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.
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