It wasn't surprising when, after seven months of legal wrangling, the Minnesota Supreme Court declared that Al Franken had won the 2008 Senate race against incumbent Norm Coleman. Still less surprising (although vastly more entertaining) was the simultaneous breakdown of nearly all of Franken's adversaries on the right, whose regurgitated insults, whining complaints, and exploding noggins revealed nothing about him or his victory — and everything about them.
Upon learning that Franken had prevailed, the usual suspects on Fox News and in the Limbaugh wasteland of radio immediately threw up a barrage of furious invective. Wasting no time on gracious concessions, they concentrated on two themes.
First: Franken himself is wild, spiteful, menacing, bigoted, and, most of all, deranged (as must be anyone who voted for him). Second: Franken's ascension to the Senate is tainted by the process, which his opponent insisted on prolonging.
Sadly, the most notorious Franken antagonist, Bill O'Reilly, was absent from the airwaves on the evening of Franken's victory. Demure guest host Monica Crowley seemed bemused by the Minnesota outcome. But Glenn Beck, in his semiliterate way, heaped on enough abuse to keep Billo's fans satisfied for the moment. "It shows how crazy our country has gone," he began. "It shows that we've lost our minds. It's like we've slipped through a wormhole. It's like, this look likes the country I grew up in, but no — Al Franken would never be a senator ... . We have entered a place to where there isn't statesmanship anymore."
The tenor of the Fox attacks grew more feverish with the ranting of Brian Kilmeade, who judged Franken "barely sane if you read his books and quite angry in every facet of his life." Kilmeade went on to describe the new senator as "hateful," "evil," bitter," "maniacal," and again as "angry." Sean Hannity echoed Fox's other amateur shrinks, saying, "This guy, Franken, he's not all there."
Then there was Limbaugh, the capo di tutti right-wing capi, who warned with pithy brevity that the 60th Democratic vote in the Senate is "a genuine lunatic."
Calmer but no less nasty was the assessment of The Wall Street Journal editorial page, which insisted that the Democrat had somehow hijacked the Senate seat from the rightful Republican victor. "Mr. Franken now goes to the Senate having effectively stolen an election," said the editorial, without deigning to mention that Republicans in Minnesota, including the governor, had effectively vetted the recount and canvassed from Election Day forward, up to the final Supreme Court decision.
In fact, the most credible assessment of the "stolen election" comes not from Democrats or liberals but from the Republican conservatives in Minnesota. Foremost among them may be Sara Janacek, who told Washington Post readers that those accusations are false. "The state media — and a majority of the public — do think Franken's election was legitimate," she said. "We had an open and very public recount process."
As always, the sneering critics of the comedian turned candidate underestimated him. Anyone who knows Franken, as I do, sees little of him in the caricatures that have dominated his coverage in the conservative media and too often have shaped his image in the mainstream media. He certainly isn't crazy. He isn't mean. He isn't frivolous. And he certainly didn't cheat his way into the Senate.
In fact, Franken is considerably brighter and far more stable than his enemies, a group whose public behavior and personal conduct are replete with embarrassment, not to mention disgrace. Unlike many of them, he has a solid marriage and has raised two outstanding children who adore him — a personal accomplishment that belies the ugly nonsense about his "anger" and "bitterness." It is the Fox loudmouths who are bitter, no doubt remembering the day their company's stupid lawsuit against Franken was laughed out of court (and made a lot of money for him).
While all the wacky attacks emanate from discredited sources, there are responsible and decent conservatives in America, as Franken would be the first to say. He has made plenty of right-wing friends over the years — including some of the other entertainers with whom he traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan on USO tours while his blowhard critics were sitting on their butts at home.