Artists of the Year

Al Franken

By Sean Broom

Al Franken can't really be considered an artist or entertainer these days, but his stage presence comes from his past as a comic and performer. On the Senate campaign trail, he usually bursts into a room and declares that he's there to beat Norm Coleman. Speaking without notes, he bounces around the stage delivering his spiel, his frenetic energy almost suffocating the room.

If you had recently crawled out from under a rock and knew nothing about Franken, you might easily see him for the astute, Harvard-educated wonk he is. He has deftly built a campaign organization and gained momentum since his announcement in mid-February. He is the first Democratic Senate candidate to have field organizers in every congressional district in the state. He's also raised a boatload of money (the second-most of any Senate candidate in the country).

And yet it is Franken's past as an entertainer that has and will continue to dominate the political coverage of this race. It's not that Franken isn't thoughtful or doesn't show a depth of knowledge about the issues. It's that he has said many things in his role as a comic that were supposed to be antagonistically thought-provoking, funny, or ironic, but that in very different political context come across as polemic rants, or worse. (An example: "Nobody likes getting an abortion. Except, perhaps, rape victims." That's from his book, The Truth [with Jokes].)

If Franken wins the DFL nomination, we can count on months of Republicans dredging up these moments of comic indiscretion and using them to reframe the debate, not on Norm Coleman's mediocre record as a senator (where, with the exception of a few made-for-headlines splits, he has been an unyielding supporter of the last six years of divisive incompetence), but instead on ill-advised things Franken said to get a laugh. Al Franken has the potential to be a thoughtful, capable senator. And this race has the potential to be a political blood sport, annoyingly full of Stuart Smalley jokes.

Sean Broom writes for MN Publius ( and lives in Minneapolis.

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