He’s Serlarious

Courtesy Air America

Al Franken

The Inlander | October 26, 2005
Al Franken pioneered the ability to be both hilarious and serious — Comedy Central’s Steven Colbert might even call him “serlarious.” Whatever you call it, it’s a kind of natural reaction to the if-you-don’t-laugh-you’ll-cry world most liberals have been living in for some time now.

Now Franken, a Harvard grad and Saturday Night Live alum, has innovated another new frontier in the world of punditry: He writes books that consist of more than simply spouting stuff you hear from other pundits. In his previous book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, he employed a crack team of Harvard grad students to double-check the accuracy of much of the stuff routinely broadcast from right-wing radio and TV. Needless to say, it didn’t hold up. Oh, and there were jokes in there, too.

Now Franken is building on that foundation, with more rigorous research and a no-nonsense title to reflect the take-back-our-government task at hand: The Truth (With Jokes). It was already at No. 3 on Amazon.com the day it was released (Oct. 25).

When asked why he’s not taking shots at Bill O’Reilly or Rush Limbaugh in this book’s title, as his other books have done, he says, quite seriously, “I have bigger fish to fry in this one — this administration and this Congress.”

Meanwhile, his radio show is riding high, too: Air America has been picked up by 70 stations nationwide, reaching about 63 percent of the nation. Franken says he has around 1.5 million listeners a week.

Starting on Halloween, his barnstorming tour begins in Portland — he’ll be hawking his new book and doing remote live broadcasts in several cities. Just before his appearance on The Daily Show Tuesday night, his people squeezed me in for a half-hour interview. To honor his serlariousness, I told him I had some funny questions, and some serious ones. So which did he want first?

“Let me see if I can guess which are which,” Franken answered. (He only laughed at one of them; guess I better stick to journalism.)

INLANDER Speaking strictly as a comedian, aren’t you kind of glad Kerry lost?

AL FRANKEN Strictly as a comedian, I guess so. But from every other capacity, no. As a comedian, though, this couldn’t be much better.

Which celebrity would be best to run for president in 2008: Oprah or Tom Hanks?

Oprah. But Tom would be great, too. That would be a great ticket.

Give me a short, punchy slogan for Dems in ’06 and ’08?

“Subpoena power.” I think that we really need subpoena power. These guys somehow managed to get indicted while still controlling the entire government — that’s really hard to do. Congress doesn’t do its oversight [duty] anymore, and that’s one of the things I’ve been maddest about. Harry Truman called war profiteering treason. [There’s] plenty of evidence [that’s going on in Iraq], but Congress won’t do its oversight job. It’s a real sin; I feel very strongly about that. I’m going to Iraq for the third time in December. I’ve seen our soldiers and visited Walter Reed and Bethesda [military hospitals], and it really does make me angry. I really believe the profiteering has contributed to the violence there.

If you become a candidate for Senate in Minnesota, would you advocate that the USA leave Iraq ASAP?

No. I would say that the first thing we need to do is engage the Sunnis and Shi’a and do everything in our power to get them to talk to each other. But in the meantime, I don’t know if there are any good choices right now. One thing I would try to do is get the people in Iraq working. One of the things we did wrong was we outsourced the reconstruction to American companies, and [Iraq has] huge unemployment. None of the money has gone to them. I would start employing Iraqis. But I don’t know if all of this is too late at this point. I think we’ve got to do a phased withdrawal.

Here’s my “Tricky Dick” question. Which Dick is more Nixonian: Nixon or Cheney?

[Laughing] That’s a really good question. I think that Cheney is. “Nixonian” has come to mean something other than the actual guy — it’s about the guy’s worst qualities. Nixon did some awful things — he subverted the Constitution and obviously broke the law — but I think Cheney has, too.

If Karl Rove is Bush’s brain, and if Karl Rove is about to get indicted, what does that mean for our president?

That means he won’t have his ready access to his brain. [But maybe in jail] he can be, like, making marinara sauce, dropping in some sausage, then sending out a message saying, “Hey, smear this guy.”

You’ve spent two books fact-checking the administration’s claims: Which nugget, out of all of them, is the most devastating, or has the most resonance for all those Americans still stuck in the reality-based community?

You have to choose from so much, but the most shocking thing in the new book is this chapter I do about Saipan and Tom DeLay. He basically allows the system to continue there by not allowing legislation to get to the floor — a system that leads to forced abortions in Saipan.

Then there’s the Downing Street memo saying that the Bush administration was fixing intelligence to fit the plan. In light of everything else, this is very much a smoking gun. He wanted to go to war, and we were lied into the war, which is about as bad as you can get. Ironically, all this Valerie Plame stuff is really about that.

The Contract With America: Did we forget to read the fine print or what? Could the Dems dust off some parts of the Contract With America to use in ’06 and ’08?

They are so corrupt now, and a lot of [the Contract] was about corruption. The abuses today are just these Republicans completely abusing the system — keeping the vote open for three hours, bribing guys. All that kind of stuff is awful: The pressure on K Street and filling K Street [where lobbyists' offices are located] with Republicans… this guy Abramoff. It’s just ugly. The Contract [called for] a balanced-budget amendment; now they say the deficit is only $300 billion.

This was them 10 or 12 years ago. How much of this has happened? Did they do term limits? Did they balance the budget? Have they been more honest? No, it’s the worst it's ever been, and that’s not just me. I have Republicans on my show who say that, too.

Everybody — you, Bill O’Reilly — seems to be preaching to the choir. How does anyone reach the middle these days? Would a coalition ticket in ’08 be a good idea?

Kerry actually tried McCain, and that would have been great. I was really disappointed with McCain’s support for Bush after the Swift Boat attacks and after he, himself, had been slimed by these guys. For him to allow that to happen to Kerry, when Bush didn’t call them off, he could have stopped campaigning.

But if you’re willing to go with [Republicans] who have open minds and who aren’t jerks, that’s fine.

In this book, I talk about a grand compromise, a little fantasy where in ’08 we take over both houses and the White House, but we make a deal. The new Congress comes in a few weeks [before Bush leaves office] in ’09 -- and I’m one of them, having won in Minnesota -- and I explain to them the “quickie impeachment." It’s my idea to have a quickie impeachment. Everyone’s going, like, “Why?” and I say, “Because we can.” The grand compromise lets some reasonable Republicans be committee chairmen, and we usher in a new era of responsibility.

Oh, and we impeach and convict Bush, and he resumes drinking all on the same day.

The Inlander

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