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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 1/12/09

How The Republican Party Elected Al Franken

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"I don’t know if we’ve ever had an opponent who is so disliked by Republicans as Al Franken," said Minnesota Republican Party Chair Ron Carey. "It’s one thing to lose to an honorable opponent, but Al Franken is not considered an honorable opponent by Minnesota Republicans."

If Mr. Carey and the rest of the Republicans would like to see how they’ve come to realize their, and Bill O’Reilly’s worst nightmare, they need only look in the mirror.

When I sat down in 2002 to speak with Franken about how seemingly adversarial conditions played a positive part in his life for my book, "Great Failures of the Extremely Successful... Mistakes, Adversity, Failure and Other Steppingstones to Success," he had no idea that some of his greatest adversaries would help him to become a member of one of America’s most exclusive clubs...the U.S. Senate.

Back then I brought up the possibility of Franken going in to talk radio, but he intimated it was probably the last thing he would do. Funny, it ended up becoming just that, right before he ran for the Minnesota senate seat held by Republican Norm Coleman.

Air America was not yet a twinkle in the liberal’s eye, and despite his book, "Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Idiot and other Observations" Franken was still more known for his comedy than he was for his political stance. His "Strange Bedfellows" bits on Comedy Central during the 96 election with then Republican Arianna Huffington were just a small hint of the direction Franken was heading.

The straw that broke the far right wing’s back came in the form of a 2003 law suit where the right-wing elevated the comic/author Franken from comic and author to Michael Moore danger level.

Penguin Books published Franken's book "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right," which included a cover photo of O'Reilly and a chapter accusing O'Reilly of lying. The book had sold fairly well, but would have run its course until Fox News, pushed by O’Reilly taking the bait, sued claiming infringement of its registered trademark phrase "Fair and Balanced." A federal judge found the lawsuit to be "wholly without merit" and Fox then filed to dismiss it.  With the media attention drawn by the legal folly, Franken’s sales and his public image went bonkers. He not only beat O'Reilly and made him appear thin-skinned and toothless, but his books and satirical approach taught the Democrats to fight back creatively. More importantly, he gave open-minded Republicans a bit of the truth behind far-right talk show zealots claims. Claims that had pretty much gone without scrutiny even by the so-called liberal mainstream media who were happy to book people like Limbaugh, O’Reilly and Ann Coulter to get their take on politics.

Franken began his Minnesota campaign far behind Coleman, with all talk show hosts writing him off as a ridiculous no-chance candidate. After winning the Democratic primary, the Minnesota Republican Party released a letter about an article, Franken, a long time satirist, had written for Playboy magazine in 2000 entitled "Porn-O-Rama!" The letter, signed by six prominent GOP women, including a state senator and state representative, called on Franken to apologize for what they referred to as a "demeaning and degrading" article. Radio Right grabbed the story and pushed it for weeks.

Rather than paint Franken as a deviant, it drew even more support and closed the divide between he and Coleman. The more venom the right threw at Franken, the more money came in to his campaign and the less he had to spend to get a camera or microphone in front of him.  Franken had already had notoriety but the Republicans attempt to turn Franken into Fagin gave his race a national je ne sais quoi.

Meanwhile O’Reilly continued to attack Franken as well as whomever didn't lay down for Bill's side of an argument.  O’Reilly’s public skewering of then presidential candidate, Chris Dodd, who toe-to-toe fought back, sent Dodd’s campaign coffers to over-flowing.  Bill's frequent jabs and well-publicized distaste for Keith Olbermann that fueled the MSNBC franchise's ratings, confirms the no-spinster has yet to learn that there’s always a hook hidden within the bait.

It’s not a stretch to believe that without O’Reilly, Franken wouldn’t have entered the Senate race, let alone won.

Carey and pretty much any other Republican pundit you put a microphone in front of today will tell you Franken stole the election. It won’t keep him from taking his seat and just makes them just look all the more the loser.

This isn't to say the Left is unfamiliar with aiding and abetting their own demons.  For years the left has built up Limbaugh’s profile by making him their number one enemy.'s General Petraeus/Betrayus ad backfired big time.  Barack Obama has made Sean Hannity so much of a talking point that radio talk’s number two now uses Obama's Hannity soundbites as his radio show's intro.

They say the negative campaigning works. My guess is that neither side will ever learn that throwing dirt not only gets your own hands dirty but it can boomerang into making the person you aimed at extremely sympathetic. 

It’s not that Franken won’t have a rocky road in the Senate. Normally, no matter how dirty the campaign, the victor has a honeymoon period. Franken won’t even have time to lock the hotel room door before the newlyweds receives the cease and desist order. He can only hope that O’Reilly and rest of the Right don’t stop trying to ruin the marriage.

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