by Ted S. McGregor Jr. & r & "So, do you still have that anti-gay, gay mayor?" asks Al Franken from his studio in New York City on the very day his new book hits the street. Even though The Truth (With Jokes) is already No. 3 on Amazon.com, there's no basking in the moment here -- he's taking some time to dig a little deeper into the issues here in Spokane. He'll be broadcasting a full three-hour live show from the Big Easy on Tuesday morning.
I tell Franken about the Dec. 6 recall vote, and he wonders aloud, "What's his platform? 'No Internet Sex: Just Good Government!'" He says Mayor West can use that slogan if he wants, no charge.
Franken, a Harvard grad and Saturday Night Live alum, pioneered the ability to be both funny and serious -- Comedy Central's Steven Colbert might even call him "serlarious." Whatever you call it, it's a kind of natural reaction to the if-you-don't-laugh-you'll-cry world most liberals have been living in for some time now. Now Franken has innovated another new frontier in the world of punditry: He writes books that consist of more than simply spouting stuff you hear from other pundits. In his previous book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, he employed a crack team of Harvard grad students to double-check the accuracy of much of the stuff routinely broadcast from right-wing radio and TV. Needless to say, it didn't hold up. Oh, and there were jokes in there, too.
Now Franken is building on that foundation, with more rigorous research and a no-nonsense title to reflect the take-back-our-government task at hand: The Truth (With Jokes). When asked why he's not taking shots in this book's title at Bill O'Reilly or Rush Limbaugh, as his other books have done, he says, quite seriously, "I have bigger fish to fry in this one -- this administration and this Congress."
Air America has been picked up by 70 stations, including KPTQ (AM-1280) here in Spokane, proving that there is an appetite for left-wing talk, too. Franken says he has around 1.5 million listeners a week; his show is broadcast to 63 percent of the nation.
Kosta Panidis, general manager of the Clear Channel group in Spokane, took a chance by dumping 1280's nostalgia format last year and becoming one of the smallest markets to pick up Air America at that time.
"At the end of the day, I don't have a political bent," says Panidis, who has worked in Spokane radio since 1980. "Whenever we make a format change, it's because we feel the pulse of the community -- it's not some corporate thing. I look at this as another voice, and another venue for entertainment. And I've been very pleasantly surprised. This is good radio."
Panidis says how well the station is performing won't be determined for another year, but the free tickets to the Big Easy broadcast were scooped up quickly, which surprised him -- especially the fact that people called in from all over North Idaho and even down in the Palouse.
So Spokane is the second stop (after Portland) on his barnstorming tour -- his first foray into Red America (even though Washington is officially a Blue State). To honor his serlariousness, I told him I had some "funny" questions, and some "serious" questions. Which did he want first?
"Let me see if I can guess which are which," Franken answered. I guess all but one (the one he actually laughed at) turned out to be serious. (He did give me some comedy tips, telling me one question was "too chunky" -- too long in the set up.)
INLANDER: Speaking strictly as a comedian, aren't you kind of glad Kerry lost?
AL FRANKEN: Strictly as a comedian, I guess so. But from every other capacity, no. As a comedian, though, this couldn't be much better.
Which celebrity would be best to run for president in 2008: Oprah or Tom Hanks? Oprah. But Tom would be great, too. That would be a great ticket.
Give me a short, punchy slogan for Dems in '06 and '08?
"Subpoena power." I think that we really need subpoena power. These guys somehow managed to get indicted while still controlling the entire government -- that's really hard to do. Congress doesn't do its oversight, and that's one of the things I've been maddest about. Harry Truman called war profiteering treason. [There's] plenty of evidence [that's going on in Iraq], but Congress won't do its oversight job. It's a real sin; I feel very strongly about that. I'm going to Iraq for the third time in December. I've seen our soldiers and visited Walter Reed and Bethesda [hospitals], and it really does make me angry. I really believe the profiteering has contributed to the violence there.
If you become a candidate for Senate in Minnesota, would you advocate that the USA leave Iraq ASAP?
No. I would say that the first thing we need to do is engage the Sunnis and Shi'a and do everything in our power to get them to talk to each other. But in the meantime, I don't know if there are any good choices right now. One thing I would try to do is get the people in Iraq working. One of the things we did wrong was we outsourced the reconstruction to American companies, and [Iraq has] huge unemployment. None of the money has gone to them. I would start employing Iraqis. But I don't know if all of this is too late at this point. I think we've got to do a phased withdrawal.
Here's my "Tricky Dick" question. Which Dick is more Nixonian: Nixon or Cheney?
[Laughing] That's a really good question. I think that Cheney is. "Nixonian" has come to mean something other than the actual guy -- it's about the guy's worst qualities. Nixon did some awful things -- he subverted the Constitution and obviously broke the law -- but I think Cheney has, too.
If Karl Rove is Bush's brain, and if Karl Rove is about to get indicted, what does that mean for our president?
That means he won't have his ready access to his brain. [But maybe in jail] he can be, like, making marinara sauce, dropping in some sausage, then sending out a message saying, "Smear this guy."
You've spent two books fact-checking the administration's claims. Which nugget, out of all of them, is the most devastating, or has the most resonance for all those Americans still stuck in the reality-based community?
You have to choose from so much, but the most shocking thing in the new book is this chapter I do about Saipan and Tom DeLay. He basically allows the system to continue there by not allowing legislation to get to the floor -- a system that leads to forced abortions in Saipan.
Then there's the Downing Street memo saying that the Bush administration was fixing intelligence to fit the plan. In light of everything else, this is very much a smoking gun. He wanted to go to war, and we were lied into the war, which is about as bad as you can get. Ironically, all this Valerie Plame stuff is really about that.
The Contract With America: Did we forget to read the fine print or what? Could the Dems dust off some parts of the Contract With America to use in '06 and '08?
They are so corrupt now, and a lot of [the Contract] was about corruption. The abuses today are just these Republicans completely abusing the system -- keeping the vote open for three hours, bribing guys. All that kind of stuff is awful: The pressure on K Street and filling K Street [where lobbyists' offices are located] with Republicans... this guy Abramoff. It's just ugly. The Contract [called for] a balanced-budget amendment; now they say the deficit is only $300 billion. This was them 10 or 12 years ago. How much of this has happened? Did they do term limits? Did they balance the budget? Have they been more honest? No, it's the worst it's ever been, and that's not just me. I have Republicans on my show who say that, too.
Everybody -- you, Bill O'Reilly -- seems to be preaching to the choir. How does anyone reach the middle these days? Would a coalition ticket in '08 be a good idea?
Kerry actually tried McCain, and that would have been great. I was really disappointed with McCain's support for Bush after the Swift Boat attacks and after he, himself, had been slimed by these guys. For him to allow that to happen to Kerry, when Bush didn't call them off, he could have stopped campaigning. If you're willing to go with [Republicans] who have open minds and who aren't jerks, that's fine.
In this book I talk about a grand compromise, a little fantasy where in '08 we take over both houses and the White House, but we make a deal. The new Congress comes in a few weeks early in '09 -- and I'm one of them, having won in Minnesota -- and I explain to them the "quickie impeachment." It's my idea to have a quickie impeachment. [Near the end of Bush's term in office, Congress impeaches him.] Everyone's going, like, "Why?" and I say, "Because we can." The grand compromise lets some reasonable Republicans be committee chairmen, and we usher in a new era of responsibility. Oh, and we impeach and convict Bush, and he resumes drinking on the same day.
The O'Franken Factor Live in Spokane airs nationwide on Air America on Tuesday, Nov. 1, from 9 am-noon. It airs locally on KPTQ (1280-AM). Tickets to the live broadcast have all been distributed.