Michael Gerson

WASHINGTON -- Warning: The following contains extreme vulgarity by a candidate for the United States Senate.

In the razor-close and nationally important Senate race in Minnesota, Republican incumbent Norm Coleman is presented with a unique political problem. Should he raise in his ads the issue of comedian Al Franken's offensive vulgarity? Or would this risk a backlash against Coleman for coarsening the public conversation? Remember that when Ken Starr detailed Bill Clinton's most repulsive antics -- stained dresses and such -- it was Starr who was accused of sexual obsessiveness.

Franken's defenders explain that his edginess is the result of being a "satirist" -- a term he embraces. "My work, dare I say, is provocative, touching and funny," Franken has explained. "It sounds immodest, but I now have a brand name in political satire."

Satire has been called "punishment for those who deserve it." Writers from Erasmus to Jonathan Swift to George Orwell have used humor, irony and ridicule to expose the follies of the powerful, the failures of blind ideology and the comic weakness of human nature itself.

So what is Franken's "provocative, touching and funny" contribution to the genre? Consider his article in Playboy magazine titled "Porn-O-Rama!" in which he enthuses that it is an "exciting time for pornographers and for us, the consumers of pornography." The Internet, he explains, is a "terrific learning tool. For example, a couple of years ago, when he was 12, my son used the Internet for a sixth-grade report on bestiality. Joe was able to download some effective visual aids, which the other students in his class just loved." Franken goes on to relate a soft-core fantasy about women providing him with sex who were trained at the "Minnesota Institute of Titology."

Orwell would be so proud.

"Porn-O-Rama!" is a modern campaign document every voter should read -- the Federalist Papers of lifestyle liberalism. It has the literary sensibilities and moral seriousness of an awkward adolescent nerd publishing an underground newspaper to shock his way into campus popularity. But, in this case, the article was written in 2000 by a 48-year-old man.


Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
 
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