On Punditry and Outrage

19 Jan

I have fun doing political commentary, perhaps for the same reason I bargaining contracts: I love to argue, and I hate to lose.

Although I prefer to think of myself as a progressive political commentator, there is no denying that most often I appear on shows like TPT’s Almanac, KSTP’s At Issue, or debate segments on Fox9 as a Democratic Pugilist – which I enjoy, because I think the party doesn’t have enough public fighters. That’s the feedback I often get from Democrats, to keep giving the other side hell. (A woman once came up to me at the State Fair and whispered in a raspy voice, “You speak for me.” Scared the hell out of me until I realized she was referring to Almanac).

These shows are all very different, encouraging varying degrees of combativeness. Almanac is the most Minnesotan and polite (if you re-watch some of political panel conversations during the marriage amendment debate, lean into the TV and look closely as topics sometimes got a little personal or heated. I swear you can see butts clench on the couch). In one on one debate segments on the news, producers might remind you to be unafraid of interrupting your opponent. At Issue has two different commentary segments, “Analysis” and “Face Off”. Except for one time when another Democrat didn’t show up, I have only ever been cast in the “Face Off” segment. (Apparently no amount of pastel shirts or vests will convince Tom Hauser I am anything but a boxer – which I am completely fine with).


On Fox9 with Michael Brodkorb. Come back to the Five and and Dime, Heidi Collins, Heidi Collins.

The best thing about doing these shows, despite my penchant for combat, has been getting to know a lot of different Republicans when the cameras are on and when the lights go down. They’re just people – deeply flawed people who are wrong about everything – but they’re just people. Kidding, some are quite nice. Wrong, but nice.

I was in a bipartisan group of politicos early last week talking about manufactured outrage, how sometimes partisans get deeply engaged in a public fight not because it’s important but because in the hand to hand combat of politics, winning the day often reigns supreme. When an opponent is down, you strike. You might define selective or manufactured outrage as when one side gets riled up about something that is outrageous – outrageous! when the other team does it but totally acceptable when yours does. Of course, manufactured is in the eye of the beholder. In that discussion, one of the Republicans thought the Democratic outrage about Chris Christie’s bridgegate was as manufactured as Republican outrage over the media coverage of it. I find it actually outrageous that public entities be used to ham-handedly for political retribution, but I understood his point.

I was reminded of this conversation later in the week after taping the debate segment for At Issue, up against Brian McClung, former Pawlenty spokesman and bigtime GOP consultant. (The show taped Friday, airs Sunday morning). The topics: the DFL Senate’s plans for a new Senate office building and the controversy surrounding Governor Dayton’s use of the state plane (thanks, Tom!) If you have not followed the plane controversy, the Governor flew a campaign staffer on the official plane with him to an event. The legislative auditor found that this was a misuse of the state plane and the Governor’s campaign reimbursed the state for the cost of the flight. The auditor also found that the law governing use of the plane was murky and suggested it be clarified. In the segment, McClung claimed that Governor Pawlenty, never ever – not once – used the state plane for political purposes. Having remembered past controversies about this very issue, I cried BS. Even Hauser seemed a little surprised by the assertion — not that no campaign staffer had ever been flown on the plane but that T-Paw had never once done anything political while using the state plane. Huh.

On August 3, 2006 the Star Tribune reported on the tit for tat between the Pawlenty and Hatch campaigns over the use of state resources – in Pawlenty’s case, the use of the state plane:

The latest shots come close on the heels of DFL Party complaints that Pawlenty crossed the line when he made a fly-around on a state plane Monday to publicize a health-care savings initiative that some critics dismissed as trivial.

Two years ago, Pawlenty came under fire from DFLers for posting his childhood pictures and other favorable personal information on his official governor’s office website. He removed the pictures.

“Unlike Governor Pawlenty, we do not use state money inappropriately for travel,” said attorney general’s office spokesperson Leslie Sandberg. Hatch’s posting of the material on his campaign website was “totally appropriate,” Sandberg added. “He should be able to put any publication on his campaign website, including information produced by GovernorTim Pawlenty.”

And it wasn’t just partisans who found the use of the state plane inappropriate. The Albert Lea Tribune editorialized:

Yet on Wednesday, the governor jumped in a state plane and flew around state — stopping in Rochester, Mankato, Duluth and St. Paul for press conferences. Why? To announce that 60 state transportation projects will start this year, due to funding available from the federal stimulus package and Minnesota’s 2008 transportation package.

We asked the governor’s office Friday what the plane cost for Wednesday’s trip was. Though we asked three times, his office did not tell us what the cost was. However, a spokesperson did state, “The governor takes serious the responsibility to be available to the whole state, not just the people inside the Capitol building.” Sounds like a good PR answer, right?

We then asked the governor’s office specifically what value Minnesota citizens gained from his PR trip around the state announcing the transportation projects. His office did not answer this question either.
Now, the governor does fly in a state turbo prop, which is not as costly as a business jet. Yet it still costs significant money plus the salaries of the crew, etc.

However, did Pawlenty’s PR plane trip around around the state benefit Minnesota citizens?

In the age of video conferencing, we question the appropriateness of flying around the state to announce these transportation projects. This trip appears to be more of a PR trip to polish the governor’s image. This PR trip is even more ironic considering that the state’s 2008 transportation package, which helped fund the projects announced Wednesday, was passed over the governor’s veto.

Pawlenty appears to be not following his critique, calling on state government entities to control their spending, become more efficient and make sure it is really needed.

The governor’s PR trip this week reminds one of the big bank and auto company presidents flying private jets to Washington to lobby for bailout funding. They just do not get reality some days.

We agree that all government entities need to review their spending and operations in light of the state deficit. However, that applies to the governor as well.

Flying around the state for a PR trip to announce transportation projects does not pass the simple test — Is this necessary for the betterment of the state’s citizens? The answer is no.

It also strains credulity that Pawlenty – or any governor, for that matter – would not have ever combined an official trip with a campaign one. Whether we like it or not, it happens all the time. You fly out for an official event during the day, then a local supporter hosts a fundraiser for you in the evening. Whatever you think of it, it happens. Governor Pawlenty’s office was notoriously sparse in detailing his schedule to the public, but as the above incident shows, he was not shy about mixing official business with campaigning.

So why did McClung need to reach for the smelling salts while discussing his outrage over Governor Dayton’s use of the state airplane?

To be clear, I believe – and the Governor’s office agrees – that having the campaign staffer on the plane crossed a line. But the line is, as the auditor stated, murky, and the Republican outrage is, well, silly. Manufactured and selective, if you will.

What I Wish I’d Said

Ever have a very annoying conversation with someone and it’s only until later, while driving home maybe, that you think of the perfect thing you should have said to the asshat? Well, it’s even more frustrating when that annoying exchange is taped for public broadcast. The situation I think about most often was when I was on the Friday Roundtable on MPR’s “The Circuit” with fellow panelist Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic. At one point George said he agreed with my rant about CEO salaries. I let it slide, instead of saying, “You know, you could have done something about that.”

Anyway, what I wish I’d said on At Issue during the airplane debate: At one point Hauser said that the airplane issue and the state Senate building would make good 30 second ads. What I should have said:

Have at it. I’ll take those ads up against those Governor Dayton will be able to run touting a state that, unlike the Wisconsin of Republican Poster Child Scott Walker, is creating jobs and continuing a path to recovery:

Three years into Mr. Walker’s term, Wisconsin lags behind Minnesota in job creation and economic growth. As a candidate, Mr. Walker promised to produce 250,000 private-sector jobs in his first term, but a year before the next election that number is less than 90,000. Wisconsin ranks 34th for job growth….

Along with California, Minnesota is the fifth fastest growing state economy, with private-sector job growth exceeding pre-recession levels. Forbes rates Minnesota as the eighth best state for business….

And ads showing the stark difference between the lives of Minnesota working people versus Wisconsin’s? I’ll take those:

In Wisconsin — which, like Minnesota, has historically been known for broad health care benefits for the poor — the authorities this spring are ending coverage for tens of thousands of parents like Ms. Gradine who earn more than 100 percent of the poverty level and pay modest monthly premiums, a cost Ms. Gradine’s employer had covered. Meanwhile, the state is allowing tens of thousands of people without children who make even less to receive Medicaid coverage for the first time.

For Ms. Gradine — a 41-year-old mother of three children under 20 earning $32,557 a year and receiving some child support — the Wisconsin-Minnesota divide is stark. If she lived in Minnesota, officials there say, she would be eligible for that state’s newly expanded coverage for the working poor, which would require her to pay a $21 premium each month. As a resident of Wisconsin, however, Ms. Gradine will need to buy private insurance, though experts say she may qualify for federal subsidies that will reduce her monthly premiums.

Ms. Gradine, who describes herself as a Republican and whose refrigerator bears a snapshot of her wearing a “Scott Walker” sticker, so far has not signed up for insurance. She knows she needs it — she has tendinitis in her right arm and abdominal adhesions — but she also says the federal online insurance marketplace seems confusing and time-consuming.

“It might be simpler to just move over to the Minnesota side,” Ms. Gradine said. But her children are settled, she said, with friends and teachers and activities in Superior. “If we come to a place where we have to cross that bridge for good, I would look at that,” she said. “But I’m not there yet.”

That’s from “Twinned Cities Now Following Different Paths,” in the New York Times.

Many, many thanks to my Fairy Blogmother Sally Jo Sorensen of Bluestem Prairie, whose thorough research always helps me gear up for battle. I’ll add the “At Issue” link when it’s available online.


Here is the link to the video of At Issue.  Face Off begins about 8 minutes from the end of the show.

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