FREE SPEECH ZONE | An open letter to Senator Al Franken


Dear Senator Franken,
Thank you for your letter yesterday, telling me that the vote on the tax bill was the hardest you have taken yet.  I appreciate your clarity about your dissatisfaction that the President ‘punted on the first down’ and enumerating the factors that caused you to support the bill despite that dissatisfaction.
I am a Unitarian Universalist minister.  Unitarian Universalists, like Jews, center much of our faith in the practice of asking questions.  I find that I have some deep questions, and when I talk to friends they don’t seem to really know either, so I thought I would ask them directly to you. These are not rhetorical questions; I would love answers!

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Here are my questions:

How did 60 become the necessary number to get anything passed?  Why is the need for a filibuster-proof majority presumed?  Up until 2008, it seemed as if, in general, majority meant 51 votes.  Why were the rules allowed to be changed?

In the next Congress, are the Democrats going to play by the ‘rule of 60’ as well?  If not, since you initiated the sports metaphor, I’ll use it, too–can you really play a game when the two teams play by different rules?
You say that the President vows to fight these tax cuts for the rich harder in 2012 than he did in 2010.  How could he possibly be more effective fighting in 2012 than in 2010?

What was the hurry to pass the bill? What would another week have cost? Why didn’t the Democrats let things grind into a standoff, and allow the American people to have time to notice what was happening with this bill, instead of rushing through this vote?
To what extent are both parties controlled by the interests of the wealthiest few?

When you voted, did you talk about long-term analysis of how this bill will ultimately affect the lives of those suffering from financial crisis, and the increasingly fragile middle class?
You cite the Minnesotans who are suffering now who will get some concrete benefits in this bill-crumbs that will stand between them and starvation.  I understand your care for them as impetus for authorizing this bill and truly understand what a difficult position you were in. But what will keep those people afloat down the line as wealth centralizes more and more?
Why wasn’t there an organized resistance to extending and increasing the wealth of our richest citizens, where religious people and poor people and unions and the rest of the American majority stood up and spoke with moral voices? 
I realize that this last question is addressed not to you, but to me, and to my peers.  As the minister of a congregation of 3500, many of whom are suffering from joblessness, lack of healthcare and other increasingly common problems, I am grieving that this vote happened on my watch as a religious leader.  I would like to join a broad multi-faith effort in lifting up a morally grounded time of lament and repentance.

Senator Franken, you are a true and consistent voice for progressive values and I could not be more proud to have you as my elected Senator.  But I despair. I fear that this vote will continue to erode everything that we hold dear, and move this country further yet in the direction that ‘we the people’ truly means ‘we the corporations and the wealthy.’

The Rev. Meg A. Riley
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Senior Minister, Church of the Larger Fellowship