I'm Good Enough, I'm Smart Enough, and, Doggonnit, People Like Me!

Can Al Franken become a U.S. Senator just by being Al Franken?

CP:Because your view of politics is grounded in satire, is there an even greater risk of your platform being too reactive in that stereotypically liberal way? Can reacting to right-wing nonsense have the effect of reinforcing right-wing power, of allowing them to keep the serve?

Franken: People are going to be so sick of [Republicans] by '08—they already are, really—that a campaign is going to have to include a critique of the last eight years. It'd be crazy not to include that. But it'll also have to include a vision going forward—the vision that we have.

CP:What is that vision?

Franken: It's the vision of a more just society in all respects—certainly in economic respects. There was a report out in the New York Times recently from David Cay Johnston—who we have on the [Air America] show a lot—about how much the wealthiest Americans have benefited from the latest tax cut. Tax justice is going to be part of this [vision]. And simple things like the living wage. Fair-trade deals. Health care for everyone. Investment in our schools—which we in Minnesota used to lead, and now we're not anymore. Using science again [laughs]. Addressing the real problem, which is global warming—that's just a common-sense issue and a moral issue. Renewable energy, bio-fuels. Pension reform, making sure that people have safe retirements. Addressing the stupid bankruptcy stuff. Establishing a foreign policy where we respect the views of other countries—where we make ourselves more secure by doing that.

CP:I'm guessing this requires quite a balancing act for you. You have this need to address, as you say, the last eight years, and at the same time to move forward. Then there's a balancing act between the need to draw on your celebrity—to make 'em laugh, essentially—while at the same time making it clear that, despite making 'em laugh, you're actually dead serious about this stuff.

Franken: It may be a balancing act, but I don't find it to be an inorganic balancing act. I do like comedy for the sake of comedy—so I love stupid comedy. I can write a sketch of Julia Child bleeding to death and feel like I've really done something for humanity. But at the same time, I've always used comedy to talk about serious things in a serious manner.

CP:The film seems to capture your sense that you may need to clean up your act—your language, basically—in order to get votes.

Franken: The film ends with me remembering that when I told the Buddy Hackett joke—the penis-on-the-forehead joke—when I was speaking at Temple [University], it offended some people. This is an odd thing. I mean, my wife and my staff have said, "Don't tell that joke." And I'm going, Yeah, but I still don't see what's wrong with that joke. So it's actually just a matter of judgment.

CP:I could imagine that if I was in your position, I wouldn't necessarily want the votes of people who'd be deeply offended by the Buddy Hackett joke.

Franken: Yeah, but you can't feel that way. You want to win. I do think that people have the right to know that I take things seriously enough—that I take [sensitive voters] seriously. It's almost a meta-issue. Why should people back me—why should people work for me or fight for me—if I don't care about the votes of people who are offended by the Buddy Hackett joke?

CP:Well, the obvious question is, Are you gonna run? But I'll pose it another way: Why wouldn't you run?

Franken: The reasons not to do it—possibly—are that I might feel it's more important to stay on the radio. And I've got to get every member of the family to agree that it's the right thing to do. Our kids have always been the center of our life.

CP:Does part of the temptation to run have to do with your sense that if you don't run, no one else will—at least no one who represents that vision you described?

Franken: Well, yeah. In 2008, I want someone to run who's gonna beat Norm. And I want someone to run who believes in the stuff that I believe in—believes in it to the degree that I do [laughs].

CP:The movie's opening joke is that God tells you to write Liars. So is God also telling you to run for office? Or is Paul Wellstone telling you to run? Stuart Smalley?

Franken: I think it's a combination of all three.

CP:The film includes footage of Wellstone's 1991 speech before the Senate, where he says that going to war in Iraq will inspire the world's hatred of the United States. That's an amazingly prescient speech.

Franken: But he's wrong about '91, you know. I think we did the right thing in '91.

CP:You've been inspired by Wellstone. He was a good friend of yours. But what do you think are the major differences between the two of you?

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