My Dinner with Al

February 14, 2007 by susan

by susan
Caution: Name dropping alert!

Last night I had dinner with Al and Franni. Yeah, Franken. A bunch of folks were invited to their house to "hear his ideas" on the eve of his announcement that he's running for the US Senate, for the seat once occupied by Paul Wellstone and currently occupied by the oily keister of Norm "I'm-a-99-percent- improvement-over-Paul-Wellstone" Coleman.
It wasn't an intimate sit-down dinner, but it was home-cooked by Franni, served by volunteers, and we all fit easily in the living room. That sort of dinner. And, it wasn't the usual political crowd, which I took to be a good thing. Read on

We weren't expected to give money (yet) and a few people confessed that they were there more to see who else was there than to hear Al. It's no secret that people have misgivings about his chances of tranforming himself from smart-ass comedian to serious candidate. And yet, as political strategist Jeff Blodgett has noted, we Dems don't have a very deep bench right now. So, it's a dilemna.

Will some of Al's heated radio comments or profane book bits come back to haunt him? No doubt. But is this a non-issue with the younger voters who turn out in droves to see him and sign on to his campaign?

Will his high national profile open the door to an early funding advantage, but slam him on the way out when Norm's "I'm-a- family-man- until-you-catch-me-in-the-act" spin team accuses him of taking money from "sleazy anti-family Hollywood" types?

Can his incredible intelligence make up for his less-than- incredible one-on-one people skills?

Frankenly, can he be taken seriously, either as a candidate, or in the hallowed halls of the Senate, known for its collegiality and lofty debate? (If you're not laughing, you haven't been paying attention.)

Well, the serious, cleaned-up Al Franken is very impressive, and unless Hubert Humphrey comes back from the dead to claim this seat, I'm a convert.

Here's why.
' Not only is he smart and quick, he is incredibly well-informed. The radio show has been great training for absorbing endless facts and recounting them in quick order. It's almost scary to see how much is churning in that big head of his. In fact, that may be a problem over time -- he knows too much, and giving a sound-byte answer could be difficult. But if a thoughtful and articulate answer is the price we have to pay . . .

' He is passionate and has a genuine gut-level compassion for the hard-working middle and under classes, and that comes across. He chokes-up when speaking of people suffering hardships. His background as a working class kid, but more movingly, that of his wife as one of five small children of a widowed mother, is powerful stuff, and he links those stories beautifully to the gubmint programs -- Social Security survivor benefits, Pell grants -- which helped both families not just make it, but thrive.

' He has spent more time in Iraq than any one else in politics. (I made that up, but I think it's true.) He's done four tours in Iraq to entertain the troops, and unlike our Commander-in-Chief who serves them a plastic photo-op turkey, Al eats all his meals with the men and women who are stuck in this quagmire. He knows the toll the war is taking on them, on their families, and is outraged at the shoddy veteran's benefits they're getting, benefits the Bush administration aims to cut. (And if you didn't know it, he's outraged about the war too.) When asked his greatest area of vulnerability, he said it was that he cares too much. His role models are Paul Wellstone and Tim Walz, recently elected congressman from Minnesota's 1st District, and a veteran, both known more for their decency and heart than their telegenic flash.

' He is serious and hard-working. He's not just flirting with us, he's making a long-term commitment.

He was as good last night as I've ever seen him, and much warmer one-on-one. I think as a celebrity he had to keep a physical as well as emotional distance from all those who want to meet him, grab his hand, all of that. Now he has to reverse that and reach that hand out to others. Last night he had no trouble doing so.

Minnesota deserves someone better than the plastic and malleable one-time Democrat Norm Coleman, whose contortions to please the President when he was popular, and pass him off when not, should earn him a spot in a circus side show, not in the Senate. I know that doesn't much limit the field, but for now the front-runner is Al Franken, and for now I'm impressed.
***
If you haven't already seen the 8 minute video that tells his backstory, click here.

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Comments

Babs (not verified) | February 14, 2007 - 5:56pm

Okay, I'm totally bent out of shape. I wasn't invited to this gig. And had I been, tongues would have been wagging like metronomes on speed, saying, 'Who the heck is that??'

I've listened to Franken at least semi-regularly on Air America. In fact, I'm listening to him as I write this. He is about to announce his Senate intentions on the air. He's talking about Paul Wellstone and his voice is thick with emotion. Emotion!

A man who cares deeply. About his family. About working people. About soldiers. About Paul Wellstone. A man who knows boatloads and wants to learn more.

He just said he's going to run for Senate.

It's time for Big Change. BIG. B I G. It's time to retire our state chameleon and replace him with a human being with integrity. Imagine that.

So Sooz? I'm in.

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susan | February 14, 2007 - 6:55pm

Emotion. Yes, I forgot to mention that. I said he chokes up, but I didn't do it justice. It was more like someone delivering a eulogy who has to pause before going on, only it's a eulogy for our nation -- for working people and soldiers and everyone else getting pummeled by this ruthless administration -- and it's 100% authentic. His huge brain I was prepared for; his huge heart caught me off guard.

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Anonymous (not verified) | February 15, 2007 - 9:44am

I'm in too, only I can't vote for him. I'm thinking of Mark Twain, "humor is rooted in sadness", and so it seems with Al.
And my high school English teacher, "cynics are the biggest idealists of all". They have more to be disappointed about, because they'd hoped for more. Again, Al.
Go, Al, go.
And I'm not giving up on that other Al.

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argon2 (not verified) | February 15, 2007 - 10:30am

Why not? Vote, I mean. Not a citizen? Oh, don't live in MN?

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Anonymous (not verified) | February 15, 2007 - 12:16pm

Right. LIve in NY.

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LynnellMickelsen (not verified) | February 15, 2007 - 2:27pm

I'm in too. (And Bwaa, bwaaa, bwaaa, why didn't I get invited over to Al and Franny's either.) I've actually liked Al for a long time. Saw his movie last year and thought at the time that he would be extremely good at poking holes in the incredibly phony, greasy, obsequious Normie Coleman. And whenever earnest DFLers say, "yes, but can a comedian be elected?" I have two reactions:

1) quit talking about electability. It's fine to talk about a candidate's ability to connect with people. Fine to talk about their ideas. Fine to talk about how they come-off on teevee. But the hazy, vague "electability" argument that is trotted out to damn candidates before they even get started---well, I am soooo done with that.

2) Like Susan, I think Al's three years as a radio talk show host has made him incredbily well-informed. I didn't always like listening to him on the radio, but hey, I'm happy to see the guy run for office.

As far as I'm concerned, so far, so good. Run, Al, Run.

There's also going to be plenty of other candidates, but right now, if it's between Mike Cieresi and Al, either one is okay with me. (Must. Vote. Democrat. Must. Get. Rid. Of. Slimebag. Norm), but I'm leaning towards Al.

BTW, Two years is a long time in politics, but at this point, I don't think Norm will be that hard to beat. Great hair and dental work aside, he's such a pandering, weasely, creep.

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Babs (not verified) | February 15, 2007 - 5:04pm

Neither am I! It's the season of Als. Yesssss!!!

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Babs (not verified) | February 15, 2007 - 5:06pm

Ah, crikey, hoist on our own arcane comment process. The comment above, intended to be a response to "haven't given up on that other Al."

And again, me neither.

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Anonymous (not verified) | February 16, 2007 - 1:27pm

Plastic turkey? Don't think so. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C07E7DE113BF932A25754C0A9629C8B63

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susan | February 16, 2007 - 3:46pm

Oh, that's right. It was the WMD that were fake, and the turkey that was real. At the time that turkey was served we all believed, due to bad intelligence -- and the snoozing liberal media -- that it was a plastic turkey. I apologize for misleading the nation about a fake turkey. Now, can we expect an apology anytime soon from the turkey-in-chief for misleading the nation about fake WMD?

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Bob Vance (not verified) | February 17, 2007 - 1:02am

Al Franken and other Air America program hosts were something of a godsend to me a while back... before the 2006 pre-election process went top speed... then I found myself turning off Air America, as much as I started turning off NPR soon after 9/11 and during the lead-in to the current clusterf--k that has killed hundreds of thousands... but none of the children or grandchildren of the elected Republicans and Democrats who are responsible for sending other people's children into the third level of hell that used to be known as the Fertile Crescent. I don't put being a modern Bob Hope on the same level as having your child come back in a box or without several limbs or their eyes; empathy or no empathy.

I no longer listen to NPR at all( I freed myself of my thirty year newspaper habit at about the same time) in much the same way that, more recently, my burgeoning Air America habit has come to an almost screeching halt. I don't want to hear any more excuses or rationalizations for either party, and Franken had too many. I could forgive him early on, but then it became all together too frequent and transparent. I, along with many, many, maybe most, Americans, am not a Democrat or a Republican. It is because neither party has represented me enough. I do not vote for a party that does not represent me enough. To do so bastardizes everything the vote is about.

It would be nice to have a newsy, talky radio station that does what they do without banging me over the head with excuses, half truths, yelling about how the other guy is wrong, and repugnant superiority complexes. If I wanted that I would tune into the A-holes on the right.

I feel Air America posed as a non-partisan Radio Free America, roped in listeners like me, and then started pouring on the Democrat Party propaganda. It makes sense to me that Air America is failing, now that the election is done and it completed its usefulness as one of the Democrat's primary campaign strategies... now that the Democrats' obviously preferred candidate, someone who is already being lied about by being called the first woman candidate for president, proudly announces that, if she thought it was necessary, she would drop atomic weapons on the people of a country that have absolutely no say in the misdeeds of their leaders.(oh cut the crap about the nature of the accuracy of modern weaponry... they said the same thing about the gattling gun.) I resent the attempt to dupe me. And I resent that Franken was a large part of that attempt.

If I never hear Oliphant (sp) and Franken laughing in their superior "gee don't you wish you knew as much as we do" way again it will be too soon. So in one way I am glad his candidacy at least gets him off the radio on Thursday afternoons. Some of that is simply my utter revulsion whenever I hear anyone laugh too much on the radio... and langh and laugh and laugh. Yuck. I'd rather hear "Smoke on the Water" again.

There's not many ways the Democrats, or Franken, could redeem themselves in my eyes (and no way the Republicans could, short of a political reincarnation of Michigan's Milliken)... short of actively promoting ways to pursue the formation and long-term survival of viable third and fourth parties, or at least getting out of the way of their formation, whether they stayed in the fold of the Democrats while they did it or not.

I can just hear the staunch and blindly so-called "pragmatist" progressive Democrats hissing and booing as I say that, with visions of the reviled Nader candidacy spinning them out of their good nights' sleep. Tough. When's the last time a media star became a good, truly progressive politician anyway? What's the record? Reagan? Schwartzenhitler? What ever. I am in the majority and unfortunately too many of us have been convinced by both parties that voting is a waste of our energy and time.

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