Al Franken Is A Big Fat Candidate... Maybe

Air America's outspoken pundit tests the political waters.

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"I can raise money in ways that other people can't, by entertaining them," he also said. "You know, people want to meet me, and ... you know, I'll just do shows. I'll just go on tour."

But in addition to being funny, Franken is known for losing his temper and flying off the handle — his notoriety (and book sales) were built up through a series of high-profile feuds and crusades, spats and tiffs, with Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and the right-wing press, which can overshadow his feelings on the underlying issues.

In a profile of the comedian in The New York Times Magazine, Paul Begala was quoted as saying that politicians need thick skins in order to succeed. "I think so, yeah," Franken said when the remark was mentioned. But did Franken have the hide to run for public office?

"I think it's probably not thick enough," he said. "But I think it'll get thicker real quick."

"Sensitive," however, was an adjective he wouldn't cop to. And yet he has a reputation in certain circles for getting upset at people who write about him. In particular, he has had an ongoing, one-sided battle with a New York Post reporter who, Franken said, misrepresented the way he helped to eject a heckler from a Howard Dean rally in New Hampshire in 2004. The reporter, Vincent Morris, wrote that Franken "body-slammed" the protester, while Franken said he merely grabbed his legs and removed them from the ground.

Still, he believes he can handle the intense media attention of a Senate campaign.

"I guess so? We'll see. I think so," he said, leaning back and picking his teeth with his fork. "My wife's a good influence. 'Cause she's always telling me, you know, 'They're trying to bait you honey.' And so I gotta remember that. And it's funny — I tell myself all the time, 'Don't let people bait you.' And then I get mad at somebody."

Right now, he's mad at Washington. There's not enough oversight in Congress; there is still no program of universal health care, no plan for finding renewable energy sources or stemming nuclear proliferation. On the matter of the Iraq war, which he supported early on along with other liberal hawks, he now says: "I got duped by Colin Powell. I feel awful, but I'll also say that they couldn't have run this war worse."

In fact, Franken has been involved for some time with the U.S.O., which arranges for entertainers to travel overseas to perform and lift the morale of American servicemen and women. Franken is about to go to Baghdad for the second time. When he went last year, he fashioned a garbage-can lid into a flak jacket and wore it onstage to spoof the lack of armor that the troops were dealing with. Franken said it was important for him to go, because he never served himself. When he spoke about visiting the troops, he entered back into that weepy, amusing, vaguely shocking zone he often slides into — ever the entertainer.

"They love it. Yeah, they are so grateful when anyone comes over. You can just walk out there and take a crap on the stage and they'd love it," he said, suddenly chuckling loudly. "'Hey, he came over and took a crap!'"

This story appeared originally in The New York Observer.

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