Al Franken Live Spurs Kerry Camp
by Ari Armstrong, October 5, 2004
Who knew aluminum tubes used for military development could be funny? I can't even describe how Al Franken made it so, because mostly it's a matter of timing and emphasis. Franken, in Colorado to promote his radio show, stopped by the Convention Center October 3 to talk to a crowd perhaps topping a couple hundred at an event called "Organizing Political Education with Non-Partisanship." In fact, the event was mostly partisan in support of John Kerry, though I was invited to defend free markets internationally and within the media (more on that at a later date). Only one person raised a hand when Franken asked who was undecided.
Though Ann Coulter invokes Michael Moore and Al Franken in one breath in the new film Fahrenhype 9/11, Franken is smarter, more honest, and certainly funnier than Moore. Yet Franken's talk was riddled with ad hominem attacks against the President, and several of his points are debatable. Still, he offered a fairly solid critique of Bush's performance. Hopefully his supporters will show enough intellectual independence to separate Franken's humor, ridicule, and suppositions from his facts.
What I most liked about Franken's talk was his support of economic globalization in response to a question from the audience. "Outsourcing of jobs is going to happen" and we must "stay engaged in a global economy," he said. Franken, like Kerry, is smart enough to know the economic nationalists of the left are big fat idiots. Yet Franken, like Kerry, is quick to pander to this large voting block. We shouldn't reward outsourcing with tax breaks, Franken said -- and I agree, except the magnitude of the problem is small. Typical of leftists, Franken was quick to produce a list of federal programs he thinks should accompany globalization, including education, research, training, and a so-called "living wage." Of course, the voluntary market is perfectly capable of handling such matters, and government intervention is inefficient and counterproductive. Nevertheless, it was good to hear a leader of the left grapple with economic reality.
Franken also quickly dismissed conspiracy theories about pre-knowledge about September 11 by government officials. "I cannot believe for a second" that anyone in government knew about the attack before hand, he said. However, he described the failed efforts to read existing intelligence as criminal negligence.
Franken was at his strongest when describing how the Bush administration cherry picked intelligence, much of which was flawed, leading up to the Iraq war. Then, as is becoming increasingly obvious, the Bush administration failed to adequately plan the occupation. Yet Franken didn't offer a balanced picture of Iraq, either. As Dave Kopel and others note, Saddam was a brutal killer who funded terrorism and endorsed attacks against Americans. The situation in Iraq was more complicated than supporters of either Bush or Kerry tend to admit.
I'm totally on board with Franken's criticisms of the gay-marriage ban and all-digital voting. Voters must demand that their votes be recorded on and counted from a tangible medium such as paper.
Where did Franken go wrong? First he accused Bush of losing jobs. In reality, many other complex factors led to the current recession, many of which were in play prior to Bush's election, despite Franken's protestations to the contrary. It is true, as I love to hear leftists criticize, that Bush helped the deficit expand dramatically. However, the left blames this on tax cuts, which are economically good, rather than on increased federal spending, which drains resources from the economy. Curiously, while Franken and other of Bush's critics find fault with cutting taxes for "people at the top," their solution is to raise taxes for people at the top, rather than simply cut taxes for people at the bottom. In part, this is because of the simple truth Franken refused to admit: rich people pay almost all the taxes in the U.S., unless of course we look at the regressive Social Security tax, which Franken didn't dare criticize. The fact that Social Security screws the poor and the middle-class just doesn't play well to the class-envy crowd.
Franken was quick to blame Bush for ignoring warnings about terrorist attacks, and this critique finds its mark. Yet Franken failed to remind the audience that Clinton made the same mistake.
While Franken's evaluation of Bush's performance in the first debate was basically on target -- Bush seemed underprepared --Franken also offered a distorted description of Bush's actions on 9/11. Franken sided with Moore, even though Moore failed to tell the whole truth. Nobody confuses Bush with a great intellectual. At the same time, Bush is not nearly as dumb as Franken and Moore would have us believe. That the left is so quick to invoke ad hominem attacks doesn't speak well for that movement.
The neoconservative foreign policy is failing, and it is failing at grand expense of U.S. lives and dollars. But does that score a point for Kerry's global appeasement? Hardly. Neither Bush nor Kerry offers a sound policy for handling the war on terror. Bush rightly argues that thwarting verifiable threats before those threats result in the murder of Americans is necessary, and Kerry reluctantly agrees. But neither man knows how to follow through. Who does? I'm increasingly convinced the answer lies with Yaron Brook and Peter Schwartz of the Ayn Rand Institute, but that's a discussion for another day. It is also a discussion, I fear, that is far beyond Franken's grasp.