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Good Question…What Does Norm Coleman Stand for?

The following op-ed appeared in this weekend’s Star Tribune.  O’Brien makes some spot-on observations about Norm – most notably being that Norm is really good at flying himself through the political winds to protect his own career at the expense of having actual convictions:


Bill O’Brien: Coleman’s convictions seem to shift as convenient

May 3, 2008

Only now, after Norm Coleman’s long tenure as mayor of St. Paul and approaching the end of his first term in the Senate, am I finally able to put my finger on what troubles me about our senior senator. As an attentive voter, one who tries to do his homework about the candidates, I still don’t know what makes Coleman tick. For the life of me, I don’t know what moves him, what issues make up his political core. I can’t tell what really matters to him.

I’ve also come to suspect that he doesn’t know either.

When newly elected as senator, he said he wanted most to reach across the aisle, to forge a more cooperative spirit in Washington. He said that bi-partisanship was his first priority. He says that still in his reelection campaign. But there’s very little in his Senate performance that has demonstrated real commitment to that espoused principle.

He has been a zealous defender of one of the most partisan presidents in recent memory, and not just in his voting record. Recall also his confrontations with then-U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. When Annan dared to criticize the Bush administration for abandoning the weapons inspection process in favor of war in Iraq, Bush unleashed Coleman on him. We saw some of the same when Coleman participated as a member of the Republican "truth squad" that hounded John Kerry’s nomination. And more still when Coleman served as one of Karl Rove’s staunchest defenders. Where in this mix is the cooperative spirit that Coleman claims to hold dear?

More troubling, though, is the chameleon factor: Coleman’s well-documented tendency to abandon his purported principles when the political price rises. When the popularity of Democrats was on the wane in the ’90s and Reaganomics was de rigueur, Coleman simply changed parties, abandoning one set of political underpinnings for another.

A voluble defender of the Iraq fiasco, Coleman jumped from that armor-plated bandwagon immediately after the midterm elections proved that the electorate is fed up with our Iraq policy. As John McCain and many other defenders of the war held their ground in the face of withering criticism, Coleman withered.

And let’s not forget the Rachel Paulose mess in the U.S. attorney’s office. Coleman nominated Paulose. He ushered her through the nomination process. He represented to Minnesotans that she was right for the job. When it became apparent that her appointment was mired in politics, that she was in over her head, did Norm stick to his guns? Did he defend the candidate he’d nominated? Hardly. When her appointment came under the hot glare of the house lights, Norm declared Paulose a disappointment and headed for the door.

Coleman’s trademark throughout his career has been political agility, an uncanny ability to triangulate between the politics of the day, his party and the electorate in order to maintain his electoral appeal, in order to get elected. No doubt, he’s good at that. And if political agility is what we want most in a senator from Minnesota, Coleman should win reelection in a landslide.

If, on the other hand, we’re looking for somebody to lead, somebody with some gumption, we need to look beyond Coleman. Too often he has fled the kitchen at the first sign of heat. Too often he has demonstrated agility at the expense of courage.

Bill O’Brien is a workplace lawyer and founder of his firm, Miller O’Brien Cummins.

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