The more politically savvy will know Al Franken from his radio show on Air America, while the Saturday Night Live fans may remember him from his hilarious self-help character Stuart Smalley and his behind the scenes award-winning writing. Both contact points are real touchstones which reveal his wicked satirical genius. Franken is at once mischievous and intelligent.

To illustrate the point, he recently pulled a prank that received the attention of John Ashcroft. Franken sent a note to 27 senior Bush administration officials on the letterhead of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University. The mailing list included the U.S. Attorney General himself. The letter asked each to “share a moment when you were tempted to have sex but were able to overcome your urges.” The stories would allegedly be used in a book about public school abstinence programs called “Savin’ It!” No doubt the dour Ashcroft was less than pleased.

Kidding aside, Al Franken’s newly born eyes first opened to the hustle and bustle of New York City. He lived in the big apple for his first six years and then the family pulled up stakes and moved to a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Growing up, Al was a top student but also enjoyed the feeling of attention that came with getting a laugh.

He was also physically gifted and used this prowess to letter as a wrestler. After high school he attended Harvard University. Once he had graduated the hallowed halls Franken turned his attention to perfecting a comedy routine that he and collaborator Tom Davis had written and were already performing. It was in one of these performances that Al and Tom were spotted and eventually signed by Lorne Michaels. The two of them would go on to make television history together by writing for and contributing ideas to the project that has come to be known as Saturday Night Live.

Not satisfied with working just the comedy angle, Franken has also branched out and let his take-no-prisoners leftist views be known. He authored books that many Democrats consider must reads, such as, “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot,” “Why Not Me?” and “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them” which he subtitled “a fair and balanced look at the right.” The subtitle was a shot over the bow of conservative “news” network Fox, which markets their right wing media outlet as “fair and balanced.” The Fox News Channel actually tried to sue Franken and his publishing company, Penguin Books, for trademark infringement over the term “fair and balanced.” A judge later dismissed a motion to stop the publication of the book as “wholly without merit, both factually and legally.”

Obviously, the Iraqi war was the biggest issue of the campaign for the presidency. When asked about the war Al said “Kerry had it exactly right. He gave the president the authority to go to war but the president blew it.” He continued “These guys will not take responsibility for their mistakes.”

Al’s rivalry with conservative talking head Bill O’Reilly is well known. There is however a new face of the American right, a beautiful blonde haired blue eyed white devil named Ann Coulter. When I asked Al about her, he immediately shot back, “She’s vile, she’s awful. My wife and I were riding back to New York City from a debate I had with her in Hartford, and my wife said ‘poor girl’ and that’s how I feel. She’s not so much an empty suit as much as she just can’t tell the truth. It’s sad. It really is.”

Knowing Al’s daughter is a teacher at a public school in the Bronx, this led me to believe he would have a strong opinion concerning education. Early in his term, President Bush signed a controversial bill called “No Child Left Behind.” This bill was to add credibility to public education by holding teachers and schools to a higher standard. The biggest trouble in gauging whether or not the bill was any good is the fact that Bush refused to fund it properly. I asked Franken if “No Child Left Behind” would be a good program if it was properly funded. Al gave a response which was strange. He told the truth. No spin. He said, “I don’t know.” This broke the gaze that I had on the mini-bar of the limo we were riding in and I quickly snapped my head up and searched his eyes for some kind of explanation. He rewarded my curious look by adding, “I think it is good to create a system of accountability. It could be good for reading and writing. We have had too many people graduating without being able to read, write, or do math. You have to have some standards but also have to be careful. Kerry wants to pay more for teachers and that is a great idea.”

“Teachers should have a place of respect in our culture and should be paid more. I have a daughter that teaches in the Bronx. She does that partly because she can. She doesn’t have a massive student loan hanging over her head. Her school is filled with 98% minorities and is in a poor district. The key though is that she has a great principal and that’s what we need. We need great teachers and administrators. Part of the problem also is that our best and brightest do not choose to be teachers because of the low pay. We just don’t reward teachers enough,” he said.

With the election coming down the homestretch I wondered what Franken’s thoughts would be on the debates. Bush’s first debate implosion took center stage in his thoughts as he explained, “I was surprised by George W. Bush’s performance. His reactions during the cut-away shots were just bizarre. And nobody wants a bizarre president!” (Writers note: or a greedy and dumb one)

When asked what he would say to Kerry to help him become the next president, Al stepped aside a bit, saying “I don’t really feel he needs my advice. He should just do more of the same from the first debate. Like Jennifer Palmieri said today, he needs to be himself and not act too over programmed.”

Finally, Al gave a prediction both from a pulpit that was set up for his radio program and to me personally. As he climbed out of the limo he declared, “On November 2nd we’re going to take our country back!”

Tom Luffman is a Free Press reporter.

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