The ‘tone thing’

The Associated Press is carrying a story today that says Sen. Norm Coleman has “previewed” his message that he’ll use against presumptive DFL nominee Al Franken.


“The reality is I’ll run against somebody whose temperament has

been such, whose style has been such of being incredibly divisive

and incredibly angry,” Coleman told reporters Wednesday. “How do

you expect to work with somebody when you have called every

Republican the most vile and negative thing that one can imagine?

Values, experience and temperament are issues.”

In five minutes, Coleman used the word experience nine times and

temperament seven.

Here’s the audio, which sounds very much like the “tone” theme Coleman used in his 2002 victory. When Coleman debated DFL candidate Walter Mondale on the eve of the election, he stressed “tone” over issues.

It worked. The “money quote” (the quote that made the TV news) was this exchange, as reported on Minnesota Public Radio at the time.


What you’re doing is sticking with the right wing and pretending to change the tone. It’s not the fluff of what kind of words, and, Norm, we know you we’ve seen you; we’ve seen you shift around. We know about all of this and now you’re in this location and you have to take responsibility for the position you’re taking,” Mondale said.

“Again this is the tone that you don’t want to see in Washington,” Coleman replied. “This is the tone that’s resulted in where we’re at today. Where we don’t have an energy bill, we don’t even have a budget. We don’t have a prescription drug bill. We don’t have disaster assistance for northwest Minnesota because it’s this tone.”

Coleman’s strategy in his first statewide campaign — his 1998 run for governor — emphasized a similar theme… that the nuts and bolts of issues were often secondary to feelings and optimism. Take his defense of the Xcel arena project.


The return of the NHL! That was about hope! It was about hockey, but it’s also about a new arena that’ll bring as many as 1.4 million people to the core downtown. And, by the way, without any St. Paul property-tax dollars and the help from the state in an interest-free loan. We’re getting a business that’s coming in and generating between $3 and $8 million a year in taxes. But it’s not just about that, it’s about hope!

  • Another Chris

    Thank you for highlighting this annoying tic of the Senator. Other instances of Coleman using “tone” as a substitute for an actual argument:

    During the St. Paul stadium referendum on October 12, 1999:

    “I listen to Councilman Benanav and the tone: ‘the billionaires,’ ‘going out of business.’”

    “You know, Jay, Gary, in many ways, this discussion is, as I listen, and I have, by the way, really found this fascinating. It is a distinction between pessimist and optimist. It really is.”

    “If you get beyond the economics and all the other things, then you’re gonna be happy with most of this. If not, you’re gonna vote the other way.”

    On the subject of Iraq, December 9, 2004

    EICHTEN: What do you think is gonna happen in Iraq? Elections at the end of January. There was a story on National Public Radio today talking about the likely outcome of that election will be that Iranian-influenced Shiite parties are going to take control of Iraq, they’re not going to be happy with the United States. It doesn’t sound like a prescription for a nice, democratic outcome in that country.

    COLEMAN: First, Gary, I –

    EICHTEN: That’s assuming the election’s going to come off in good shape.

    COLEMAN: First, I have deep concerns about Iran’s role in fostering the insurgency, in looking to set up a state much like a theocratic state much like they have in, you know, with mullahs ruling like in Iran. I have concerns about that.

    On the other hand, I believe in the power of democracy. It’s fascinating. Look at Afghanistan. With all the prognostications of doom and gloom, and that elections could never take place, and that warlords control the country, and, you know, democracy could never happen. We had the first election in 5,000 years in Afghanistan. Women who were stoned in public, in stadiums a couple years ago, voted, I think – 10 million people registered. The first voter was a 19-year-old woman. I think democracy’s very powerful.

    So I believe that if we can get these elections done – and I think it’s important to have the elections in January – that that does have, will have a transforming effect, and all the prognostications of doom and gloom, I’m just not prepared to accept. A couple, six months ago, we were talking about al Sadr, there’s gonna be a civil war between him and Sistani, the Shiites were gonna split apart. Now we’re worried about them coming together. Now it’s no longer war between Shiite factions, now we’re somehow worried about them coming together and creating some sort of religious state that would be anti-American.

    Democracy has, is, is very important, very, very powerful. We’ve seen what’s happening in Afghanistan, Karzai just being inaugurated the other day. I believe it will have the same kind of transforming effect in Iraq, and I’m not willing to buy all the prognostications of doom and gloom.