Posted on August 31, 2003
Is the Left this desperate for a hero?
Okay, so Al Franken isn't the most vile creature with which the modern Democratic Party has associated itself, but he is the latest in a long line of irresponsible misfits to have become the public face of what used to be America's majority party. Franken follows in the footsteps of such Democrat heroes as: former Senate candidate Geoffrey Feiger, the Michigan attorney who defended Jack Kevorkian, while at the same time constantly auditioning for the role of the evil studio wrestling manager; sleazy freakshow conductor and former Cincinnati mayor Jerry Springer, who some Ohio Democrats have twice begged to run for national office; and, of course, every liberal's favorite ultra-sadistic porno-walrus, Larry Flynt. Who's next ... Michael Moore?
Well, Franken's not that bad. He's more like one of those typical celebrity activists who pops up ubiquitously and without reason, kind of like Janeane Garaofalo. (Come to think of it, have you ever seen the two of them at the same time? Hmmm.) Unlike most of the entertainment industry's talking heads, however, he is studious enough about politics that other liberals have come to trust him to represent them. In fact, he's even been considered as a possible anchor for the new talk radio network being created by liberal investors Anita and Sheldon Drobny.
While the former Saturday Night Live producer carries none of the slimy baggage of fellow Democrat hit-man Flynt, he does operate in a similar manner, in that he attacks and insults his perceived opponents with impunity, aided by the presentation of himself as someone not to be taken seriously. Franken's dodge from accountability is that he is a satirist, which is what a comedian calls himself when he wants to convince others that he's still doing his job without being funny. That's how he justifies calling practically everyone he disagrees with a liar, while feverishly defending Bill and Hillary Clinton, and casually dismissing his own rank dishonesty as a playful prank.
While "researching" his sophomorically entitled book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, Franken sent letters to Attorney General John Ashcroft and 27 others, under the letterhead of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, asking for their "personal stories of abstinence." In his correspondence with Ashcroft, which is posted at a web archive called The Smoking Gun, Franken wrote that "I am working on a book about abstinence programs in our public schools entitled, Savin' It!
"In this day of rampant immorality, unwanted pregnancies, and dangerous sexual diseases, Savin It! will document how the Bush Administration is championing abstinence programs and setting the right example for America's youth.
He went on to claim that "I have received wonderful testimonies from HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, William J. Bennett, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, Senator Rick Santorum, and National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice."
" ... Don't be afraid to share a moment when you were tempted to have sex, but were able to overcome your urges through willpower and strength of character," he continued. "Be funny! Did a young woman ever think you were homosexual just because you wouldn't have sex with her? Be serious! Were you ever taunted and made to feel bad or "uncool" because of your choice? ... I can tell by your passionate advocacy of abstinence education that you will have a lot to offer this book. Thank you for considering my project. I hope you can find the time to inspire the next generation of sex-free leaders."
None of this was true, of course. Franken was writing no such book, and he'd received no responses from Thompson, Bennett, or anyone else. He admitted this in a letter of apology he sent to Ashcroft and the others several weeks later. When asked to explain these misrepresentations in an August 25th interview with CNN's Paula Zahn, he said, "I am a satirist, and it was satirical."
This is not that unreasonable a response as far as it goes, since that "next generation of sex-free leaders" line was a dead giveaway. He might as well have added "tee-hee" for good measure. He then reversed himself, however, and interpreted the recipients' dismissal of his infantile attempt at humor as a tacit admission of wrongdoing. "The point is that these people who are pushing abstinence-only sex education are hypocrites. And none of them had an abstinence story themselves."
Now, wait a minute. His justification for his falsehoods is that he was so obviously joking that nobody could possibly get sucked in. He cannot then have it so that his letter was to be taken seriously, and that he deserved a response from any recipient who was really serious about promoting high school abstinence. Nor does it follow that their silence demonstrates that they were themselves promiscuous as teens. Franken's inference that it does is a lie, and calling himself a satirist is a poor excuse.
The new Democrat spokesman has been equally duplicitous in his pursuit of right-wing "lies." For example, he's charged that former CBS reporter Bernard Goldberg, author of Bias, deliberately misrepresented an August 21st, 1991 report by the late NBC reporter John Chancellor. In the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union, Chancellor had reported the following, as quoted by Goldberg in his book:
"It's short of soap, so there are lice in hospitals. It's short of pantyhose, so women's legs go bare. It's short snowsuits, so babies stay home in winter. Sometimes it's short of cigarettes, so millions of people stop smoking involuntarily. It drives everybody crazy. The problem isn't Communism. No one even talked about Communism this week. The problem is shortages."
In a June 12th interview with a left-wing web publication called BuzzFlash, Franken defended Chancellor's version of events by saying that "perestroika, at this point, was six years old. Gorbachev had dismantled the state economy, and there was really no system -- there was no Communism any more. And so John Chancellor says, basically, Gorbachev is in the position where he can't blame Communism -- the problems are the shortages. ... Well, what happened was Goldberg just regurgitated something he got from a right-wing media research center, and just put it in the book and thought that, oh, this proves that John Chancellor thought that Communism wasn't a problem or something."
Franken's argument in defense of the report is absurd. Gorbachev had no intention of dismantling Communism, for he himself was a Communist. Perestroika was a series of reforms he had designed within the context of the Communist system, in a desperate effort to save it. Its failure meant that the Soviet system was beyond salvage, that it ultimately dismantled itself, and that, yes, it was to blame for the shortages Chancellor described. Moreover, those shortages were hardly a new development in Russian history. The Soviet Union was itself one 70-year long shortage, as far as its citizens were concerned.
In a January appearance on Donahue, Franken challenged Goldberg to recall just what had happened on the specific date that the NBC report had aired. Caught flat-footed, Goldberg replied, "You tell me." Based on this, Franken has declared victory, concluding that Goldberg was completely unaware of the events of that time, and that, since he hadn't placed the Chancellor quote in the context of the coup attempt that was ended that day, his criticism of the quote was illegitimate.
That analysis teeters on the faulty premise that it was the shortages that had caused the coup. Gorbachev was deposed not by an uprising of citizens over their latest shortage of consumer goods, but by a band of eight high-level Soviet officials, among them the vice president, the prime minister, the defense minister, and the head of the KGB. Their aim was to undo the democratic and free-market reforms that had only modestly begun, and return the Soviet Union to its old, more oppressive ways. They failed, due in part to massive public opposition.
The victor in the whole episode was Boris Yeltsin, who assumed control while Gorbachev was still being detained in the Crimea. Yeltsin, who had opposed the coup, declared that the Communist Party was banned, and promised that he would accelerate the reforms that Franken says caused the shortages which caused the coup. So why did those throngs of lice-ridden, nicotine-deprived people support Yeltsin? Don't ask the alleged satirist, because he doesn't have to answer, other than to say he was just clowning around.
Once John Chancellor's story is really placed in the context of what occurred that day, it only becomes all the more outrageous, and all the more worthy of its place in Goldberg's catalog of left-wing media bias. At the end of a three-day struggle which threatened to hurl the Russian people back into the dark ages of Stalinism, Chancellor told America that "no one even talked about Communism this week"? Who might we suppose briefed him on what the Russian people were saying, the Minister of Information?
Franken puts aside his halfhearted concern for placing quotes in context when it comes to the Democrats' disgraceful pep rally at what was supposed to have been a memorial service for Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, who had died in an airplane crash along with his wife, Sheila. In his BuzzFlash interview, Franken complained about "the complete distortion of that event in the right-wing media," among which he surely includes the Fox News Channel, which was so bent on distorting the event that it broadcast much of it live so that viewers could see for themselves.
The cue to turn the memorial into the clearly orchestrated political rally it became was given by Wellstone's state office director, Connie Lewis, who eulogized Sheila Wellstone by telling a story about one day when she picked the senator up at his house. Here's how Franken paraphrases the story. "Paul pulls out this note from a pile of stuff from Sheila, and Sheila tells him in the note where dinner is, and how to put it in the microwave -- you know, he's an absent-minded guy in all these things. And then, at the bottom of the note, it says, 'We will win.' And Paul looks at Connie, and just gives her this look like, isn't she the greatest? Isn't she the greatest? The whole thing was about their love story. They got married at 19. I barely ever saw Paul without Sheila there. They were truly an incredible couple. And that's what the whole part of that piece was, in the middle of the campaign."
By this point, he should have popped out those round lenses of his and let the sap run out. But instead, he went on to whine that Fox News distorted Lewis' speech. "Well, [Sean] Hannity's show cuts it together and just keeps the "We will win" part to show how partisan the event was, and then puts it together with Rick Kahn's speech and with something from Mark Wellstone." Then he complained that Hannity's liberal counterpart, Alan Colmes, meekly stood by while the character assassination commenced.
Mark Wellstone is the late senator's son. The "something" of his that Franken finds unrelated to Connie Lewis' "we will win" remark went like this: "We will carry on the struggle, and we will carry on the legacy, and we will do it for Paul. And I'll tell you what, mom -- mom, you're right. WE WILL WIN! WE WILL WIN! WE WILL WIN!" The audience at the University of Minnesota's Williams Arena joined in the chant, with all the enthusiasm of a crowd at a Gophers' hockey game.
Rick Kahn, who was the treasurer of Wellstone's campaign, stuck to the theme also. "We will keep his legacy alive!" he shouted. "We will keep his legacy alive! We are going to win this election for Paul Wellstone! We are going to win this election for Paul Wellstone! We are going to win this election for Paul Wellstone!"
This frenzy was clearly started by Lewis' eulogy. If it was not her intention to politicize the event, she surely could have thought of an anecdote about her friends the Wellstones that did not conclude with a rallying cry for the Democratic Party.
The poorly disguised political convention became so ugly that Republican Trent Lott, then the Senate Minority Leader, was booed out of the gymnasium just for showing up. Governor Jesse Ventura of the Independence Party stormed out in revulsion from the tasteless display. He was so disgusted by what he'd seen that he refused to appoint a Democrat to replace Wellstone in the interim before the election.
Yet Franken explains the public's negative reaction to the Democrats' "memorial" festivities by saying, "The right-wing machine cranked out lies." How can this be? Was the Democrats' shameful behavior really the work of conservative ventriloquists? Perhaps the vaunted satirist is only kidding. Maybe he's only doing a parody of the way that shiftless, unscrupulous political hacks continue to belch the party line even in the face of contradictory evidence.
At least that might explain his repeated, angry assertions that the United States has defeated Saddam Hussein and the Taliban with "Bill Clinton's military," which he claims that Clinton has "built." Believe it or not, Al Franken will soon embark on a USO tour. Do you suppose he'll have the nerve to inform the soldiers that they are "Bill Clinton's military"? With a little luck, he just might convince them that he was only being sarcastic.
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