First, a bigÂ Mazal Tov! The American Jewish World’s editorial on Oct. 24, 2008, carried the headline “Al Franken for U.S. Senate.” Without being too presumptuous, it seems that the Jewish community of Minnesota, in the main, got its wish with the outcome of the cliffhanger 2008 Senate election. (Al Franken is better at math than I am, but it appears that his margin of victory was around one-hundredth of one percent.)
The editorial endorsement of Franken, which I wrote, noted the tragic loss of Minnesota’s previous Democratic senator in a plane crash: “Wellstone was a beloved Minnesota politician — unique and irreplaceable. He connected with a wide swathe of the citizenry, with his empathy, enthusiasm and progressive populist brand of politics. For many Minnesotans of modest means, those who felt unrepresented in the councils of power, Wellstone was their champion.”
My hope and the hope of many is that Al Franken, now ensconced in the marble halls of power in Washington, keep alive the Wellstone vision of a more humane society.
As I wrote last fall about Franken: “He is intelligent, well versed in the complex issues facing our nation, and has demonstrated a passion to work for the common good. On the campaign trail, Sen. Wellstone would declare that he represented the ‘little fellers, not the Rockefellers.’ Likewise, Al Franken has been touched by the struggles of Minnesotans around the state, and he will be a strong addition to the U.S. Senate, advocating for working people who have been steadily slipping down the socioeconomic ladder.”
On the last point, the economic crisis has not abated, and Minnesotans are increasingly worried about job security and their children’s future. There should be stronger federal leadership to stop home foreclosures; we do not want to see more blighted neighborhoods, with boarded-up houses under the ownership of the banks. Further, Minnesotans sense a grave injustice in the Great Bank Robbery that is playing out. Wall Street banks gambled recklessly with exotic securities during a real estate boom; now we find that the doctrine of “too big to fail” has insulated bank executives from the risks they took, as the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Reserve come up with hundreds of billions of dollars to cushion their fall. While voices on the right deride President Obama’s policies as “socialistic,” there does seem to be a robust social safety net for financial institutions that gambled and lost.
Also, adding insult to injury, the banks that received billions of dollars in federal TARP funds are jacking up credit card interest rates and minimum payments. There has not been a great deal in the press about these gouging tactics — put in place ahead of the implementation of the credit card reform act that was passed with great fanfare. However, the credit card scam will force thousands of people into bankruptcy, at the same time as many banks are paying back TARP money to the government and getting away from any federal rules on executive compensation.
Another critical area where Sen. Franken can make a difference is civil liberties. With his position on the Judiciary Committee, our new junior senator can pursue his interest in the depredations of the Bush-Cheney administration in the post-9/11 era, specifically in the use of warrantless wiretapping, torture and abuses related to the USA PATRIOT Act and other legislation that defines various crimes as “terrorism.” The conservative stance of upholding the Bill of Rights seems to have become a radical position in America. We trust that Al Franken will work mightily to get this country back on track with regard to the vigilant protection of civil liberties.
When the AJW was writing about the DFL Senate candidates early last year, Al Franken told our reporter, Erin Elliott: “Norm Coleman has sort of aligned himself with the neocons, who I think have actually been very destructive, and have been the worst friends of Israel and putting Israel in a much more precarious place.” Indeed, another war broke out this year, as Israel bludgeoned the Palestinians in Gaza, after sustaining barrages of missile strikes in Sderot and other Negev communities. The Gaza war had the effect of further damaging Israel’s international standing.
The Obama administration has pledged this country to renewed engagement in Middle East peacemaking. Al Franken proposed this last year, when he told the Jewish World that the U.S. is “sort of the indispensable power in the Middle East and in the world, and we have to play a much more active role than we’ve been playing. We kind of know what a two-state solution would look like, we just got to get there… We need patient diplomacy, and that requires two things: patience and diplomacy. The bottom line is, Israel deserves to exist with neighbors that recognize its right to exist and who have renounced terrorism as a way of achieving political objectives. With Hamas in Gaza, that’s very, very hard right now.”
We encourage our new senator to continue to advocate on behalf of a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This surely is not an easy issue — and recent events in Iran only complicate the situation; but to turn away from peacemaking in this troubled region will certainly lead to catastrophic consequences.
As Al Franken sits at Paul Wellstone’s desk in the Senate chamber, he doubtless will reflect on the legacy left by his late friend. For many of us in the Jewish community, Wellstone embodied the best of the Jewish prophetic tradition.
During my last interview with Paul Wellstone, on April 12, 2002, we talked about numerous issues and about our common Jewish heritage. After Wellstone’s untimely death I wrote a remembrance and quoted some of his words: “I think the prophetic tradition of our faith is that to love God is to love justice. And, hey, I don’t meet that goal, but I try to do everything I can to live by that.”
We all wish Sen. Al Franken success in his new position. We hope that the highest ideals of Judaism, and of American democracy, guide his actions, so that he can increase the peace and spread justice more widely.
— Mordecai Specktor / firstname.lastname@example.org
(American Jewish World, 7.10.09)