Al Franken
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updated 10/5/2004 4:54:54 PM ET 2004-10-05T20:54:54

Air America talk show host Al Franken joined 'Scarborough Country' to talk about the VP match-up and to share his reaction to the presidential debate last Thursday. Below is an excerpt of the interview:

On the VP debate
JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC HOST:  What are you expecting from Dick Cheney?

AL FRANKEN, AIR AMERICA TALK SHOW HOST:  I think Dick Cheney will be on the attack.  He will probably say "any battleground, if Kerry and Edwards win the election, will be hit by nukes." That's what I think he is going to say.  I think he's going to scare people, like "Any state that picks up a Democratic Senate seat will be hit with smallpox." I think that's what he will say.

SCARBOROUGH:  What has John Edwards got to do on Tuesday night to prove he is worthy of being vice president and being, as they say, "one heartbeat away from the Oval Office?"

FRANKEN:  Well, it depends, of course, what Cheney does.  There may be some talking about Kerry. The reason I think Edwards will win is that Cheney is not a very well-liked figure among most Americans.  I think his approval rating is in the 30s or something. 

Remember all the talk before the convention about possibly replacing him?  I think one of his vulnerabilities is Halliburton.  During the Lieberman-Cheney debate in 2000, where Lieberman said, “I noticed you did pretty well, Mr. Cheney, over the last eight years,” and Cheney said, “Yeah, well, the government had nothing to do with it.” 

Edwards could just recall that moment and say to Cheney, “You were joking, right? Halliburton had billions of dollars of government contracts and loan guarantees.”  

It’s a joke to say, for the CEO of Halliburton, to go, “The government has nothing to do with how Halliburton is doing,” and the fact is  we have the blind contracts, no-bid contracts and all that stuff.  That's going to be vulnerability for the vice president and the fact that he is actually still taking a salary.  He got like $175,000 last year, something in that neighborhood. I know it doesn't mean a lot to you and me, but to most Americans, it's a lot of money.

SCARBOROUGH: We are going to have a great setup here.  We are going to have the CEO versus the trial lawyer.  I have seen quite a few trial lawyers go after CEOs in depositions, and it is high drama. 

It all has to do with perception and the expectations game.  People expected John Kerry to fall flat on his face last week.  He surprised them.  He did better than expectations; it helped out.  They are expecting Dick Cheney to be cold and mean and aloof.  He is not that way.  I think Dick Cheney is going to score big.

On the Bush-Kerry debate
SCARBOROUGH: Did you see anything at the last debate that looked ripe for picking for “Saturday Night Live” or other comedians?  If you had to write a script mocking something in George W. Bush's performance and something in John Kerry's performance, what would it be? 

FRANKEN:  Well, I suppose, in Bush's performance, it would be him and the cutaways. 

Four years ago, there was this rule that they weren't supposed to cut away to the other guy while one guy was talking.  Whoever did the feed violated that rule and caught Gore sighing.  That really hurt him.  I think the same thing happened.  There was a lot of petulant sort of stuff coming out of Bush’s face.  It was sort of the visual equivalent of a sigh. 

For Kerry, I would do the scribbling.  There's a scribbling joke somewhere, you know, cut to what he's scribbling… 

SCARBOROUGH:  I'm not exactly sure what George W. Bush was thinking during those cutaway shots. 

FRANKEN:  He was thinking they weren't cutting away to him. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I was thinking that he was thinking that he'd rather be home watching “SportsCenter” at the White House.  I thought he looked terribly distracted. 

FRANKEN:  I guess this is what happens when Bushes become president.  "I'd like to look at my watch!" That's what his dad did. 

SCARBOROUGH: Now, let's talk the politics of it. Obviously, you think John Kerry won the debate.  Why? 

FRANKEN: There is a certain threshold that a guy, a challenger, has to meet to look like a plausible commander in chief.  I think that it was clear that Kerry achieved that threshold and went beyond that. 

It looked like the president kind of dipped below it, just from an effect standpoint.  On the political argument, if you listened to the entire debate, you got that Kerry did make the point that he's been consistent on Iraq. In so far as he said that, "My vote for the resolutions to give the president authority to use force was to get the inspectors on the ground there in Iraq.  And once we had them there, the president screwed up." 

He didn't go in to all the other ways in which the president screwed up, but now we find ourselves in a situation.  And that is what he meant by "the wrong war at the wrong time." 

It's all about performance
SCARBOROUGH: I want to go to this whole “looking presidential” deal, because I have read some columns this week where people were mocking those of us on TV when we talk about somebody looking presidential.  I think it's extraordinarily important that American voters look on the TV screen, especially when it's a challenger.  The guy they are looking at is somebody they would trust in the Oval Office for four years. 

How important was it for the Democratic base to look at their man on Thursday night and say, "You know what, maybe he can win after all?"

FRANKEN: I think you put your finger on it completely, Joe.  There were grumblings about Kerry's performance.  And then, they disappeared.  I think this has changed the whole dynamic of the race.  I think Democrats are now much more enthusiastic about John Kerry.  I have known him for a long time.  I have always felt that he would make a great president.  And I thought that he gave a very strong, but consistent, the-guy-I-know performance—also combined with the president's odd performance. 

It was just odd; especially that unfortunate reference to Abu Ghraib, when he said that he tries to keep his daughters on a leash. I thought that was terrible. 

SCARBOROUGH: Yes. 

FRANKEN: Actually, that was a joke, Joe, a joke.

SCARBOROUGH:  I know it was a joke.  I don't know what it is about the Bush family.  But they turn in some of the oddest performances in presidential debating history.  So we'll see what happens four years from now when Jeb meets up with Hillary somewhere in the presidential debates.  It will be very interesting. 

FRANKEN: When the president was gracious when he was asked about Kerry, I thought he gave a very gracious reply, and Kerry back.  And it's weird.  I just felt that-I don't know what it is— but I loved that. 

SCARBOROUGH: It was a nice moment.  There's obviously a lot of heat going on back and forth.  But I agree with you.  That was the one time that both of these guys let down their guards.  They smiled.  It made me feel proud to be an American.

'Scarborough Country' airs weeknights 10 p.m. ET on MSNBC.

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