Over the past seven years I have recorded on my video cam a variety of DFL functions, conventions, rallies, town meetings and Senate District central committee meetings. I have edited the raw video for segments on Democratic Visions, the public access TV program that I produce with the help of other, unpaid volunteers.
A few elected and rank and file partisans have mistakenly thought that I was a “tracker.” I and my production colleagues are not trackers. Trackers are those pale, silent and creepy gents who quietly place a tripod with a tiny, mounted camera at the back of a town meeting. They are hoping to record gaffes and clumsy sound bites that can be used against the progressives and liberals of this world. Lefty organizations also employ trackers, but I am not one of them nor do I know anyone who is but I know a cockroach from a real video journalist. One of Democratic Visions’ missions has been to capture and to share on cable access TV and its YouTube channel the joy, humor, thoughtfulness, diversity and humanity of being a lefty. One cannot do that from a stationary tripod or from the voyeuristic employ of a cell phone with a peephole lens.
When I am at, say, a DFL convention, I am waltzing about with a serviceable Sony Handicam for different angles of the speakers, panelists, audience members, coffee sippers, applauders and getting shots at the sign-in, candidate and refreshment tables. I look for moments that can be used to show our essences in our various degrees of genius, wit, gravity and serendipity. The tracker, on the other hand, with the tiny camera on the tripod or, for that matter, the hired professional/institutional ‘media’ crew with their own tripods and tiny cameras at the back of the room, cannot make anyone look good. In that respect, they have something in common with the non-partisan, gray ladies who run the League of Women Voters candidate forums.
I grimace when, say, some city council or legislature candidate begins her/his introductory remarks with an unctuously oily ‘I want to thank the League of Women Voters for inviting me to share with you tonight why I am seeking election and how I plan to give back to a community that my family and I love so very, very dearly.’ Well, ‘Thanks’ for what? The televised and streaming versions of the stilted and pinched LWV forums are of interest only to a candidate’s campaign manager and spouse, the weekly community newspaper editor and the occasional tracker (if permitted by the gray ladies to set up a tiny camera on a tripod). These, well intended League attempts to spark voter interest are as reliably dull as a Ford Focus coated in February road salt. It is my view that the LWV is sucking the juice out of Minnesota’s brand of democracy.
That’s why I risk losing what little dignity I still retain as a veteran television producer and journalist by prancing about meetings, kneeling, standing on benches, laying flat on the floor, sneaking up behind the head table or poking my camera into a trio of gabbers. I am attempting to gather video and sound that local politics, in spite of the muzzle of Minnesota Nice, the leash of the politically correct, and the flare of the Black Lives Matter movements of our times, do indeed have a pulse and an ethic richer than the stump speech or the calculated chit chat on Almanac or the bombastic teasers on FOX and CNN.
This, however, does not mean that I am any politico’s pal. I shield myself from the huggy wuggy, glad-handing among our beloved, progressive colleagues. I don’t get cozy with any of ‘em- my comfort zone is defined as it is by my Scandinavian-American and journalistic conditioning. And that has been a challenge for me around DFLers. Minnesota Democratic politicians really like to hug one another and anyone who might recognize them at, say, a fundraiser or before some boring issues seminar of the kind that St. Thomas University and the Minnesota Channel are fond of. In this, they remind me of the insecure but in-your-face show biz hopefuls auditioning for American Idol with mom in tow.
Even though there is good reason to believe that psychological pathologies play a role in the life political (note the Republican presidential candidates and Idi Amin for starters), I have nothing against other people embracing one another, patting one another on the back and then eyeballing the room for more prestigious hugging and selfie opportunities. For validation as a recognized DFL player, there ain’t no better smiley faces to be seen with on Facebook/Instagram than Al Franken, Ken Martin, Amy Klobuchar, Fritz Mondale, Keith Ellison, Barack, Michelle, Hillary, Bernie, Mark Dayton and Liz Warren. Photos with them stack up huge scores in the selfie tournament played by rank and file Democrats. I, however, am a handshake guy. As noted above, I don’t like to hug people or be hugged in public. I find handshakes, a wave of the hand, a tip of a baseball cap’s visor or a slight smile of recognition sufficient, if not a tad over the top, to let you know that you are okay.
There was, reportedly, a lot of hugging last Friday night during the DFL’s Humphrey Mondale Dinner and speechifying event in St. Paul. As local, state and national campaigns ramp up, there will be a lot more hugging and back patting. Candidates and DFL party activists – particularly women – are in constant need of peer confirmation, being recognized, smiled at and hugged. Now, don’t get me wrong. I here write about folks for whom I like and sometimes admire and with whom I team up to win elections. But I am never going to give ‘em a hug or a pat on the back. I value my personal space. On convention floors and at election night parties I step back to foil assault by collegial embrace. In so doing, I have unintentionally wounded the confidence of candidates who will most certainly get my vote. I’ve long figured that the huggers of this world are not as firmly grounded or as confident as yours truly. But, as some friends have delicately suggested, I may be one who could benefit from therapy. I recently met with one of those so called life coaches.
From Eric Ferguson: Poor Jeff is having a bad day. Come on, get Jeff in the middle and let’s have a big Democratic group hug!