Most political science geeks have their favorites and I am no exception. I have been a fan of the United States Senate ever since I read Allen Drury”s novel “Advise and Consent” as a child.
This love was reinforced by my first experience in Washington as a Senate intern during the government shut down of 1994 when I interned for Senator Hank Brown of Colorado. At one point two senior staffers were discussing how to do something and I asked them why they didn’t look in the Rules of the Senate for the answer. They were quite amazed and asked me what that was. I explained that Thomas Jefferson, bored at being Vice President, had written them down and I went off to the document room to fetch them. The woman in the document room was scandalized and said, “Your office doesn’t have the Rules of the Senate. Who do you work for?” And I did my best impression of Scarlett O’Hara and drawled, “Senator Shelby!”
There is a story that is generally believed to be allegorized, that when Jefferson came back from France, he asked George Washington why he had allowed the Senate to be created. They were sipping tea they had fought a revolution to drink untaxed, and according to this yarn Washington asked, “Why do you pour your tea in your saucer and then back into your cup again Tom?” Jefferson replied, “Why to cool it down.”
This is why the Senate was created to be an impediment to the government, as the will of the people in this Republic; to slow things down, to allow time for cooler heads to prevail. This is why the Senators serve six year terms. This is why the filibuster exists. This is why Senators were originally elected by state legislatures. Senators are not meant to be responsive, or in fact at all concerned with the will of the people, but with the greater good of this great nation. They are meant to, in fact, be statesmen.
As a Generation Xer, I have reached the point of yelling at darn kids to get off my lawn and reminisce endlessly about the good old days, but I do have a point here so hold on while I find it. But in the meantime, let me tell you youngsters a story.
I grew up in Cloquet Minnesota, a small mill town outside of Duluth. And while I did not have a deprived childhood, I did not have cable. So I watched a lot of network TV, including Saturday Night Live, which hasn’t been funny since Gilda Radnor died. So I was familiar with Al Franken, whose most famous character was Stuart Smalley. “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough and gosh darn it, people like me.”
I will tell you something about Minnesota. Minnesotans lay a prideful claim upon anyone who has ever set foot in that state. The theme song for “Friends” was written and performed by a band from Duluth. And while that show ran, Minnesotans were told this fact every night on the news. Minnesota is known to have Bob Dylan Days, to which Bob Dylan never shows up. They have a museum with Judy Garland’s ruby slippers. Winona Ryder is named for Winona Minnesota, as any Minnesotan will happily tell you while feeding you jello salad and lutefisk.
Despite growing up in Lake Wobegon, I did not know Al Franken was from Minnesota until he began exploring his run for Senate. This reinforces my earlier point. He wasn’t funny enough for even Minnesotan pride to point to. In fact, I paid little attention to this joke of a candidate until the election recount.
The recount struck me as a pointless effort as I noted at the time the entire government of the State was composed of Democrats and the DFL was going to count ballots until Al Franken won and then stop, which proved to be the case. Although people came from as far away as Pennsylvania to help us count. Having been county chair of McCain’s campaign, I felt obligated to help in this doomed effort and so I did. But it was as fruitless as all other Republican efforts in Minnesota tend to be.
Now Al Franken has been 1000% times better a Senator that I expected him to be. But considering my expectations started in the toilet, that isn’t saying much. However, that is neither here nor there. It is his resignation that concerns me and that has been a masterpiece of showmanship. He has done the Senate proud. By his endless curtain call resignation speeches, dilly dallying and vacillating, he has transformed into the perfect Senator. Nay verily, the perfect embodiment of Senate itself. There he sits and will not stop talking about himself, unaccepting of his fall from grace for groping women both sleeping and awake.
Minnesota can be proud of Al Franken. He may one day rank as the greatest Senator of all time.