Commentary Magazine


Topic: Al Franken

Flotsam and Jetsam

I’m with Ben Chandler on this one. “Kentucky Rep. Ben Chandler is blaming President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the Democrats’ poor showing nationally in the Nov. 2 elections. … ‘If not there, where else does the responsibility lie? … You’re talking about the loss of 60 or something seats held by capable public servants. There had to be something going on at a level above them. If that isn’t the lesson, I don’t know what is.’”

I’m with Jeffrey Rosen on this one. “In a 2006 opinion for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, then-Judge Samuel Alito stressed that screening procedures must be both ‘minimally intrusive’ and “effective” — in other words, they must be ‘well-tailored to protect personal privacy,’ and they must deliver on their promise of discovering serious threats. … As currently used in U.S. airports, the new full-body scanners fail all of Alito’s tests.” Read the whole thing — it’s quite persuasive.

I’m with Norm Coleman on this one. “Former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman had some unsolicited advice for fellow Republican Joe Miller: It’s time to quit. ‘I think that race is over. I think the counting’s been done. I’m not sure there’s anything that would change that,’ Coleman told C-SPAN in an interview set to air on Sunday. Coleman himself fought until the bitter end of his 2008 Senate race against Democrat Al Franken, which dragged on for seven months because of a recount and legal challenges.”

I’m with John McCain on this one: “Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) argued in an interview Sunday that the U.S. has not exacted enough pressure on North Korea and that the current tensions in the region may present an opportunity for regime change. ‘I think it’s time we talked about regime change in North Korea,’ he said, quickly adding that he did not mean ‘military action.’”

I’m with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on this one. In regards to Iran, apparently he’d been warning the administration to “‘cut off the head of the snake’ while there was still time.” But the Obami are too busy obsessing over non-direct, non-peace talks that are going nowhere.

I’m with Josh Block on this one. “One of the most interesting overall themes is the restraint seen to typify the Israelis on Iran, in contrast to the typical Brzezinski, Scowcroft, Walt/Mearsheimer, Glenn Greenwald-Neo-progressive, netroots claims Israel is trying to prod us to fight and bomb Iran for them. In the end, one of the most obvious take-aways from these WikiLeaks documents is devastating to the whole Left/Realist narrative about Israeli manipulation. The Israelis come off as cool customers, while the Arabs are the ones freaking out, justifiably many would argue, and literally demanding the U.S. bomb the Iranian nuclear program.”

I’m with Lindsey Graham on this one. “I think it is a big mistake to criminalize the war, to take someone you’ve held under the law of war as an enemy combatant for six or seven years, then put them in civilian court. It is a disaster waiting to happen. I believe I got the votes to block it. I don’t think Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will ever get congressional approval to see a civilian court. He should be tried at Guantanamo Bay. He should be tried now. He was ready to plead guilty before the Obama administration stopped the trial. We should have him in a military commission trial beginning Monday and get this case behind us.”

I’m with Ben Chandler on this one. “Kentucky Rep. Ben Chandler is blaming President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the Democrats’ poor showing nationally in the Nov. 2 elections. … ‘If not there, where else does the responsibility lie? … You’re talking about the loss of 60 or something seats held by capable public servants. There had to be something going on at a level above them. If that isn’t the lesson, I don’t know what is.’”

I’m with Jeffrey Rosen on this one. “In a 2006 opinion for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, then-Judge Samuel Alito stressed that screening procedures must be both ‘minimally intrusive’ and “effective” — in other words, they must be ‘well-tailored to protect personal privacy,’ and they must deliver on their promise of discovering serious threats. … As currently used in U.S. airports, the new full-body scanners fail all of Alito’s tests.” Read the whole thing — it’s quite persuasive.

I’m with Norm Coleman on this one. “Former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman had some unsolicited advice for fellow Republican Joe Miller: It’s time to quit. ‘I think that race is over. I think the counting’s been done. I’m not sure there’s anything that would change that,’ Coleman told C-SPAN in an interview set to air on Sunday. Coleman himself fought until the bitter end of his 2008 Senate race against Democrat Al Franken, which dragged on for seven months because of a recount and legal challenges.”

I’m with John McCain on this one: “Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) argued in an interview Sunday that the U.S. has not exacted enough pressure on North Korea and that the current tensions in the region may present an opportunity for regime change. ‘I think it’s time we talked about regime change in North Korea,’ he said, quickly adding that he did not mean ‘military action.’”

I’m with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on this one. In regards to Iran, apparently he’d been warning the administration to “‘cut off the head of the snake’ while there was still time.” But the Obami are too busy obsessing over non-direct, non-peace talks that are going nowhere.

I’m with Josh Block on this one. “One of the most interesting overall themes is the restraint seen to typify the Israelis on Iran, in contrast to the typical Brzezinski, Scowcroft, Walt/Mearsheimer, Glenn Greenwald-Neo-progressive, netroots claims Israel is trying to prod us to fight and bomb Iran for them. In the end, one of the most obvious take-aways from these WikiLeaks documents is devastating to the whole Left/Realist narrative about Israeli manipulation. The Israelis come off as cool customers, while the Arabs are the ones freaking out, justifiably many would argue, and literally demanding the U.S. bomb the Iranian nuclear program.”

I’m with Lindsey Graham on this one. “I think it is a big mistake to criminalize the war, to take someone you’ve held under the law of war as an enemy combatant for six or seven years, then put them in civilian court. It is a disaster waiting to happen. I believe I got the votes to block it. I don’t think Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will ever get congressional approval to see a civilian court. He should be tried at Guantanamo Bay. He should be tried now. He was ready to plead guilty before the Obama administration stopped the trial. We should have him in a military commission trial beginning Monday and get this case behind us.”

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You Won’t See This on MSNBC

You get the idea that Al Franken isn’t, well, serious about his job. Fox News reports:

He’s good enough, he’s smart enough, but doggone it — he just can’t keep his eyes open for Senate confirmation hearings. Al Franken, the onetime comedian and current Democratic senator from Minnesota, used his position on the vaunted Judiciary Committee on Tuesday to doodle a lifelike bust of Sen. Jeff Sessions, the committee’s ranking Republican, as Sessions raked Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan over the coals. But it wasn’t all fun and games for the former “Saturday Night Live” star — Franken also found time to get in a good nap during the first day of hearings Monday.

Yes, Franken is neglecting his duties and not fulfilling his constitutional obligations to provide advice and consent (at least not advice and consent based on reasoned consideration). But, when you think about it, neither are his Democratic colleagues. They may not be doodling (well, not after this report), but neither are they doing anything productive in the hearings — like attempting to discern Kagan’s views on Supreme Court precedent. At least the Republican senators were trying. As Robert Alt of Heritage put it:

From the outset, Kagan ran away from every attempt to characterize her political and philosophical views. Senators Sessions (R-AL), Hatch (R-UT), Kyl (R-AZ), Grassley (R-IA), and Graham (R-SC) pressed Kagan on the nature of her political ideology and approach to legal analysis. She generally refused to admit any specific views and even went so far as to claim that she did not know what the term “progressive” meant.

If she’s not going to answer any important questions, then doodling or taking a nap might be forgiven.

You get the idea that Al Franken isn’t, well, serious about his job. Fox News reports:

He’s good enough, he’s smart enough, but doggone it — he just can’t keep his eyes open for Senate confirmation hearings. Al Franken, the onetime comedian and current Democratic senator from Minnesota, used his position on the vaunted Judiciary Committee on Tuesday to doodle a lifelike bust of Sen. Jeff Sessions, the committee’s ranking Republican, as Sessions raked Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan over the coals. But it wasn’t all fun and games for the former “Saturday Night Live” star — Franken also found time to get in a good nap during the first day of hearings Monday.

Yes, Franken is neglecting his duties and not fulfilling his constitutional obligations to provide advice and consent (at least not advice and consent based on reasoned consideration). But, when you think about it, neither are his Democratic colleagues. They may not be doodling (well, not after this report), but neither are they doing anything productive in the hearings — like attempting to discern Kagan’s views on Supreme Court precedent. At least the Republican senators were trying. As Robert Alt of Heritage put it:

From the outset, Kagan ran away from every attempt to characterize her political and philosophical views. Senators Sessions (R-AL), Hatch (R-UT), Kyl (R-AZ), Grassley (R-IA), and Graham (R-SC) pressed Kagan on the nature of her political ideology and approach to legal analysis. She generally refused to admit any specific views and even went so far as to claim that she did not know what the term “progressive” meant.

If she’s not going to answer any important questions, then doodling or taking a nap might be forgiven.

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Next Up: Reality-Show Politicians

The news that David Obey, the longtime Democratic House member from Wisconsin, is going to retire from his seat rather than attempt to secure reelection against a surging Republican named Sean Duffy is fascinating in many ways, particularly how, in this year, Obey’s seniority and chairmanship of the Budget Committee are clearly liabilities with voters rather than positives. But culturally, there’s something more telling. Duffy is a county district attorney in Wisconsin. Before he became a lawyer, he first came to prominence as a member of the cast of “The Real World,” the pioneering MTV reality series. (His wife Rachel Campos is also a veteran of “The Real World,” though they were not on the show together; they met as part of a reunion show, and they have six children.) If Duffy wins, he will be the first person to emerge in politics from reality television. That may sound like something silly, but there was a time when people scoffed at actors getting involved in politics (“Imagine Broadway Melody of 1984,” sang Tom Lehrer when the second-rank hoofer George Murphy made it into the Senate as a California Republican in 1962). Indeed, people still scoff, which led a great many people to smile dismissively at the possibility of Al Franken winning the Minnesota Senate seat. And yet there Franken is. The Duffy example, if he’s successful, may even incline some young go-getters to do whatever they can to get onto a reality show to launch a political career. You heard it here first.

The news that David Obey, the longtime Democratic House member from Wisconsin, is going to retire from his seat rather than attempt to secure reelection against a surging Republican named Sean Duffy is fascinating in many ways, particularly how, in this year, Obey’s seniority and chairmanship of the Budget Committee are clearly liabilities with voters rather than positives. But culturally, there’s something more telling. Duffy is a county district attorney in Wisconsin. Before he became a lawyer, he first came to prominence as a member of the cast of “The Real World,” the pioneering MTV reality series. (His wife Rachel Campos is also a veteran of “The Real World,” though they were not on the show together; they met as part of a reunion show, and they have six children.) If Duffy wins, he will be the first person to emerge in politics from reality television. That may sound like something silly, but there was a time when people scoffed at actors getting involved in politics (“Imagine Broadway Melody of 1984,” sang Tom Lehrer when the second-rank hoofer George Murphy made it into the Senate as a California Republican in 1962). Indeed, people still scoff, which led a great many people to smile dismissively at the possibility of Al Franken winning the Minnesota Senate seat. And yet there Franken is. The Duffy example, if he’s successful, may even incline some young go-getters to do whatever they can to get onto a reality show to launch a political career. You heard it here first.

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In the Crossfire

You get the sense Obama is in quite a fix. Politico runs two stories headlined: “Dems grouse as Obama tacks to center” and “Big bang takes toll on moderates.” So on one hand, liberals are annoyed with Obama’s promising a spending freeze (albeit, an itty-bitty one). And they are also peeved about Obama’s proposal to give businesses tax credits. But then the moderates are freaking out:

If the first year of Obama’s term was dominated by the so-called Big Bang push for enormous, politically risky initiatives — the stimulus, cap and trade and health care — Year Two is fast shaping up to be year of small ball, retrenchment and backlash.

“I’ve always maintained that I thought that they were doing too much, too fast,” said Rep. Mike McMahon (D-N.Y.), an endangered freshman who represents a Staten Island district long occupied by Republicans.

“Without question, the biggest complaint I’m hearing from constituents is that there were too many things being tackled all at once, and they didn’t have time to understand and digest all of them,” he added.

Democrats are realizing that they have angered a great many voters with scary big-government proposals but have little to show for it. And Blue Dog Rep. Dennis Cardoza would like to turn back the clock: “Everyone was talking about spending capital — now I think we wish we had some of that capital back. You build confidence by passing legislation that people understand and work that way. I still believe in the president, but you can’t be everything to all folks.” It seems suddenly Obama isn’t offering much of anything to anyone within his party.

Part of the problem stems from the lack of direction given to Congress. Al Franken finds nothing funny in the Obami’s meandering. He was reported to have ripped into David Axelrod “for the administration’s failure to provide clarity or direction on health care and other big bills.” Perhaps if Democrats’ own congressional leaders were more effective, the lack of direction from the White House would not be so disconcerting. But Democrats have seen what happens when Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are left to their own devices. You can understand why they are miffed that the White House hasn’t left a legislative road map for them to follow.

And part of the issue is fear that the leader of their party is playing into a destructive and familiar narrative, namely that the Democrats are the “tax-and-spend” and “weak on national security” party. On both, you see nervous Democrats are beginning to push back on everything from anti-terror policies to the new budget.

Obama and his congressional allies may well get their act together. But they’d better hurry. There are not that many months left to legislate and come up with something that incumbents can credibly tout to voters. And worse, persistent infighting and dissention will only depress their base further and convince ordinary voters these people simply aren’t up to the task of governing.

You get the sense Obama is in quite a fix. Politico runs two stories headlined: “Dems grouse as Obama tacks to center” and “Big bang takes toll on moderates.” So on one hand, liberals are annoyed with Obama’s promising a spending freeze (albeit, an itty-bitty one). And they are also peeved about Obama’s proposal to give businesses tax credits. But then the moderates are freaking out:

If the first year of Obama’s term was dominated by the so-called Big Bang push for enormous, politically risky initiatives — the stimulus, cap and trade and health care — Year Two is fast shaping up to be year of small ball, retrenchment and backlash.

“I’ve always maintained that I thought that they were doing too much, too fast,” said Rep. Mike McMahon (D-N.Y.), an endangered freshman who represents a Staten Island district long occupied by Republicans.

“Without question, the biggest complaint I’m hearing from constituents is that there were too many things being tackled all at once, and they didn’t have time to understand and digest all of them,” he added.

Democrats are realizing that they have angered a great many voters with scary big-government proposals but have little to show for it. And Blue Dog Rep. Dennis Cardoza would like to turn back the clock: “Everyone was talking about spending capital — now I think we wish we had some of that capital back. You build confidence by passing legislation that people understand and work that way. I still believe in the president, but you can’t be everything to all folks.” It seems suddenly Obama isn’t offering much of anything to anyone within his party.

Part of the problem stems from the lack of direction given to Congress. Al Franken finds nothing funny in the Obami’s meandering. He was reported to have ripped into David Axelrod “for the administration’s failure to provide clarity or direction on health care and other big bills.” Perhaps if Democrats’ own congressional leaders were more effective, the lack of direction from the White House would not be so disconcerting. But Democrats have seen what happens when Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are left to their own devices. You can understand why they are miffed that the White House hasn’t left a legislative road map for them to follow.

And part of the issue is fear that the leader of their party is playing into a destructive and familiar narrative, namely that the Democrats are the “tax-and-spend” and “weak on national security” party. On both, you see nervous Democrats are beginning to push back on everything from anti-terror policies to the new budget.

Obama and his congressional allies may well get their act together. But they’d better hurry. There are not that many months left to legislate and come up with something that incumbents can credibly tout to voters. And worse, persistent infighting and dissention will only depress their base further and convince ordinary voters these people simply aren’t up to the task of governing.

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Democrats’ Risky Alliance with Big Labor

Barack Obama addressed the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO today. Both have a lot at stake. The AFL-CIO and other unions clearly see 2008 as their year. The AFL-CIO just announced a $53 million ad campaign aimed at attacking John McCain. Yes, Obama doesn’t accept special interest money. But he’s happy to benefit from union help, all the same.

Among Big Labor’s key objectives in recent years has been passage of the Orwellian-sounding Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). That measure would replace secret ballot union elections with so-called “card checks” whereby cards signed by a majority of workers in the presence of union officials would be sufficient to unionize a workplace. Conservatives have long argued that such a measure would open up workers to union intimidation. Nevertheless, this remains a pet project for Big Labor, Congressional Democrats (who failed to pass it in 2007), and both Democratic presidential contenders. (Not surpringly, Obama plugged the EFCA in his AFL-CIO talk today.)

Now comes some evidence that Democrats do the bidding of Big Labor at their political peril. McLaughlin & Associates, a well-regarded GOP polling group, has conducted a survey for a business group, Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, in the battleground states of Minnesota, Colorado, and Maine. The results (according to the press release) show that large majorities of voters in Colorado (68%), Maine (72%), and Minnesota (65%) oppose the EFCA. Moreover, voters in Minnesota and Colorado would be less likely to support Democratic senate candidates who support the EFCA. (Specifically, a plurality of voters would be less likely to vote for Democratic Senate candidates Mark Udall (44%) and Al Franken (41%) if they support this legislation.) To boot, at least 80% of voters in all three states believe that secret ballot elections are the cornerstone of democracy and should be retained for union elections.

This is one more instance in which Democrats have confused the interests of union power brokers with the interests of working-class voters. Unions may want to do away with workplace democracy, but real workers do not. Similarly, teachers’ unions hate school choice measures, but working-class voters whose kids are trapped in underperforming public schools like them.

Will this slow down Big Labor or give Democratic politicians reason to reconsider their position? Probably not. But it’s an opening Republicans should exploit, now that they have some evidence to indicate it’s a smart strategy.

Barack Obama addressed the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO today. Both have a lot at stake. The AFL-CIO and other unions clearly see 2008 as their year. The AFL-CIO just announced a $53 million ad campaign aimed at attacking John McCain. Yes, Obama doesn’t accept special interest money. But he’s happy to benefit from union help, all the same.

Among Big Labor’s key objectives in recent years has been passage of the Orwellian-sounding Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). That measure would replace secret ballot union elections with so-called “card checks” whereby cards signed by a majority of workers in the presence of union officials would be sufficient to unionize a workplace. Conservatives have long argued that such a measure would open up workers to union intimidation. Nevertheless, this remains a pet project for Big Labor, Congressional Democrats (who failed to pass it in 2007), and both Democratic presidential contenders. (Not surpringly, Obama plugged the EFCA in his AFL-CIO talk today.)

Now comes some evidence that Democrats do the bidding of Big Labor at their political peril. McLaughlin & Associates, a well-regarded GOP polling group, has conducted a survey for a business group, Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, in the battleground states of Minnesota, Colorado, and Maine. The results (according to the press release) show that large majorities of voters in Colorado (68%), Maine (72%), and Minnesota (65%) oppose the EFCA. Moreover, voters in Minnesota and Colorado would be less likely to support Democratic senate candidates who support the EFCA. (Specifically, a plurality of voters would be less likely to vote for Democratic Senate candidates Mark Udall (44%) and Al Franken (41%) if they support this legislation.) To boot, at least 80% of voters in all three states believe that secret ballot elections are the cornerstone of democracy and should be retained for union elections.

This is one more instance in which Democrats have confused the interests of union power brokers with the interests of working-class voters. Unions may want to do away with workplace democracy, but real workers do not. Similarly, teachers’ unions hate school choice measures, but working-class voters whose kids are trapped in underperforming public schools like them.

Will this slow down Big Labor or give Democratic politicians reason to reconsider their position? Probably not. But it’s an opening Republicans should exploit, now that they have some evidence to indicate it’s a smart strategy.

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Franken’s Shtick

The comedian Al Franken, author of Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, recently announced that he is running for Senate from Minnesota, where he grew up. An alumnus of NBC’s Saturday Night Live, Franken made his name satirizing conservative figures like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and National Review’s Rich Lowry, whom he challenged to a fist fight in his garage.

His candidacy has been greeted with predictable enthusiasm. As Time gushed, “Enter the clown, who’s ready to play not Hamlet but Disraeli.” But is Franken really ready? Obviously, Americans have taken a political chance on ex-entertainers before, most notably with Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, but Franken’s case poses special difficulties because his work has always been so harshly political and partisan.

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The comedian Al Franken, author of Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, recently announced that he is running for Senate from Minnesota, where he grew up. An alumnus of NBC’s Saturday Night Live, Franken made his name satirizing conservative figures like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and National Review’s Rich Lowry, whom he challenged to a fist fight in his garage.

His candidacy has been greeted with predictable enthusiasm. As Time gushed, “Enter the clown, who’s ready to play not Hamlet but Disraeli.” But is Franken really ready? Obviously, Americans have taken a political chance on ex-entertainers before, most notably with Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, but Franken’s case poses special difficulties because his work has always been so harshly political and partisan.

In the final episode of his program on Air America, the now-bankrupt liberal radio station, Franken announced his candidacy with old-fashioned American optimism. “I know I have an awful lot to learn from the people of Minnesota,” he declared. I want “to help our country become everything I hope it can be and everything I know it can be.”

But reconciling aw-shucks populist rhetoric with the well-established cynicism of Franken’s public persona won’t be easy. After all, this is a “comedian” who once ironically raised the possibility that George Bush and Dick Cheney should be executed for treason, quickly adding that “we should never ever, ever, ever execute a sitting President.” He has also made snide comments about McCain’s POW experience: “I don’t understand why all this war hero stuff. I mean, anybody can get captured. Isn’t the idea to capture the other guy? As far as I’m concerned, he sat out the war.”

There are many who find humor in Franken’s shtick, and his candidacy can’t be judged solely on the basis of his stand-up routine and the books he has written. But episodes like the one at a Dean fundraiser in 2003, when Franken went on an expletive-laced, demagogic rant about Brit Hume and Fox News, are among many troubling instances when he has seemed authentically malicious–and out of control.

At Franken’s official campaign website, you can listen to him talk about middle-class values and his hardscrabble family history; you can even hear this Harvard grad use the expression “guv’ment.” But his attempts at folksy spontaneity seem flat and scripted. After ten minutes of self-mythologizing, he finally gets to a subject he can warm to: his agenda, which sounds like leftovers from a 2003 John Kerry press release.

Franken is clearly an intelligent man. He knows that rural-style charm and meat-and-potatoes liberalism play well in Minnesota. But unless he is a preternaturally gifted politician, his humble-pie charade will not survive the extreme rhetoric and partisan titillation in which he has always trafficked. In the run-up to the election in 2008, Minnesotans will have to be on the look-out for the real Al Franken.

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