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Al Franken, Giant of the Senate, by Al Franken
Published by Twelve, Hachette Book Group
May 2017, 406 pages
A review by Paul Pearlstein
The junior senator from Minnesota is a curiously interesting person. His life is a series of successful iterations: comedian, Saturday Night Live star, writer, author, unabashed supporter of the liberal agenda, Harvard grad and winner of one of the closest and most fiercely contested elections in our history.
In Al Franken’s latest book, he invites the reader to share his life (including pimples and warts), his good fortune and his philosophy. The book is a candid, no-holds-barred memoir, political diatribe and fly on the wall peek at the Senate, the country and life.
Franken’s story is a bit like a soap opera. Can this famous and often profane comedian be taken seriously as an elected public official? The senator loves controversy and fun. He has authored such best sellers as Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot; and Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them.
His current book covers the constant struggle of this gifted comedian, now playing the role of a real U.S. Senator. Can he, should he, eschew humor and keep a straight face? Or may he be effective while laughing out loud and making fun of the stupidity he witnesses in Congress?
While he is certainly no fan of The Donald, his greatest day-to-day annoyance in the Senate is a brilliant nemesis from Texas. With the bite and charm of H.L. Mencken, he writes in his chapter titled Sophistry: “I like Ted Cruz more than most of my other colleagues like Ted Cruz. And I hate Ted Cruz”… “an absolutely toxic co-worker,” “singularly dishonest” and a “sociopath.” (He could add, “Nasty comment to follow.”)
The good senator is willing to name names throughout the book. Senator Cruz is only one person to be called out. Minnesota adversary Norm Coleman ranks high on his s*** list. Yet Al is also capable of love. His admiration for Senator Paul Wellstone motivated him to change careers and to run for office. He describes his colleague, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, as “one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.” His friendship with Republicans Lindsey Graham, Jeff Sessions and Orrin Hatch reflect a generous non-partisan approach despite their many differences. Apparently he really likes and can work with interesting, smart people of all stripes. This helps to explain his political skills and his ability to succeed in the straight-laced Senate.
Without being smarmy, he tells us about his 40-year marriage to his wife, Franni, and the good that befell him. Their two children are the best result but there is even more praise. When Franken was about to lose his first election bid against Norm Coleman, Franni stepped up to do a very brave act for herself and for Al. She went on television to relate a very personal and poignant part of their history. Apparently Franni had become an alcoholic during the marriage. While seeking help at AA, she related how proud and fortunate she was that husband Al was completely supportive and even become active in Al-Anon.
Franni’s very public confession drew sincere admiration for her and the candidate. She actually turned the vote around for Al at the last minute. Al was declared the winner and took his seat in the Senate but only after six months of recounts and litigation. He attributes the win to Franni’s “coming out” on TV, and no one disagrees.
The book reads quickly with short punchy chapters. There are aspects of the senator’s upbringing, his comedic career, college, SNL and his radio talk show. He describes the intensity of his many late night writing sessions at SNL. Drugs, alcohol and piquant profanity suggest Senator Al was not and is not a Boy Scout. The thought process of this liberal and the dynamics of his conduct and the body politic are well presented on a high level. However the last sentence in the book ends with an f-bomb just to insure the author’s everyman status.
This senator has something important to say and he has earned genuine respect in his latest iteration. Perhaps he will continue to loosen up and allow more humor now that he has made his bones? Stay tuned, but enjoy the book even if you hate him and find no place for humor or naughty thoughts from an elected official.
Paul Pearlstein was 12 years a Republican, now a Progressive penitent. He enjoys playing the mandolin and guitar. Last year he reviewed Margery Elfin’s book A Nation on Trial: France and the Legacy of the Dreyfus Affair for us, and before that, he told us about rowing the Anacostia.