Today’s savior for a variety of media outlets is the ‘Al Franken completes his first year in the Senate’ story.
The hook for most of the stories is assessing whether the comedian has been a “serious” politician or a jokester. The consensus: Mostly serious, with some flashes of the biting wit that made him famous.
Here are some highlights from several Franken anniversary pieces:
You could almost imagine it as a Saturday Night Live routine. Open with a shot of the U.S. Capitol. A senator is droning on about some horribly boring subject. Cut to Al Franken sitting in the Senate chairman’s seat, gavel in hand. Antics ensue. It could be a funny skit, except that for the past year, Al Franken actually has been spending a lot of time in the Senate chairman’s seat–off the air, avoiding jokes, studying the job of senator and his new colleagues as they take their turns on the floor.
In an interview with Minnesota Public Radio News at his St. Paul office, Franken confidently said he’s proven his critics wrong and that he knew he wasn’t going to flop.
“So to that extent, I’m exceeding some low expectations I guess that were created by the other side,” Franken said.
As if channeling the “daily affirmations” of his old “Saturday Night Live” character Stuart Smalley, Franken has stuck assiduously to a step-by-step program for transforming himself from comedian to legitimate lawmaker.
Since being sworn in last July, the former satirist and liberal pundit has largely succeeded in positioning himself as a player on two of the most important measures of worth in Washington: getting bills passed and raising money, a sphere in which he has not been shy about using his old show business connections.
Franken also has recovered the sharpness of his tongue, using a recent speech in Washington, D.C., to uncork a withering critique of the U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts, whom he accused of taking “a fist with brass knuckles” to the rights of ordinary people against corporate America.
Franken has tried to play it straight.
Since entering Congress, the junior senator has put together a string of legislative accomplishments, one of which — an amendment aimed at ending the cozy relationship between Wall Street and credit-rating agencies — landed him on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.
Even still, he has largely avoided national media, despite frequent requests for interviews and appearances. Instead, Franken has focused on things aimed at building credentials with Minnesota voters, returning frequently
to his home state and emphasizing federal grants that do things ranging from building small-town wastewater treatment plants to helping American Indians fight diabetes.
But there also have been flashes of Franken the showman, cracking jokes about Perry Mason during Supreme Court confirmation hearings and speeches critical of Republicans, which at least once toed the boundaries of Senate custom.
A year ago, Washington braced for an over-the-top new senator in Al Franken, a guy who made his name with “Saturday Night Live” sketches, liberal talk radio and a string of mouthy political books.
Washington is still waiting.
The senator from Minnesota turned out to be more under-the-radar than in-your-face. He quickly blended in to the clubby institution, bonding with a conservative Republican over country music and shepherding amendments to bills as they slogged through the process.