Monday, January 5, 2009

Breaking the Glass Floor

Al Franken has been certified the winner—by 225 votes—in the recount of the Minnesota Senate race against Norm Coleman. And In My Copious Free Time has obtained exclusive, hidden-camera footage of Senator-Elect Franken receiving the news:

I wrote in my first post that we could survive four years of anyone in the White House. I'm honestly not so sure about six years of Al Franken in the Senate.

There was a lot of talk this election about "breaking the glass ceiling." Apparently, this election was also about "breaking the glass floor." Citizen-legislators is a wonderful ideal, but we seem to have lost any sense of even the most minimal standards of experience for holding national office, though I guess Caroline Kennedy can now make the case that someone else in the Senate would have even fewer qualifications than her.

It pains me to say this, too, because I grew up idolizing Al Franken. I would beg my mother to let me stay up late and watching him on the old Saturday Night Live. And I do mean the old SNL, when he was appearing as part of the comedy team of Franken & Davis. I didn't just want to watch Al Franken, though. Baby writer that I was, I actually wanted to be Al Franken.

He was smart. He was funny. Most important, he was a geek, and back in those pre–Bill Gates days, successful geeks were hard to come by. Al Franken gave me hope that my own geekiness could actually be part of my future success, not just something all the popular kids mocked. The man gave me hope as well as laughs, at least back then.

Maybe it's inevitable that your childhood idols always let you down at some point. I still remember that point for me with Al Franken—standing in a bookstore with a copy of Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations in my hands.

A big, fat idiot? I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I just kept staring at the dust jacket, trying to convince myself this was really an Al Franken book. Calling someone a big, fat idiot was the kind of cheap joke that even Franken's first drafts should have been above. And not only was it not funny, it was mean. (Or "mean-spirited," as the Publishers Weekly review put it, and filled with "out-of-context quotes.")

That was in 1996, and as time went on, I recognized him less and less. Whether it was getting into a "shouting-and-shoving match" with a talk-radio producer at the 2004 Republican National Convention, refusing to shake the hand of a conservative college student during his Senate campaign, using Kennedy School of Government at Harvard (where he was a fellow at the time) stationery to ask noted conservatives to share their personal stories of abstinence for a book that didn't exist (Savin' It!), or just unleashing the kind of foul-mouthed rhetoric that politicians usually keep in private, this just wasn't the same smart, sharp guy I once looked up to.

I still had glimmers of reasons to keep liking him, of course, though any five-minute segment of his Air America show always had me reconsidering that decision. He co-wrote When A Man Loves A Woman, one of the best films ever made about addiction, and one of the few that shows the non-alcoholic spouse as an actual human being rather than a supportive saint who fights the system or an utter bastard who causes all the alcoholic's problems. (I didn't see this film until several years after it was made, so I count it against the many cons of the post-1996 Al Franken.) And despite his vehement opposition to the Iraq War, he's done USO tours for the troops there.

I don't know what kind of senator Al Franken is going to be. I can only hope that he'll rise to the occasion, but I can't shake the feeling that we really have broken the glass floor, and in a very real way.

And I can only fear being governed by the "comedy team" and Franken & Matthews in 2010.

(Hat Tip: Haepnoteased for the video.)