Franken In, Bunning Out: Senate as Second Act

A Hall of Fame ballplayer and an SNL comic show there's life after stardom

Has any writer ever been so wrong as F. Scott Fitzgerald was when he opined that "there are no second acts in American lives?"

Americans have broadened their ideas on who can -- or should -- serve in public life since the Great Gatsby writer delivered the quote. Consider the U.S. Senate, where in the last month, a former professional comic has entered and a Hall of Fame baseball player has departed. Two men who achieved monumental success far from the political world went on to second acts in the public eye. 

On Monday, Sen. JIm Bunning, R-Kentucky, announced that he would be retiring next year. At 77, his last campaign in 2004 was a tough fight, with questions raised about his physical and mental health.  The state and national GOP made little secret of their hope that he would step down.  Still, Bunning will finish a political career with an impressive 24 years in the House and Senate. And that was after his 16-year career as a big league pitcher, a career that saw him pitch a perfect game, a no-hitter and win 224 games.

Bunning might not have been an all-star in politics, but a quarter century of serving in a federal position is nothing to dismiss.  As "second acts," its a very significant event. 

Is this something to which Al Franken can aspire?  If there was a Hall of Fame for comedy, Franken might not get there, despite a successful career as a performer and writer for Saturday Night Live. But the Harvard-educated quipster bridged comedy and politics with stints as a left-wing radio host and by authoring the book Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot.

Franken now follows his fellow Minnesotan, former wrestler/governor Jesse "The Body" Ventura and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as other performers plunging into the political world.  Ventura only served for one term. Schwarzenegger was re-elected -- just in time for California to spiral into an historic fiscal mess. One wonders, if had he to do all over again, would "The Terminator" opted for a second act in politics.

Lucky for Franken that six years is a long time. Senators are given the longest amount of time to work the learning curve. There's no reason why Franken can't have a "serious" second act that one hopes will eclipse his first.  

New York writer Robert A. George blogs at Ragged Thots.

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