The weekend headline read “Candidate Franken shows flashes of the comedy career he left behind.” I promise you, somewhere political consultants and staff are wringing their bejeweled hands over this dire development.
“This is horrible framing,” they’re saying. “We have to show Al is serious and senatorial and a real Minnesotan. Put plaid shirts on him. Lose the goofy glasses. Make sure he says ‘paradigm’ and ‘you betcha’ at least once every speech. And stop the jokes already!”
The typical political consultant fancies himself a modern day Professor Henry Higgins, whose job it is to “package” people when they run for office. And they typically suck at it.
They tried to convince people Mike Ciressi is a snowmobile riding Sven, Roger Moe is a NASCAR lovin’ Ricky Bobby, and John Kerry is a blaze orange wearin’ Bubba. The problem is, none of that was even remotely true, and everyone instinctively knew it.
The public, for all its faults, has pretty decent BS meters when it comes to cultural fakes. But most condescending political consultants don’t get that. Face it, Al Franken is a dorky little guy who hasn’t lived here for a long time and has an irreverent and acidic sense of humor that makes most Minnesotans lower their eyes and stutter “oh my.”
There is no running away from that. So run on it.
Stand up at every appearance and say something like this:
“For decades, I have told outrageous jokes for a living. So my opponents are going to replay the jokes I’ve told in the past. They are going to say my jokes are somehow my positions. They are going to tut tut sand say the jokes prove I’m not, dare I say, ‘senatorial.’ They are going to do this over and over for one very good reason. Because they don’t want to talk about the war, deficit or economy. And that’s the real joke here.
Look, I understand the Senate isn’t SNL. But you and I both know the Senate desperately needs more of what is embedded in those jokes — the unvarnished truth. So, today I pledge to you I’m not going to say ‘Rush Limbaugh is a big fat idiot’ on the Senate floor. But I am going to show that Rush’s claims are inaccurate and dangerous for America. I am going to show how White House incompetence is costing American kids’ lives, and George Bush’s budgets are bankrupting our kids’ futures. While I will obviously use different language than I did as a comedian and satirist, I am going to continue to tell the unvarnished truth. And I will make no apology for that.”
Paul Wellstone was an impish, fiery ideologue, and most Minnesotans are none of those things. Lots of times, he made Minnesotans lower their eyes and stutter “oh my.” But he connected with a majority of Minnesotans because he didn’t try to hide who he was and he wreaked sincerity, compassion and conviction.
Though I don’t quite get the Franken candidacy at this stage, he has an outside chance of achieving what Wellstone did. But only if he doesn’t let the consultants go all Pygmalian him.