Newsweek takes Al Franken seriously

A serious constitutionalist, or "the knee-jerk liberal everyone thought he would be?"
A serious constitutionalist, or "the knee-jerk liberal everyone thought he would be?"
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Al Franken's doodling and dozing at Elena Kagan's Supreme Court confirmation hearings last week created some web buzz and the usual criticisms of Senator Smalley. But when it came time for Franken's turn to question the solicitor general, and talk turned to media consolidation, the 1st Amendment and net neutrality, he became what the New Republic's Jeffrey Rosen called, "the leading progressive constitutionalist in the Senate."

It's that same kind of wonkishness that prompted the latest edition of Newsweek to insist, "The funnyman turned freshman senator has quietly made himself a force to be reckoned with in Washington." Why the sudden attention? The Kagan hearings help. But this is also the end of Franken's first year in the Senate.

"Franken made a decision to keep his head down, not use his celebrity to get on all the Sunday talk shows and antagonize his Senate colleagues," Michael Hirsch writes. And he boned up on bore-the-crap-out-of-you public policy lead balloons like the financial reform bill, which now contains a Franken amendment aimed at curbing bogus investment ratings.

The agencies had given solid "investment" ratings to hundreds of billions of dollars in bad securities based on junky subprime mortgages, helping to precipitate the financial crisis. In the opinion of many experts, that was no accident: the ratings agencies are paid by the investment banks whose securities they judge.

Franken's amendment creates an intermediary board to rotate credit rating agencies among firms issuing securities.

Meanwhile, back home, Newsweek tells us nothing we don't already know: Republicans hate him.

His recent criticism of the Roberts Supreme Court as "a fist with brass knuckles" [is] evidence that "his true personality is coming out," as state GOP chairman Tony Sutton puts it. "He's a good fundraising tool for us," adds Sutton, who says Franken "turned out to be the knee-jerk liberal everyone thought he would be."

Or maybe Newsweek should have called up former Sen. Norm Coleman for a quote. The man Franken beat on a recount had some bitter -- if predictable -- words about his rival in the Pioneer Press.

"Avoiding controversy and keeping your head down is a good thing perhaps in a campaign, but ultimately being a senator is more than that. I don't see much of him. I can't say that he stood out for staking a position on a major issue or anything," Coleman said.

He added: "We've seen very little."

"I see a little bit of Air America Al Franken coming out," Hamline University political scientist David Schultz told the Star Tribune. "He's going back to the persona that endeared him to a lot of liberals, which was bashing really hard on the opposition."

Franken clearly enjoys tweaking his Republican colleagues from time to time. Case in point: The Senate military spending bill last winter that contained an amendment authored by Franken banning the Pentagon from doing business with any private contractor that prohibited its employees from taking their employers to court when they are raped on the job.

The amendment grew out of the story of Jamie Leigh Jones, who was gang raped by some Hallliburton/KBR colleagues in 2005 while working in Iraq. Her terms of employment required her to seek redress through arbitration; however hard Republicans tried to cast the issue as a matter of horrid government meddling in the affairs of private enterprise (made possible through a government-run war), Franken's amendment forced Republicans to choose between siding with big business or rape victims.

They didn't think that choice was very funny; Franken's amendment passed in October.

Click here for the full Newsweek article, and here for the full New Republic article.

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