Senator Al Franken


The 2000 presidential election seemed to go on forever, but it was a short affair compared to the Minnesota Senate race this year. Like in 2000, the end came with a court decision–except this time the state’s Supreme Court’s decision prevailed, and the result was much fairer. Eight months after the election, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in Franken’s favor and declared he was entitled to an election certificate. While some Republicans wanted him to fight on, Norm Coleman conceded.

A Good Day for Some, Bad Day for Others

Sunday was a good day for Al Franken as the state election board told CNN they were prepared to certify that Franken has won the recount for the Senate seat by a margin of 255 votes. Sunday was also a good day for Tim Kaine, who has been picked to head the DNC.

In addition to Norm Coleman, who is still expected to challenge the loss of his Senate seat in the courts, Sunday was also a bad day for Bill Richardson, who has withdrawn his nomination to be Secretary of Commerce as a grand jury investigates donors who won a lucrative state contract.

Al Franken Leads in Minnesota Senate Race

Back in 2000 Al Gore found out the hard way that he was fighting an uphill battle when George Bush was considered the unofficial winner and Gore had to play the role of challenger. Al Franken initially appeared to be in a similar situation in Minnesota but he ultimately managed to take a lead. While there is still fighting over absentee ballots, and other legal battles sound likely, Franken now has a lead of fifty votes.

Caroline Kennedy and Sarah Palin

The potential appointment of Caroline Kennedy to Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat is raising much more emotion than I think it deserves. I don’t have a strong opinion either way primarily because I don’t know enough about Kennedy to be certain about her ability to be a Senator. Her name is not sufficient qualification for the post but neither is it reason to oppose her.

There’s no doubt that if she receives the post it will be largely because of her name and family ties, but Kennedy would hardly be unique in receiving such advantage. We have a strong history of both political dynasties as well as politicians such as Barack Obama winning against one of our strongest political families. If Caroline Kennedy becomes senator from New York she will follow other big name senators such as Robert Kennedy and Hillary Clinton. Among the top names being considered besides her is a member of the Cuomo family.

Kennedy’s political resume is thin but this is not necessarily bad. Being a career politician is not necessarily a virtue. Kennedy has written books on civil liberties and the Constitution which makes her as qualified as many others who have served in the Senate. Certainly her writings don’t make her less qualified than Al Franken even if she cannot match his resume by also haven written for Saturday Night Live and hosting a show on Air America.

If Caroline Kennedy becomes senator it will be because of appointment rather than going out on the campaign trail, but that would be true of anyone who receives the appointment. If I did have the responsibility for the appointment I would certainly want to have a long talk with both her and those she has worked with, but I see no reason to exclude her from consideration.

I have not written on this issue before as I do not know enough about Kennedy to have a strong position either way. One argument today did make me want to respond. Andrew Sullivan, quoting a report in The New York Times, concludes that Kennedy is Less Qualified than Palin.

Sarah Palin represents the worst tendencies of the right wing to support anti-intellectualism, restrictions on civil liberties, and to oppose our system of Constitutional government. The repulsiveness of both Palin’s views and the movement to support her should not be trivialized by inaccurately comparing others to her, and Caroline Kennedy certainly does not support this comparison.

Palin has spent more time in elected government, but this is not what determines their relative qualifications. Palin’s lack of qualification for high office is based upon her lack of understanding of the basic issues and because of the extremism of her views. Palin repeatedly showed her lack of knowledge both in interviews and in her debate against Joe Biden. While Palin showed a lack of understanding of Constitutional issues, Kennedy has written books on the topic. Palin repeatedly showed in her public statements that she does not understand the First Amendment. While Kennedy has been a defender of First Amendment rights, Palin has attempted to violate it with her attempts at censorship.

Someone who has written books in support of civil liberties at least has reason to be considered as a potential Senator. This makes her far more qualified than someone lacking in knowledge and intellectual curiosity such as Sarah Palin.

There is also a considerable difference between senator and vice president. Being an author and civil liberties advocate without experience in government may or may not be sufficient to be vice president but it is sufficient to at least consider someone for the Senate. As Kathleen Parker points out, “a Sen. Caroline Kennedy would not be a nuclear-enabled leader of the free world, whereas a Vice President Sarah Palin might have been.” Having Sarah Palin wind up in the White House would be a nightmare. Appointing Caroline Kennedy to the Senate and having her face the voters at a later date may or may not be the best decision Paterson can make, but it would not be anything like the choice of Sarah Palin as vice president.

SNL Hits McCain on Dishonest Ads, With Help From Al Franken

Saturday Night Live opened for the second time this season with satire on the McCain/Palin campaign, this time concentrating on the dishonesty of John McCain’s ads (video above). Last week they had help from Tine Fey.  The Politco reports that SNL alumni Al Franken, now a candidate for governor of Minnesota, had a part in the development of this skit. Being involved in a political campaign where Franken must disassociate himself from some of his previous skits, Franken has minimized his role:

“Al has been friends with Lorne Michaels for over 30 years, and Lorne thought Al’s personal experience was funny enough for a SNL skit,” Murray said in a statement, referring to the show’s executive producer and creator. “Sure, Al keeps in touch with old friends but unless the skit is about non-ferrous mining on Minnesota’s Iron Range, Al’s not in the business of developing skits anymore.”

A Franken campaign aide said the candidate had been taping an ad earlier in the week and had wondered out loud how McCain could include the disclaimer candidates are required to include in their commercials — “I’m John McCain, and I approved this message” — when his spots were so “over the top.” Later that day, Franken talked to Michaels about topics unrelated to the show and mentioned his thought but did not suggest a sketch.

However, Michaels talked to Meyers about Franken’s idea and the current writer, believing there was a funny sketch there, called his predecessor and they discussed it further.

Meyers then wrote it up.

Franken’s campaign sought to downplay the conversations, noting that the idea grew out of a discussion between old friends and that Franken had not been pitching an idea.

And a source close to the show said it was not uncommon for past “Saturday Night Live” stars to suggest ideas to current writers and cast members.

The roles of comedy writer and Senator are quite different, leading Franken to make this statement in his acceptance speech:

For 35 years I was a writer. I wrote a lot of jokes. Some of them weren’t funny. Some of them weren’t appropriate. Some of them were downright offensive. I understand that. And I understand that the people of Minnesota deserve a senator who won’t say things that will make you feel uncomfortable

Using criticism of a Republican candidate which might have come from a Democratic candidate for another office also plays into Republican criticism of NBC by conservatives who are unable to differentiate between a comedy show and news coverage. Lorne Michaels has contributed to both sides in this presidential race:

SNL executive producer and creator Lorne Michaels has a long history of donating to political candidates and various PACs on both sides of the aisle as well as independents.

Michaels has also been a longtime supporter of Sen. John McCain’s various political campaigns, donating $1,000 to him in the 2000 presidential primaries, $1,000 to his 2004 Senate reelection bid, a similar sum to his Straight Talk America PAC in 2006 and the maximum $2,300 to his presidential campaign this year.

When asked about his support for McCain last week by Politico, Michaels said he has also donated to Obama, although that donation has not been listed on the most recent available donor statements. Michaels also made a $2,300 donation to the Franken campaign in March.

While this not actually stated, I cannot help but wonder if Lorne Michaels is one of many former supporters of John McCain who have changed their view of him as a consequence of the dishonest campaign he has been running this year, as is appropriately satirized in this skit.

Michael Moore’s Controversial Look at Health Care in America

Sicko, Michael Moore’s new film on health care, has been shown at Cannes this week. From initial reports, it sounds like there will aspects of the film which please and displease most viewers. The attacks on heavy handed attempts to control health care decisions by HMO’s will find agreement among many liberals, as well as conservatives who may be unaware of the Republican push for establishing such a system. Moore’s love of the Canadian system will be opposed by conservatives, as well as many liberals.

The most controversial aspect of the movie, which is turning into a tremendous publicity stunt, has been going to Cuba. Moore’s original idea was to take the 9/11 workers to Guantanamo. where “US authorities claimed top medical services had been provided to the inmates.” Moore expected viewers to react by saying, “You are telling me that al-Qaeda are receiving better healthcare than those who suffered and died on 9/11.” When it turned out to be too difficult to get to Guantanamo, Moore went to Cuba instead, leading to investigation by the U.S. government.

Conservatives generally try to shout out any plans to make health care more affordable to businesses and individuals as “socialized medicine.” They are bound to try to blur the distinctions between Moore’s more radical opinions and those of most Democrats. As I previously discussed, none of the Democrats running for President actually support socialized medicine, but Dennis Kucinich comes by far the closest. Even Kucinich doesn’t go far enough for Moore, as he discussed in this interview in Time Magazine:

TIME: Of the declared presidential candidates, down to the Dennis Kucinich level, say, who do you think has the best health-care plan? Including Kucinich? We could include him.

Michael Moore: Then Kucinich, but he doesn’t go far enough. He supports what he’s calling a single-payer nonprofit plan, but from my read, it would still allow [private] entities to control things, as opposed to the government. What’s wrong with the government? The right wing and the G.O.P. have done a wonderful job brainwashing people that government doesn’t work, and then, as Al Franken says, they get elected and proceed to prove the point. [Laughs.]

What we really need is a system where neither big business or the government are making health care decisions. From what I have heard about the movie so far, it may be valuable in bringing more publicity to the failings in our health care system. There remains plenty of room for controversy over the best solutions, with virtually no Republicans, and even a minority of Democrats, likely to agree with Moore on this topic.

Update: One sign that this topic transcends much of the usual left vs. right divide comes from a review at Fox News which calls Sicko a “brilliant and uplifting new documentary” in which Moore shows “a new maturity.”

Update II: The official movie trailer.

Air America Rescued; Franken Leaving to Explore Run for Senate

The Huffington Post reports:

Air America Radio, in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings since October, will be rescued at the 11th hour by Manhattan real estate developer Stephen L. Green.

Al Franken, the best-known host of the liberal network, will announce his expected departure on his show later today, to explore a run for the U.S. Senate from Minnesota.

Green is the brother of Mark Green, the New York Democrat who served as the city’s public advocate in the 90s and ran for mayor against Michael Bloomberg in 2001.

As I’ve commented previously I don’t listen to Air America very often, preferring the more balanced information (and lack of commercials) from NPR, but I’m still happy to hear they will remain around.

Rumors of Air America Purchase Among Stories of Poor Business Management

There are a number of stories today about Air America. AP reports that it is close to being sold to an undisclosed buyer. The New York Times has a story on the business problems at Air America:

Some people at Air America assert that, under Mr. Glaser and the team he put in place, the network was top-heavy with management, inept at selling ads, unwilling to make program compromises that veered from the liberal message and overstaffed with more than 100 employees when two dozen would have sufficed.

“What they did for $45 million they could have done for $10 million,” said Sheldon Drobny, an investor with a contentious relationship with the network. Mr. Drobny and his wife, Anita, longtime Democratic activists, are credited with the idea for Air America.

The network has run through a stream of operational executives. Danny Goldberg, a music executive who served as chief for about a year before leaving in April 2006, said the problem was “a big gap between the ambitions of the company and the funding available to accomplish those ambitions.”

“There was no way to manage around that gap,” he said. “Either lower your expectations or raise more money. No one wanted to change the ambitions.”

Faced with constant money woes, the board considered a takeover by the Democracy Alliance, a loose group of moneyed progressives, including George Soros, who had pooled resources to support projects they considered worthy. But the group ultimately rejected the appeal, because “Air America needed to do certain things to make it a more attractive business,” Mr. Kreeger said.

Newsweek also outlines the poor management at Air America and quotes one source as believing that the poor management, and not the idea of liberal radio, was the problem:

As affiliates have begun pulling the plug on Air America programming, including recent announcements out of such mainstay markets as Boston and Madison, Wis., many critics are ringing the death knell of liberal talk radio. But some industry experts say that’s the wrong conclusion to draw. “This has nothing to do with the viability of liberal talk radio,” says Michael Harrison, publisher of the talk radio trade journal Talkers Magazine. “It has to do with them not running an effective business model and with people like Al Franken not living up to the hype. If they’d hired broadcasters instead of a bunch of comedians, they would have had a chance of succeeding.”

There has also been speculation that Al Franken might be leaving to run for the Senate against Norm Coleman in Minnesota.

It would be interesting to see how a liberal network does with better management. Liberal talk radio is at a disadvantage compared to conservative talk radio. Conservatives, holding views which are frequently counter to fact and having a mind set more in line with following authoritarian leadership, prefer having their own views be reinforced by conservative commentators which tell them what to think. Liberals are more likely to be interested in reliable non-biased information and many prefer a balanced source such as NPR over Air America.

Barry Goldwater, The Forgotten Liberal?

As I’ve written in blog posts in the past, Barry Goldwater disliked the religious right, was instrumental in removing Richard Nixon from office, and considered himself a liberal in his later years. His speech writer, libertarian Karl Hess, reportedly had Goldwater considering issues such as eliminating the draft for ethical reasons. In light of this, I was not at all surprised to read this title in Editor and Publisher: ‘NYT’ Sunday Preview: Barry Goldwater … Hero of Democrats?

Editor and Publisher reports on an article in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine in which C.C. Goldwater reveals that “her HBO film to be aired Sept. 18 paints her late grandfather, Sen. Barry Goldwater, ‘as a kind of liberal,’ with testimonials from Al Franken, Sen. Ted Kennedy, James Carville and Sen. Hillary Clinton.”

Like or dislike Barry Goldwater, he shows how far conservatives have come as they’ve degenerated from a movement supporting freedom and small government to the current authoritarian movement dominated by the religious right. I’ve wondered how far Goldwater would have evolved had he stayed in politics in his later years when he considered himself a liberal and opposed the direction the Republicans were going in. If he had continued to guide the Republicans philosophically, perhaps they would have candidates like the fictional Arnold Vinick of The West Wing rather than George Bush.

Update: The New York Times Magazine’s interview with C.C. Goldwater is now available on line.

Sam Seder of Air America Featured in Boston Globe

Perhaps its because I live in an area without over the air broadcast, but I generally have the feeling Air America Radio is ignored beyond the blogoshere. I was happy to see them receive extensive coverage in the Boston Globe today in Failure is an option: Despite his best efforts to sabotage himself, Sam Seder is finding success on Air America:

Seder says he became more committed politically after 9/11 and the US invasion of Iraq. When Garofalo asked whether he’d like to cohost a show on a new liberal radio network, Seder said sure. The idea of a national platform from which to poke fun at the Bush administration seemed appealing.

Just before it launched in March 2004, Air America hosted a party in New York to introduce its on-air talent. Several of the speakers wound up the crowd by bashing the Bush administration, but when it was Seder’s turn to talk, he pretended to have laryngitis.

“Al Franken was the MC, and it took him a second to get that it was a joke,” says Maron. “It was brilliant.”

Franken was Air America’s marquee name. Most listeners had never heard of Seder, whose “Majority Report” was promoted this week to the midmorning slot — 9 a.m. to noon — on more than 70 stations across the country, including New York and Los Angeles. (Inexplicably, Air America’s Boston affiliate broadcasts the show from 1-4 a.m.)

Seder attracted his audience with inane riffs on the news, chats with prominent bloggers, and interviews with upstart Democratic candidates, including Ned Lamont, whom Seder had on long before his campaign against Lieberman was taken seriously.

“When Sam started, he was kind of an asterisk,” says Markos Moulitsas Zuniga , creator of the popular Daily Kos website. “But he’s in capital letters now. He’s good at finding life’s absurdities, and politics is a target-rich environment.”

The secret to Seder’s success is his preparation. He arrives at his office — a cramped space with bookshelves lined with works by Noam Chomsky, Stanley Greenberg, and Bob Hope — several hours early to scour the Web for stories. He and his producer then prioritize the day’s news, leading with the items likeliest to outrage conservatives — or, as Seder calls them, “the forces of anti democracy.”

“Sam works his butt off and does his homework,” says Franken. “The guy’s the future of the network.”