Thursday, March 30, 2017
The Me, Al Franken Decade
Some years ago that would have been folly, but not so now. We've had an actor as a president, and now that we've had a reality-show host, serial philanderer, and tax cheat as president, why not a comedian? It's a new world, people.
Franken has been visible a long time--he was right there at the beginning of Saturday Night Live over forty years ago. Mostly he was a writer with Tom Davis, and they did a memorable sketch on the absurdity of political races, stating this was why they were communists. Something like that could come up in a presidential race, but it's peanuts compared to Trump.
In 1980, Franken announced that after the '70s, the 1980s were to be the "Me, Al Franken Decade." He left the show after Lorne Michaels did, but came back in the mid-80s and found popularity as the twelve-step addict Stuart Smalley (though a film he did with the character cratered spectacularly). Franken then got more involved in politics, writing books like Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot, and Lies and the Lying Liars That Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. He got sued by Fox News for using the term "fair and balanced," but the suit was literally laughed out of court.
He then took a job with the ill-fated liberal radio network, Air America. I listened a few times, and remember him calling Sean Hannity stupid. But unlike Hannity and the rest of that crowd, Franken actually ran for office, and won a razor-thin win over incumbent Norm Coleman in 2008. Suddenly, Al Franken was serious.
Conservatives considered it a big joke, but Franken was comfortably re-elected and has proven to be a serious and effective senator. Watching him speak on the senate floor or question witnesses at hearings is thrilling. He has the actor and writer's touch with nuance, and while he isn't particularly funny in his role--he purposely has kept clowning out of his senatorial behavior--he does refer to it at times. He gave a memorable speech on the outrage of not having hearings on Merrick Garland, adding "Scientists tell us that President Obama has ten more months as president." When he recently grilled Neil Gorsuch on a case involving a truck driver who was fired for daring to escape freezing temperatures, he mentioned that he used to point out the absurd, and Gorsuch's decision was absurd.
Franken, like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and a handful of others (I believe Kirsten Gillibrand is the only senator who has voted against every one of Trump's cabinet appointments, but it's hard to believe that Sanders hasn't--Warren actually voted for Ben Carson) have become the faces of the Democratic party and his goofy comic past is in the rearview mirror. A sense of humor is a good thing for a president to have, though. Obama certainly had one, and so did Reagan. Not sure about the Bushes and Bill Clinton--I don't know. Trump, certainly not.
The only drawback against a Franken presidency is that he would be out of the senate, and some think that's where he belongs, fighting the good fight. Also, he will be 69 in 2020. He might be a great VP pick for a younger candidate like Gillibrand.
But, perhaps he just got the decade wrong. Perhaps the 2020s will be the "Me, Al Franken decade."