Here’s hoping… Al Franken stops all the personal attacks

Here's hoping...

Much has been written about the lack of civility in our politics, even though most of the time writers don’t precisely define what constitutes uncivil conversation.

In my view, our political discourse goes over the line when a participant attacks the character of a person, rather than the content of what the person is saying.

So that’s my wish for the political New Year — end the Argumentum Ad Hominem.

In recent months, Garrison Keillor has been a prime offender. In his nationally syndicated columns, he has called President Bush an “incompetent frat boy” and Rupert Murdoch a “schlockmeister.” Neither characterization tells us anything substantive about what’s wrong with their thoughts or actions. (Truth be told, however, I secretly enjoy and make a game out of anticipating how Keillor will work in a Bush bash on “A Prairie Home Companion.” My favorites are the ones he puts into the “Message From the Ketchup Advisory Board.”)

I’m an unabashed Republican, and I fully recognizes that Republicans elected to office sometimes make ad hominem attacks, as well. My personal favorite is when President George Herbert Walker Bush, upon first meeting Paul Wellsone, asked “Who is this chickenshit?” For the record, Janecek and Wellstone laughed about that one, more than once.

DFL U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken has written entire books based on ad hominem attacks, such as “Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot” and “Lying Liars and the Liars Who Tell Them.” (For the record, Franken identified me as one of the “lying liars” for my comments about the late U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone’s memorial service. My reply to him has always been, “You spelled my name wrong, and that was the least egregious of your errors.”)

Franken is fond of frequently invoking the name of Wellstone, whom Franken regards as his mentor. Perhaps Franken should review Wellstone’s record. Early in his Senate career, Wellstone made ad hominem attacks on Sen. Jesse Helms, a conservative Republican from North Carolina. But Wellstone recognized he’d crossed a line and apologized. The two became mutually respectful by sticking to the issues. Wellstone ended the personal attacks, but Franken continues as “Ad Hominem Al.”

And therein lies the most significant and fundamental difference between Franken and Mike Ciresi, Franken’s chief rival for the DFL endorsement to run against incumbent Republican Sen. Norm Coleman. Ciresi never devolves into ad hominem attacks.

My New Year’s wish coming true depends entirely on Franken.

Democrats might come to the realization that despite all the purported differences on the issues, Ciresi and Franken are pretty much in sync on the major issue — neither of them is Norm Coleman. By endorsing Ciresi, Democrats have the opportunity to just say no to ad hominem attacks.

Alternatively, Democrats could choose to endorse Franken. If so, Franken could take a lesson from Wellstone’s career by recognizing and apologizing for making personal attacks.

We Minnesotans are a forgiving people. We forgave Paul Wellstone, and I for one, would forgive Al Franken if he apologized and told us something like, “Hey, sorry about those books, I was just trying to be provocative and make a buck.”

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Jeremy Pierotti on 12/29/2007 - 02:48 pm.

    I respect Sarah Janecek, but it always amuses me when Republicans advise Democrats on how to be better people.

    Funny, then, that Janecek does not bring up a single Franken quotation from the current campaign. For my part, I do not feel the need for any apology from Franken about his books. Here’s a piece of news for Ms. Janecek: Al Franken was probably “trying to be provocative and make a buck.” That’s what comedians do!

    Now, what exactly does Janecek mean by “We forgave Paul Wellstone?” For not better managing his own memorial service (after he died)? Or for calling Jesse Helms someone “I despise?” Let’s remember, Helms was not just a conservative Republican. In 1990, he aired racially inflammatory ads and in 1993 he had the gall to extol slavery by singing “Dixie” to the newly-elected African-American Senator, Carol Mosely-Braun.

  2. Submitted by Eva Young on 12/29/2007 - 09:05 pm.

    Janacek disclosed that Al Franken called her a “lying liar” in the article, but didn’t disclose the incident. It was this: Janecek claimed that the close captioning (that was for the deaf or hard of hearing), was actually trying to coach the crowd. This was ludicrous. That criticism was substantive and not ad hominem. Later Janacek ended up writing a Strib column about the topic – and how she talked with Rick Kahn in a mutual therapy session of sorts.

    There were plenty other targets in Franken’s books and in his speeches where it is ad hominem attacks.

    And also, there are plenty of ad hominem attacks from Norm Coleman and Republicans against Al Franken. So it goes both ways.

    It seems that the memes of the Senate race will be: Norm Coleman is a phony, who is also a Bush lapdog.

    Al Franken is a foul-mouthed satirist who wouldn’t take the job seriously.

    Minnesota deserves better than this for a Senate campaign.

  3. Submitted by John Olson on 12/30/2007 - 07:58 am.

    Sorry Sarah, but I’m not buying any of it. I have a gut feeling this is somehow voicing apprehensions about the possibility of a Democrat with a national profile running for the U.S. Senate. Of course the Republicans want Ciresi as an opponent! He’s a trial lawyer by vocation (which is always good fodder for any Republican candidate).

    Had it been a commentary on all sides dropping the personal attacks, I would be more than eager to sign on. Instead, Al Franken gets singled out when we have the likes of Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, James Carville, Paul Begala, etc. who are equally up to the task of spewing their own ad hominem attacks without remorse or apology. All six of these individuals have made small fortunes selling their own brand of swill sandwiched between two covers.

    If a candidate wants to go down the road of personal attacks, that’s their right as long as it is not slanderous (or libelous). And, of course, those pesky anonymous, “independent” bloggers will be out there on both sides to add to the compost pile of 21st century politics.

    My decision on who I vote for next November is going to be based not only on the issues, but also how the candidates handle themselves. If a candidate is incapable (or seems to be incapable) of doing much more than launching personal attacks against their opponent(s), they don’t have to worry about getting my vote. As far as Mr. Franken is concerned, I could care less that he is an author, etc. He needs to try and persuade me that his ideas on various issues are “better” than those of Sen. Coleman. Sen. Coleman needs to do the same. Both need to convince me that they will represent the State of Minnesota to the best of their ability for ALL of us.

  4. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 12/30/2007 - 12:03 pm.

    I knew I ran the risk of someone resurrecting my misconstrued comments about the Wellstone memorial and closed captioning. Eva Young gets wrong what Al Franken got wrong.

    The Star Tribune links are no longer live. However, anyone interested in what I wrote about the memorial can check out this link:

    http://www.commongroundcommonsense.org/forums/lofiversion/index.php/t41824.html

    As for what Ms. Young, wrote, above…res ipse loquitur.

    So much for my New Year’s wish.

  5. Submitted by Bruce Johnson on 01/02/2008 - 12:42 pm.

    “However, anyone interested in what I wrote about the memorial…”

    Not necessary. I still remember listening to you on radio the morning after peddling that lie. Franken was accurate, and restrained, in describing you as a “lying liar”.

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