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A Word or Three on Franken

July 6th, 2009

The right wing has been its usual nasty self with Al Franken, from the Wall Street Journal claiming he stole the election to gasbags like Limbaugh calling Franken a “genuine lunatic.” But the typical thing for those on the right to do is dismiss Franken as a comedian, as in “nothing but a.” The media picks up on this–like David Broder, for example, calling Franken a “loud-mouthed former comedian”–and there is the general sense that there is something inherently wrong in sending a jokester to the Senate.

But as the lefty blogs are now quoting Paul Krugman on, there is much more to Franken than meets the eye. Krugman points out something that many have overlooked: that Franken has real substance. In fact, he has more substance than almost anyone else in the Senate.

First off, his credentials aren’t bad: he graduated summa cum laude from Harvard, his major being Political Science. As much as the right falsely whines about how lefties hate Sarah Palin for not having such credentials, and as much as they put down people like Sotomayor for having made accomplishments of that nature, the fact is, you don’t graduate summa cum laude from Harvard without being pretty damned sharp. Not to mention that he aced the Math section of his SATs with a perfect 800. Right off the bat, one should understand that Al Franken is no intellectual lightweight. Sure, most intellectual heavyweights don’t go around publishing books calling Rush Limbaugh a “big fat idiot”–but they probably wish they could. Calling people names like that is usually not tolerated in such circles and adds to the idea that he’s not serious, but let’s face it: the title, though impolitic, was, if anything, an understatement. Franken was being subtle and nobody seemed to notice.

Second, the man is an unabashed, undeniable patriot–the actual kind, not the self-serving flag-waving opportunistic kind, or the blind, easily-fooled kind–with a special respect for those who have served. Franken just recently received the USO Merit Award for ten years of service to the organization, going on seven tours and frequently visiting military hospitals. This is not a campaign stunt in his political bid–he started doing this in 1999, visiting troops in Kosovo, three years before he got the idea of entering into politics when Paul Wellstone died and Norm Coleman grabbed his seat in a particularly dishonorable manner. But you don’t just need to go by Franken’s USO service to understand that he honors those who serve; if you listened to his radio show for any amount of time, it was pretty obvious. Nothing got Franken emotional more than his dealings with the troops, and when he saw them being mistreated or dishonored, he would start to lose it. You could hear him holding back his rage, tearing up, as he described some of the crap that they were put through, how they were getting killed because they were not sufficiently equipped or taken care of.

But most of all, Franken is, as Krugman pointed out, “a big policy wonk.” Again, you’d know this if you listened to Franken’s radio show. The man was well-prepared, knew his topics, and had his facts in order–and when he didn’t have the facts at his fingertips, he would not make them up, not assume. But when others did, he would call them out on it. Catch the segment below, with Franken showing a group of young people why they should question what they hear, work out the math, and think for themselves:

Nobody’s perfect. Franken has been wrong on stuff from time to time, as everyone will be. But if he is, it’s not from lack of trying. The man is serious, he is dedicated, and gosh darn it, he’s smart. Far from bringing down the level of discourse in the Senate, as Krugman points out, he’ll raise it. Underestimating Franken is a dangerous business; being a comedian doesn’t mean he’s not serious, it means that he can skewer you all the more skillfully. A comedian who is smart and knows his facts is not someone to be trifled with.

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  1. Troy
    July 6th, 2009 at 17:41 | #1

    Back in 2002 Franken did a book tour appearance at the local book store that was carried on our cable access channel, which repeated for months so I saw it a couple of times.

    He came across as very well spoken and knowledgeable about the political stuff he writes about while maintaining a sardonic viewpoint on things. It was mostly Q&A IIRC, and rather enjoyable.

  2. Tim Kane
    July 7th, 2009 at 01:40 | #2

    Back in 2004/05(ish) I saw Franken as he passed through St. Louis. He was dynamite. He was smart, passionate, intense, and liberal.

    “A comedian who is smart and knows his facts is not someone to be trifled with.”

    You are right about that. If you are the opposition, he should be feared.

    Satire and humor are the light sabers of politics and Franken is a Jedi master. He’s worth 2 pedestrian liberal senators, and a dozen Liebermans. It will be a couple years before we see him really stretch his wings in the Senate, but when he does, good things will happen.

    He’s a fighter. I see him as the next FDR (by type, not by job – someone who is not middle class but fights hard for the middle class).

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