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Archive for Sunday, July 6, 2008

Franken’s Senate candidacy is no joke

July 6, 2008

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— So it's come to this. You can spend the better part of an hour with Al Franken and hardly laugh at all.

Franken is, of course, one of the funnier men of our time, a "Saturday Night Live" veteran, and the author of a number of books whose titles alone likely made you laugh ("Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot" and "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right"), though not enough to make you actually read them.

Now he is running for the Senate and, suddenly, with the one-time funny guy in possession of the Democratic endorsement for the seat held by Sen. Norm Coleman, his political prospects are no laughing matter.

Regardless of where you stand in the cultural wars (or the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq), you may concede that it might be healthy for the country to have a Democrat in the Senate with a decent sense of humor. There are few funny people in that cave of winds, and the last two genuinely witty ones, Alan Simpson of Wyoming and Bob Dole of Kansas, were resolutely Republican.

But right now Franken is deadly serious - about health care, Iraq, the economy, and the power of the big drug, auto and energy companies.

His campaign is serious, too. He could win. And though many a serious point has been made in jest - consult Will Rogers, for example, and his remark that he wasn't a member of any organized political party, just a Democrat - Franken is not running as a joke, to tell a joke or to be a joke. He wants to be a senator like Edward M. Kennedy or, to be more precise and geographically relevant, like Hubert H. Humphrey.

Franken's is a Minnesota story, and by that I do not mean to suggest that the state that once elected a wrestler who favored a pink boa to the governor's office is especially fertile ground to elect someone closely identified with "Saturday Night Live's" Weekend Update. It's that Mr. Franken's political identity was created in the old progressive Democratic-Farmer-Labor crucible that made Humphrey, Eugene J. McCarthy and Walter F. Mondale national figures and liberal icons.

But it was a fourth Minnesota Democrat, the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, who may have had the greatest effect on the party's 2008 Senate candidate. Mr. Wellstone died in a plane crash during his re-election campaign in late October 2002, a moment of immense shock and emotional power for Minnesota liberals, and when Franken returned to the state for an event saluting a book of Wellstone photographs, he found himself deeply moved - and surprisingly vulnerable to entreaties that he himself should run for the seat.

"For me it's a natural progression in my career," he said during a recent noon hour in his campaign headquarters in a small strip mall here. The candidate was wearing jeans and a salmon-colored cotton shirt. He is smaller than he appears on television, and yet his head, shaped much like an organic seedless watermelon, seems outsized. He combs his hair back, and the reverse-bang effect that creates is about 2, maybe 3 inches high.

"I know that this is not what people think. I've been doing comedy and satire my whole life. In '95, when I left 'Saturday Night Live,' I started writing, pointedly, about the Gingrich revolution and the rise of talk radio and how it changed the civility of discourse."

Then he took to the airwaves himself, with a radio show on AirAmerica, and his listeners discovered an Al Franken who was more a serious guy than a wiseguy. (This part of the conversation, deep in Minnesota's tuna hot-dish casserole belt, produced the only funny line of our entire session: "The funny-to-serious ratio was smaller than the tuna-to-noodle ratio.") He clearly liked the new persona. Now he is taking it on the road.

Even so, he is known as a comedian, and his rivals are throwing back some of his funnier and cruder lines at him, recently resurrecting a 2000 Playboy column called "Porn-o-Rama!" This sort of thing is a disadvantage for anyone in the creative arts, for as a gubernatorial and presidential candidate it was no advantage for Ronald Reagan to have to defend his role in "Bedtime for Bonzo," just as it will not be pretty to see Sen. James Webb of Virginia defending the sex scenes in his novels should he become the Democrats' vice presidential nominee this summer.

"Obviously I've written stuff they're going to use against me," he says. "I did comedy for 35 to 40 years. I started in high school. I think most of what I did was really funny. (Here begins a cascade of belly laughs.) So much of it is part of the public record. Have I told some jokes that were not funny? You bet. Have I told jokes that are offensive to some people? Sure. But they're not representative of my work."

The jokes and the comedy routines began in St. Louis Park, the Minneapolis suburb where Mr. Franken, now 57 years old, grew up. There he wasted endless hours on mindless television, plus the Dick Van Dyke, Carol Burnett, Danny Kaye, Alan King shows and others. Buddy Hackett was a particular favorite. Franken was marked by all of them, but he also was marked by Wendell Anderson.

Today Anderson is all but forgotten outside Minnesota, but 35 years ago this summer he was on the cover of Time magazine, the poster child of innovative progressivism (plus, particularly important in Minnesota, a member of the 1956 U.S. Olympic hockey team). Mr. Anderson's greatest legacy is his overhaul of the state's education and finance system when he was governor. It is known in state lore as the Minnesota Miracle of 1971.

What Mr. Franken is trying to pull off is the Minnesota Miracle of 2008. Right now he's within the margin of error of doing it.

- David Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Comments

notajayhawk 6 years, 5 months ago

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Jock Navels 6 years, 5 months ago

Jc...if the dude is elected senator, he won't run the Minnesota government, he'll be part of the federal government in Washington DC. I think Al Franken was as funny as George Carlin, but not as funny as Malaprop George Bush can be.What I want to know is what was his draft lottery number back in the day? Same as CheyneyBush's?

notajayhawk 6 years, 5 months ago

"did you ever see (and, unfortunately, hear) Buddy Hackett in a live performance, especially in a nightclub?"Buddy's not-for-television act was pretty filthy.Pretty f'ing funny, too. Unlike Mr. Franken.By the way, I saw Jerry Lewis in person back in '85 or so. Let's just say he's a lot more raunchy than the funny guy sharing billing with Dean Martin in the old movies when he's live. Bob Hope was on the same ticket, and Bob was at the other end of the spectrum - not a single foul word out of his mouth, not one, and he still had the same audience going wild.

notajayhawk 6 years, 5 months ago

And while boohoozo is sitting there, he may want to broaden his selection of information sources than the message boards of the award-winning LJW.http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2008/senate/mn/minnesota_senate-257.html

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 5 months ago

"the liberal Shribman failed to mention that Franken's "Air America" had one host who advocated the assassination of George W. Bush."If that's really the case, then he's in prison, right?

cato_the_elder 6 years, 5 months ago

Remarkably, Shribman fails to mention the fact that, unlike Ronald Reagan or James Webb, Franken is an admitted 17-state tax evader. He is also a failed political talk show host whose financial dealings involving "Air America" have been seriously scrutinized for some time. The fact that Franken was particularly fond of Buddy Hackett, one of the foulest people ever to speak into a nightclub microphone, says a lot about him. Franken is, frankly, an embarrassment to many Minnesota Democrats who regret that they were not able to put forth a more worthy candidate, whether or not he has ever been capable of being elected.

yourworstnightmare 6 years, 5 months ago

Franken's opponent is sitting IR (Independent-Republican) senator Norm Coleman.When Coleman came to St. Paul from the east, he was a democrat. He soon realized that St. Paul was flush with DFL (Democratic-Farmer-Laborer) political talent and he would stand no chance as a DFLer.So, he changed his affiliation (and many of his positions) so that he could run as an IR. He has been posing as a conservative IR ever since, taking on more right-wing positions by the day.

yourworstnightmare 6 years, 5 months ago

Cato said:"Franken is, frankly, an embarrassment to many Minnesota Democrats who regret that they were not able to put forth a more worthy candidate, whether or not he has ever been capable of being elected."-That's Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL), not democrats. Get it right, Cato.Jcjayhawk1 said:"Franken is a Fool. Is his tax record any indication of how he plans to run the Minn. government?"Just who is the fool here? Jcjayhawk1 seems to think that senators run the Minnesota government. Jcjayhawk1 is the fool, apparently.

terrapin2 6 years, 5 months ago

We lived in Minnesota for 9 years and I wish we were still there to vote in this next election. Norm Coleman needs to go. The overwhelming majority of people in MN are democrats and have wanted a good candidate to take him down for a long time. I hope Al wins. Whether you think he's funny or not really doesn't matter. You conservatives like Ronald Reagan's high quality movies do you? Arnold's acting isn't exactly Oscar worthy either. Maybe you should look into Al's politics more. You might learn something. His books are very funny. Of course they point out some things that the right would not want to admit are true.

Jcjayhawk1 6 years, 5 months ago

"Just who is the fool here? Jcjayhawk1 seems to think that senators run the Minnesota government. Jcjayhawk1 is the fool, apparently."-yourworstnightmareYa I already addressed my foolish remark and oversight. I need to familiarize myself with the topic better next time. The fact remains......His failure to pay taxes is indefensible.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 5 months ago

Youareyourownworstnightmare, the same Terrapin 2 who tells us that he or she lived in Minnesota for 9 years also refers to the same group of misguided folks, i.e. the ones to whom I was referring, as "democrats" - as the result of which I presume that you will also want to correct Terrapin in the same nightmarishly sophomoric fashion. On the other hand, it's not really necessary due to the fact that virtually every major news source that has covered this race over the last 6 months, both inside and outside of Minnesota, has used the terms interchangeably when referring to Democrats in Minnesota. Get a life.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 5 months ago

Beatrice, did you ever see (and, unfortunately, hear) Buddy Hackett in a live performance, especially in a nightclub? Or are you of a sufficient age to have had that opportunity?

beatrice 6 years, 5 months ago

Go Al, Go! cato: "The fact that Franken was particularly fond of Buddy Hackett, one of the foulest people ever to speak into a nightclub microphone, says a lot about him."'I'm curious, which words did that foul, foul man Buddy Hackett use that haven't been used by Dick Cheney?

beatrice 6 years, 5 months ago

notajay, I'm shocked. You missed a perfect opportunity to mention kool-aid. You must not be on top of your game right now.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 5 months ago

And fortunately for you, cato, after he's elected senator, you'll get to piss and moan about him for years to come.

Jcjayhawk1 6 years, 5 months ago

Franken is a Fool. Is his tax record any indication of how he plans to run the Minn. government?

notajayhawk 6 years, 5 months ago

"St. Paul, Minn. - So it's come to this. You can spend the better part of an hour with Al Franken and hardly laugh at all."Pretty sure I could spend a lifetime with Al Franken and not laugh at all.The people who think he'd make a good candidate for our nation's legislature are a different story, however - I never cease to be amused by them.

Jcjayhawk1 6 years, 5 months ago

"Jc:if the dude is elected senator, he won't run the Minnesota government, he'll be part of the federal government in Washington DC. "-jocknavalsThanks for correcting me. This will still lead me to where I want to go. The failure of Franken to pay taxes is an insult to anyone who pays their own. Running for congress and disobeying the law on purpose? He needs to pay up. Wether he agrees with the law or not he will help vote on future laws. This is an outright disregard for the very job the people will employ him to do.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 5 months ago

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cato_the_elder 6 years, 5 months ago

Marion, Danny Kaye was indeed a consummate artist. His wonderful movie "Hans Christian Andersen" is a great film for kids and adults, and "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is still a classic.

leftlawrenceafter30years 6 years, 5 months ago

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Poon 6 years, 5 months ago

For whatever it is worth, it has been rumored that Jesse Ventura may jump into the race with the Independence Party. Can you imagine Jesse and Al in the same race? I would pull up my Larryville stakes and move to Minnesota just to watch the fun.

terrapin2 6 years, 5 months ago

RR-Read them yourself. You might learn something.

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