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Franken Speaks Frankly

Franken Speaks Frankly

by Interview by Mary Corman

In this issue:

Groping for Victory

Labor Pains

A Fair and Balanced Look at Lies

Franken Speaks Frankly

Yes, Sir, That's My Baby

The Deficit Game

Back to issue home


Al Franken was a writer and cast member of "Saturday Night Live." He is the best-selling author of such books as Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations and Oh, the Things I Know! and served as a Fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government in 2003. His most recent book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, has been on the New York Times Best-seller List for eight weeks.

Stanford Progressive: Are you pleased with the outcome of Fox's recent lawsuit against you?

Franken: The thing about the lawsuit is that Fox was literally laughed out of court. Usually when you say someone was literally laughed out of court you mean the were figuratively laughed out of court, but Fox was literally laughed out of court. In the judges decision she said Fox's case was "wholly without merit both factually and legally." If you've seen Fox News recently you might have noticed that they don't use the phrase "fair and balanced" as often anymore. Well, I think the judge has given Fox a great new catch phrase: Fox News, "wholly without merit."

SP: What do you think of the recent revelations about your good friend Rush Limbaugh?

Franken: First of all, you have to have compassion for anyone who is a drug addict, but when my friend Jerry Garcia died, Rush called him just another dead doper and a dirt bag. He also said repeatedly through his career that anyone who uses drugs illegally should be prosecuted and sent away. I hope the man gets into recovery and I'm just assuming that when he gets out he will set an example for consistency and ask to be put away. The maximum sentence for what he appears to have done is five years and I hope he asks for the full five, and asks for the most dangerous prison possible. Perhaps, with some African-American inmates who heard what he said about Donovan McNabb. I think that would be very fitting. You treat people for drug addictions, except for Rush, who should set an example and voluntarily go away for a long time.

SP: What are the best and worst things about California's new governor?

Franken: All I know is that it was the most content free campaigning I've ever seen in my life. I'm just worried that guys in California will think that this gives them license to grope Maria Shriver. I want to make sure your readers know that even though groping is evidently okay with her, they just shouldn't do it.

SP: Which Democratic presidential candidate has the best chance of beating Dubya?

Franken: I don't know yet. I have to see them for a little longer before I make that determination, but I think they all have different strengths. Well, maybe not all, but I think Gephart is an incredibly decent guy who has been working for working people for all of his career and we are going to win this in the Midwest so there's a case to be made for him. I think Dean has obviously captured a tremendous amount of passion and new voters. I think he has the ability to run the table. I think someone like John Kerry would make a great president because he is someone who has the depth and breadth of knowledge and who is a real hero and has real gravitas. By next time this year, gravitas might look really good to the American people, compared with what we've had for the last four years. I think Weslely Clark has that too and will be very formidable.

SP: What's your take on Bill O'Reilly's new book? Is it fair and balanced?

Franken: I haven't read the book, but I doubt it.

SP: Why are bellicose conservative commentators so popular while there don't seem to be comparable figures among liberals? Do Democrats need more public liberal voices to win elections?

Franken: Well, I guess to their credit, they did two things. They captured radio and took advantage of television. Rush created this conservative radio thing and then a lot of imitators came in. They've created this landscape where all talk radio is right-wing. They got the idea of having a 24 hour conservative cable TV network, and they did it. By calling it fair and balanced, it evidently worked, but I've been working with some people who are trying to get a liberal radio network going. I would be doing three hours a day, which Rush might tell you is a lot of work, but I think it could be fun. I would model it after this book. I'd have a Team Franken and we would tape everything the conservatives say so that whenever they lie we would play it back. It's Ju-Jitsu, you just use what they say against them and heap scorn and ridicule upon them.

SP: What's your view on the rebuilding of Iraq?

Franken: I hope they succeed. I don't believe it will happen, but I hope we can stabilize Iraq and build a western style of democracy that will create a model in the Middle East and embolden moderate elements in Iran to overthrow the mullahs there, which will dry up funding for Hezbollah, thereby putting pressure on Syria and on the Palestinians and end the Iraeli-Palestinian conflict once and for all. At least that's what I'm hoping will happen, but truthfully, the hubris of the State Department, of Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld, is amazing. They didn't plan for the aftermath of this war, and our guys are now paying for that.

SP: Which is the better oxymoron: "compassionate conservative" or "Justice Rehnquist"?

Franken: That's a good one. There could be a compassionate conservative. There's such a thing as that. It's just the fact that they are lying all the time that no one can think of conservatives as passionate. As for Justice Rehnquist, well, he's just bad. Bad, bad, bad. I'm still mad about Bush v. Gore.

SP: People speak about our generation as being politically apathetic. What can concerned students at Stanford and other universities do to reverse this perception?

Franken: It happens one by one, but then you need leaders. You need leaders within any community and you need to mobilize. It's just as Paul Wellstone said, "The future belongs to those who are passionate and work."

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