May 23, 2008 — -- Al Franken is a funny man, but Minnesota voters might not see the humor in a column that the former Saturday Night Live star — and current candidate for the United States Senate — wrote in Playboy magazine in 2000.
On Thursday, the Minnesota Republican Party released a letter, signed by six prominent GOP women, including a state senator and state representative, calling on Franken to apologize for his "demeaning and degrading" article.
"The words and descriptions you write about are beyond vulgar," read the letter, circulated by the Minnesota Republican Party and posted on its Web site. "They demean and degrade women as thoroughly and disrespectfully as any article we have ever seen, and we are horrified to believe that someone running for the U.S. Senate could have written them. This column shows flagrant disregard for women, and an extreme objectification of women as sex objects for your pleasure."
Eight years ago, Franken penned a column for Playboy called "Porn-O-Rama!" in which the former Saturday Night Live comedian wrote about visiting a made-up sex institute where he takes part in sexual acts with humans and machines.
"While you may attempt to defend your writing as satire, we hardly find anything defensible about your finding humor in your desire to have sex with women or robots that look like women simply to give yourself a good time," the Minnesota GOP women wrote in the letter. "This column is at its worst, an extreme example of the kind of disrespect for the role of women in society that all of us have fought our entire lives. At best, it is the disrespectful writings of a nearly 50-year-old man who seems to think that women's bodies are the domain of a man who just wants to have a good time."
"Denounce this article and apologize immediately," read the letter.
Franken is the clear front-runner for the nomination of the Democratic Farmer Labor Party (DFL) in Minnesota. If he wins, he will then take on incumbent Republican Sen. Norm Coleman.
With the state convention less than two weeks away and Franken poised to win the Democratic Party's endorsement, the GOP Party in Minnesota has sought to highlight areas where they believe Franken could be politically vulnerable.
"Objectifying women and degrading women has been a consistent theme of Al Franken's humor over the years," said Mark Drake, spokesman for the Minnesota Republican Party.
"He's repeated it in his writings, his books, his comedy routines, so we think Minnesotans are going to reject Franken's extreme positions on the issues, but also a man who degrades women and someone who's made millions of dollars tearing people down in the name of comedy."
The Franken campaign said the Playboy column was written as a satire.
"Al had a long career as a satirist," said Jess McIntosh of the Franken campaign. "But he understands the difference between what you say as a satirist and what you do as a senator. And as a senator, Norm Coleman has disrespected the people of Minnesota by putting the Exxons and Halliburtons ahead of working families. And there's nothing funny about that."
Franken's potential rival also blasted him, arguing his type of comedy goes against the "values" of Minnesotans.
"Al Franken has repeatedly stated that his satire is a positive for being in the United States Senate, and that his political satire has been good training," said Erin Rath, communications director for the Coleman campaign.
"If the kind of satire Franken thinks is good for the Senate is writing about children downloading bestiality on the Internet, and repeated jokes at the expense of women and girls, he is out of touch with the people of Minnesota. In the 30 years Franken lived outside of Minnesota, his standards of what passes for satire has changed, but the values of Minnesotans who deplore this kind of degrading comedy have not," Rath said.
Larry Jacobs, political science professor at the University of Minnesota, views such Republican tactics as an attempt to focus the election on Franken, rather than incumbent senator Coleman.
"The Playboy story is one of many arrows to set the election as a referendum on the challenger rather than the incumbent," said Jacobs. "This is part of one strategy, which is to frame a particular question for voters: Does the challenger reflect Minnesota's values? This is a striking departure from usual re-election campaigns which are framed by the question: How has the incumbent done? Coleman loses if this question prevails."
In turn, Jacobs notes that the Franken campaign needs to make sure such questions about Coleman are the key issue on the minds of North Star state voters.
"Franken has done some things very well, but he has not yet created a consistent and effective strategy of making this a campaign about the incumbent," warned Jacobs. "He has played into the Coleman campaign's strategy through inexperience and arrogance."