Franken began his speech by reminding the St. Olaf audience that he was not Christian, but Jewish, and thus wasnt too familiar with the New Testament. He also confessed his confusion whenever President George W. Bush says that Jesus is his favorite political philosopher: Wasnt Jesus, Franken asked, concerned with helping the poor? Although Franken didnt say so directly, the implied contrast between Jesus and President Bush, whose policies toward poor Americans are best described as malign neglect, could not have been more clear.
Franken spoke about his father, who was a Republican until the summer of 1964, often during his talk, praising his dad for spending quantity time, not quality time with him, as well as passing on his values to his children. Those values, Franken said, were essentially the same as those held by the Founding Fathers, the majority of whom were Deists. John Adams wrote that the sum total of his moral creed was to be just and good, and Thomas Jefferson replied that such wisdom was that in which all our inquiries must end.
After waiting for the applause to stop, Franken read the preamble to the Republican Contract in America, which dates from their recapturing the House in 1994, declaring that the Republican majority would, among other things, put an end to the constant scandals in Congress and bring integrity and honesty back to the Hill. The contract exhorts Americans to throw the Republicans out if they break their promises, and Frankens message was simple: Were going to throw em out!
Franken mentioned his new book, The Truth With Jokes, several times during his speech, saying that you cant have freedom without truth, but you can have freedom without jokes, as has been proven by the Dutch and the Swiss. When the audience stopped laughing, Franken excoriated the Republicans in government, saying these guys dont tell us the truth, which is certainly true, and not very funny.
But what was funny were Frankens dead-on impersonations of several notable political figures, especially President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, as well as celebrities like Sylvester Stallone, who Franken met at a Hollywood party after returning from one of his six United Service Organizations (USO) tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Stallone had backed out of a USO tour because, as he reportedly said, I dont want to lose my life.
Stallones reluctance is just one example of the disconnect Franken mentioned between the men and women of our armed forces, who are fighting and dying in foreign countries like Iraq for no real reason, and the rest of the country, whom our president exonerates to go shopping as a manifestation of patriotism. Franken mentioned that he gave a guest lecture at West Point last year in which he talked about the administration lying to its citizens. He was one of only two speakers in about 30 years whom the cadets gave a standing ovation.
Personally, I was expecting Franken to be much more caustic, but his restraint overall served him well. He and the Democratic candidates, whom his appearance supported, projected an air of reasoned confidence. It was as if they know that the country is as fed up with the current administration in Congress and in the White House as they are.
It will take more than just righteous anger for the Democrats as a whole to remember how to win, however. Franken, who grew up in St. Louis Park and now lives in Minnesota, cited the case of the late Sen. Wellstone, (whom he referred to as Paul) as an example.
In 2002, the Republican Party ran attack ads against Wellstone castigating him for voting for seaweed when the country needed national security.
These guys play so dirty, and we gotta be ready to fight back, Franken said. This November, well see if the Democratic Party has learned how to take his advice.
Opinions Editor Andrea Horbinski is a junior from Marlton, N.J. She majors in classics with concentrations in linguistics and in Japan studies.