Former Senator Al Franken turns 70

liberal talk radio

Al FrankenAl Franken was a writer and featured performer on Saturday Night Live in 1977–1980, leaving when producer Lorne Michaels did. Michaels had recommended Franken to succeed him as the producer, but NBC president Fred Silverman said no, probably because of a Franken skit that insulted Fred personally.

Franken returned to SNL in 1986, then from 1988 to 1995.  It was during that period that he did a running bit called “Daily Affirmations With Stuart Smalley.” It was a mock self-help show inspired by Franken attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

The skit series inspired a 1992 novel, titled after Smiley’s catchphrase, “I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!” I’ll admit to relating to that mantra, even if I wasn’t quite sure it was true of me.

Air America Radio was a talk radio network, with a liberal POV, trying (and largely failing) to counterprogram the conservative message. The Al Franken Show was the flagship talk program from 2004 to Valentine’s Day 2007. That was the day Franken announced his candidacy for the United States Senate for the state of Minnesota.

The 2008 Senate race between Franken and Republican incumbent Norm Coleman was incredibly close, each with 41.99% of the vote. After recounts and court rulings, Franken wasn’t sworn in until July 7, 2009. The Minnesota senator had a progressive voting record and was reelected with 53.9% of the vote in 2014.

The allegations

Some sexual misconduct allegations were made against Franken in 2017. One famous photo from before he was in public office he apologized for, and the subject, a fellow comedian, accepted that. Nevertheless, the Senate Ethics Committee announced on November 30 it was “investigating allegations against him.” Some liberal groups and commentators… called on Franken to resign.”

As other accusations surfaced, “more than two dozen Democratic senators, led by New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, called on Franken to resign before the ethics committee could review the allegations.

“Although Franken had asked to be allowed to appear before the Senate Ethics Committee to give his side of the story, on December 6 Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told him he had to announce his resignation by five o’clock or he could be censured and stripped of committee assignments. On December 7, Franken announced his intention to resign his Senate seat. He called some of the accusations ‘simply not true’ and said he remembered others ‘very differently.'”

I do wish he had gotten the hearing he was due, and not just for his sake. Many people believed that Gillibrand, who I’ve voted for multiple times and would select again, was working to get rid of a potential rival for the 2020 Democratic nomination for President.

I don’t buy the notion that she was that calculating. She’s long been a staunch advocate for ridding sexual harassment and assault in the military and might be getting some traction in 2021. Nevertheless, I was convinced early on that she had zero chance of obtaining her party’s support for a White House run in 2020.

Aftermath

In 2019, New Yorker journalist Jane Mayer documented substantial inaccuracies in allegations by conservative talk-radio host Leeann Tweeden. “Seven former or current senators who called for Franken’s resignation in 2017 told Mayer they regretted doing so.”

Here is the Al Franken website, which leads to his podcast (over 110 episodes) and “other stuff.” As he puts it: “A five-time Emmy-winning SNL comedy writer/producer, joins a four-time #1 NYT bestselling author, a three-time highest-rated national progressive radio host, a two-time Grammy-winning artist, and a former US Senator. So, it gets a little crowded in the booth when Al talks about public policy and sometimes political comedy with notable guests. Think ‘The Daily’ without the resources of the NYTimes.”