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?

Franken: I don't know what the major differences are. He came from a different place—from organizing in rural Minnesota. We have different backgrounds. Politically, he might be slightly to my left—on trade issues, for instance—but just slightly. I think he was right about NAFTA. But at the time I would've probably gone along with [Bill] Clinton. These are relatively minor [differences]. He really did know the nuts and bolts of economic issues. Maybe to some extent I'm a little more interested in foreign policy. But I think he probably had more energy than I do. I never saw Paul when he wasn't full of energy.

CP:In general, do you think that Democrats in Minnesota used to be a lot more vital?

Franken: I'm impressed with our mayors in the Twin Cities. And I see some younger, up-and-coming leaders who I like. I like Amy Klobuchar—even though I'm not ready to endorse her in the primaries yet. We had Ford Bell on [the show] and he was very impressive. I don't want to dis the Minnesota DFL.

CP:So why does the party keep losing?

Franken: Well, we don't keep losing. I can explain the last two cycles. In 2000, we actually kinda won.

CP:And then in 2004...

Franken: Nah, I don't think we won in '04. In 2002, to the president's eternal disgrace, he used 9/11 to win the election and to chide us. I think that's all coming home to roost for him now. And if you look at all the pickup in House seats—that was the historic part, in 2004—all that net gain is from Texas, from that redistricting. And now we're seeing that come home to roost.

CP:When you see these things come home to roost, when you see how much worse things are now than they were even a year or two ago, does it ever make you glad that Kerry didn't get elected? That having the "roost" come on his watch would've discredited the party and made it hard or impossible for the party to recover?

Franken: Not really. Because I ultimately think that [Kerry] is a responsible guy. We had George Packer on [the show] yesterday; he's the author of The Assassins' Gate, the book about Iraq. It feels to me like we're just beginning to figure out how we should've fought that war. The early mistakes are going to haunt us. Those mistakes have probably caused damage that's irreparable, damage that Kerry couldn't have addressed. Nevertheless, [the Republicans] continue to make a lot of mistakes. There's still the profound lack of intellectual honesty and seriousness—in the way they approach the war, in the way they talk to Americans, in the way they approach the rest of the world. That hurts us every single day. I'd like to think that Kerry would've approached these things with more seriousness. To this day, Rumsfeld won't call what's going on in Iraq an insurgency. And it's important for them to call it an insurgency—if for no other reason than to kick in their counterinsurgency doctrine. Part of the counterinsurgency doctrine says, Don't try to kill the insurgents. But an another part of it, a big part, involves taking a town [in Iraq] and then living there, getting to know the people. That is beginning to work in some places. Even so, they're rotating people out after they've been there a year. The counterinsurgency doctrine would say, Stay there longer.

CP:You're at war yourself, in a way, right? Any time you've come across an anti-Franken slam in the right-wing press or blogosphere and said, "Whoa—touché"?

Franken: Not really. The people who attack me are attacking me for things that aren't true. There's one guy who wrote that I've only hired one black person, one African American. And now that's being repeated over and over again—and it's just not true. [The writer] got that statistic by not counting any African Americans I hired who didn't fit into the little category that he created. Then Steve Forbes writes about it in his column called "Fact and Comment." And it's not a fact, you know? So now I have to decide: Do I respond to this guy or not?

CP:Do documentary films help correct the balance? You're here at the Full Frame, which is the Cannes of American documentary festivals, a real haven for lovers of political docs. Do you think these films have an impact in what they call the "real world"? Or are they just preaching to the converted?

Franken: I think it's both—just like the [Air America] show. I mean, I think it's okay to preach to the choir: You give people information that they can use in the real world, that's how it works. I just saw a [Full Frame] documentary called My Country, My Country: It's about a Sunni Muslim family in Baghdad; it takes place over the course of eight months, right around the time of the [2005] elections. I think it's a really important film for any American to watch, because you see through the eyes of Iraqi people and you get to know them well. The film is very moving, very emotional. With documentaries, it's maybe not about converting—it's about contributing to empathy and understanding.

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