Chat With Satirist and Shadow Convention Participant Al Franken

— Political satirist Al Franken chatted with ABCNEWS.com readers live from the Republican National Convention.

Franken, one of the original writers and performers on Saturday Night Live, is the author of the best sellers Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations and Why Not Me? — The Inside Story of the Making and Unmaking of the Franken Presidency. What does Franken find most humorous about presidential politics? Look below for a transcript of our chat.

Moderator:

Welcome, Al Franken!

Al Franken:

Thank you!

Moderator:

Has political satire ever turned public opinion in an election?

Al Franken:

Maybe in a very, very close election. The only thing I can point to is 1976, in which Chevy portrayed Ford as a bumbler. That may have actually made enough of a difference that in that close an election — it could have changed things. I think I helped a little with Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot. I don't know.

Moderator:

Do you think politicians today have a better sense of humor about themselves?

Al Franken:

I think that Abe Lincoln had a pretty good sense of humor about himself. I think Lincoln wins on that one. I really don't think it has to do with a point in history. I think people have humor about themselves.

Moderator:

Will comedians miss the Clintons once they leave the White House?

Al Franken:

Of course! They'll miss the president. I'll miss the president as a president, though, and you don't know, going into any administration, what you've got. We thought George Bush, Sr. was going to be boring, and when I was working on SNL he was very easy to do. We got a lot out of him.

Russ Miller asks: Wouldn't all professional satirists be disappointed with anything less than a Bush victory in November? Who, besides Dan Quayle and his former boss, has ever shown so much promise as a giver of gaffe?

Al Franken:

I think there is sort of a rooting interest of satirists for Bush. He's not, shall we say, an intellectually curious person, and I think if he makes it — and I don't think he will, by the way — he'll be good fodder.

Roger Ribert asks: It seems to me that the satiric community has been heavily impacted by Pat Buchanan bolting the Republican Party. He was the prime target of this generation. Who will take his place?

Al Franken:

You're seeing, at this convention in '92, we had Pat Buchanan opening up telling us there was a religious war in this country, and making, I think, at least four gay-bashing remarks in that speech. That's fun to react to, if you're a comedian. And a liberal.

This is harder to react to. Laura Bush was authentic, especially in contrast to Liddy Dole four years ago, and did an Oprah-type thing: She handled it very well when she talked to Dole's first wife, and said, "What was it like when Bob said 'Bob Dole wants out?'" She handled it well. It could have been awkward.

By the way! Last night was what I refer to as "No African-American Republican Office-Holder Will Be Left Behind."

Kestrel says: Tell us your view on the so-called convention bounce that Dubya appears to be grabbing (at least according to the corporate media conglomerates).

Al Franken:

I just talked to a NYC pollster who tends to favor Republicans, and he tells me the polls favor George Bush by a four-point lead. If that's the case, it's sort of meaningless.

It seems to me that the delegates at least seem to be very confident. I remember coming out of Atlanta in 1988, and as a Democrat I was very confident. I think we were ahead by 17 points coming out of Atlanta. That was Dukakis, by the way.

SanDiegoTop says: Who do you think offers the most satire potential, Gore or Bush?

Al Franken:

I think I answered that one... it's Bush. Bush has done some good things in education. For example, thanks to George W., 60 percent of high school seniors in Texas read at a higher level than the governor, which wasn't true when Ann Richards was there.

Sean Gaffney asks: Al, when looking at George W. Bush's record as governor and Dick Cheney's voting record in the House, these guys look to be very conservative, not moderate or "compassionate" conservatives at all. How do you account for Gov. Bush's popularity among moderate or centrist voters?

Al Franken:

I think if you talk to these delegates, what you saw last night does not reflect these delegates. They've all agreed that they'll present this facade until the election. So we'll see how well this plays.

There's a lot of contradictions in what they're saying. You'll notice that when Colin Powell says, "we have to spend more money on schools and teachers," there was no applause. And it's hard to square "leave no child behind" with a running mate who voted against Headstart.

KidCruize says: What did you think of the convention yesterday? Anything enlightening come out of the convention?

Al Franken:

I like the kids and the desks. One of the moments I noticed, which I'm sure nobody else noticed, was when Bill Frist, the junior senator from Tennessee, spoke in the afternoon, and said the Republicans want doctors and patients to make the medical decisions, and not large bureaucracies.

What he DIDN'T say was that the Frist family are stockholders in one of the largest HMOs in the country, and he's voted against every attempt to extend patients' rights to ensure they have more control over their medical care.

By the way, Columbia HCA in May agreed to pay a settlement to the Justice Department for defrauding Medicare and other federal insurance programs.

GHB says: Do you think that the Presidential race has degenerated into a popularity contest?

Al Franken:

I think that there is an aspect of that this year. I believe Clinton is making it look easy to be president. Gore seems stiff; I'd like to have a drink with W.

Moderator:

Have you gotten a chance to speak to any of the demonstrators outside the convention hall?

Al Franken:

No, I haven't, actually. I have been at the Shadow Conventions a few times, and I spoke there twice, but I haven't here. I've been shuttling back and forth between there and the Republican convention.

Moderator:

Do Americans not take politics seriously enough?

Al Franken:

Not enough Americans take politics seriously enough. I believe less than 50% of voters voted last time. We had an incredibly low turnout, largely because of cynicism. I think people don't care.

Pete Stahl says: Could this be the most content-free convention ever? There seems to be a total lack of drama. Even Gen. Powell's soft-on-crime, let's-bring-back-affirmative-action speech was greeted warmly. The major networks are right to ignore it, no?

Al Franken:

The major networks are right to ignore it because there are at least three 24-hour cable stations that cover it. Or four... MSNBC, CNN, C-SPAN and Fox.

Because of the combination of any drama being rung out of it, there are places where you can watch it, including PBS, as well, I guess. There's a real reason the networks don't give up their primetime to show it.

jonvinyl says: What impact will the debates have in this election?

Al Franken:

Sam Donaldson just walked over and was very flattering. I told Sam that I had a scoop for him — that I found the only African-American officeholder who had not been asked to speak! I thought that had been a real scoop. The guy's hacked off about it — he thought it was a real slap in the face.

The debates could be decisive! I think W is going to study his father's debate in 1992, and probably not look at his watch.

Moderator:

If you were running for president, what would be your agenda be for the country?

Al Franken:

I would never run for president, because I would be a very, very bad president, because I would be crushed by the pressure.

But if I was advising someone who wasn't going to be crushed by the pressure, I would talk about some of the things that are being talked about, like education. But I think the key is to spend more money on what Colin Powell talked about last night — schools where asbestos is falling down, where classes are being held in bathrooms.

I was impressed with what was discussed at the Shadow Conventions. I think we are incarcerating too many criminals, and we need to do something about that. I am pro-globalization, but I think we need to do it with an eye on environmental concerns, and making sure that our workers aren't competing with people making a dollar a day. I'm not sure how to do that.

One of the reasons I'm definitely for Gore is that I believe he'll be a much better environmental president than I believe W would be.

va says: Will there be a similar forum during the Democratic convention?

Al Franken:

Yes.

tom says: What's behind A. Huffington's apparent transformation from right-winger to quasi-radical?

Al Franken:

She met me. She also got fooled by Newt. She was a Newt acolyte. You aren't going to see Newt here at all, but he has a role on Thursday — he's going to give a speech on Adultery With a Purpose.

spatulalad says: What would it take to get Americans interested in the election?

Al Franken:

I think campaign finance reform is pretty crucial in getting people interested again, because I think the way the system works now, people are so cynical, they feel like they don't really have a chance to make any difference. If you're listening and reading this, you're probably not a problem. So I don't know what to tell you!

Moderator:

Al Franken, thanks for chatting on ABCNEWS.com. And many thanks to our audience for your participation.

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