According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, the word has four meanings:
1. felt in or as if in the viscera
2. not intellectual
3. dealing with crude or elemental emotions
4. of, relating to, or on or among the viscera
Your viscera are your guts. When we talk of visceral reactions, we're not talking about reactions that are given a lot of thought. Fear and revulsion are visceral reactions.
Which brings us to Al Franken.
Earlier this week I wrote a post where I gently referred to the junior senator from Minnesota as "Senator Steaming Pile." Our friend Amanda, who performs regular acts of kindness by coming here to challenge our assumptions (and I am quite sincere in saying that, by the way), took notice of that and gave me a gentle dig about "taking the high road." But she did more than that. She also wrote a post on her always-interesting blog Memeopolis and she mentioned a couple of very useful things:
The reaction of conservative acquaintances and bloggers however, has been a vitriolic gnashing of the teeth and bloodthirsty name-calling. They HATE Al Franken. HATE. Hatehatehatehate. Instinctively, at first I felt slightly defensive. I mean, Al hasn't even done anything in office yet. Good or bad. Give him a chance to f*** up, yeah?
That's a fair point. Then she made a better, more provocative point.
But then I realized that their emotional reaction could be likened to my affection for Sarah Palin.
I'm guessing that I am one of the conservative acquaintances that Amanda mentioned in her post. Which got me thinking about Franken and why I feel the way I do.
Hate is a strong word and a strong emotion. It is also an emotion that is learned. I don't know if I hate Al Franken -- if were hurt in a traffic accident or somesuch and I came upon him, I'd whip out my cell, call 911 and then see if there was anything I could do to help him until the pros arrived. But I do dislike him quite a lot, probably more than just about any other politician on the current scene. And I will do everything in my power to ensure his retirement in 2015.
Why is that? Is it a visceral reaction, a gut feeling? Or is my disdain for Franken something that I learned? The answer is pretty clear: it is something I learned. The first time I saw Franken was on Saturday Night Live back in the late 1970s. He then appeared in skits with his comedy partner, Tom Davis. He was a semi-regular presence on that show for years and, in some cases he was pretty damned funny. His imitation of the dour and preachy Illinois Sen. Paul Simon in the mock presidential debates in the 1988 cycle was spot-on and hilarious. It's worth remembering that history.
The problem that most conservatives have with Franken is that when he entered into the political arena, he was an especially vicious guy. I'd even be willing to forgive him that, though: as they say in Chicago, politics ain't beanbag. My problem with Franken is that he has a history with someone I know personally. That someone is Evan Montvel-Cohen. The story of Franken's involvement with Montvel-Cohen, and the scam Montvel-Cohen pulled on the Gloria Wise Boys and Girls Club to get funding that was instrumental to the founding of Air America ,was much downplayed during the election cycle, but it was to my mind the most damning thing about Franken. Montvel-Cohen and I both attended the same college. I know him. He was a shifty character then and most everyone on our campus recognized it. Franken did not, apparently. More importantly, Franken didn't do much of anything to make the situation right after he became aware of it. To me, the incident speaks to Franken's character and judgment. And it speaks quite badly.
Do I have a visceral reaction now when Franken's name comes up? Yeah, I guess I do.
So what about the reaction that Amanda has to Sarah Palin and the reasons for her reaction? She can answer that herself. I'd be willing to wager she has an interesting story to tell. And it's useful to tell these stories, I think.