Why President Al Franken isn't a joke

This is Al Franken’s moment. Four years from now, he’ll be 69, younger than Trump or Hillary during the 2016 campaign. Four years after that, and he’ll be too old. As recently as, say, six months ago, I would have said that, however much I might admire Al Franken, the idea of a comedian (a comedian on purpose) as president was beneath the dignity of the United States. But we have learned more recently that nothing is beneath the dignity of the United States. The Trump dispensation changes the rules and opens up the presidency to all sorts of people who previously would have been thought unqualified. Baseball players, philosophers, plumbers, TV commentators. All it takes is $50 million or so and nothing better to do.

I think it will still be necessary, or at least useful, for the candidate who isn’t just another political hack to have some independent source of fame or respect, as John McCain had his heroism in Vietnam. When Dr. Ben Carson was introduced to the world as a pediatric neurosurgeon—someone who cuts open and repairs children’s brains—I thought, how bad could he be, if that is how he devotes his days on earth. But I found out.

Franken ran for president once before, in 2000. But it was one of those joke campaigns that comedians sometimes indulge in. Now he should do it for real. His politics are exactly what you would expect them to be if I told you only that he was a senator from Minnesota: mildly progressive. He hasn’t tried to be the TV star among his colleagues. You rarely see him on TV at all except in reruns of Saturday Night Live. But if you happen to catch him questioning a witness at a congressional hearing on CSPAN, you’ll see a man who’s done his homework.

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