In “Senator Dayton shirks his duty,” we set forth the basis for our view that Minnesota Senator Mark Dayton is dealing from something less than a full deck. Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Nick Coleman attacked us personally for referring to Dayton in that post as Minnesota’s contribution to the psychiatric profession.
On October 12, shortly after Coleman’s column appeared, Dayton evacuated his Washington office in the face of “a heightened risk” of terrorism and seemed to vindicate our assessment of him. We noted the evacuation in “Yellow alert” and posted Dayton’s Star Tribune column explaining the rationale for the evacuation of his office in “Terminated with extreme precaution.”
Since Dayton’s evacuation of his Washinton office, reputable citizens in Washington and elsewhere have voiced conclusions regarding Dayton not unlike ours. Fox News correspondent Brian Wilson archly referred to the hallway outside Dayton’s office in the Russell Senate Office Building as the “Zone of Death.”
The Washington Post ran a highly critical account of Dayton’s actions in “Senator defends shutting Hill office” and editorially called for a “Frequency check.” The Washingon Times ran a roundup of damning quotes in “Leaders in DC mock Dayton.” Dayton was dubbed “Evacuatin’ Dayton.” We suspect that the nickname will stick.
Today Coleman returns to Dayton’s defense in his column “Dayton fires back at ‘rats.'” The column quotes Dayton defending his actions, first before a Minneapolis Rotary Club audience and then a teachers’ union gathering. Coleman clearly intends the column to lend assistance to Dayton, but hearing Dayton defend himself calls to mind the adage about any lawyer who represents himself (“…has a fool for a client”):
“They try to destroy you in order to defeat you,” he says with anger in his voice. “They are sewer rats, and they’re down in the sewer. If people want their politics down in the sewer, they’re going to end up with sewer rats rather than public servants.”
Dayton, 57, isn’t up for reelection this year but has inadvertently found himself in the cross hairs in a brutal election battle fought against a backdrop of muddled terror threats and juvenile name-calling.
The scion of a wealthy department-store family, Dayton sometimes seems wide-eyed, has a stiff, formal manner and sometimes stumbles over his syntax – making him a popular target for right-wing hatchet bloggers [Ed.: There you go again!] and operatives…
Coleman then moves on to Dayton’s appearance before the Minnesota teachers’ union:
Dayton gives the teachers a rousing talk, telling them that the toughest job he ever had was as a public school teacher in New York City and amusing them with a reference to keg parties at Yale, where the president of his fraternity was one George W. Bush. “I’ve seen the president take positions that none of you have,” he jokes. [Ed.: Dayton is not known for his sense of humor.]
When he is done speaking, a teacher from Minneapolis comes up to say, “I commend you for the courage to shut your office and for the courage to be different.” [Ed.: “The courage to shut his office…” Sounds like a campaign slogan!] In politics, however, being different can be risky. Except for West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd [Ed.: With friends like that…], few Democrats have come to his aid. With his friends leery, it is no surprise his opponents smell blood and have seized the issue to soften him up for 2006, when he will be up for reelection.
The same kind of gutter talk aimed at him has been aimed at other Democrats in recent years, he says, including Senate colleagues John Kerry and the late Paul Wellstone. His attackers, he says, accuse him of what they fear in themselves.
“They don’t see me,” he says. “They don’t know me. There’s a Zen saying: ‘If a pickpocket sees the Buddha, all he sees is pockets.’ They are reflecting themselves with their verbiage. They are just sewer rats who have never done anything themselves or won anything themselves, and they just want to put a notch on their belt. They want to destroy me in order to defeat me. In some places, they assassinate leaders, but here they don’t want to go to prison, so they character-assassinate their leaders.”
Coleman then quotes Dayton addressing the question of his mental balance, but it is not clear if this is in response to Coleman’s question or part of his talk to the teachers’ union:
As to insinuations about his mental health that surfaced in his 2000 campaign and have returned with the storm over his office closing, Dayton says:
“I’m 57, I know myself pretty well, and I know I’m a lot healthier than most politicians I’m around. I’ve never been arrested; I’ve never acted irresponsibly or inappropriately. I’ve talked freely about my two divorces and my recovery from alcoholism, but don’t owe my personal medical history to anyone. [Ed.: We brought the subject up after he volunteered it to us in his annual Christmas card.] I’m not running for president. [Ed.: Does that mean Dayton thinks John Kerry owes us his medical records?] I’ve been in public service for three decades, and I’ve performed honestly and honorably, and I’ve never disgraced the public cause [Ed.: I think we’ll be the judge of that], and I’ll stand on that record.
“That’s what people are entitled to from me.”
Coleman returns to Dayton’s address to the Rotarians:
“It should be considered unpatriotic,” he says, “to brag at the country club about not paying taxes.” [Ed.: Who the hell is he talking about? Mr. Kerry and Mrs. Heinz?]
The Rotarians listen respectfully, then brace themselves when he finally is asked why he closed his office.
He explains that, given the terror briefing he attended, he could not let his staff remain in Washington while he and the rest of Congress were back home, politicking. It would be immoral and cowardly for him to leave “other people’s sons and daughters” at risk while he was safe at home.
“I pray to God I’m wrong,” he says. “I probably am.” [Ed.: And not just about that!]
The Rotarians relax and seem reassured that their senator is not from another planet.
Somehow we don’t entirely credit Coleman’s interpretation of the Rotarians’ response to Dayton. Indeed, Coleman’s spin suggests why we describe Coleman as a reliably partisan hack. We trust that Dayton’s comments will help Minnesotans give Dayton “the courage to shut his office” on a permanent basis when he stands for reelection in 2006.