Back when soon-to-be ex-Sen. Al Franken was a comedian, and saying and doing outrageous and tasteless things was what he got paid for, he performed one of the most daring feats of comedy ever seen on broadcast TV.
The NBC show “Saturday Night Live” was going through one of its creative and ratings down times, limping along without any big stars and seriously missing the guidance that creator and sustaining impresario Lorne Michaels had given it.
On April 11, 1981, the regular “Weekend Update” segment saw Franken, then one of the show’s writers and secondary performers, launch into a lengthy and totally deadpan monologue about how SNL had lost everything that had once made it great and that it was time to humanely let it go.
“It’s clearly time to yank this tired old format off the air,” Franken said. And he held up a card asking viewers to write to “Put SNL To Sleep, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, New York 10020.”
Michaels came back and saved SNL. Franken moved on, got into real politics, got himself elected to the U.S. Senate (twice) and, Thursday, delivered another long and deadpan speech about something else that should come to an end. And this time, apparently, it will.
Which, like everything else in Utah politics today, brings us to Mitt Romney. Seriously.
Romney -- former governor of Massachusetts, winning relief pitcher of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics and the Republican Party’s 2012 presidential candidate — is back in the spotlight like no losing presidential candidate since Richard Nixon. Or Hillary Clinton.
Folks from all over are urging Romney to get back into the game. They want him to run for president again, to dislodge the global embarrassment now residing in the White House before he destroys the party, the country or the planet. Or they want Romney to run — as a stepping stone to the presidency or for its own sake — for the U.S. Senate from Utah to replace our incredibly senior senator, Orrin Hatch.
Rumors burbling out of the Hatch camp some months ago suggested that Hatch was ready to hang it up and that he favored Romney as his successor. Later rumors point to the conclusion that Hatch is giving up nothing and that, if Romney wants the job, he’ll have to take it from his cold defeated hands.
It all got more confusing last week when Hatch spent Monday basking in the smile of the president of the United States, a president who wants Hatch to stay in the Senate, and spent Tuesday attacking that same president’s political Pygmalion, Steve Bannon, for having said some truly nasty things about — wait for it — Mitt Romney.
Here’s how it can get a lot more interesting: Romney could accept an invitation presented in these pages Friday. Richard Davis, chairman of the fledgling United Utah Party, proposed that Romney seek the Senate seat as a UUP candidate, eschewing the whole of the Republican ecosphere as irreparably tainted by the president, Bannon, accused mall-walking creep Roy Moore and various other crypto-Nazis and race-baiters.
Hatch, according to some polls, is finally wearing out his welcome among Utah voters after more than 40 years in office. Enough so that he might actually be vulnerable to Salt Lake County Democrat Jenny Wilson.
If Romney ran, he would probably win, whether he ran on the Republican, UUP, Bull Moose or Slightly Silly ticket.
But with great electability comes great opportunity. Romney could strike a huge blow to the president he despised, then courted, then despised again, as well as to a party that is prostituting itself to Bannon and Moore, if he did run on the UUP line. Because he would likely win, it wouldn’t be a futile gesture, but a real game changer.
Some of us still won’t vote for Romney. Not unless he more clearly disavows his old 47-percent goof. And shoots down the abominable tax “reform” plans now being hashed out in Congress. And denounces Hatch’s recent awful, and demonstrably false, charge that the government is broke because it spends “billions and trillions” helping people who won’t help themselves. And stops Paul Ryan from realizing his life-long dream of eviscerating Social Security, Medicare and the rest of the social safety net. And drops all that bushwa about getting undocumented immigrants to “self-deport.”
But even some of us who won’t vote Romney might still cheer for him, especially if he draws the attention of the national media, again, to the Utah/Mormon bit of American conservatism that is plainly uncomfortable with the Bannon/Moore part. Sort of like Western Civilization hiding out in monasteries in Ireland while the Dark Ages consumed the rest of Europe, until the Visigoths had retreated and it was safe to come out again. (Not that there aren’t more than a few Huns in the Utah GOP. Nothing’s perfect.)
A win by Third-Party Mitt might be enough of a shock that the Republican Party would either return to its honorable role as America’s reasonable center-right party or, failing that, he could help put the GOP to sleep. Either one would be fine.
George Pyle, The Tribune’s editorial page editor, is ready to go on national TV to explain this theory in more detail. email@example.com