After state Sen. Terri Bonoff’s announcement event Monday morning, I wrote a bland, neutral piece. Bonoff, whom I had never seen before, didn’t blow me away with her eloquence, but competently delivered a well-constructed script that, as these things do, roamed freely among biography, philosophy, issue positions and tributes to the innocent bystanders. Upon reflection, because I have that kind of snotty proofreader’s mind, I noted a couple of instances in which what she said was one word or syllable off from what she plainly meant. But they didn’t seem noteworthy.
Next day, I picked up some buzz about a YouTube video that portrayed the event as a “gaffe-a-thon.” (I’ll link to the video below.) Turned out my acquaintance Michael Brodkorb of Minnesota Democrats Exposed, with whom I have enjoyed several respectful conversations, had assembled and posted the video on YouTube. By the time I became aware of it, Brodkorb had also written two posts mocking Bonoff’s inarticulateness and promising future posts on future Bonoff “gaffes” while the comment threads gleefully pronounced Bonoff to be a moron and an airhead.
The 30-second video strings together four alleged gaffes. In one, Bonoff refers to Europe and Asia as countries, instead of continents (or collections of countries.) In another, she describes herself as a mom, a community activist, a former business executive, and “a Minnesota State Senate” instead of “senator.” In one, Bonoff says that “the House of Representative(s) was meant to be the body where the people’s voices are heard.” Brodkorb apparently felt she dropped the “s” at the end of Representatives. You can decide for yourself, just as you can decide whether pronouncing the word without the final letter constitutes a gaffe.
For me, no, not even close. Almost anyone, speaking for half an hour, will commit these kinds of errors in roughly these numbers. The current occupant of the Oval Office, whom I presume Brodkorb admires more than I do, has been known to occasionally mangle a word or two.
The video struck me as a cheap shot, as an effort to create a resonant chord so that every time Bonoff speaks, more evidence of her ditziness can be claimed, and as an an object lesson in how to eradicate civility and substance from our politics. I called Brodkorb, told him how I felt and what I was thinking of writing, and, after a rough start, we had a good exchange.
Brodkorb hotly disputed that his video constituted a cheap shot, denied that he was calling Bonoff stupid, said it was well within bounds to assemble a few gaffes, let people see and hear them, and decide for themselves how embarrassed Bonoff should be.
Contemporary politicians have to understand that every public event is videotaped, often by the opposition, and that anything embarrassing they say or do will end up on YouTube, Brodkorb said. (That is true, although I call it regrettable.)
“Politicians live and sometimes die by the microphone and by the words that come out of their mouth,” Brodkorb said (I should point out that he should have said “out of their mouths.”) “At the end of the day, in the give and take of politics and of the blogosphere here in Minnesota, it is certainly well within the bounds of fairness,” Brodkorb said of his video.
He pointed out several instances in which Democrats had made Republicans pay for gaffes, such as Dan Quayle’s notorious inability to spell “potato,” Sen. George Allen’s infamous “macaca moment,” which may well have cost him his Senate seat, and others. I contended, and still contend, that nothing in the Bonoff “gaffeathon” resembles those incidents very closely.
But the most apt comparison was to a very recent and local example, involving state Rep. Erik Paulsen, Bonoff’s potential general election opponent, and his own effort to say, in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio, why he was running for Congress. It started out fine, and then degenerated into a grammar-free string of words:
“This is absolutely another wonderful opportunity to enter public service at a different level, focusing on issues like globalization and issues that I think that I genuinely care about and I think have learned a lot about some expertise on now and try to carry that to a new level as we do try to educate our kids for a global economy,” he said. “So that’s something in the back of my mind that definitely interests me and the opportunity, and I think I would do a good job.”
The liberal blog MNPUBLIUS did to Paulsen something very similar to what Brodkorb did to Bonoff, and then declared a second round off the same infelicitous quote, just as Brodkorb did.
Here, as promised, is Brodkorb’s latest cinematic achievement:
If you have the patience, feel free to compare and contrast the two exercises in mockery by selective perception, and decide whether one is nastier and more irrelevant than the other. If you take on that assignment, watch out for your own selective perception. And/or feel free to let me know if you agree that we’d be a lot better off without trying to turn every politician into his or her worst verbal toe stub.