On Oct. 4, Al Franken, the former “Saturday Night Live” actor and current U.S. Senator from Minnesota, headlined a rally organized by the Carleton Democrats.
A noisy crowd of over 200 Carls crammed into the Boliou theater to see Franken, who, along with several local candidates, spoke to them for over an hour about the urgency of Democratic causes during this election season.
“I felt pretty fired up by the end. It just got me excited,” said Caley Shannon ’14, a Carleton Democrats member who attended the rally.
“Franken was five times more charismatic in his speech than Obama was in the whole debate the night before. It restored my energy.”
Franken’s visit underscores the importance of college students to the Minnesota Democrat Farmer-Laborer Party (DFL) this election season. Two amendments, one restricting gay marriage and the other toughening voter ID standards, seem dangerously close to passage based on statewide polling.
Locally, DFL candidates for the Minnesota legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives are in similarly close races.
And while the state is leaning to the left in the presidential race, pollsters and pundits still refuse to classify it as a sure bet for President Obama. Party strategists hope that college students, a historically liberal group, will help swing Minnesota vote totals in the Democrats’ favor.
According to Carleton Democrats leader Dan Antoszyk ’13, Carleton was selected as the venue for Franken’s speech because of its relatively high level of political activism. Following appeals by a number of local candidates, Franken took the floor.
His address followed speeches by several local DFL candidates for state legislature. Each spoke out against the amendments, and invited the audience to volunteer for their campaigns.
After the last local candidate finished, Franken began. At first, he spoke about re-implementing the “Minnesota Miracle,” a statewide system of property tax collection and educational funding that was repealed by a Republican-dominated legislature in 2002.
“We led this country in education until they took away that funding and said funding for your school depends on your tax base. That’s just wrong,” he said.
Franken then turned to the amendments facing Minnesota voters.
Speaking of a senior citizen whom he had recently met in a nursing home, he said, “He doesn’t have a driver’s license because he knows he shouldn’t. Does that mean he shouldn’t be able to vote? A guy who fought Hitler, who put his life on the line for us, shouldn’t be allowed to vote?”
The majority of Franken’s speech, however, was dedicated to the presidential race. He took Mitt Romney to task for suggesting that President Obama’s healthcare law would result in cuts to Medicare.
“Romney was lying,” he said, “That seven hundred sixteen billion dollars is what we’re cutting from fraud and waste and abuse. Eight years less solvency in Medicare? That’s insane.”
He then sharply rebuked the Republican nominee for commenting that forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income taxes and are thus wholly dependent on government largesse.
“He said it was inelegantly stated,” said Franken, “But it doesn’t matter that it was inelegant, it was clear. He was saying what he truly felt.”
“Part of that 47% is our troops in Afghanistan,” he continued, his voice cracking, “People your age, putting their lives on the line. There are no taxes on combat pay.”
Franken concluded with a plea for student activism.
“Paul Wellstone said right here at Carleton that the future belongs to those who work hard,” he said, his voice breaking again, “Do it. It’s so important.”
Audience members’ opinions of Franken and the rally varied widely.
“People felt enthused about it and they felt like he put the importance of the election in perspective,” said Antosyzk, “He laid out an effective critique of Mitt Romney and Republican party policy.”
Travis Nordgaard ’13, leader of the Campus Conservative Union, disagreed.
“I was hoping for more of a dignified speech and it was more of a rah-rah session for the Democratic Party,” he commented, “He oversimplified lots of arguments and conflated too many things. He was very presumptuous and wasn’t very open intellectually.”
Emily Ager ’13, director of the Carleton chapter of Obama for America, seemed to feel similarly, albeit for different reasons.
“From my perspective, I would have appreciated starting out with ‘President Obama has done x, y, and z for you’ and maybe stress how the president’s policies will benefit students in particular,” she said.
Nevertheless, she saw the rally as an overall success.
“I think that Senator Franken doesn’t come off as a typical politician in his speaking style and manner, so I think that he’s much more relatable and students are much more receptive,” she remarked, “I think that he was able to reach an audience of college students well.”
Shannon, on the other hand, was not unsatisfied with the lack of serious policy discussion.
“It was billed as a rally and that’s what it was,” she said, “It wasn’t publicized as a candidate forum, it was publicized as a rally and in that sense it met my expectations.”