Al Franken rallies 7th District DFL

The Republicans broke their own decade-old pledge to the American people, so they must be replaced, says political satirist Al Franken. Not only that, President Bush squandered the worldwide unity of the day after 9/11, all of it for political ga...

The Republicans broke their own decade-old pledge to the American people, so they must be replaced, says political satirist Al Franken.

Not only that, President Bush squandered the worldwide unity of the day after 9/11, all of it for political gain, he said.

Franken, the keynote speaker Saturday night to the 7th Congressional District DFL Convention's banquet at the Northern Inn, warmed up the partisan crowd first with humor, but then switched to a scathing attack on Republicans.

Why is our political dialogue so divisive? Franken says he's often asked.

"Do you remember where we were as a country on 9/12/01? We were totally united," he said. "And this president had a unique opportunity to lead. All he had to do was lead. He could have led this country and the world to a new century."


That could have come with a spirit of mutual purpose and of mutual sacrifice, he said. "And what did he do? He threw it away -- he squandered it -- for political gain."

Bush operative Karl Rove politicized terrorism, Franken said, noting that Republicans defeated Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., with advertising that associated the decorated Vietnam War veteran with Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

"They blew it for political gain," said Franken, who hosts a liberal talk show from the Twin Cities on the Air America radio network.

Franken was introduced by U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, DFL-7th District, while emceeing the evening was former Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine. Both are typical stoic Norwegians.

"You face an uphill battle on this stage," Peterson told Franken. "Roger and I have the reputation of being the funniest of guys."

Peterson also told the crowd of Franken's six trips with the USO to entertain the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There was no greater reward than to bring cheer to the troops, Franken said, adding that partisanship was left at home. "I get more out of these tours than I give. ... There is nothing more gratifying, more humbling, more moving than being with our troops."

Franken, who is Jewish, took a few swipes at the religious right, saying his faith includes belief in God but that's as complex and as simple as it gets.


"If you're looking for traditional American values that our founding fathers had," he said, "I expect people to respect my religious beliefs as I respect other people's religious beliefs"

The United States is the most religious developed country in the world precisely because of the separation between church and state and because people respect each other's beliefs, he said.

Franken later reminded the partisan crowd of the Republican's Contract With America that they pledged to in taking the U.S. House for the first time in 40 years. The Newt Gingrich-inspired document laid out eight pieces of legislation the new GOP House would introduce on the first day.

But the contract also said: "Like Lincoln, our first Republican president, we intend to act 'with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right.' To restore accountability to Congress. To end its cycle of scandal and disgrace. To make us all proud again of the way free people govern themselves."

Franken, however, added his own clause: "If we break this contract, through us out." That comment drew loud applause from the crowd.

"They have broken the basic contract with the American people," he said.

"This Congress has done nothing," Franken added. "It is not done its job on anything. That Medicare prescription drug bill was a disgrace."

The chief actuary for Medicare was told by the administration not to tell Congress how much the bill would cost, or lose his job, Franken said. "You have to lie to Congress, or you'll be fired."


And who is Congress' No. 1 person to do such oversight of the administration? Franken asked, answering Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., as chairman of the Senate Permanent Committee on Investigations.

"This is a storied committee," Franken said, adding that its chairmen have included Scoop Jackson and Joe McCarthy. It was formed during World War II to investigate war contracts to ensure companies weren't profiteering because of the war effort.

"There's not been one hearing on contracting in Iraq," Franken said, referring to multibillion-dollar contracts held by a few companies, including Halliburton, the company Vice President Dick Cheney formerly headed.

President Harry Truman called for the bipartisan committee, Franken said. "Harry Truman said profiteering from war contracting is treason, and it is.

"Norm Coleman isn't looking at it," said Franken, who is said to be eying Coleman's job come 2008 when the Republican seeks a second term.

To combat claims that Democrats aren't offering ideas, Franken gave two of his own:

"Day 1, when we take this Congress back, universal health care for kids," Franken said.

A child who doesn't have health insurance is 70 percent less likely to get treatment for an ear infection, he said. Also, a kid who doesn't have medical insurance is less likely to go to school and is more likely to miss school.


"How stupid is that? How shortsighted is that?" he asked.

Franken also called for an "Apollo program" for renewable energy, presumably meaning setting a deadline for making the U.S. independent of foreign oil through renewable fuels and making that deadline by working backward, like man's quest for the moon in the 1960s.

"It's time that we take our country back," Franken said. Instead, Bush's "ownership society" has become the "on your own society," he said.

"We're in this together -- we're all in this together," he said.

Franken closed with the words of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, DFL-Minn., who said, "the future belongs to those who are passionate and work hard."

"The future belongs to us," Franken said. "Go out there and work your butts off."

(Brad Swenson writes for The Bemidji Pioneer, a Forum Communications Co. newspaper)

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