"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
Perhaps the most sobering thing about that news was my first reaction to it:
Not cool in the same way that it was "politics as entertainment" cool when Jesse Ventura ran for governor of Minnesota (after all, outside of Minnesota, what harm could that do?). No, this was honest excitement ... as in "finally a voice of reason in the Senate" kind of excitement.
It's come to this.
Al Franken does have opinions with which I largely agree. He's also articulate in expressing them, clever and witty in debating opponents and uses humor well to make a point. He might just make a darn good senator -- who knows? He's running in the right state for this kind of campaign and because of the nature of his media image he's likely to be one of the few Democrats not to cower in the corner saying "please, don't hurt me" when the political pressure heats up.
But still, the main reason we know this guy is because he sat next to a mirror on SNL and said, "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me." (which , incidentally, was probably his rationale for running for Senate). Most recently, he's been the left's answer to Rush Limbaugh on Air America Radio (which was doomed to either failure or embarrassment because truly dealing with the nuances of situations is considered bad radio and Democrats trying to act like idealogue tough-guys is just pathetic).
So why does this bother me?
Well, first of all, we are a nation of brilliant and creative minds in a world of brilliant and creative minds. And yet fewer and fewer of those people seem to find their way to public service. I think the reason is similar to the reason why St. Louis as a city has such a hard time retaining good, young, creative people. St. Louis is a city of old money and as such is very conservative and phobic where change is concerned. There are too many barriers for creative people with new ideas and ways of being to breach for many of them to stay here. Most get frustrated and leave. (This is the theory of several friends of mine in their 30s who have worked extensively in the city and it completely jives with my experience).
Same thing for politics. You have to jump through so many hoops and become beholden to so many people to even get on the state stage, much less the national stage, that most creative people realize that they can have much more freedom, money and fun in the private sector. We end up with a lot of candidates who are basically picked by the larger (on the national level, usually corporate) interests that dominate parties -- candidates picked by their willingness to shill and/or their marketability.
So the fact that I'm happy because a smart, creative guy like Franken is running for office is really an indictment of how bad it's gotten. It's a microcosm of Obamania. I don't know if Barack Obama has what it takes to be president. Frankly, he doesn't have any kind of a track record to prove it either way. But he's got this American Idol-type thing going for him which is completely apart from any substance he might or might not have.
Joe Biden is getting nailed today for his idiotic remarks about Barack Obama -- as well he should (particularly the "articulate" crack, as if it's an anomaly to have an articulate black person). But really he should be getting nailed for saying in his fumbling "what I really meant" on the Daily Show that what he really meant to say was that Obama had fresh, new ideas. WHERE? I haven't heard any! I've heard commentary on what others are doing delivered very charismatically and enthusiastically by him but I haven't seen any broad new vision for America. I haven't heard him say one thing that I haven't heard others say many times before.
So the first reason it's sobering that I'm so excited about Al Franken is that in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king. And Al looks like he's got one good eye.
The second reason is that it's just one more piece of evidence that our elections really are a lot more like American Idol and Survivor than serious discourse and discernment. Of course, this is nothing new. But it's still disheartening. It's like the Biden thing again. He gets scrutinized for attacking Hillary and John Edwards about their Iraq policy. And all the attention was on the fact that he attacked them -- not on the substance of what each said and who might be right about the best way to proceed in Iraq! It reminds me of a moment midway through the Dean campaign when Howard said that the war in Iraq had made America less safe. He got slammed from every side for being unpatriotic and not supporting the troops ... with little or no attention paid to whether or not he might actually be right (which, BTW, he was).
This has devolved into a full-on rant, which isn't where I meant to go with it. I need to learn more history because I'm sure part of it is just idealizing a past I don't know enough about. I'm sure a certain amount of this is just the 21st century, public and tabloidized version of the smoke-filled room.
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"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."