Lessons in airing dirty laundry

One of the fashionable criticisms you hear in DFL circles about the Al Franken candidacy is that he should have made (and I gather this is the technical term) a “data dump,” getting all of his dirty laundry out on the table early in the process so he, not his opponents, could control the timing of its release, and put the most positive spin on it.

It’s a little hard to see how this would work when the “dirty laundry” consists of hundreds statements and jokes from Franken’s books, articles, live comedy shows, the daily radio show, “Saturday Night Live” skits, etc. How do you get all that on the table, and then announce that there’s nothing left that anyone might find foul, angry or hyperpartisan?

Anyway, I thought of this when I read an item in Taegan Godard’s “Political Wire” about Bob Kelleher, the Republican challenger for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Sen. Max Baucus, describing Kelleher’s attempt at the data dump strategy.

“Saying he’s concerned Baucus ‘may use personal smears’ in their Senate campaign, [Kelleher] ‘laid out his life’s faults’ yesterday, the Missoulian reports.

“Kelleher noted that he dropped out of a monastery ‘because he couldn’t handle the vow of chastity.’ He also noted he has since been married and divorced three times and has seven children ‘and regrets the impact his absence had on their lives.’

“Said Kelleher: ‘I wanted to have fun.’

“Not surprisingly [this is Godard’s remark], CQ rates the race Safe Democrat.”

Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 07/08/2008 - 01:43 pm.

    I agree with Dan Hintz. As to Kelleher’s story, I do give him credit for honesty; that in and of itself is something that Franken could learn from, but there are some things, such as leaving 7 children without a father in the home, should simply disqualify someone from leadership positions.

    In the end, it really comes down to what a candidate (or more specifically the party that endorses that candidate) really thinks about the American public.

    To put men with as seedy a character as Franken has cultivated, or as serious a character flaw as Kelleher’s quite simply tells me that the political decision makers believe that we as a people have finally sunk to the point where we will, as a matter of course, embrace the lowest common denominator as “one of us”.

    It’s left up to us to prove them right or wrong.

    Thomas Swift

  2. Submitted by Tony Wagner on 07/08/2008 - 01:22 pm.

    I think a newborn baby could run for office and its political opponent would find some “dirty laundry.” (And not just the literal stuff.) Seriously, a satirical piece about future robot sex? An attempted joke in a TV writers meeting? Even if Franken could have anticipated these and did a preemptive “data dump,” his opponents would have found something else to emphasize. (For goodness sake, the man made some high-profile tax mistakes and his opponents have still found time to focus on his robot-sex satire!)

  3. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 07/08/2008 - 12:38 pm.

    When you have so much “dirty laundry” that you can’t possibly address it with a “data dump,” maybe that is a sign that you have no business running for public office in the first place.

  4. Submitted by John Olson on 07/08/2008 - 12:52 pm.

    In Al’s case, the airing of his real or perceived peccadillos is not so much about the “quantity,” its about the “quality.” I doubt that there was ever any question about whether or not the Republicans would find stuff from his career, it was (and still is) a case of choosing stuff and running with it.

    The question the DFL leadership will have to answer to in case things go awry down the stretch is whether or not another candidate may have had a better chance. If Franken is elected, they will–of course–be vindicated.

    I do believe, however, that the difference here is that the discussion to date seems to be mostly centered on Franken’s material from his career–not his personal life. The candidate in Montana chose to air some very personal matters up front. As to the tax matter, who knows how many pols on both sides of the aisle have had scrapes with the IRS? Franken is certainly not the first.

    From a hypothetical viewpoint, would you rather support a candidate with a “clean” personal history and a career that has, at times, been controversial or would you rather support a person with a “clean” career track record and a “controversial” personal life?

    Unless there is a bombshell awaiting us (see the 1990 Minnesota Governor’s race for a prime example of this), the two main choices on election day will be either the guy who has (at times) written garbage, or the other guy who is seen (at least this one time) carrying out the garbage.

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