Social activist Randi Reitan writes:
"I keep going to the Clothesline to see a post on Al Franken ..... what are you thinking today on the whole sad mess? If ever there was a day to hang out the linens today is the day."
Well, yes it is. It's Friday, June 6. Tomorrow we, delegates to the DFL convention in Rochester, MN (yes, home of Mayo clinic) will endorse a candidate to take on Republican and Bush sycophant, Norm Coleman in the general election.
For those of you not immersed in MN politics, playboy Norm won Paul Wellstone's seat after Paul and Sheila Wellstone and their daughter and colleagues died in a fiery plane crash just weeks before the election in 2002.
Former comedian and satirist Al Franken, Minnesota native, moved back to run for the senate, and today is the front runner in the Democratic race to unseat Norm Coleman. From the get-go, however, there have been concerns about Al's electability, due to his past as a satirist and Saturday Night Live comedian.
But, he knows the issues, has state-wide name recognition, has a great personal life with his wife Franni and their two children, (daughter Thomasin working her butt off on his campaign) was a friend and dedicated supporter of Paul Wellstone, and has always been generous in his support of other Democratic candidates in MN and else where.
Things were going along well despite a few little blips about past taxes (nothing really, accounting errors) and then someone dug out an article, a satire, that Al wrote for Playboy magazine in 2000.
First it was the Repubs who trotted it out, but it didn't get traction for some reason. I've only read clips of it, but by all accounts it's raunchy and puerile stuff, complete with accounts of fantasy blow jobs and well, you get the picture.
Things got murkier when, a few days ago, Rep. Betty McCollum, a fellow Democrat, brought it up again, saying she couldn't endorse Al, given his misogynistic writing. A few other congressional candidates agreed that this was not helpful in their districts.
Then, two days ago, the political action fund of Planned Parenthood put out a press release saying that they could not endorse Al, given what they'd read. Adding fat to the fire, Action fund leaders Connie Perpich thanked two far right Republican women legislators for their part in bringing this information to the fore. Teaming up with these extreme right wing women, while shooting down Franken and offering no alternative, rankled many, including me.
In the beginning Al had two viable opponents. One was Mike Ciresi, an attorney known in the urban areas of MN for taking on big tobacco and winning, but he never caught on despite pouring his own considerable resources into the campaign. In March, he dropped out of the race, never having gained much more than 8% of the vote in the district conventions.
The other is Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, a soft-spoken professor who espouses Paul Wellstone's policies, but lacks Paul's fiery oratory skills. But, he's done a great job building a grassroots campaign on a slim dime, and I don't know anyone who has anything bad to say about Jack. Other than he can't win, because he's so unknown outside the Twin Cities metro area.
So here we are, on the eve of endorsing the candidate who will take on Norm Coleman, and we are a house totally divided.
The Jack supporters claim they have an under current of support, and that they will prevent Al from getting endorsed. They are rapacious in trying to recruit delegates to their side, and have had a lot of success leading up to the convention, but there doesn't seem to be much sway in their direction on the convention floor.
The Planned Parenthood Action fund folks who denounced Al say that they don't have a plan for replacing Al with another candidate. (And btw, rumor has it that the decision to denounce Al was made by one person at PParenthood, not by the board. And that some supporters are ticked.) Some say that they are actually stalking horses for Mike Ciresi, who would now like to try again in the September primary. (Bring on that whopping 8%)
Which brings us to Al, his part in all this and his response. And my advice. (Finally getting to Randi's question.)
I don't think there's any doubt that this crude and sophomoric stuff he's written hurts him, and hurts congressional candidates like Tim Walz and El Tinklenberg who have to run in very conservative districts with Al at the head of the ticket. But, as he argues, it's satire, it's not reflective of the life he leads (although it does reflect the life Norm Coleman leads, but I said that, not Al) and most people will get that.
But I don't think it's that easy. Up til now, the Franken campaign, okay, Al, has been arguing the satire defense. I don't think most people give a rat about the fine points of satire. As Connie Perpich of Planned Parenthood said to me, "you really want to have a candidate for the US Senate who made jokes about raping Leslie Stahl?" (That's from another raunchy article, I believe, in New York magazine from long ago.)
And what I'm picking up from the other delegates is that they pretty much feel the same way -- that the satire argument isn't cutting it. (Although there are those who think the whole thing is a red herring and that Al should power through and move on. And his hospitality suite tonight was jam-packed with cheering supporters, so maybe this is less of a big deal than I thought.)
Still, my advice to Al, should anyone ask, is, apologize, apologize, apologize. Forget arguing about satire, forget defending free speech, forget your pride. Suck it up and say that you know this stuff is deeply offensive to many people, that you wrote it long ago before you had any intention of seeking public office, and that you are sorry for the difficult position you've put people in. Have Franni and Thomasin on stage with you when you say this, and mention them as emblematic of the life you lead with women. Do what Barack Obama did with Rev. Wright. When it wasn't enough to distance himself he had to leave Wright's church. Leave the "church" of your past, the SNL and Playboy parts at least . Say you're a serious thoughtful senatorial sort of guy, and ask for their support in defeating Norm Coleman.
Will it calm the roiling waters? I don't know, but in my opinion, a sincere apology can't hurt. Another hopeful sign is that a new and experienced campaign manager took charge of the campaign last Monday, and she's great. And at the core, he's a solid, issues oriented guy and this is a huge and hurtful distraction that he should be able to put behind him.
As Randi wrote:
"I still love Al Franken. I just see the Al Franken who has this big heart and who truly cares and will work so hard to make a difference. I have a hard time with the Democrats who are all ganging up on him....especially after all the work he has done to get many of them elected."
Well, there you have it. It's almost 2 a.m. and I'm supposed to be back at the convention center in 7 hours. Tomorrow is the endorsement fight, it's going to be a long wild day. Al's future hangs on Al's speech to the delegates. Posing from the floor is almost impossible, (and it costs $20 just to get on line) but I might give it a try.
And what's your take, Barb?