a while they could make an exception to it? For good business reasons, too, actually.

Bachmann fears legal consequences sometime down the road. View her video again: notice the not subtle segue from political blather to legalese, probably written by her $20,000 per month attorney William McGinley at Patton Boggs. Between the ad buy and this retirement announcement did he receive a "notice" letter from the FBI? That notice letter would have put him and his client on, well,  notice that she was now a target or subject of an ongoing FBI investigation.

This is rank speculation on my part. I have no knowledge or information to support my hypothesis. But, as Joseph Heller once titled a book, "Something Happened." A better book, by the way, than his famous "Catch 22."

Now then, to the grasping attempting the greasy pole.

Like so many Braudels of the French school of history, the Annales, local media counted. Look, look, they can count! How they can count and who! They made lists, yes, lists and this passed for journalism but time was short and local media are the definition of Minnesotans who care what others think about them. Especially within their own, dead, self-referential world.

Ken Martin, the DFL in general, Carrie Lucking, so many others did themselves no favors in their glee to see Bachmann leave. I'm completely undercut by their conduct when I say to my fellow republicans that we should at least get to know each other a bit. Well, given what was tweeted today, where's the attraction in that? I really do want to lead, with the help of the sublime Amy Koch, a contingent of republicans to next year's Minn Post Roast. I'm hoping this is forgotten by then. Yes, yes, politics ain't bean bag but don't whine when my side questions media objectivity or the marital status of Carrie. & to whom. I keep looking for a circuit breaker to this nonsense but I've not yet found it.

On a national note, one would have thought Bachmann had inserted a cigar into the vagina of her intern, taken it out, put it in her mouth and said "Mmm. Tastes good."

No, this man they praise, Bill Clinton, who did precisely that. Media wonders why they're hated?

On to the list of possibles:

1. Tom Emmer: said by some to be a field clearer. Mostly by those not paying attention. Yes, you can trot out the 2010 results but so what? So incompetent a candidate he could not beat Mark Dayton. But hey, you people are dumb enough to vote for Michele, why not me? That, in essence, is his campaign appeal. Don't kid yourselves: Emmer makes Jim Graves competitive. He should stick to saving David Fitzsimmons from the crazies.

2. Phil Krinkie: not even voters in the 6th are dumb enough to vote for him. No, a thousand times.

3. Amy Koch: yes. Friend. Client. Friend. She should run. Believe that it happens & it happens.

4. Tim Sanders: who? No.

5. Michelle Benson: great woman. Already said to have said no because of her young child.

6. Peggy Scott: no. We don't need a mini-me Bachmann candidate, thanks just the same. After tip credit Emmer, probably Jim Graves' favorite opponent.

7. Rhonda Sivarajah: I'm old enough to remember when Sue Jeffers said she couldn't pronounce Rhonda's last name. Rhonda is the best candidate we can field. The same stupid, ineffectual people who maligned Parrish for doing media today probably want a purity candidate. That candidate just retired, having come within 4300 votes of losing. Thanks but we're not going to pay attention to you.

8. Matt Dean: his wife's money isn't particular about the uses to which it is put. Matt's for sale.

9. Pete Hegseth: no. Still looking for someone to be somewhere, he has yet to digest the lessons of his loss in the senate race of 2010. The same people looking for work with him, their collective poor judgement, their sycophancy. That he can't tell a friend from a leech is troubling but I know something of this particular blindspot. That said, no Pete. Stop being a construct. You'll know which race is yours; you won't have to be talked into it.

10. Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer: Close but no cigar. OK not really but no. If I have to explain you don't follow Minnesota politics closely enough.

11. Pat Shortridge: that name made me laugh! He was crazy enough to be MNGOP Chair and thank you for that! Running in the 6th? You don't know Pat.

Where are we now, to quote the 66 year old David Bowie? I think we are in a state of enormous flux with early conventional wisdom the least credible.

Why is that?

Because I believe that the race in CD 6 is a definitive moment for republicans in Minnesota.

Not the same old stale men with their mediocre record of accomplishment only their wives can applaud.

No, republicans should nominate a woman to replace a woman in CD 6. I'm hardly a quota person but there is always a certain inherent logic to some things.

This is one of them.  The race belongs to a woman.

Which one shall we pick?

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Stanley Hubbard Circles The Wealth Wagons

On Friday, May 24th at approximately 11:45 a.m. at the Town & Country country club in St. Paul, Stanley Hubbard will draw unto himself a number of people with money which, they believe, gives them insight--if not entitlement--into the political process in Minnesota to decide which republican candidate to support for governor.

You're not invited.

Norm "I couldn't beat a third rate comic" Coleman is, however. Someone should break it to him that he's a has been and his Minnesota Action Network the subject of widespread derision and scorn. I'd ask Laura Brod to do so but I'm assuming with the demise of National Popular Vote in this legislative session she's off to sell herself to whatever next cause pays best.

The problem with being a protege is always the mentor.

Jeff Larson, of FLS infamy and former Chief of Staff (who knew?) to the RNC (the rules of which from last August seems to make Jeff Johnson think he'll win the GOP gubernatorial endorsement) will also be in attendance. Nothing says fresh like this stale bought & paid for fish. "How may I help you help me make money?" He makes the talentless Greg Peppin look like the piker he is. One wonders if the "not waiving but drowning" Kurt Daudt will work again for P2B Strategies in between sessions? One hopes not; it was an egregious mistake for him to have done so in the first instance.

The senate isn't worth speaking about.

Weirdly, Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson is also expected to be in attendance. I haven't figured out why he'll be there unless it's to help show others with money that with dumb luck and a Tea Party speech you, too, can buy higher office. Don't get me wrong: democrats routinely buy higher office and we should as well. Our dumbest are smarter than their smartest.

Quite a number of other unremarkable people with money were invited to show up and are expected to perform as instructed. Trained barking seals come to mind. Like the mail clerk who marries the daughter of the creepy hearing aid founder and thinks himself something. Good enough to be finance director for the MNGOP. Yes, that and no further. Intelligence simply must count at some point. Given our track record in that regard, however, I'm not optimistic.

Besides falling in behind one candidate (does this mean they don't like Scott Honour?) the group seeks, according to the invitation, to channel their financial largesse into some sort of coordinated giving. Think of it as United Way for the white shoe crowd.

All of this begs the question why these otherwise (financially at least) successful people can't think for themselves. Or maybe they can and it just so happens that all their thoughts converge. Unlikely, that.

Maybe this is Stanley Hubbard's opportunity to shove aside the hapless "we are totally *not* Bob Cummins' plaything" Freedom Club? If that club knew anything about freedom, it would free itself from Cummins. But don't you know how much money he gives? Yes and that's another post for another day. It's unclear how many in the Freedom Club know about this upcoming gathering. Yet I find myself wanting both groups to lose. It's like that Cabaret Voltaire line: "money makes up for what you lack." Except in politics it doesn't because it cannot.

The in-gathering of Hubbard's buzzards rankles particularly when one thinks of the Cipher Candidate™ Mike McFadden, who has yet to announce but whom the DC establishment (read House banking scandal--125 overdrawn checks-- cur turned now life-long thick in the waist lobbyist Vin Weber) is set to foist upon the rank and file rubes as our senate candidate. McFadden has money (made in that ethical field of real estate) so why not play into the stereotype and support him? Our pre-positioned hacks will make lots of money. And whenever a lack of ethics is involved, Cullen Sheehan is never far behind. The rest of you can pretend to feel involved, without compensation naturally.

Image above: Lakshmi, Hindu goddess of wealth & prosperity. Click to enlarge. For Bill Krause, @KrauseBill

Thursday, May 16, 2013

How Should We Judge Minnesota Media?

The idea of being judged at all, let's get that out of the way, is fairly anathema to Minnesota media. And why should it not be? They hardly police themselves because they're all in on the game, yo. And no organization or ad hoc collection of activists on a sustained basis exists from which to cast a cold eye upon the manner and style of that which they do cover, to say nothing of the infinitely more important topic of those things they knowingly do not cover. Their sins of commission pale in contrast to their sins of omission. What isn't covered is very important but it is akin to what hasn't happened to ourselves: very few of us awake grateful we didn't die during the night. Few indeed are those antiquated things known as letters to the editors railing about stories not given coverage. Most likely those letters never get published in the first instance by which the snake swallows its tail.

No, for some reason media in Minnesota have had a relative pass from scrutiny and, worse, accountability. Mind you, this has hardly made them better, sharper, faster, more serious. To the contrary, with notable exceptions, local media are stale, predictable, thin skinned and insulting to educated citizens. They don't mean to be, it's just whom they've become. With editors, to the extent they exist in any meaningful sense, obtuse and politically correct to a fare thee well, the average reporter will do as their "news" environment suggests. This is understandable; when it comes to examining media conduct a clinical, almost anthropological approach is best, less "Coming of Age in Samoa" than "Tristes Tropiques."

The small clutch of political reporters in Minnesota lean demonstrably left and most of them are nice people. In Minnesota, being certified nice has the effect of shutting down any criticism or substantive discussion. The effect of this is to leave us awash in mediocrity from our playwrights & theater to education to political leaders to food. Certain exceptions obtain but mostly to reinforce the overarching blandness. It's as if Minnesotans like what they know and know what they like and you can go back to where you came from, thanks, if you don't care for it. Minnesota nice is cultural propofol. The movie "Fargo" wrote itself mostly by the Coen brothers simply being awake.

Against this background Minnesota media criticism is fraught with peril. Egregious mistakes are welcomed to be pointed out because this provides a cost-free veneer of professionalism and objectivity. Anything more advanced is unwelcome despite what might be said by any given reporter on Twitter. And it is on Twitter that the need for corrective action in the content, style and subject matter of local reporting shows itself most acutely. I've previously written that Twitter is a kill box for journalists; that piece can be read here. The savviest use of Twitter by a journalist, in my view, is Jim VandeHei's. He co-founded the once promising, now lazy redoubt of yet another liberal media organ Politico. He follows no one and the number of his tweets is zero. Why bother? VandeHei monitors the environment of Twitter without allowing it to reveal himself. His peers would have done well to emulate his example early on but it's far too late now, the admixture of being where it's at and ego proving far too seductive to resist.

Consequently, traditional reporters and journalists are a bit aghast at being called out. They haven't realized how much of themselves they have given away on Twitter. But there you have it and things aren't going back to a time where they--and we--were not on Twitter. Careful observers can practically predict what individual reporters will cover and the manner, slant and style of their product. Interaction with them on Twitter is a milieu all its own, at times having self-abasing protocols that rival those at court of the Sun King. It's an article of faith among republican staffers that if they suck up to reporters they'll get better coverage. No. Of course everyday common courtesy should be the norm. Amusingly, one reporter told a mutual friend that I was mean. This has to be decoded from the Minnesotan: I say what I think. I know myself well enough by now (and at the risk of appearing Stuart Smalley-ish) to have no doubt that I'm a nice guy who genuinely likes other people from either side of the aisle and possesses something of a sense of humor. So, like her reporting, I didn't take her remark seriously. Hope that doesn't sound mean!

Local media, then, should be judged by the same standards we judge national media but, perhaps, with an allowance for just how peculiar the state is; few others have an iconic film made about them but then this leads us into what I've termed Lars Leafbladism™: a mindless, feel good, uncritical regard for ourselves and all things Minnesota nice whose political default position is shallow, received, unsophisticated liberalism. Leafbladism™ is the nurse who administers the propofol.

The debate and passage of same sex marriage showed local media at their worst: cheerleading, fawning of those (five) republicans who supported it, saddled with lazy stories about Bob & Ted, Carol & Alice. If the personal is political (a category error of enormous magnitude but a conventional premise among the left) and they report on the personal they've just committed political journalism. Right? Except of course they haven't but they can't see that. This explains why they cover with relish the sad sack stories trotted out before various legislative committees: it's all of a piece. How foreign to them, then, is criticism that says they aren't really doing their job. Or at least not well, not with vigor and rationality and a bit of skepticism toward the narrative served up by democrats. Admittedly, though, it's hard to criticize one's own.

Local political television is its own tale of woe. "Almanac" and "At Issue" routinely offer nothing new, nothing edgy, nothing that engages a viewer in search of intellectual stimulation. The same guests, the same format, the same talking points, the same lack of vitality in questioning week in and week out. One only needs to know the name of the "guests" (most of whom by now probably have their own reserved-by-name parking spot) to know the arc of the show and to know that, yet again, they'll miss nothing by not watching. I also believe, call me crazy, that producers deliberately get the weakest representatives from the republican side and, to be fair, they are legion. Perhaps producers should take a risk (the concept is foreign to them) and have others on their shows. The result might actually be interesting, worth watching.

There is a dark side to the local media's reflexively tilted coverage in Minnesota and that is their complicity in not covering stories that would reflect badly on the DFL, democrat politicians or the general progressive narrative. It's as though they think the rest of us believe that what is covered actually constitutes, pace Walter Cronkite, "the way it is." The loss of media monopoly is admitted but not recognized by them. Gov. Dayton's lecture to the Humphrey School last fall is a telling case in point. I appeared something of a mad man in asking for the video that local television stations possessed but deliberately chose (but for 15 seconds) not to air or make available to the public. Then again, local media are strangely incurious about Dayton's routine, sudden, one day illnesses that are announced at the last minute. If he were unfit to govern, or even partially so, our friends in the media would be the last to let us know. Because, for the slow of thought, he's a democrat. Were he a republican, local media would puff and preen and insist that their inquiries were perfectly reasonable, no! demanded by their obligation to the general public to inform, truth to power and all the other myths they tell themselves.

Sustained coverage of the coverage is long over due in Minnesota. I have some ideas in that regard but the point now is simply to establish a marker, a standard, some sort of benchmark. Unfair criticism of media is welcomed by them because it is used to discredit fair criticism. This is an old trick but an effective one.

No, the focus must be on media product which can consist of a few elements examined repeatedly over time: story choice, angle, use of sources, failure to disclose important facts (liberal funding of "studies" is a good one), and that not-so-ephemeral quality known as even handedness. Forget about quality of writing (there's a fool's errand) or production values (suicide inducing) and center on what is now lacking in Minnesota media coverage: balance and fairness. I don't expect media per se not to consist mainly of liberals. I do hold out hope that by being observed in public in a sustained way they will internalize notions of those things to which they only now give lip service: neutrality, objectivity and honesty.