Let’s call it the Shush Heard ‘Round the World. It seems like a minor incident: Al Franken was presiding over the Senate Thursday during debate over health care reform, a discussion that, as you might imagine, risks getting bogged down. Under what he describes as orders from Majority Leader Harry Reid to keep the speeches to their allotted 10 minutes (as reported by Minnesota Public Radio’s Tom Weber), Al Franken denied Joe Lieberman when the senator requested extra time to speak. Chris Steller from the Minnesota Independent reports the video and the transcript, which are brief and to the point: Lieberman requests, Franken says no, Lieberman seems surprised, says he will try not to take it personally, and then requests to submit the remainder of his comments in writing, which Franken allows. No big whoop, yeah?
Except it turned into a very big whoop indeed. Part of this may have to do with the unintentional comedy that resulted, in which Sen. John McCain took a moment to express bafflement and chastise Franken, saying, “I must say that I don’t know what’s happening here in this body, but I think it’s wrong,” as recounted by CBS; McCain was immediately informed by Sen. Carl Levin that such a thing had, in fact, happened before, earlier that day, when John Cornyn was denied extra speaking time.
But there’s more to it than that. Firstly, Franken has been on a sort of a shushing roll recently, such as Monday, when he went after Sen. John Thune for Thune’s presentation on health care. Franken pilloried Thune for misrepresenting the facts, saying, “We are entitled to our own opinions; we’re not entitled to our own facts“; Franken vociferously rejected Thune’s attempt to respond (a summary and video of the exchange can be found on The Raw Story).
And then there’s the fact that it was Lieberman, who has placed himself in the odd position of making unilateral decisions regarding health care reform and forcing them with threats of filibuster, which would, of course, involve him talking and talking and talking; David Simon, creator of HBO’s “The Wire,” sums up a lot of people’s feeling about this in an interview in Vice Magazine, saying, “Let me understand this: One guy from a small state in New England is going to decide on a singular basis what’s good for the health care of 300 million people? That’s our form of government, and I don’t get it.” Democrats have been shy about strong-arming Lieberman, for some reason, and so it’s likely the popularity of Franken shutting down Lieberman on the Senate floor was because a lot of people have been just waiting for somebody to tell him to be quiet. Or, as Gawker puts it in their headline: “Live Vicariously Through Al Franken as He Tells Joe Lieberman to Shut Up.”
One guesses that Michele Bachmann was not expecting this short exchange to have such thunder-stealing powers; after all, Thursday was the day of the “prayercast” against health care reform, during which she led a prayer, reposted by Andy Birkey of the Minnesota Independent, in which she begs forgiveness from God, on her behalf and on the behalf of other politicians, for not following God’s will, which is apparently opposed to health care reform. No mention is made of the fact that Jesus traveled around healing people without charge, but, then, Bachmann believes health care reform to be socialism, and Jesus wasn’t a socialist, even if he and his followers occasionally acted like it. Of course, the bugaboo of socialism is tricky, as David Simon points out in his interview: “What do they think group insurance is, other than socialism? Just the idea of buying group insurance! … because when you get 100,000 people together as part of anything, from a union to the AARP, and you say, ‘Because we have this group actuarially, more of us are going to be healthier than not and therefore we’ll be able to carry forward the idea of group insurance and everybody will have an affordable plan…’ That’s socialism!”
Of course, Bachmann already had her moment in the sun this week when she told tea party activists on Tuesday, “This is the Charge of the Light Brigade,” accidentally comparing them to one of the best-known military blunders (Keith Olbermann mocks her for this, to nobody’s surprise). MinnPost’s Derek Wallbank was kind enough to inform Bachmann of her error, prompting an “Oh, what did I say this time?” from the congresswoman. Once she had been filled in on the actual history of the Light Brigade of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem, she said, “I can only hope that this won’t be a failure.”
Did somebody mention Jesus? He has a birthday coming up, and, appropriately, WCCO is full of tales of giving: They offer a tale of a 7-year-old who raised more than $400 to buy presents for children in need, as well as a story about The Pohlad Foundation giving a gift of $1 million a year for the next five years to 19 Catholic elementary schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. WCCO also looks at the Cops and Kids initiative, in which St. Paul police officers bring gifts and companionship to hospitalized children in the company of Kriss Kringle. In similarly cheery news, Minnesota received the gift of 2,000 new jobs in November, lowering the state’s unemployment rate, as reported by FOX9, while MPR reports that St. Paul is planning to open several emergency shelters in the next few weeks, providing the gift of shelter to those in need.
It seems like the only one feeling Grinchy at this time of year is Garrison Keillor, who wrote an irritable editorial in Salon telling Unitarians to back away from the song “Silent Night,” which for him is an explicitly Christian seasonal tune, and he is rather annoyed that the Unitarians seem to have rewritten it to edit God out of the lyrics. “Christmas is a Christian holiday — if you’re not in the club, then buzz off,” he writes. In theory, then, Keillor might want to steer clear of “White Christmas,” which was written by a Jew, Yule logs, which have their origins in Germanic paganism, and, come to think of it, Christmas itself, which only falls in December to usurp some pre-existing pagan holidays. Sorry, Keillor; Dies Natalis Solis Invicti is a Pagan Roman holiday, so you might want to buzz off.
In sports: The Gophers lost to the University of Texas in the NCAA volleyball tournament Thursday, but one commenter on the Star Tribune site isn’t letting this get their charitable holiday spirits down, writing, “Good job ladies! The Gophers have NOTHING to be ashamed of. Great season! They accomplished so much … Looking forward to 2010!”