01 August 2006

Franken and Obama eat cake, wax political

I was listening in on tonight's MoveOn.org nationwide conference call.  MoveOn is soliciting volunteers to help with the run-up to November's election; part of their strategy was to kick off the drive with a night of desserts at local gatherings around the country.  To sweeten (ahem) the deal, MoveOn invited two of today's most prominent personalities in Democratic politics to address listeners: Air America's Al Franken and Illinois' ballyhooed U.S. Senator Barack Obama.

It was short and sweet, and there was nothing too surprising in either man's statements.  Franken, who opened for headliner Obama, of course ripped on the administration and Republican officials in general, saying, "People ... are just sick of these guys.  You know, Republicans say the government doesn't work, so 'elect us,' and then they do get elected, and then they prove that the government doesn't work."

He jabbed at the fundamentalist mindset: "Now, scientists tell us that there's a hundred days til the election, and we believe in science.  They don't."

Franken also took a not unexpected snipe at Dick Cheney, saying, "[People] see a vice president who said famously that conservation is maybe a nice personal virtue, but is not part of any energy plan for the country."

Before Franken wrapped up, notice the very subtle way that he hinted about possibly running for the Senate: "Paul Wellstone, who was senator of the state I grew up in and the state I've returned to, said..."  Franken's made a big deal about his return home, and given his growing involvement in the day-to-day of Democratic politics, I don't think he's going to be able to help himself.  And nothing would be sweeter for him than to topple the Senate successor to liberal icon Paul Wellstone, former mayor of St. Paul, Ron Coleman.

Then Obama came on, his voice deep, his tone deliberate and his pace measured, and delivered a safe but thought-provoking pep talk.  He did throw in some nice touches, as when he said, "I think one of the big problems in our politics is insiders making the rules as opposed to ordinary citizens who are making sure that the power's working for them."

He referred to the continuing problems with New Orleans, noting how the sluggish recovery effort "struck me as a powerful metaphor for the neglect both domestically and internationally that we've seen from this administration and from this Congress over the last six years."

The Senator touched on our oil dependence, "sub-standard" schools, and "broken" healthcare system, before addressing what he feels the 2006 election really represents: bringing together our divided electorate—under the progressive banner, of course—to tackle problems affecting us all.  "...When do we start having a serious conversation about the challenges we face?  And are we able to create the kind of political culture that is serious about our collective lives and is serious about our values and our responsibilities towards each other?"

He gave props to the formidable GOP election machine, saying "the reason that we have lost consistently over the last several election cycles is not because people have been inspired ... by the campaigns of the Republicans, it's because we've been out-organized.  They have run a technically proficient, mechanically sound campaign each and every election cycle and we have relied I think too heavily on talk and not enough on action."

Obama quoted Bobby Kennedy near the end of his speech: "The world demands the qualities of youth; not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease."  He urged on listeners to heed this advice to help drive, hopefully, a changeover in the power structure of Washington beginning with victory in November.

And as desserts were the loose theme of the evening—both the "just" and edible kinds—Sen. Obama demanded pie from MoveOn.org executive director Eli Pariser, who hosted the call and brought the proceedings to an end after exclaiming that MoveOn.org exceeded their goal of signing up over 5,000 volunteers.

So no drunken rambling from Franken, no inflammatory rhetoric from Obama, no inadvertent cussing or accidentally aired tasteless jokes... just good, solid politicking on a warm summer night across America.

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