Paul Scott: Norm's 'Celebrity Jeopardy'
There is a recurring "Saturday Night Live" sketch where Will Ferrell plays Alex Trebek caught hosting a bizarro version of "Celebrity Jeopardy." The cerebral Trebek begins staggering under the scatalogical assault of Scotsman Sean Connery, parodied to full Highlander excess by comedian Darrell Hammond.
I thought of that sketch while watching our senator take on George Galloway last week. Except that by the end of the SNL sketch, Alex Trebek has our sympathy.
It is becoming possible that a local, national and now international disgust is mutating over the disingenuousness of Sen. Norm Coleman. (The Nation's John Nichols recently called him "a plain old-fashioned, drool-on-his-tie fool.") For those who first smelled a phony back when Coleman said he wanted to go to Washington to "change the tone" -- as if the naked hopefulness of Paul Wellstone was a tone that needed changing -- watching his inquisition of Scottish Member of Parliament George Galloway backfire so witheringly on Tuesday was like rolling in a tub of banana cream pie.
Maybe Coleman wasn't already choking on the hypocrisy of having asked for the resignation of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan over the oil-for-food fiasco, when Coleman stands mute over his the fact of his own party's leadership having so grossly mismanaged both the lead-up to 9/11 and the intelligence behind the case for war. Without the slightest apparent willingness to acknowledge such details, Coleman called to testify one of the chief critics in Britain of the invasion of Iraq, on oil-for-food charges he had already successfully refuted in the British legal system.
Even on a day when the Republicans initiated the so-called nuclear option, Galloway dropped into the U.S. news cycle like a haggis-filled A-bomb. A fierce debater from a land of men who invented hammer-throwing, a bruiser in a parliamentary system where the head of state is regularly treated like a son who smashed in the Acura, Galloway came to clear his name. And he was going to do this in front of the man previously famous for having brought Lawson Software to St. Paul.
He may be a lawyer, but Coleman is simply the wrong person to help the Republicans claim the mantle of justice-seekers. Crusading investigators are idealists. Coleman is a company man. He smiles. He hits his marks. He watches his waistline and he says his lines. Jesse Ventura was able to dispense with him during at least one debate just by pointing at tasseled loafers. In the end, it wasn't clear why Galloway's name was on some sketchy paperwork, and it wasn't clear that it mattered. When Galloway opened with a lengthy evisceration of the proceedings, the full Braveheart, Coleman countered with mumblings that sounded more like a tax audit -- as if he genuinely thought he was merely seeking facts, not political theater.
By mumbling his way through a litany of paperwork, when a strong case had just been made about a larger, more deadly deception, it was clear that the one thing Coleman had neglected to prepare for was the weakness of his moral position. He is in no position, with his president's war going this badly, to be sitting in judgment of those who have argued for the relief of the Iraqi people, and, unlike the path taken by Coleman, placed themselves in political peril by doing so.
Most of all, there was something immeasurably disappointing, as one writer to these pages observed, that it was not an American to be the first to drop the pretense of congeniality when facing the desperate diversions now underway in our Congress. There was something immeasurably sad about the fact that 200 years after we told the straight truth to an out-of touch England, it took a Brit to tell the straight truth to us: "In everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong and 100,000 people paid with their lives; 1,600 of them American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies."
Paul Scott is a writer living in Rochester, Minn.