Sunday, October 12, 2008

Al Franken - The Road to the Minnesota Senate

Al Franken has always found politics his calling. He has telegraphed this by by parodying it his entire career. In 1999 he published a book Why Not Me?: The Inside Story of the Making and Unmaking of the Franken Presidency , parodying several forms of political media created by and for a hypothetical President Franken - the Campaign diary, strategist's memo, the Bob Woodward expose amongst other.

In his latest book, 'The Truth (with jokes)' published in 2005, Franken closes the book with a satirical epilogue - "A Letter to My Grandchildren". In this chapter he recounts the Bush years and its fanciful proceedings to his fictional grandchildren.
Franken writes:
...Dad loved comedians, and I guess that might be why I became one. That's right. Before I got so involved in politics, I was a comedian. Then I wrote my first political book... my books made me realize that maybe I could have an effect on things that I cared about. That's why I went into radio. And that's why eventually decided to run for the Senate, although I didn't make the final decision until 2007.
True to the script, Franken on his final show for Air America Radio (Feb 2007) formally announced he would run for Minnesota's Senate seat in 2008. It's interesting to note that even though Franken is satirically describing a fictional future he lucidly describes the campaign platform he runs on and the bills he passes (and with whom - Sherwood Boehlert R-NY).

Despite his comedic history, Franken has always been earnest in his political pursuit. Almost by necessity.

He acknowledged the skepticism in his Introductory Video Address
I'm not a typical politician. I've spent my career as a comedian. Minnesotans have a right to be skeptical about whether I'm ready for this challenge, and to wonder how seriously I would take the responsibility that I’m asking you to give me.

I want you to know: nothing means more to me than making government work better for the working families of this state, and over the next twenty months I look forward to proving to you that I take these issues seriously...

I may be a comedian by trade, but I'm passionate about the issues that matter to your family because they mattered to mine, too...
Thanks for listening, and I’ll see you on the trail.
- Read the transcript of Al's Video message
- Watch Franken's Introduction video in full

Franken has always been mindful of the skepticism due to his "celebrity" and "comedic" reputation. In a previous post I detailed Franken's conscious decision not to appear on Saturday Night Live despite being a venue with considerable political cache (especially this election) and the place where he built his career. Franken was aware an SNL appearance would only cause confusion.
"We have to do everything so people understand that this is a real campaign and not just a conceptual-art piece"
Al Franken was notably absent from a speaking role during the Democratic National Convention. It's uncertain why he wasn't invited but in any case it allowed him to return to his voters in Minnesota
Franken spokesman Andy Barr said Franken will fly into Denver on Sunday night, in time for Monday's convention opener, and will return to Minnesota the following day, spending much of the week at the Minnesota State Fair.

Barr said that the Franken campaign did not ask for a speaking slot and that while Franken would accept one if offered, "we don't think it's going to happen."
The Minnesota delegation were torn with Franken's decision to return home
Minnesota Super delegate... Jackie Stevenson... said it's hard for her to understand why Franken would turn down a convention speaking opportunity.

Stevenson said she would have told Franken he needed this experience and that he needed to be seen doing this nationally...

Delegate Mira Vat Fournier of Fairbault said she wasn't about to second guess Franken's decision. Fournier also said she thinks Franken is an asset to the party and hardly the liability in rural Minnesota some Franken detractors insist Franken is.
Read the full article here

It seems there is a lot more than meets the eye concerning Al Franken. MSNBCs Political News director Chuck Todd relays whispers behind Democratic Party walls

I have had multiple very high level Democrats on the Hill sit there with their fingers crossed," Todd says. "They are scared of Franken winning. More importantly, they fear that if Franken wins, then every liberal Hollywood type is going to say, 'Hey, I can run for office, too.' And they are going to get a rush of these.
Read a full discussion from HotAir - Chuck Todd: Top Democrats want Franken to lose

Whilst it's an understandable fear, as I've stated with my posts on Hollywood Politicians there is little that is exceptional about it. Republicans have had a history of electing Hollywood politicians: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Fred Thompson and the ultimate standard bearer Ronald Reagan. The state of Minnesota where Franken is running for has already set the precedent by electing Jesse Ventura as Governor, a former Wrestler, Actor and Navy Seal. As this case study demonstrates, "celebrity" candidates go through rigorous vetting by having to work extra hard to convince voters of their seriousness.

Of the Hollywood types that have come before him, Franken fits the Fred Thompson mold more than the Schwarzenegger/Ventura archetype - wonky and with surprisingly little showmanship. We will know whether Frankens' script becomes reality in a month's time.

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