Let Al Be Al

  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. 


3 thoughts on “Let Al Be Al

  1. Lurker says:

    Wouldn’t it be great if Franken indeed became senator and his chief of staff had the last name “Stein?”

    We could witness the comedy in the headlines. For example:

    Franken, Stein Agree to Overhaul Prescription Drug Plan

    Parts of Social Security Initiatives Sewn Up By Franken and Stein

    Franken and Stein Lick Wounds After Heated Debate: “Arghhhh Mmmph!” They Say

    Franken, Stein Budget Plan Designed to Jolt Economy

    The list goes on and on. Ahhh to be a headline writer!

  2. jmaustin says:

    I’m OK with the “big fat idiot” comment if he wants to go there. As I understand the rules of Senate decorum, Franken would be able to say whatever he pleases about Rush with impunity…I think Senators are actually exempted from slander laws if memory serves.

    Now, if Rush were a member of the Senate, the rules would be different; then he would have to be addressed as “My esteemed colleague, the big fat idiot from New York.”

    – Austin

  3. Benidt says:

    First, kill all the consultants. Especially the speech coaches like me.

    Joe’s right, Al’s gotta stay himself.

    My wife’s a Franken fan, I’m not. But I went with her to hear him Saturday at his old junior high in St. Louis Park, and I came away liking his tone, liking who he is.

    On Air America he’s been so whiny I can’t listen. Air America had a great opportunity to do something other than just be lefty versions of bitchy screamers but they mostly blew it. Franken too often was just griping about how awful the Bushies are, “and you know what, here’s the awful things they did today.”

    Saturday he was neither whiny nor slick. In fact, he was quite a pedestrian speaker. He was dull. He stepped on punch lines. His timing was bad, and he missed emphasizing important points with his voice, and did emphasize less-exciting points: “Accountability, accountablity, accountability,” he hollered — not a great rallying cry, although it’s sorely needed.

    Franken sounded like a guy who was just talking about what matters to him and what he thinks matters to this country. He talked to us. And he said things that connected, and he said them in simple conversational language. He was tough, too — it was like a fireside chat with teeth.

    “Big pharaceuticals bought the Republican Congress”, he said. “Republicans run on how government doesn’t work, and then they get elected and prove it,” he said. He told how his wife’s family was helped by Social Security survivor benefits and Pell grants: “People say pull yourself up by your bootstraps — Franny’s family didn’t have the boots, and the government gave them the boots. That’s what government is about, providing opportunity, and that’s what we liberals stand for,” he said.

    He was just a guy talking. He was real. His tone had shifted from whiny to human. And communication is all about tone, all about how you say things. Franken said this election is all about leadership — and leaders don’t whine. They look forward and make us believe we can go forward with them. Franken’s getting the hang of that, and if he’s truly left the bitching behind, while staying real, it’s Norm Coleman’s advisors who should be worried.

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