Commentary Magazine


Topic: Saturday Night Live

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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The Saturday Night Live Iran Sketch

Twenty years ago on “Saturday Night Live,” a sketch set in 1947 Hollywood was aired featuring Jon Lovitz as a hardboiled movie-studio chief and the late Phil Hartman as a vain actor. It went something like this:

LOVITZ: I’m lettin ya go, Johnny.

HARTMAN: Tell it to me straight, Harry.

LOVITZ: You’re washed up, I tell ya, you’re through.

HARTMAN: I can take it, Harry, you just lay it on me.

LOVITZ: You stink, Johnny, you’re the worst actor on the lot, you’ll never work in this town again!

HARTMAN: Don’t leave me hangin’ by a thread, I gotta know where I stand!

Today, for about the 300th time in the past three weeks, Iran has let the world know in no uncertain terms that it is not going to assent to the cockamamie scheme dreamed up by some UN dupe to ship its weapons-grade uranium out of the country in exchange for uranium that can be used for peaceful purposes — a plan then sold to the Obama administration, which scarfed it up like the band instruments  peddled to the good people of River City by the conman Harold Hill in The Music Man. And for about the 300th time, the media are reporting the fact breathlessly, as though the 299 other times the Iranians have made it clear they are keeping their uranium for their would-be bomb never happened. You can read this right now, on the website of the New York Times:

Iran’s foreign minister said in remarks reported Wednesday that he opposes sending the country’s enriched uranium abroad under a tentative deal negotiated with the United States and other big powers last month. The foreign minister’s remarks cast further doubt on the deal, which the Obama administration had hoped would defuse a standoff over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, told the student news agency ISNA that Iran would consider a simultaneous swap of its nuclear fuel for other uranium. But he told ISNA, “Definitely, Iran will not send its 3.5 percent-enriched fuel out.”

Mr. Mottaki is the highest-ranking Iranian official to openly reject the deal…

By the time, this farce is over, there is sure to be a conversation that goes something like this:

AHMADINEJAD: I tell ya, Barack, there’s no deal.

OBAMA: Give it to me straight, Mahmoud.

AHMADINEJAD: It’s finished, ya get me? It’s through.

OBAMA: Don’t beat around the bush, Mr. President.

AHMADINEJAD: We’re building a bomb, Obama! We’re building a bomb and if you don’t strike our facilities and destroy them we are going to nuclearize the Middle East!

OBAMA: I can take it, Mahmoud! Say what you gotta say!

(Yes, for the record, my beloved wife works at Saturday Night Live. She bears no responsibility for this post.)

Twenty years ago on “Saturday Night Live,” a sketch set in 1947 Hollywood was aired featuring Jon Lovitz as a hardboiled movie-studio chief and the late Phil Hartman as a vain actor. It went something like this:

LOVITZ: I’m lettin ya go, Johnny.

HARTMAN: Tell it to me straight, Harry.

LOVITZ: You’re washed up, I tell ya, you’re through.

HARTMAN: I can take it, Harry, you just lay it on me.

LOVITZ: You stink, Johnny, you’re the worst actor on the lot, you’ll never work in this town again!

HARTMAN: Don’t leave me hangin’ by a thread, I gotta know where I stand!

Today, for about the 300th time in the past three weeks, Iran has let the world know in no uncertain terms that it is not going to assent to the cockamamie scheme dreamed up by some UN dupe to ship its weapons-grade uranium out of the country in exchange for uranium that can be used for peaceful purposes — a plan then sold to the Obama administration, which scarfed it up like the band instruments  peddled to the good people of River City by the conman Harold Hill in The Music Man. And for about the 300th time, the media are reporting the fact breathlessly, as though the 299 other times the Iranians have made it clear they are keeping their uranium for their would-be bomb never happened. You can read this right now, on the website of the New York Times:

Iran’s foreign minister said in remarks reported Wednesday that he opposes sending the country’s enriched uranium abroad under a tentative deal negotiated with the United States and other big powers last month. The foreign minister’s remarks cast further doubt on the deal, which the Obama administration had hoped would defuse a standoff over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, told the student news agency ISNA that Iran would consider a simultaneous swap of its nuclear fuel for other uranium. But he told ISNA, “Definitely, Iran will not send its 3.5 percent-enriched fuel out.”

Mr. Mottaki is the highest-ranking Iranian official to openly reject the deal…

By the time, this farce is over, there is sure to be a conversation that goes something like this:

AHMADINEJAD: I tell ya, Barack, there’s no deal.

OBAMA: Give it to me straight, Mahmoud.

AHMADINEJAD: It’s finished, ya get me? It’s through.

OBAMA: Don’t beat around the bush, Mr. President.

AHMADINEJAD: We’re building a bomb, Obama! We’re building a bomb and if you don’t strike our facilities and destroy them we are going to nuclearize the Middle East!

OBAMA: I can take it, Mahmoud! Say what you gotta say!

(Yes, for the record, my beloved wife works at Saturday Night Live. She bears no responsibility for this post.)

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The Weak, Silent Type

With the Texas and Ohio primaries now upon us, the painfully uninteresting Bill Richardson Endorsement Watch can officially come to close. Indeed, despite doing nothing newsworthy since ending his presidential bid–other than growing a beard that evokes a chad-hung Al Gore–Richardson has regularly appeared in the news media, announcing that he is not ready to support either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. His most recent declaration of non-endorsement came Sunday, when he told the Associated Press that he was “on the fence,” adding, “I may wake up tomorrow and do it. Then I may not.”

For Richardson, this sudden neutrality stands in stark contrast with his not-so-subtle backing for Clinton during a number of the debates. For example, when the other Democratic candidates accused Clinton of lacking foreign policy experience during an October debate in Philadelphia, Richardson rose to her defense, saying, “I’m hearing this holier-than-thou attitude toward Senator Clinton. That is bothering me because it’s pretty close to personal attacks that we don’t need.” Meanwhile, during a January debate in New Hampshire, Richardson reproached Obama for berating Clinton, firmly saying, “this is the kind of Washington bickering that the public turns off to.” Indeed, as satirized by Saturday Night Live, it appeared as though Richardson was aiming to be Clinton’s running mate.

Yet despite Richardson’s very public waffling after months of positioning himself as Clinton’s partner, the media has continued promoting Richardson as a strong vice-presidential candidate. Nicholas Kristof has noted that Richardson would secure the Hispanic vote, while The Detroit Free Press has written that Richardson would “help fill Obama’s lack-of-experience vacuum.” Meanwhile, Richardson’s name has appeared prominently in virtually every article listing possible vice-presidential candidates-a blitz aided by Richardson’s own acknowledgement that he is “open” to the idea.

Still, Clinton and Obama would be foolish to invite him on their campaign trails. For starters-particularly given his support for Hillary during his final months as a weak presidential candidate-Richardson’s wavering smacks of disingenuity.

But even if we can forgive Richardson for rethinking his support for Clinton in light of Obama’s eleven consecutive primary victories since Super Tuesday, his failure to endorse either Clinton or Obama suggests a disturbing inability to make key strategic decisions. This makes him a serious liability to any Democratic ticket. After all, the eventual nominee will face John McCain, who fairly argues that he risked his political career in supporting the surge in Iraq-a testament to his decision-making and leadership qualities that are the best arguments for his candidacy.

With the Texas and Ohio primaries now upon us, the painfully uninteresting Bill Richardson Endorsement Watch can officially come to close. Indeed, despite doing nothing newsworthy since ending his presidential bid–other than growing a beard that evokes a chad-hung Al Gore–Richardson has regularly appeared in the news media, announcing that he is not ready to support either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. His most recent declaration of non-endorsement came Sunday, when he told the Associated Press that he was “on the fence,” adding, “I may wake up tomorrow and do it. Then I may not.”

For Richardson, this sudden neutrality stands in stark contrast with his not-so-subtle backing for Clinton during a number of the debates. For example, when the other Democratic candidates accused Clinton of lacking foreign policy experience during an October debate in Philadelphia, Richardson rose to her defense, saying, “I’m hearing this holier-than-thou attitude toward Senator Clinton. That is bothering me because it’s pretty close to personal attacks that we don’t need.” Meanwhile, during a January debate in New Hampshire, Richardson reproached Obama for berating Clinton, firmly saying, “this is the kind of Washington bickering that the public turns off to.” Indeed, as satirized by Saturday Night Live, it appeared as though Richardson was aiming to be Clinton’s running mate.

Yet despite Richardson’s very public waffling after months of positioning himself as Clinton’s partner, the media has continued promoting Richardson as a strong vice-presidential candidate. Nicholas Kristof has noted that Richardson would secure the Hispanic vote, while The Detroit Free Press has written that Richardson would “help fill Obama’s lack-of-experience vacuum.” Meanwhile, Richardson’s name has appeared prominently in virtually every article listing possible vice-presidential candidates-a blitz aided by Richardson’s own acknowledgement that he is “open” to the idea.

Still, Clinton and Obama would be foolish to invite him on their campaign trails. For starters-particularly given his support for Hillary during his final months as a weak presidential candidate-Richardson’s wavering smacks of disingenuity.

But even if we can forgive Richardson for rethinking his support for Clinton in light of Obama’s eleven consecutive primary victories since Super Tuesday, his failure to endorse either Clinton or Obama suggests a disturbing inability to make key strategic decisions. This makes him a serious liability to any Democratic ticket. After all, the eventual nominee will face John McCain, who fairly argues that he risked his political career in supporting the surge in Iraq-a testament to his decision-making and leadership qualities that are the best arguments for his candidacy.

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How They Match Up

Barack Obama is making the argument to superdelegates and adoring groups of voters that he is more electable of the two Democratic candidates and that he will match up better against John McCain. For now, the polls agree, but less dramatically so than one might expect. But is this right?

Hillary Clinton’s “high negatives” are legendary and, if the Obama campaign has proven anything, it is that there is a hunger among Democrats and Republicans alike to jettison the Clintons from the national stage. However, there are several disadvantages which Obama has.

First, we vote, of course, by the electoral college. So the real issue is which states, if any, does he put in play which she does not. Yes, he has run well in red states, but no one seriously believes that he will beat John McCain in Nebraska. At least for now, Clinton polls better among Hispanics and would therefore have a better shot at states which actually are in play, such as Florida and New Mexico. In the habitually important state of Ohio with the famed Reagan Democrats, some of whom are socially quite conservative, there is a good argument Clinton, not Obama, is the stronger candidate. (We’ll find out on March 4 who runs stronger with Democrats, but in the fall Independents and Republicans will be at issue also.)

Second, there is something to be said for Clinton’s argument that she will not be blown off the stage by McCain. Watching Obama’s campaign speech in Alexandria yesterday on CSPAN, I was struck how little there is still there. The vast majority of the speech was utter fluff, lovely and soaring fluff, yes, but still fluff. The rest was rather bland aspirational liberal fare (“give our kids a world class education”). In an election that season that will last six months or more will this wear thin? (Quite possibly. And now that Saturday Night Live writers are going back to work we can expect some delightful spoofs of his video and political messaging.) On foreign policy the problem is more acute. In a debate will he sound credible, with McCain ready to pounce, that our real problem internationally has been our failure to visit with the world’s tyrants?

Third, his ranking by the National Journal as the most liberal Senator reveals a basic truth: for all of the “bringing together” and “reaching out” rhetoric he remains an unblemished and uncompromising liberal–on foreign policy, on judges, on taxes, on everything. I can think of no issue in which he has bucked the Democratic liberal establishment (other than a meek suggestion that merit pay for teachers might not be such a bad idea). If McCain can break through the din of music videos (or wait until they seem strangely stale) he might just make the argument to the great middle swath of the electorate that there is a reason other than soaring rhetoric why Teddy Kennedy endorsed him: he is an attractive spokesman for the platform of the Left that the country has repeatedly rejected.

So, although Clinton has fallen on hard times and is resorting to all manner of silly argument to retain her hopes for the nomination, we should give the lady her due: she may, in a general election, be the stronger of the two candidates.

Barack Obama is making the argument to superdelegates and adoring groups of voters that he is more electable of the two Democratic candidates and that he will match up better against John McCain. For now, the polls agree, but less dramatically so than one might expect. But is this right?

Hillary Clinton’s “high negatives” are legendary and, if the Obama campaign has proven anything, it is that there is a hunger among Democrats and Republicans alike to jettison the Clintons from the national stage. However, there are several disadvantages which Obama has.

First, we vote, of course, by the electoral college. So the real issue is which states, if any, does he put in play which she does not. Yes, he has run well in red states, but no one seriously believes that he will beat John McCain in Nebraska. At least for now, Clinton polls better among Hispanics and would therefore have a better shot at states which actually are in play, such as Florida and New Mexico. In the habitually important state of Ohio with the famed Reagan Democrats, some of whom are socially quite conservative, there is a good argument Clinton, not Obama, is the stronger candidate. (We’ll find out on March 4 who runs stronger with Democrats, but in the fall Independents and Republicans will be at issue also.)

Second, there is something to be said for Clinton’s argument that she will not be blown off the stage by McCain. Watching Obama’s campaign speech in Alexandria yesterday on CSPAN, I was struck how little there is still there. The vast majority of the speech was utter fluff, lovely and soaring fluff, yes, but still fluff. The rest was rather bland aspirational liberal fare (“give our kids a world class education”). In an election that season that will last six months or more will this wear thin? (Quite possibly. And now that Saturday Night Live writers are going back to work we can expect some delightful spoofs of his video and political messaging.) On foreign policy the problem is more acute. In a debate will he sound credible, with McCain ready to pounce, that our real problem internationally has been our failure to visit with the world’s tyrants?

Third, his ranking by the National Journal as the most liberal Senator reveals a basic truth: for all of the “bringing together” and “reaching out” rhetoric he remains an unblemished and uncompromising liberal–on foreign policy, on judges, on taxes, on everything. I can think of no issue in which he has bucked the Democratic liberal establishment (other than a meek suggestion that merit pay for teachers might not be such a bad idea). If McCain can break through the din of music videos (or wait until they seem strangely stale) he might just make the argument to the great middle swath of the electorate that there is a reason other than soaring rhetoric why Teddy Kennedy endorsed him: he is an attractive spokesman for the platform of the Left that the country has repeatedly rejected.

So, although Clinton has fallen on hard times and is resorting to all manner of silly argument to retain her hopes for the nomination, we should give the lady her due: she may, in a general election, be the stronger of the two candidates.

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A Star Is Worn

Hillary Clinton’s sending her husband on the stump has long been thought of as a no-brainer. Where she fights each potentially incriminating syllable as it escapes her lips, Bill glides through every exchange with a kind of post-moral ease.

So what happened yesterday? At an Iowa campaign stop, Bill Clinton claimed he “opposed Iraq from the beginning. . .”

Never mind that Clinton practically birthed “the beginning” with the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998. The bald lie is nothing new. But his failure to finesse the gaffe is.

The New York Times reports:

Advisers to Mr. Clinton said yesterday that he did oppose the war, but that it would have been inappropriate at the time for him, a former president, to oppose—in a direct, full-throated manner—the sitting president’s military decision.

Ohhh, so he didn’t lie yesterday: he lied four years ago when it mattered.

With advisers like that, who needs Ken Starr? Watching the old Clinton machine go through the motions yesterday was a bit like watching a first season episode of Saturday Night Live: one’s forced to admit it hasn’t aged well. Charm, like humor, depends on context. The post 9/11 universe is a more serious place than the, um, “full-throated” Clinton 90’s. With the advent of consequence, fool’s paradises tend to vanish. As Senator Clinton’s numbers continue to drop she’ll find herself in the real world, and the old no-brainers may not be so consequence-free anymore.

Hillary Clinton’s sending her husband on the stump has long been thought of as a no-brainer. Where she fights each potentially incriminating syllable as it escapes her lips, Bill glides through every exchange with a kind of post-moral ease.

So what happened yesterday? At an Iowa campaign stop, Bill Clinton claimed he “opposed Iraq from the beginning. . .”

Never mind that Clinton practically birthed “the beginning” with the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998. The bald lie is nothing new. But his failure to finesse the gaffe is.

The New York Times reports:

Advisers to Mr. Clinton said yesterday that he did oppose the war, but that it would have been inappropriate at the time for him, a former president, to oppose—in a direct, full-throated manner—the sitting president’s military decision.

Ohhh, so he didn’t lie yesterday: he lied four years ago when it mattered.

With advisers like that, who needs Ken Starr? Watching the old Clinton machine go through the motions yesterday was a bit like watching a first season episode of Saturday Night Live: one’s forced to admit it hasn’t aged well. Charm, like humor, depends on context. The post 9/11 universe is a more serious place than the, um, “full-throated” Clinton 90’s. With the advent of consequence, fool’s paradises tend to vanish. As Senator Clinton’s numbers continue to drop she’ll find herself in the real world, and the old no-brainers may not be so consequence-free anymore.

		

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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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