Franken stuck in no-originality zone

Posted: Apr 16, 2004 12:00 AM

I'd held off writing about "Air America," the new liberal radio talk show network, out of a mixture of contempt and prudence. But Frankenfreude compels me to share my views. For those of you unaware of this rare condition, Frankenfreude, a subset of schadenfreude, is a state of restrained glee at the failures or setbacks of Al Franken.

Here's what set off my latest bout of FF. Air America is off-air in Chicago and L.A. because they bounced a check after only two weeks of broadcasting, according to Arthur Liu, the owner of Multicultural Radio Broadcasting Inc., who was essentially renting airtime to Air America. The folks at Air America deny this, claiming that Mr. Liu is lying and - I quote - a "Liu-ser."

I am delighted to hear that making fun of Asian last names is now socially acceptable according to liberals. I am grateful that Mr. Liu's last name isn't Dong or Wang. Who knows what those joke-meisters might have come up with then.

The network's Web site issued a jokey press-release via their "Sludge Report." Get it? After calling Matt Drudge a "habitual liar" etc., Air America downplayed its troubles in Chicago and L.A., the second and third largest radio markets in America: "What they don't tell you is that we're still on in Portland. And we OWN Portland. And let's not forget Riverside and Plattsburgh. And New York. And streaming on the internet. And XM. And Sirius."

This reminds me of the scene in "This is Spinal Tap" when the band gets the news that its Boston gig has been canceled. The manager, played by Tony Hendra, deadpans, "I wouldn't worry about it though, it's not a big college town.

"Oh come on," Air America's (dozen or so) fans are probably saying, "these guys are joking around. Don't take them so seriously."

But that's one my biggest problems with Franken's schtick. He's schizophrenic; unwilling to decide whether he's a comedian or political commentator. This is different from being a funny commentator or a political comedian. Franken wants to be both, which often makes him fail at both because he's too serious to be one and not funny enough to be the other.

Franken is entirely about attacking conservatives, which is fine to a point. But ultimately, he - like this silly radio network, "The Sludge Report," etc. - is all about being derivative and unoriginal.

I cannot recall ever hearing Franken talk about what he believes, other than the righteousness and hilarity of his insults about his "fat," "insane," "stupid" opponents. His radio show is even called "The O'Franken Factor," which promises a "zero-spin zone" - an unclever play on Bill O'Reilly's eminently mockable act.

Franken justifies his relentless personal and ad hominem attacks on conservatives by asserting that his victims are mean-spirited and they deserve it. That may cut it for his fans, but it's not based in anything resembling principle. If it's wrong for Limbaugh and Coulter to do what they do, it's wrong for Franken to do it too. Right?

More to the point, it's lame. I thought liberals were the people with the "positive agenda"? All of this amounts to snarky, "me too" copy-cat liberalism. Air America was founded, we've been told, to be a "liberal version" of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, etc. Am I the only one who hears children talking about how they'll build a bigger, better tree house because the cool kids won't let them play in theirs? In fact, it's for this reason that I'm confident Air America will stagger on for a while: It's simply too important to the self-esteem of liberals.

What the creators of Air America fail to grasp is the fact that conservative talk radio is the alternative media. It became popular because conservatives lost the battle for the political culture, not because they won it.

Conservative views - and conservatives - were, and are, unwelcome at ABC, CBS, NBC, Time, The New York Times as well as Harvard, Yale and academia in general. That's why conservatives created everything from National Review and the Weekly Standard to the American Enterprise Institute and "The Rush Limbaugh Show."

Yes, these institutions have been remarkably successful, but the fact remains that the elite media and certainly academia are still largely closed to conservatives. The posing of liberals as rebels in a conservative media environment is wishful thinking at best and sad, dishonest play-acting at worse.

Yeah, yeah there's that diabolical Fox News, but Franken's paranoia notwithstanding, it's not the only news source in America. Unlike what you hear on Limbaugh's show, there's really no idea listeners can get from Air America that they can't get from the network nightly news, the front page of The New York Times or from their college professors.

Sure, Franken will give you a few more jokes about Rush's drug problems, but as for new ideas - or ideas in general - Franken has no material.