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There's No Rush in Franken
by Bernard Chapin
05 April 2004

The left can fill Air America’s tank with as much airplane fuel as it wants, but this moped will never race.

Whenever people ask me why I don’t listen to talk radio more regularly, I explain that my employers would not classify such behaviors as “work.”  Yet Wednesday provided me with my first real opportunity to do so as it was the official kickoff of liberal radio.  The ideological content of the station made it unique, and perhaps legitimate, as the sounds of Bush-bashing coming from my office door would sooth my co-workers and perhaps even increase my popularity among them.  Thus, I turned off a classical CD, spun the AM dial to 950, and became an official audience member for the left’s Air America pre-April Fools event.  

I tuned in just in time for the station’s Prince of the Fleet program, or Admiral Graf Spee as it were, which is Al Franken’s The O’Franken Factor.  The title was selected as a means to spoof the widely popular Bill O’Reilly, just as the title of his bestselling book was chosen as a way to ridicule the widely popular Fox News Station.  It runs from 11 am to 2 pm Central Time and directly opposes Rush Limbaugh’s timeslot.  Should Franken manage to erode even a slight percentage of Rush’s dittohead base it will be a tremendous coup d’etat for Democrats everywhere, as he is their new golden boy (maybe “golden boy/girl/other” might be more appropriate considering the nature of his constituency). 

Unlike many other leftists, there is no denying that Al Franken is a gifted individual with a keen sense of humor.  As a writer for Saturday Night Live he accomplished truly great things for fifteen seasons, and many of the skits and personas he created were priceless.  For this reason, I was slightly concerned that the show might have merit or at least be entertaining.  Happily, my concerns were unfounded; other than one mock interview with a would-be suicide bomber at London’s Heathrow Airport, there was scarcely one giggle during its three hour stretch.

It reminded me of the immense disappointment one feels when witnessing Woody Allen interviewed.  You are mystified as to how such a creative and hysterical force could possibly be so charmless in person.  Then again, unlike his films, Allen’s live personality cannot be edited and cut into a perfect 90 minute sequence -- and the same is true of Franken.  His radio shtick cannot be rehearsed for an entire week and then smoothly performed, because he has to respond to the statements of callers and guests.  His humor is distinctly planned and spontaneity does not seem to be his forte.  He is a writer and not an improvisational comedian.  That was readily evident throughout the first O’Franken Factor episode, as I’m sure it made its non-partisan listeners more bored than angry by its proceedings.
There is a certain listlessness about the show and its star.  To begin with, Franken’s voice is not ideal for radio.  He comes off as partial throated and there seems to be a tremendous distance between his microphone and the listener’s speakers.  His speech itself is banal and does not succeed in capturing attention through its quality.  Franken’s sedate presence is also surprising when one considers that a few months ago he challenged the editor of The National Review to a fistfight.  We expect moxie from him but receive soma instead. 

Given that The O’Franken Factor possesses little in the way of acoustic or pyrotechnic allure, all the benefit that his audience can receive must derive from the strength of the arguments presented, but I’m afraid these are a thin gruel indeed.   The hosts offer little in the way of policy debate.  Franken seems to embody the ethereal vagueness that is at the center of contemporary liberalism.

At one point he mentions that he’s a DLC liberal and that another guest is not, but there is little explanation of what exactly this means.  The only thing that one is certain of is that these fellows do not like Bush in the least, but that’s about the only consensus that can be reached. 

Franken claims that being a liberal by definition means to love one’s country, but there is little that he and co-host Katherine Lanpher seem to love about our land.  He does not substantiate his claim about liberalism and patriotism.   If he took the time to develop this position and illustrate the love the left possesses for the United States, then I think his program would be a worthy use of our time (and also a heckuva trick on his part), but all we are offered is the assertion that liberals are patriots, which to many of us is a non-sequitur.  

There is plenty of petty sniping available and I’m sure that the far left will enjoy it, but precious little substance is conveyed.  Franken’s strategy is to energize the Democratic base through his radio program and thereby defeat the President in November.  One of the ways in which he envisions this being done is through a registration drive that will be known as “The Love Train.”  He believes this train/movement will unearth a staggering number of potential voters, and ensure that legions of disenfranchised geniuses flood the polls and fondle Democratic punch tools at election time.  I wish him bad luck, but don’t really need to as political plans based on songs are catchy but also very ineffective. 

Franken also asserts that Democrats must win so they can “fight for education,” even though George W. Bush is one of the biggest spendthrift presidents in history and spends far more on education than any of his predecessors.  Indeed, Jimmy Carter’s educational outlays were third world in comparison to those of the Bush administration.

One of the show’s subplots involved imprisoning a fictional Ann Coulter in the greenroom.  His treatment of Coulter was reminiscent of many discussions I’ve had with liberals in the past.  Franken explained that his rationale for inviting Coulter to the program was that liberals always listened to both sides and respected all views; thus, the reason that he invited the blonde conservative on his show.  Yet, rather than respond to any of her hyperactive criticisms of the left, they preferred to morph her into a caricature who had nothing in common with the flesh and blood pundit. 

They made Coulter sound like a spokeswomen from a nineteenth century Daughters of the American Revolution convention.  She sounded like a rich, spoiled, Brahmin, which is miles away from the media brawler and street fighter we observe whenever she’s on television.  It appears that since they can’t refute the real Ann, they had to manufacture one, although this only confirms the impressions that many already have about liberals.

Their denigration of Coulter was not confined to locking her in an overheated greenroom.  Franken, and his nondescript co-host, referred to her as “despicable,” “a walking horror show” and that “she’s awful.”  Yet, no responses to any of the actual arguments within Slander or Treason were made.  It’s hard not to conclude that from now on they’ll be producing the same anti-intellectual margarine for 15 tedious hours a week. 

No piece on the inaugural show would have been complete without mentioning Franken’s interview with the Big Ristorante himself, Michael Moore.  This was true even though Franken correctly prefaced the segment by stating, “I’m not a very good interviewer.”  Moore has to qualify as a major “get” for Air America.  No name is more celebrated among leftists than his, but what surprised me was that his presence on radio is even less appealing than it is in person– if that’s possible.  Moore lied so much one would have to assume that he confused the studio booth with a director’s chair.

Yet the strangest part of the Moore interview was personal and came while he read a letter from a supposed serviceman who was critical of our action in Iraq.  I say “supposed” but do not doubt that there are numerous servicemen unhappy about being in Iraq, and that one may have actually written the Columbinic Fabricator to say that “Bush used us as pawns.”  However, regardless of the letter’s authenticity, what I found truly disturbing was that Moore began it with the soldier saying, “Dear Mike.”  Now I have encountered almost as many Mikes over the past thirty years as I have floor tiles, but I cannot imagine someone like Moore being addressed in such a fashion. “Dauphin” or “Dyspepsia” are far more appropriate first names for him than the very normal and legitimate “Mike.”

The darkest point in this black hole of charm and charisma came when the great liberal martyr, Al Gore, joined Franken and Moore via phone conference.  They referred to him as “Mr. President,” and Moore, in his mindless repetition of Gore winning the popular vote in 2000, seemed genuinely not to know that the Electoral College is an intrinsic part of American elections. 

Moore apologized to Gore for voting for Nader four years ago and Al responded by saying that he would say nothing about Ralph’s candidacy, but, predictably, he then proceeded to.  He warned everyone that they needed to stand unified behind John Kerry in November because Bush was moving the country in the wrong direction in more ways than you can shake an ecoactivist.  He even included “national security” within his synopsis of Bush administration failures.

All in all, The O’Franken Factor should afflict the right more with boredom than alarm.  Al Franken is a clerical and diminutive version of Rush Limbaugh.  He has no fire, no thunder and no clarity of thought, so there is little possibility of such a man challenging the WNBA’s listener base let alone Mount Rush-more’s.  The only way the left could compete with us is to find someone with God-given audio talent and that’s not something Al Franken possesses.  My guess is that most liberals will turn off and tune out this blather once its novelty wears off.  The left can fill Air America’s tank with as much airplane fuel as it wants, but this moped will never race. 

Bernard Chapin is a writer living in Chicago.

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