Joe Conason's Journal

Ugly day in Minnesota: Mondale withstands Coleman's empty attacks. Plus: Ventura's embarrassing appointment.

By Salon Staff
Published November 4, 2002 7:15PM (UTC)
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They booed in Brooklyn
Voters in Minnesota ought to be smart enough to see through Norm Coleman, if what he did in today's debate is the best that he can do. It is painful to hear a native of Brooklyn, the home of plain talk, spouting focus-group platitudes about "changing the tone" and "getting it done." Apparently Norm feels it is just too, too rude for Democrats to mention the fact that the Bush tax cut favors the nation's wealthiest 1 percent. To hear him talking all that mush in that beloved accent offered a revelation about him.

The former St. Paul mayor provided some amusement, however, when he tried to mau-mau Mondale over his corporate board directorships. "That's not Paul Wellstone," he huffed. He was attacking the former vice president of the United States for being too moderate and insufficiently left-wing! The audience cackled when Mondale broke down this lame tactic:

Mondale: "You're troubled about the fact that I've served on corporate boards. That's really charming to hear a Republican worry about a Democrat ...(LAUGHTER) who knows something about business. I think it's good that a senator goes down there and knows both the cause of social justice and how it works in the private community. You worry about my membership on the Northwest Airlines board. It's the largest employer in Minnesota. It has added jobs, including Duluth, including Chisholm, since I've been there, and that is true of the other corporations. I don't apologize for that. And I don't believe you're really worried about [that]. I think you're just trying to make an issue." (LAUGHTER)

And -- whoops -- Coleman dragged out another Bush clichi: "class warfare." Norm must consider Minnesotans quite stupid. What evidence does he have that Mondale changed his fundamental views when he became a corporate director? If we have to listen to corporate creatures like Bush and Cheney yammer on about "special interests," why shouldn't Mondale talk about special interests, too?

And yet there was Coleman, the opportunistic turncoat, attempting to portray a man with a lifelong record of liberalism as inconsistent. This kind of phoniness isn't supposed to go over in the great heartland. (For a complete transcript of the debate, click here.)

Jesse's boy
The living testament to the gullibility of Minnesotans, of course, is their governor. Seeking to upstage today's debate, he came up with yet another way to make a fool of himself and embarrass his constituents. He has now changed his mind either three or four times on the question of replacing Wellstone with a temporary appointment. The last version, before today, was the most radical. Jesse Ventura would shock the world by appointing someone arguably less fit to hold high office than himself. Perhaps he would choose a "garbage man," as Ventura suggested with what passes for wit in the WWF.

So who did he appoint today? A lawyer and government bureaucrat who happens to be a Ventura political crony. Now there's a bold departure from clubhouse politics as usual.
[2:26 p.m. PST, Oct. 4, 2002]

Tomorrow and the next day
For a "wartime president" enjoying very high approval ratings, enormous advantages of incumbency that he has exploited skillfully, plus obscene amounts of money, George W. Bush isn't doing very well in an election that he has tried to control. But for a president facing a double-dip recession, hideous corporate scandals that have enveloped many of his contributors and his own SEC chairman, scorched stock portfolios, plummeting consumer confidence, and surpluses turned into deficits, Bush is doing very well indeed against the historical trend against the White House in midterm elections.

The Bush Republican program isn't popular, which is why GOP candidates across the country have been running away from Social Security privatization, and pretending to be liberal on prescription drug benefits. People have little or no confidence in the Bush economic team or their tax-cutting nostrums. Many are rightly disturbed by the president's drive toward war and his gross infringements of liberty. Among voters there are powerful impulses to resist or constrain the White House, which will probably keep the status quo stalemate more or less intact tomorrow night (except in the governors' mansions).

But there is no Democratic leadership willing to do more than look for weaknesses on the other side. If Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt have an alternative economic program, they have kept it well hidden throughout this campaign. What they have, at the moment, is a program of opposition. They are the opposition, so that's fine. Such a program may sustain them through this election. But it won't get them far over the next two years, when a new leader will emerge in the struggle for the Democratic presidential nomination. The old saying that you can't beat somebody with nobody applies to policy as well. You can't beat something with nothing -- although you may be able to hold your own.

I agree with MyDD that the generic polls suddenly favoring Republicans are overly weighted toward a Republican turnout. Much recent evidence suggests that it is the Democrats, not the Republicans, whose base is more energized and whose get-out-the-vote machine is more effective. So my feeling, based on late horse-race polls and a wild guess, is that the Democrats will pick up a couple of Senate seats, that they will again narrow the margin but fail to take the House back, and that they will end up with at least 25 governor's mansions.

My third-party vote
Here in New York, Carl McCall is a competent, decent man with an inspiring personal story who has run a bland, uninspiring race. Tomorrow I plan to vote for McCall anyway on the Working Families Party line, for two reasons. While George Pataki has performed a credible imitation of a union-loving, tree-hugging Democrat, alienating many of his right-wing supporters, he is what my Filipino friends used to call a "juke-box politician." (Put money in the slot and he plays your song.)

My friend Wayne Barrett, the Village Voice's great investigative reporter who has been covering Pataki since 1994, last week said this in an endorsement of McCall: "I wrote a book about a 'City for Sale' once, but I have never known a government more for sale than Pataki's." In ethical terms, the New York governor is a Northeastern liberal version of Jeb Bush -- and appropriately (or inappropriately) enough, his wife is involved in a peculiar state-financed land deal in Florida.

McCall won't win, but he is the nominee of the WFP, a progressive party whose continued presence on the ballot is an important source of grass-roots pressure on wayward Democrats. Based in the labor and community movements, the WFP needs 50,000 votes or more in this election to displace the decadent, corrupt old Liberal Party. Cross-endorsement is permitted in New York, and as a result third parties play a different role here than in other states where they are usually mere spoilers. (We also have a spoiler Green Party candidate, whose posters were up around my neighborhood last week. He happens to be someone with whom I've been acquainted for decades. If he is qualified to be governor, then I'm ready to pilot the Space Shuttle.)
[(9:15 a.m. PST, Nov. 4, 2002]

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