As a local writer, as well as a constituent, I’m lucky enough to usually get a few minutes with Minnesota Senator Al Franken whenever he is in town. Yesterday, he and I had a chance to discuss a wide range of topics ranging from the great Hotdish showdown the Minnesota congressional delegation held earlier this year (which he was grateful he did not win, as he was afraid it would look bad since he was hosting it), or his recent bipartisan effort with Sen. Olympia Snowe to ensure that emergency contraception is available on all military bases for victims of sexual assault, especially for bases located in countries where an abortion would be difficult if not all together impossible for a woman to obtain.
But it’s the Republican mission to gut the social safety net that has become the biggest concern of both the Senator and those of us who cover progressive politics. For a large majority of Republicans who claim to be of the Christian, and even evangelical faith, making ending aid to the poor a priority is a puzzling move to Senator Franken. “I don’t understand it,” said Franken. “Especially with people who call themselves evangelicals. As a Jew, what I do know of the New Testament is Jesus saying ‘What you do for the least among you, you do for me.’ How do you get from there to here? Do they think that Jesus was right until Adam Smith and Wealth of Nations, then Jesus doesn’t apply anymore?”
Still, Franken was willing to give Republicans the benefit of the doubt that they just couldn’t see the disconnect between their ideas of getting government out of assisting the poor and the numerous ways that the government has always provided for them. He told me a story of the days following the 2010 election, where he called every new officeholder, regardless of party, and congratulated him or her on the win. One new colleague, who was adamant that government should never be involved in assisting the poor, bemoaned the lack of reliance on charity to assist the poor instead. “After all, my mother used to volunteer for ‘Meals on Wheels,’”
“Ok, now, that’s a federal program,” Franken told him.
“Yeah, it was part of the Johnson Administration, the Older Americans Act. It was a way to save costs by helping keep the elderly in their houses rather than nursing homes which are much more expensive. Your mom was a part of a Great Society Federal program,” Franken laughed, remembering the conversation.
But it was a much more passionate, fired up senator who spoke in the opening keynote of Saturday morning’s Netroots Nation conference. This senator decried the GOP plan to rip apart the social safety net, and to ignore the millions of Americans suffering and asking for help. “Republicans are talking about changing our country so radically they might as well be tearing stars off our flag.”
Watch Senator Franken’s powerful speech below.