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Ariel Gonzalez Headshot

Dear Sen. Franken: The Terrorists (and Fox News) Win If You Stop Making Jokes

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Dear Sen. Franken:

First, congratulations. After eight months, our long Midwestern nightmare is over. What a photo finish! Three hundred and twelve votes out of almost three million cast. If anybody gives you a hard time, bring up Lyndon Johnson. In 1948, he won a U.S. Senate seat in Texas by 87 votes, under considerably more dubious circumstances than obtained in Minnesota. Thereafter he was known as Landslide Lyndon. Since this didn't hamper his career, you should call yourself Avalanche Al.

I'm writing to beg a favor. Please free your sense of humor from whatever black site it's been languishing in for the last two years. Throughout your campaign and its protracted aftermath, you went out of your way to not be funny. Understandable. Coleman was trying to use your film and TV work to undermine your credibility. Cracking wise would have given him added ammunition. But now it seems you're going to remain a dull policy wonk for a while. Is it because you want to establish your bona fides? Fine. But I don't believe in unilateral disarmament. I don't have to tell you that wit, in the right hands, can be a bomb or a stiletto. Lincoln, JFK, and Reagan wielded it against their enemies with great success. Look at Nixon and Carter, two presidents who took things too seriously. Oh, if they'd only embraced the absurdity of life! And what about that other Al -- Mr. Gore? He allowed himself to be caricatured as a soulless android. During the 1996 campaign, he would demonstrate his version of the Macarena by standing ramrod-straight. But Gore was much funnier than Clinton. He just didn't want to upstage him. His mistake was that he did nothing to dispel the caricature in Clinton's second term. He had four years to humanize himself and he blew it. And when the 2000 election rolled around he had to be Stiff Al to the bitter, judicially decided end. He should have heeded Kurt Vonnegut's warning, in his novel Mother Night: "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."

You have a tremendous advantage over your colleagues. Be honest: how many of them are funny? I don't mean David Vitter or John Ensign -- they're funny, alright, unintentionally so. Amy Klobuchar holds her own on Rachel Maddow's show. What about Mark Udall of Utah? Has he inherited his father's comic genes? Mo Udall! That's who you should model yourself after. The late 15-term Arizona congressman was not only a master of the one-liner, he was a champion of the environment. Or what about Daniel Patrick Moynhihan? How many books did he write? A dozen? A Ph.D who served as assistant secretary of labor, counselor to the president, ambassador to India and the UN. Nobody ever considered him a lightweight, but he was famous for his dry Irish zingers. (What if Gore Vidal had not failed to win a House seat in 1960 or the Senate seat from California in 1982? His appearances on the floor and in committee would have been must-see TV on C-SPAN.)

Your alter ego, Stuart Smalley, would tell you it's not healthy to repress. So would the characters of Seinfeld. Do you recall the episode "The Visa"? George is dating a Chinese American lawyer, but being George, he's insecure so he asks Jerry not to be funny around her. He's afraid if Jerry starts telling jokes, she'll find him more attractive. They meet at a restaurant. Elaine, who's unaware of George's request, shows up later. She's befuddled by Jerry's personality change. In a depressing monotone, he talks about the emptiness of existence. As it happens, the lawyer is related to Ping, a delivery boy who's suing Elaine for running into him with her car. She agrees to convince Ping to drop the suit. She's also willing to help Babu, Jerry's Pakistani friend, with an immigration issue. But when she tells George she has become enamored with Jerry over his sexy sadness, George confesses it's an act. She doesn't respond well. The episode closes with Babu being deported, Elaine getting sued, and George single.

See what happens when you're not true to yourself?