Saturday, September 23, 2006

You call that a scandal?

You wanna know what happened in Minnesota politics last week? Some young fellow with one of these here “blog” thingies got it in his head to visit the website of a certain ad agency. This agency does commercials for political candidates, and one of their clients happens to be Mark Kennedy, the Republican running for one of Minnesota’s Senate seats. Somehow, this blogger—who I don’t know, by the way, but from his sidebar it’s clear he has excellent taste in webpages—found his way to a password prompt. Here he seems to have typed in various things until he finally, for some reason, hit upon the idea of typing “Allen”. At this point, he was able to go to another area and view unreleased Mark Kennedy commercials. He then offered a link to these TV spots to staff working for Amy Klobuchar, Kennedy’s Democratic opponent. Next thing you know, people are resigning, the FBI is investigating, politicians are issuing pompous statements, the blogosphere is babbling with unusual vigor, and all of a sudden a whole bunch of people are acting like something legitimately interesting is happening.

Allow me to be frank: this is not a scandal. This is just more of the boring crap political nerds entertain themselves with. Unreleased campaign commercials being leaked? Questionable internet ethics? Possible delays in reporting the security breech? Republican grandstanding? Bloggers declaring themselves the future of everything? Yawn. Wake me up when someone hires a rent-boy or blows a 0.4 on the breathalyzer.

Some of my fellow Minnesotans might remember the saga of Jon Grunseth, the Republican gubernatorial contender who had to take an abrupt leave from public life following allegations that he had thrown a naked pool party with a bunch of teenagers. Now that was a scandal. Less gonad-oriented, but just as newsworthy, was the tale of my former city councilman, Dean Zimmerman. On the surface, he came off as just another ineffectual, self-righteous Green Party politician with a whole bunch of pie-in-the-sky plans to get Minneapolitans to watch less television and ride to work in retro-futuristic “Jetsons” cars. His idealistic image and his charming ineptitude, however, didn’t help him much after the FBI coughed up a videotape of him shoveling a whole lot of cash into his pockets. He claims it was a legitimate campaign donation. The jury of his peers disagreed. No matter where the truth is (and tend to think that Zimmerman is as dirty as they come), I still chalk it up as a genuine scandal, while all this “hacking” business is just standard-issue election year bad behavior.

Scandals appeal to our love of gossip, our need to be titillated, our fetish for seeing the powerful revealed as sleazy losers. Everybody loves scandals except for the people caught up in them. Sure, professional spinners will always try to shake a few votes out of them, but the true voyeuristic thrill of a good scandal is bipartisan. I’m a Democrat through-and-through, but I still got a kick out reading about Bill Clinton’s hot cigar sexytime with his favorite intern. I don’t think he should have been impeached for it, of course, but that wasn’t going to stop me from savoring the image of the leader of the free world negotiating for handjobs like some sort of middle schooler. By the same token, I would hate to think that some Republicans—out of partisan pride—might have shielded their eyes from the sordid details surrounding Illinois Senate candidate Jack Ryan’s alleged trips to Parisian sex clubs with a Star Trek: Voyager actress. Guilty pleasure in good dirt ought to be universal. Maybe it’s not our culture’s proudest and most noble quirk, but it’s there.

That’s why this week I’m going to focus on real scandals. Because in a time where people get excited over tedious internet antics and skullduggery of the dullest sort, perhaps we ought not lose sight of what a filthy, crass, corrupt, brutal, repulsive and entertaining sport politics can sometimes be.

NOTE: Edited to reflect that the swing clubs were JACK Ryan's indiscretion, not JIM Ryan's. The latter is a fine, scandal-free gentleman, beloved by all who know him. Sorry about that.