Coleman the chameleon

Sen. Norm Coleman's precarious proclivity for interchanging identities shouldn't be anything new to Minnesotans.

Sen. Norm Coleman can be a staunch politico at times, but there are some moments when intellectual equilibrium is achieved and he transcends party lines. This was of course most apparent when Coleman left the Democratic Party in 1996 and joined the GOP during his tenure as mayor of St. Paul. But there have been many moments when the words that come out of Coleman’s mouth are anything but bipartisan. One of these moments came in 2002 when the senator introduced President George W. Bush at a rally.

“George Bush is a leader for our times. When we sing ‘God Bless America,’ it is a prayer, and I believe this person is part of God’s answer.”

Coleman’s brazen pandering to Republican voters continues. Just before the 2004 election, Coleman declared on a national trip, “I’m a rah-rah guy for the party.”

In March of last year, a terrorist plot on Fort Dix was foiled after six foreign-born Muslims brought video footage of themselves firing automatic weapons to a store with the hope of transferring it to DVD. During a congressional debate about immigration soon after this incident, Coleman said, “Just this month we saw a terror plot unfold in Fort Dix that might have been prevented sooner, had the local officials who pulled the suspects over on numerous traffic violations been able to inquire about their immigration status. Make no mistake – this is a national security issue.”

Just last month, however, Coleman criticized a letter to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement written by Republican representative of Minnesota’s 6th District Michelle Bachman. “I don’t think anyone is talking about local law enforcement being in the business of enforcing immigration.”

In the discussion of Bachman, he then turned to her support of the Senate version of Wellstone’s mental health parity bill: “I signed onto the bill as soon as I got into the Senate. I know it was close to Sen. Paul Wellstone, his heart and I want to congratulate United States Rep. Jim Ramstad. R-Minn., for getting it done there as well.”

Coleman’s unconscious bipartisanship continued, “I think the House bill is a better bill, because it’s a stronger bill. And I’m glad the House move forward on it Ö My concern is, if we don’t get it done right now, I’m worried that this is going to be pushed to the side. So we need to find common ground and compromise. In the Senate, you’ve got to get to 60 votes to get it passed.”

This is a commendable stance for Coleman to take. Not only is he crossing party lines to really show Minnesotans how able he is to work with the Democrats, but it also shows how his spirit has been renewed after telling Capitol Hill newspaper that he was a “99 percent improvement” over Wellstone.

After Wellstone’s former spokesman Jim Farrell called the comments a “shameful, self-serving assertion” and a former senior aide deemed them “sickening” and show Coleman to be a “selfish, classless” individual, Coleman corrected himself. What Norm actually meant by this comment six months after Wellstone’s death was that he was an improvement to serve Bush.

As a man of his word, Coleman fulfilled his duty of serving the President – at least until his campaign for re-election discovered it was in dire need of a makeover. Supporting the President just isn’t in good taste anymore.

Somewhere between voting with Republicans 92 percent of the time in 2003, 91 percent in 2004, and 77 percent in 2005 and 2006, Coleman’s record from 2007 shows that he is now a man of dissent – he only voted with Republicans 64 percent of the time.

Having a Bush spokesman call you “one of the party’s most effective spokesmen and advocate for the President’s message,” (as did Steve Schmidt in 2004) is no longer a desired quote in his introductions.

Certainly, adaptability is a revered characteristic for any individual. Yet, so is moderation. Coleman’s precarious proclivity for interchanging identities should be anything but obscure to Minnesotans by now. At this point, Coleman’s finger is in the wind about whether or not it is in his best political interest to put his finger in the wind. The president defends that “the true history of my administration will be written 50 years from now, and you and I will not be around to see it.”

Someday, Coleman will look backwards with all the facts and judge the decisions he made with almost none of the facts, and wish he had been more intellectually honest with himself.

Jake Perron welcomes comments at [email protected]