Saturday, February 10, 2007

AL FRANKEN-- The Real Deal

I just checked off every volunteer activity from envelope stuffing to door knocking for Al Franken, who I hope will defeat one of the country's most consummate politicians (and also one of the country's most vulnerable Republicans), Norm Coleman, to become Minnesota's next U.S. Senator.

That means no matter how risqué or avant garde a comedy skit featuring Mr. Franken may surface in the next 20 or so months, he's going to keep my support. (That ethics-preaching, prudish FBI agent side of me who never much cared for "Saturday Night Live" will just have to look the other way.)

Now, you might suspect this early pledge of loyalty was won because Mr. Franken helped my own campaign for congress last year. But that isn't the reason. I do have a couple funny stories about his help last year, one involving a lesson in Yiddish pronunciation, which maybe I'll tell you about later. But Mr. Franken certainly did not have to move back to Minnesota and begin working as hard as he did, crisscrossing the state in the year prior to the 2006 election, on behalf of a whole bunch of us Democratic candidates for state and federal offices.

And it's not because Mr. Franken is one of the smartest Harvard graduates there is having availed himself of discussion these last few years on his daily Air America radio show of the most important issues facing the country with national leaders and policy experts.

It's not because he was often able to write and say things through clever use of humor that so many others couldn't or wouldn't say. I'll never forget stopping in my tracks in the doorway at Mystic Lake Casino (in Shakopee, Minnesota) the first time I heard Mr. Franken at the podium after a conference lunch in fall of 2005. I had not planned to stay for his talk and was trying to sneak out but stopped when I heard him start to sarcastically but accurately dissect the tangled e-mail trail of the Abramoff-Scanlon-Reed influence peddling that had defrauded certain Indian tribes. He was nailing the culture of corruption almost before anyone knew it was out there.

It's not because he has a good stump speech. Ya know the first thing they teach you in these political training exercises is you have to come up with some heartfelt personal story that ties in with why you are running. In the last couple years, I think I've heard them all and I've heard many (including Franken's) repeatedly. Politicos swear by these stump speeches but it's hard for them not to come off rehearsed and fakey-sounding. Mr. Franken's personal story is from the heart and rings as true as Paul Wellstone’s (whose seat is the one Franken happens to be seeking).

Finally, my support for Al Franken is certainly not because he's got the makings of a good politician. It's funny but the bulk of the press coverage these first few days of his candidacy have focused almost solely on how inexperienced a politician he is. Here's what I say. If you want political experience, just vote for Norm Coleman. Coleman has been running for one political office or another since his college days. He's even run in both parties, as both a Democrat and a Republican. Coleman's served as everything from mayor to senator with a try for governor in between. So if you want a politician with experience (as well as real bright white teeth), Norm would be your guy. My bet is Mr. Franken is not going to try to compete with Norm Coleman as a political animal. And no one wants him to.

Nope. It's not for any of these sophisticated reasons that I support Mr. Franken. I don't make snap judgments about anyone, much less anyone running for a political office. In fact, after all I was exposed to these last couple years, my cynicism antenna goes up even higher with those running for political office. But Al Franken has impressed me for all and none of the above reasons as the real deal. It's that simple. And with genuineness and authenticity in such short supply, I think it might be the only criteria that matters anymore. So any future ax murders notwithstanding, Al Franken will get not only my vote but all my envelope stuffing and door knocking too.

One piece of advice I got a chance to blurt out ahead of time to him was "don't lose your sense of humor." For if Al Franken, of all people, suddenly becomes all serious and boring and political, it would be nothing but a fakey makeover. He'd lose his authenticity. Plus there's no doubt he's going to need that good sense of humor to get through the next 20 some months.