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When Friends Get Hit

Campaign ads can take someone you know well and paint them as someone you wouldn’t recognize. I’ve watched this happen to two friends this year: Al Franken – who, as just about everyone reading this knows, is the Democratic candidate for the Senate in Minnesota – and Judy Feder, who is running for Congress in Virginia’s 10th District.

I’ve known Al Franken since we went to college together more than three decades ago. In one of my better calls over the years, I pushed to have him picked as our commencement humor speaker. My idea prevailed, and he went on to far bigger and better things.

Two aspects of Franken have been lost, I think, in all the campaign attacks and counter-attacks. The first is that while he was certainly a very tough critic of President Bush (which I, of all people, don’t hold against him), he isn’t a radical liberal. His presidential candidate in 1988, for example, was Bruce Babbitt of Arizona. He was a fan of Bill Clinton’s in 1992. Al is a progressive, but with a strong moderate or pragmatic streak.

The other thing about him -- odd to some, given some of his more risqué writings that his opponents have thrown at him -- is that he is a real family guy, married for 33 years. His wife Franni and his kids are hugely important to him. Yesterday, I ran across a powerful ad his wife made on his behalf. That Al Franken, the real Al Franken, is totally at odds with the view promoted in the many attack ads he has faced.

In the case of Judy Feder, the other side is pushing the notion that she is some over-the-top liberal -- which doesn't square at all with how practical and careful she is in thinking through programs and policies. When I became a professor at Georgetown, I chose to make the policy school my home because of my admiration for Judy, who was then the dean. I got to know her over the years as one of Washington’s smartest people on health care policy and as someone who really understands how policy and politics come together.

She’s incredibly intelligent, which I suspect voters who have run into her know. But more than that: she cares about what works and about evidence. That’s why the idea contained in one of her opponent’s commercials that her views are “far out” and “extreme” is just wrong. She is a resolutely grounded mainstream thinker. She’s also an infectiously enthusiastic and genuinely warm person, who takes ideas seriously enough that she relates well to conservatives and moderates no less than to her fellow progressives. I’d love to see what she’s do in Congress with all her skills.

I don’t pretend that this sort of thing happens during campaigns only to people I agree with, or only to friends of mine. Indeed, I felt a bit awkward writing this post about two people I know. But it’s precisely because I do know them that I couldn’t let the election pass without noting that both Al and Judy are far better and more attractive people than the ugly stick figures presented in the attack commercials.

By E.J. Dionne  | November 3, 2008; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  Dionne  | Tags:  E.J. Dionne  
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Comments

Franken's nemesis Bill-O who calls himself an independent trashes Franken with such regularity he should charge the Coleman campaign. I hope Franken wins just to watch him lose it.

Posted by: MerrillFrank | November 3, 2008 3:50 PM | Report abuse

EJ, there's a problem in your link to the ad Franken's wife made on his behalf -- at least on my computer system.

Posted by: herzliebster | November 3, 2008 3:59 PM | Report abuse

EJ,

The one thing that you fail to take into account is the years that Al spent on Air America - vilifying the right and the republican party on a daily basis and spouting an uncountable number of untruths. If you think Al was a moderate with pragmatic speak, then you really didn't pay attention to his radio shows or his blow-ups covering the 2004 conventions. Where was your radio tuned to between 12 and 3PM in past years?

I don't personally know him, nor do I pretend to. What I do know is what he has done in public. Many radicals may have a good home life and are very loyal to their family, but does that really make them suitable for office?

Posted by: alutz08 | November 3, 2008 4:35 PM | Report abuse

EJ,

The one thing that you fail to take into account is the years that Al spent on Air America - vilifying the right and the republican party on a daily basis and spouting an uncountable number of untruths. If you think Al was a moderate with pragmatic speak, then you really didn't pay attention to his radio shows or his blow-ups covering the 2004 conventions. Where was your radio tuned to between 12 and 3PM in past years?

I don't personally know him, nor do I pretend to. What I do know is what he has done in public. Many radicals may have a good home life and are very loyal to their family, but does that really make them suitable for office?

Posted by: alutz08 | November 3, 2008 4:36 PM | Report abuse

I used to listen to Al Franken on Air America, and what I heard was an extremely intelligent, caring man who was very upset by the laziness and incompetence of George W. Bush. In fact, I was really happy that he decided to run for the Senate, even though I live in another state, because I believe that if he is elected he will be a wonderful, pragmatic, hardworking, moral and intelligent main stream Democrat. I do hope that he wins, because I believe he will be a great Senator. And a little humor would be very welcome now and then in the Senate, too.

Posted by: claritygraph | November 3, 2008 6:35 PM | Report abuse

Being in Minnesota, and watching the race first hand, I would like to offer some insights on the Franken race.

EJ may be right in that Franken is not as liberal as he is portrayed. The problem is that he (and previous democrats running for statewide office, Mike Hatch, Roger Moe, Skip Humphrey and others) run campaigns that seek to only appeal to a liberal democrat base. Minnesota, despite GOP efforts to swing it, is still a generally liberal state, and the local dem party (the DFL) runs a base strategy. The end result is that it is that much easier for partisan attacks as being too liberal to stick, causing moderates and independents to think twice before voting dem.

I might note too that it is also what allows independent party candidates to run from the middle. Dems being perceived as too liberal and conservative GOP candidates leave a big gap in the middle for someone like Dean Barkley (and previously, Jesse Ventura) to make a serious bid. Not to mention, the more the mud flies, the better the chances for these third parties. This race has been the ugliest in the country. The press is portraying the winner as being the one who can steal the most from Barkley; I actually think the winner will be the one that faces the least amount of voter erosion to Barkley.

Posted by: ragingbull913 | November 3, 2008 9:18 PM | Report abuse

Upon hearing about your teaching at Oxford, I checked and saw you have a Ph.D. in Sociology from Oxford; that does a lot to explain your intelligent, informed commentary. You are one of the few columnists I almost never miss. The others are Economics Nobel Prize winning New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, Thomas Friedman, and before the LA Times amazingly cut his column, keeping 20 other people who were all not as good, Jonathan Chait

Richard H. Serlin
http://richardhserlin.blogspot.com/

Posted by: Richard722 | November 4, 2008 2:21 AM | Report abuse

I am so pleased to see someone from the media stand up for people smeared by the smear factor of the republican party.

How different our world would have been had the media done its job to inform the electorate before either of George Bush's selections.

Note, I did not say 'election'..... the republicans have become experts at voter suppression... and until some of them stand up and demand it stop, they can stay in the wilderness for all I care.

Posted by: dutchess2 | November 4, 2008 7:19 AM | Report abuse

I watched a bit of Al Franken and Norm Coleman. My wife did, too. She's a far milder and more nuanced critic than I can be ... we both looked at each other and said, as Franken mumbled some nonsensical gibberish in regard to a question given him ... he's a moron! No humor, not much for Al to work with!!
I was disappointed that he seemed so ill prepared, so vacuous with his responses. Al has a great sense of humor, and has made me roll on the floor and laugh ... but man, he doesn't deserve to go to the Senate based on what we saw. Nope. The Peter Principle in action -- Al Franken in debate with Norm Coleman.
Too bad. Jesse is more of a real guy, I think, than Al, when it comes to a man who can connect with voters. If Franken wins, I'd guess it was because he put a huge dose of Quaaludes in the water supply up there in Minnesota.
Too bad, but he should not go to Washington as a senator.

Posted by: zennhead614wheatland | November 4, 2008 9:48 PM | Report abuse

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