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Jewish Journal

Minnesota Jewish battle for Senate narrows to 239 votes

by Brad A. Greenberg

November 7, 2008 | 4:08 pm

Minnesota law requires a recount in any election where the margin of victory is less than 0.5 percent, which means Democrat Al Franken, who has narrowed the gap on incumbent Republican Norman Coleman to a mere 239 voters, or one one-hundredth of a percent, may still have won a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Both candidates are Jewish, and therefore won’t help or hinder plans to take over the Senate, but the Democrats certainly wouldn’t mind being one senator closer to a filibuster-proof supermajority. In my opinion, that would not be good for anyone.

I’m still amazed by Franken’s ascension from comedian to liberal talk radio host to being a few votes from the Capitol Building. I mean, I’d vote for Jon Stewart for president and Jay Bilas for Congress, but Al Franken? To be honest, I’m not even really sure who Franken is. But this 2001 article by Mark Hemingway for The American Spectator, through a conservative lens, sheds some light:

It is an afternoon in early December. Al Franken is in a tea room on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, waiting for his cell phone to ring. “This might be it,” he says when it does, and then snaps the phone open, and listens for perhaps a half-second. A smile erupts across his broad expressive face. The Florida State Supreme Court, he hears, has just ruled the vote count may continue, and for a man who has spent the better part of a year campaigning for Al Gore, this is very good news. No question but that he must share it.

Quickly Franken dials his good friend Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and omnipresent Washington pundit. “Isn’t it great?” he tells him. In fact, Ornstein already knows about Florida, but no matter. The call is wonderfully symbolic. Ornstein has been churning out newspaper op-ed pieces and gracing television news programs with perfectly crafted sound bites for over two decades. In Washington’s court politics he is the Duke of Wonk; Franken is court jester.

But Franken, of course, is no ordinary jester. As one of the principal architects of “Saturday Night Live,” he helped shape, for better or worse, how America looks at politics. He also wrote Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot to show us how he looks at it himself. And as Ornstein says later, “One thing about Al is that he really does care. He cares about policies. He cares about outcomes.” Certainly Franken does care, and while comedy may be his mGtier, politics is his passion. Indeed, his politics and comedy fuel one another, but not necessarily to the benefit of either, and while Franken may see himself as a satirist, he works at least as hard, and probably harder, at being the liberals’ favorite hit man. If you agree with his politics then, you will think him a howl. If you do not agree, or have reservations, or a certain fastidiousness, you will not.

Up close and personal, though, Franken is disarming. He tells jokes, and his big boychik face puddles up with good humor. Most of his sentences end in a trail of his laughter. Franken likes to be liked, and does not want you to think ill of him. You remember Stuart Smalley, the needy, neurotic, and very funny character he created on “Saturday Night Live.” Smalley was the host of a public-access, self-help program called “Daily Affirmation,” and Franken eventually wrote a book about him: I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!

So, Franken can be a good guy, amiable and easygoing, and, as he sees himself, very fair minded. Yes, he says, he can be tough on political enemies, but he doesn’t take unfair advantage, and he never confuses the political with the personal. As proof, he names friends on the opposite end of the political spectrum from himself, former Congressman Bob “B-1” Dornan, Gary Bauer and G. Gordon Liddy among them. Apparently they like and respect him, and think he’s very bright. As Republican pollster Frank Luntz says, “I may disagree with him, but I listen to him, and I’m smarter for it.”

Still, it is probable that most of his conservative buddies are likely to agree with P. J. O’Rourke, who says, “Al Franken is at the center of the mystery of really intelligent people whose politics are objectionable.”

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