TUESDAY, MARCH 7, 2017
The analysts want to know: Here on the site of our sprawling campus, we became Al Franken fans in 1996 and not a minute before.
It was in that year that Franken published his book, Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations.
We didn't become a Franken fan because he said Limbaugh was fat. It happened because Franken explained the pseudo-debate about Newt Gingrich's Medicare plan, the pseudo-debate which had baffled American journalists day after day, and night after night, for at least the previous year.
Was Gingrich proposing a cut in Medicare? Or was he simply slowing the rate at which the program would grow? The best-known minds at our biggest news orgs had fanned on the question night after night after night after night on such programs as Crossfire.
Our journalists simply weren't up to the task. As part of a generally humorous book, it turned out that Franken was.
(We had solved the same riddle in an op-ed for the Baltimore Sun; apparently, you had to be a comedian to solve the riddle of the Medicare pseudo-debate in 1995. When this site went on-line, we posted three versions of the explanation. You can read all three award-winning versions here—short, medium and long.)
As you know, we never discuss our joke-writing for former presidential candidates. But during one campaign, we teamed telephonically with Franken and others to produce award-winning jokes for a leading contender. Franken was very good at that task. It made us admire him more.
In November 1999, Candidate Gore went on Imus to discuss the famous "pop quiz" which Candidate Bush had just failed.
Perhaps because the appearance was so funny, you weren't encouraged to hear much about it. We couldn't find tape of the session on YouTube this morning, although it may exist. The New York Times discussed the appearance in this tiny news report.
Inevitably, the Times was required to throw some shade. They did so the very next day.
We had nothing to do with that very funny appearance. We've always assumed it was Franken's work, although the candidate delivered the material perfectly. It's always possible that the candidate prepared the material himself, though we'll guess he may have been otherwise occupied, consulting Naomi Wolf about clothes and sewing more buttons on suits.
Al Franken was very good at giving candidates jokes; he was also very smart. We also admired the way he made the turn to his Senate career. During his first term, he put a lid on his previous persona, smartly playing to win.
Today, we had the misfortune of reading a new report at Slate. Even worse, we watched the videotape which accompanies the report.
Slate's report seems to have been written for troubled 9-year-olds. It appears beneath this silly headline:
"Chuck Grassley Yells at Al Franken Over the Jeff Sessions Controversy During Senate Hearing"
When you read the Slate report, you're supposed to be appalled at the way Senator Grassley "yelled at" Franken during today's hearing, creating a terrible "blow-up." You're supposed to admire the way our champion stood by his heroic question to then-Senator Sessions, the one he asked on February 10.
Our reaction to the 8-minute videotape was completely different. We were dismayed and disappointed by Franken's self-important bloviation displays.
We don't agree with Grassley's claim that Franken asked Sessions a "gotcha question;" his question was fuzzy but fair. But what have they done with the real Al Franken? His self-importance in that tape is about a thousand times worse than anything Grassley does.
Citizens, can we talk? Franken didn't do a very good job questioning Sessions that day. He didn't follow up on his one question about meetings with Russkies—not during the next round of the hearing itself, not later in written questions.
When Senator Leahy did pose a written question, he assumed that Sessions may have held such meetings, but he only asked if the 2016 election had been discussed at such sessions. No one was busting his ascot about such questions until the chance to stage a moral stampede came along.
At least on the Slate videotape, Franken's new round of questioning today was also unimpressive. When he asked the possible Deputy AG what he will do if he learns of such meetings, he was basically told that he won't do much and won't he please just go away.
Franken let this blow-off stand. Beyond that, he still doesn't seem to have heard that it isn't a crime, or even a scandal, to meet with a Russian official.
Even more strikingly, Franken postures on today's tape like a self-impressed Senator Foghorn. It's depressing to see this decline occur.
These are the wages of moral stampede. Moral stampede and its twin, moral rampage, are very, very bad for the brain and equally bad for the soul.
For the record: That session with Imus may have been the funniest such session a candidate ever performed. (We'll continue to assume that it was Franken's work.)
Helped along by fan boys like Frank Rich, Imus trashed and name-called Candidate Gore every step of the way during Campaign 2000. Despite his hostile predisposition, even the hideous Imus was laughing out loud, and laughing hard, during that rarely-discussed performance.
We always assumed that was Franken's work. What have they done with Al Franken?