In the Diaspora: Death to Nice

Minneapolis used to be infamous for anti-Semitism. Now we've given them a good reason to hate us.

Freedman, samuel 88 (photo credit: )
Freedman, samuel 88
(photo credit: )
I'm here to tell you, and remember that you heard it from me first, that the Jews didn't kill Jesus. But we are, I'm pleased to say, killing something just as pure and holy: Minnesota Nice. Maybe, if you live at some distant compass point, you haven't heard about Minnesota Nice. Well, like Garrison Keillor, the Guthrie Theater, and those 10,000 lakes, Minnesota Nice is the source of statewide pride. Except that pride sort of violates the rules. Minnesota Nice, as the political journalist G. R. Anderson succinctly defines it, consists of a "certain passive-aggressiveness wrapped up in Scandinavian stoicism." The most severe, judgmental way of dismissing something objectionable or inscrutable is a studiously pallid comment of "Well, that's different." And what, you ask, have we Jews done to undermine this ethos of modesty, politeness and repressed rage? We have run two landsmen for a Senate seat and have let them be their Semitic selves. Nobody will ever have to worry again that Minnesota is running a civility surplus. The antagonists in this political and cultural drama are, of course, Norm Coleman and Al Franken. A native of Brooklyn, Coleman is an incumbent Republican senator. A product of the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park, Franken made his name and fame in Manhattan as a satirist for Saturday Night Live before returning to Minnesota to run against Coleman. At last count, the election had consumed $50 million, much of it on flamboyantly negative advertising, just to wind up in a deadlock, with candidates separated by about 200 votes out of three million cast and an official recount underway. That the stakes loom so large - a Franken victory would bring the Democratic Party within one seat of a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate - has only added gasoline to the fire. In this campaign, the two Jews have accused each other variously of joking about rape, sending soldiers to pointless death, insulting the Catholic Church, and wallowing in corruption. Coleman has sued Franken for defamation. Not even one of Minnesota's beloved recreational activities was off-limits. Listen to this ad from Franken, which in what may well be a historical first (let's all say a Shehecheyanu) was narrated by a stuffed, mounted fish: "Over 10,000 lakes in Minnesota, but where does Norm Coleman go fishing? Alaska! Indicted Sen. Ted Stevens flew him up! And got big oil honchos to give thousands just to fish with Norm! Now one of the guys Norm went fishing with has been convicted of bribery." Not to be outdone, Coleman seized on the news last spring that Franken owed $50,000 in back taxes in 17 states in which he'd performed. (He did ultimately pay.) A television spot featured an eight-year-old girl condemning Franken thusly: "Do you know what his excuse was? He said no one told him to do it! That excuse doesn't even work in the third grade." Oh, sure, both candidates at a certain point late in the campaign swore off negative ads, with Coleman even attributing his change of heart to some Yom Kippur tshuvah. Franken ran a two-hankie ad of his wife talking about how he stuck with her through her struggle with alcoholism. Practically speaking, though, the shift in tone only meant that the national parties rather than the Franken and Coleman operations began paying to sling the mud. "The more Cleaver-ish the candidates strained to appear," says Anderson of the web newspaper, referring to the saccharine family of the television series Leave It To Beaver, "the meaner the national ads became." A political science professor in the state university, Paula O'Loughlin, had to resort to the lexicon of oncology to characterize the ad war. "It's like chemotherapy," she told the weekly paper City Pages. "In order to kill the cancer, they poison you. AND DO you know what I say about this? I say hurray. Eighty years ago, Minneapolis was a city infamous for its anti-Semitism. Now, at least, we've given the goyim some good reason to hate us. With just 50,000 Jews in the whole state, we pull the hidden strings to elect our own to the Senate - three Jews in a row have held the seat that is for the moment still Coleman's - you think that's an accident? - and we do it less like Hubert Humphrey than Howard Stern. Anderson, for one, traces the Jewish assault on Minnesota Nice to the 1990 race for Senate between incumbent Republican Rudy Boschwitz and his Democratic challenger Paul Wellstone. Not to be distracted by the niceties of policy, Boschwitz's campaign released a letter signed by 70 Jewish supporters that cut right to the salient point: Wellstone was married to a shiksa. "Wellstone has no connection with the Jewish community or our communal life," the letter declared. "His children were brought up as non-Jews." Boschwitz apologized for the letter - a couple of days after he lost the election. That's the spirit! As with Coleman and Franken this year, the only reason to disown a smear campaign is if it doesn't work. We Jews are results-oriented. We are evidence-based. Minnesota, save your insipid decency for the PTA; the Yids are in town now. But don't just take my word for it. Listen to Riv-Ellen Prell, an anthropologist at the University of Minnesota and a certified Member of the Tribe. "Isn't the point that Minnesota Nice killed them?" Prell wrote to me in an e-mail the other day. "Franken could not win on Obama's unprecedented coattails and Coleman could not win against a person with no experience at all. Minnesotans hated the campaign and I never heard the J word raised by anyone." Do you really believe that, dear reader? Personally, I think Riv-Ellen is just being Minnesota Nice.