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ISSUE 119 VOL 18 PUBLISHED 4/28/2006

Laughing at politicians' expense: Franken critiques government with humor, experience

By Lisa Gulya
Arts Editor

Friday, April 28, 2006

Values will help Democrats regain political control in America, said satirist and political activist Al Franken last Friday in the Pause.

Though Franken was keynoting the second annual Wellstone Dinner, a promotion of Democratic candidates including Amy Klobuchar, Coleen Rowley and David Bly, he discussed family before delving into politics.

Franken’s visit, sponsored by the St. Olaf College Democrats, DFL Senate District 36 and Carleton College, drew a crowd of over 725 to the Lion’s Pause. Although the tone of the speech was serious, Franken proved his panache for humor by impersonating several people, from Vice President Dick Cheney to musician Darryl Worley, and did not neglect to poke fun at conservative media personalities Ann Coulter and Bill O’Reilly.

A former St. Louis Park resident, Franken painted a picture of his childhood as a time of learning about God from his father. The family attended Temple Israel in Minneapolis, where "the importance of doing justice" was emphasized.

Justice was held in high esteem by the country’s Founding Fathers as well, Franken said, who were not Christians in the modern sense, but Deists.

"They believed, basically, that God was in nature," he said.

Franklin crystallized the values of the Founders by quoting a correspondence between Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in which Adams revealed his creed – "Be just and good" – and Jefferson affirmed that sentiment as "that in which all our inquiries must end."

After establishing these values, Franken, who wrote political satire for “Saturday Night Live” until 1995, criticized the national government for failing to abide by them.

"I see the values that we as Americans stand for being eroded every day by this administration and this Congress, and we’ve got to stop it," he said.

Democrats should hold Republicans to the pledge they made in their Contract with America, Franken said, which ends with an injunction to "throw us [Republicans] out" if reforms are not made.

"And we’re gonna throw ‘em out, aren’t we?" Franken exhorted the crowd.

Franken then criticized President George W. Bush for squandering what he called "a unique opportunity" following Sept. 11, 2001, to lead a united country that had worldwide support.

"He blew it," Franken said, by "hijacking 9/11 for his own petty political purposes."

Bush divided the country, using Sept. 11 "to lie us into a war," Franken said.

Franken called for the president to take responsibility for the mistakes made in the Iraq war, which "would be like a six-hour speech," according to Franken.

He used humor to criticize Bush’s decision to call the war a ‘crusade’ and to term it "Operation Infinite Justice," impersonating a Pakistani cab driver’s reaction to such culturally loaded statements.

Reminding the students in the audience of the soldiers in Iraq, Franken spoke of his time on United Service Organizations (USO) tours.

"These kids are your age," Franken said. "And they are bearing so much of the sacrifice, and the rest of the country isn’t connected with it very much."

Responding to questions about current immigration policy debates, Franken dismissed the idea of large-scale deportations by a government that "can’t respond to a hurricane."

He called Minnesota’s proposed anti-marriage amendment "a distraction" and a civil rights issue, pointing out his own Jewish status as a reason to ally with those whose rights are violated.

As Franken’s father told him when they watched black Americans attacked by dogs on the news the 1960s, "No Jew can stand for that."

Alluding to his proposed Senate run, Franken pledged that his first action in office would be to work for universal healthcare for children starting "day one.”

He criticized Republican Sen. Mark Dayton of Minnesota for the lack of oversight hearings in the Senate, saying, "this guy has not done his job," and calling him "easy to beat" should Franken choose to run in 2008.

Former Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone, on the other hand, "had convictions," Franken said. "That’s why people liked Paul."

Later acknowledging the night’s namesake, Franken quoted Wellstone as a rallying cry for Democrats: "The future belongs to those who are passionate and work hard."

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