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Provocateur-turned-politician Jason Lewis finding that past comments can haunt the present

As a talk-show host, Lewis filled hours of airtime with conservative commentary that outraged and entertained. Now people are being reminded of what he said.

As a local and national talk-show host, Jason Lewis filled hours of airtime with conservative commentary that outraged and entertained.
MinnPost photo by Brian Lambert

In the summer of 1996, when Barbara Carlson’s ex-husband, Arne Carlson, was running for re-election, the then-KSTP talk-radio host decided that was the best moment to describe their sexual relationship, divulge their marital woes, imply that he hadn’t served in the military, and — not coincidentally — launch a new book.

And this was from a woman who supported Arne’s re-election bid.

Barbara was outrageous and entertaining. And as the governor’s communications director at the time, I had to remind Arne — constantly — that provocation was the No. 1 rule of talk radio. When he became upset that Barbara didn’t back down, I had to reminded him about the No. 2 rule of talk radio: Never apologize.

Minnesota Second Congressional District Republican congressional candidate Jason Lewis learned those same rules at KSTP, the broadcasting umbrella where he, Barbara Carlson, and I all worked.

As a local and national talk-show host, Lewis filled hours of airtime with conservative commentary that outraged and entertained. And while that background may play well with the delegates in the district who determine who gets the GOP nomination, his Republican opponents have found plenty to complain about.

The replay surfaced when Star Tribune blogger Michael Brodkorb published comments Lewis made on his radio show in 2012 about the dispute over health-care coverage for birth-control pills.

I never thought in my lifetime where’d you have so many single, or I should say, yeah single women who would vote on the issue of somebody else buying their diaphragm. This is a country in crisis. Those women are ignorant in, I mean, the most generic way. I don’t mean that to be a pejorative. They are simply ignorant of the important issues in life. Somebody’s got to educate them. [Audio here]

There’s something about young, single women where they’re behaving like Stepford wives. They walk in lock step – is that really the most important thing to a 25-year old unmarried woman – uh getting me to pay for her pills? Seriously?! Is that what we’ve been reduced to? You can be bought off for that? [Audio here]

You’ve got a vast majority of young single women who couldn’t explain to you what GDP means. You know what they care about? They care about abortion. They care about abortion and gay marriage. They care about ‘The View.’ They are non-thinking. [Audio here]

As a man who’s poked at pols most of his career, Lewis did seem a bit surprised that the tables turned so quickly. “Where is the context?” he asked. “I am not opposed to birth control. The issue was who should pay for it, and whether someone is constitutionally entitled to have birth control paid for.”

But he didn’t stay defensive for long. “Was I provocative? Yes,” he said. “Was I wrong? Absolutely not.”

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Being absolutely right is Jason Lewis’s brand. He challenges the left and the center — and sometimes history.

“Slavery was mercifully conquered,” he wrote in his book, “Power Divided is Power Checked: The Argument for States’ Rights,” published in 2012. But he also questioned whether abolishment of slavery was a sufficient enough cause for President Lincoln to trample on the rights of southern states.

(Later, Lewis got back to me. “I take issue with … your line questioning whether ‘the abolishment of slavery was worth trampling states rights, etc. I never said, wrote or insinuated that,” he said in an email.  “What I did question is whether the war or emancipated compensation [paying slave owners to give up slaves] was the best way to eliminate slavery.”)

His columns for the Star Tribune, praising the filibuster and decrying the Occupy Wall Street movement, regularly drew withering responses from MinnPost writer Eric Black, who faintly praised Lewis for his “self-blinding brilliance.”

As a commentator, Jason Lewis never conceded. Furthermore, he used protest to prove that his opponents were illogical whiners. “Everybody has a grievance. We have a multiplicity of grievances that is going unabated,” he said, brushing off concerns that his comments will damage him politically. “In this society obsessed with grievance somebody is going to claim to be offended, but people are smart enough to recognize when it’s a hit.”

In his view, that’s what his opponents did in criticizing his remarks on birth control.

“What’s interesting is how quickly they adopted the war-on-women narrative,” he said. “I am not opposed to birth control. I am opposed to anybody saying you need to pay for what I want.”

He knows that Democrats are already preparing a thick file that will be used against him should he become the Republican nominee. But Lewis claims he never “took a position that I couldn’t defend then and can’t defend now.”

He may even benefit by the rules that seem to be governing politics today. Never apologize. Continue to provoke. Sometimes entertain.