Al Franken's road to Rochester

June 10, 2008 by barbara

barbara writes

A funny thing happened to me on the way to the state Democratic convention. I found myself all blithery over the kerfuffle about Al Franken’s professional past. Yeah, me. A confirmed Franken delegate. And I don’t even watch television! So how did I get sucked into the vortex? Internet, mostly. News posted there. Blogs that I tend to trust. Even at that, some of the din was damning.

So who made all the noise? The image of The Music Man looms large, albeit benign in contrast with the poo-flingers of current time. Remember Harold “Trouble Right Here in River City” Hill?

Remember how Hill (not unlike the Bushlicans) breezed into town and stirred up a flap about the moral decay of River City’s young people in order to feather his own nest? He was so slick and practiced that he succeeded in manufacturing a crisis that no one save Marian the Librarian even thought to challenge. Everyone else was all a-tremble at the nearly apocalyptic scenario Hill painted for them.

Fade to Minnesota, where a gaggle of Republicans plus redoubtable Democrat Rep. Betty McCollum launched a full-frontal assault on the "secret" life of Al Franken. Just one problem with that, of course. Franken’s life is pretty much an open book. Several of them, in fact. Read more.

Franken does not pretend to be something he's not. He has not attempted to conceal his professional past (which is where the problems lie), unlike other political candidates whose genuinely egregious conduct ultimately oozes its way into the spotlight. And even when Franken apologized (which he did to the whole convention, metaphorical hat in hand) – even then, the harangue continued. McCollum and the Republicans sliced and diced what seemed to me to be Franken’s sincere mea culpa. They examined it minutely and wondered publicly whether Franken was sorry enough.

Here’s the deal, people. Al Franken has said some really dumb stuff, no question about it. Offensive stuff, in some instances. And on my way to Rochester for the convention, I wondered how I would deal with that, knowing there would surely be a mega stink. Brought my Franken T-shirt along with me. Wasn’t absolutely sure I’d wear it, since I’m a chicken of a different sort from the clutch of Chicken Littles on steroids.

On the road to Rochester from St. Paul (is that delicious imagery or what?), I had some time to think things through. I wasn’t against Jack Nelson Pallmeyer. He’s a nice enough guy who seems to care deeply about peacemaking and Paul Wellstone and the well-being of people. But I’d been for Al Franken pretty much from the get-go. I knew Franken had a rich trove of writings and broadcasts that the Republicans and the occasional Democrat would delight in perusing. Would gasp, laugh, pump fists, shout, “Eureka!” and set about castigating Franken as though they’d just discovered something new and deliciously damaging.

Folks, it’s been there all along the way – the good, bad, ugly. I wish there weren’t any ugly. So does Franken. He told us so. I believe him. And I also believe that goes deeper than his Senate aspirations, but that’s just my personal take on the situation. Yes, it’s what a satirist does. Yes, it’s what a satirist who writes for or performs for Playboy or SNL or, or, or says. And group think can be pretty bawdy sometimes.

But here’s the thing that kept rising to the forefront for me as I pondered The Franken Dilemma. There is just one reason for digging and flinging and accusing and blaming in politics. Just one. It happens when your own candidate does not measure up. When your candidate is a hollow, callow chameleon. When the only way you can elevate your candidate is to tear down the opponent by fair means or foul. Usually foul, as has become the Republican modus operandi.

Let me speak plainly. Republicans cannot make Norm Coleman look good. Not enough lipstick on the planet for that porker. The only way for Republicans to distract voters from Coleman’s appalling history is to fling poo. And make no mistake (as Franken pointed out), there would be poo flying no matter who(m) the Dems endorsed. Easier with Al because he’s so totally out there. But there are people whose entire specialty is opposition research on candidates famous and obscure. They dig and dig until they find events, people, donations, photos, anything that could possibly embarrass or, in the best of all worlds, destroy, the opponent.

Friday morning's road to Rochester took me to Al Franken’s Friday night gathering. Al spoke to a huge roomful of supporters with great warmth and sincerity. He told us he’d be addressing his very bad week at the convention on Saturday. And he did.

On Saturday, he told all of us that he was sorry about some of the things he has written, and I believed him. I also believed that he will do his damnedest to advocate for the people of Minnesota. All the people – especially the most vulnerable among us. And I believed him when he said that he’s made some bad mistakes, that he is sorry for them, and that we can count on him to tell us the truth. I also believe he will go fearlessly toe to toe with the power elite in Washington on our behalf.

Just so you know? I was wearing my Franken T-shirt when he spoke to the convention before the endorsement. It was a good choice.

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Anonymous (not verified) | June 10, 2008 - 4:10pm

I have thought about that too. Your right, it seems the worse their own candidate is, the nastier the Repugs get. McCain, Coleman, Kline, Bachman. Its going to be a long nasty one for sure.


Jeanie T (not verified) | June 10, 2008 - 10:23pm

Well, you know I was for Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer long before the Franken fracas.....from knowing about him for 25 years and admiring his work and his stand on the issues. I wondered what the convention would do. My fear was that the Republicans will roast Franken alive and loose the election for the dems. I hope I am wrong. I think jack N-P would have an easier time. But I will be a Franken supporter for sure now that he is the nominee.

Jeanie T


Anonymous (not verified) | June 10, 2008 - 10:25pm

Lordy, I can't even spell "lose". I better never run for office. (No danger there!)

Jeanie T


susan | June 10, 2008 - 11:11pm

Hey Jeanie T, what makes you think being able to spell is a qualification for office? Or being able to string together a sentence or tell the truth . . . Do you know the current occupant? Those things are over-rated. Elitist.

I don't know Jack, but he sure seems like the sort of person we ought to have run for office. It's a shame that his campaign couldn't get traction. As to whether he could have beaten Norm, we won't know, but I don't think so.
I was struck on Saturday by how anti-business he sounded, and how far to the left, for lack of a better word. We urban Dems, some of us at least, may think that's all well and good, but it just doesn't play in the bigger world. There are bad businesses out there, but a whole lot of good ones, and we'd do well to stop lumping them all into the same bag.

Also, sorry to say, Jack's speaking style, despite the call-and-answer part that was effective at the convention, is just not something that stirs people the way Wellstone could stir people. And remember, that even with his unique abilities and terrific ads, Paul barely squeaked by in that first election, helped, as we know, by his opponent's "good Jew" letter. I don't see how Jack could have beat Norm.

That said, can Al beat him? He's not a perfect candidate, that's for sure, and Norm is a very popular, albeit slippery, guy. But Al has a good heart and a good mind, a terrific wife and above average children. It's going to be a tough fight, but if he can continue to show the strength and good sense and campaign skills he showed at the convention, I think he can do it.


Poet (not verified) | June 11, 2008 - 10:19pm

So Al Franken isn't an attorney who rose through the party ranks from obscurity to become a candidate. So what? Congress, the Senate, State Assemblies, Governorships, and (dare we say!) the White House have been filled with such people and what has it gotten us? The current mess, that's what.

Two of my favorite examples of political "blah" are MIckey
Edwards ( former Dem rep from Oklahoma) and Vin Webber (a former Rep rep from Minnesota). After retiring from their house careers they went to Harvard's Kennedy School of Government (Edwards) and became, according to a 2000 Center for Public Integrity report, a “super-lobbyist” in Washington (Weber). Anyone woiuld be more interesting than such mealy mouthed stuffed shirts.

If Jesse Ventura or Arnold Schwartzeneggar, can be Governor or Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush can be President, then Al Franken can be a Senator and I wish him and his supporters all the best.


barbara says (not verified) | June 15, 2008 - 11:02am


Seems clear the old ways aren't hacking it. Which kind of suggests that many of our current office-holders are, ummm, hairballs.

Franken is not perfect. The big difference between him and his detractors is that: (a) he knows and admits his flaws; (b) he's bright and won't cave to the "power elite"; (c) he's a real Democrat; and (d) he tells the truth.