"The reality is I'll run against somebody whose temperament has been such, whose style has been such of (sic) being incredibly divisive and incredibly angry."
- Senator Norm Coleman (R, MN)
Minneapolis - There is an air of malevolent mediocrity around Norm Coleman as he dons his armor and clanks into the arena to start his reelection campaign. The malevolence is aimed at Al Franken. The mediocrity is Coleman's body of work in the Senate.
The consultants have determined that Coleman's best defense is a matter of taking offense at everything Franken has ever said or done.
With 32 years as a comedian, satirist, and talk radio host, Franken has provided Coleman's campaign plenty of material with which to work themselves, their candidate, and knee jerk, "Republican right or wrong," types into a high state of dudgeon. They have more than enough clips, sound bites and snippets to pepper the press conferences, debates, and airways with "Mean Al" messages from here to Election Day.
If Coleman were a boxer, you would say he's building his title defense around this, "Angry Al - Divisive Al," jab. It's a relatively light, left-handed punch -- an attempted pop in Franken's kisser -- thrown to dictate the tempo of the fight in these early rounds, and to keep his opponent an arm's length away.
The question is what else does Coleman have? What other, heavier punches can he tag Franken with? The answer at this point would seem to be, not much.
When Paul Wellstone was killed late in the 2002 campaign, the Democratic Farmer Labor party pushed Walter Mondale forward for a quick, half-hearted run at the seat. Coleman won election, and went to Washington where he was welcomed and feted by the Bush administration (who had hand-picked him for the Senate run against Wellstone) and Republican Senate leadership.
Ever the weathervane and party man, (except when expediency dictates he change parties) Coleman spent the better part of his first three years in office voting the party line, and consistently supporting the Bush administration.
In an interview with Roll Call, Coleman touted his ties to George Bush, saying, "'To be very blunt and God watch over Paul's soul, I am a 99% improvement over Paul Wellstone."
In 2004 and 2005, with billions disappearing into corruption, chaos, and no-bid contracts in Iraq, Coleman took the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (he chaired it) on a wild goose chase looking into the U.N.'s Oil For Food program and Secretary General Kofi Annan. It was politically easier to posture and grandstand at the expense of the U.N. than to ask hard questions about the Bush administration's ineptitudes in Iraq.
It was smarmy and fruitless, but at least it was not divisive or angry like Al Franken.
No doubt about it, Norm Coleman did as he was told by the Bush administration. But after three years as George W. Bush's handmaiden, Senator Coleman slipped into the background to find political cover as a "moderate."
This election cycle, he will try to paint himself as someone who "works across the aisle". Already one pro-Republican advocacy group is running television commercials to that effect in two Minnesota markets.
As proof of his bipartisanship, the advocacy group ad points to Coleman's support of emergency funding in the wake of the 35W bridge collapse. He worked with Senator Amy Klobuchar to secure the money.
Hardly a controversial bipartisan effort. Hardly a risky position. He didn't exactly lay it all on the line with that vote. Can you imagine any politician voting against the measure?
Since starting to try to appear moderate in preparation for this reelection run, Coleman has been bipartisan only where the Bush administration had the votes to let him cover his political butt. When the Bushies don't need him, he votes the politically expedient way in order to offset (at least on paper) his underlying party line hackdom.
In photos and on TV, Senator Coleman looks older and very tired. Once a photogenic up-and-comer, he looks like a man with an entourage to support. A man with obligations. Heavy obligations. A man who, down deep, doesn't believe in himself or his party anymore.
But here we go. Break out the toxic waste suits. Norm Coleman is running, and It's malevolent mediocrity all around.