Giant of the Senate by Al Franken
Twelve (Hatchette Book Group), 392 pp.
The five best things about Senator Al Franken’s Giant of the Senate (yes, that really is the title):
1. Unlike so many liberals, especially those who hail from the bloodless New York Times tradition, Franken actually exhibits passion, as well as a terrific sense of humor. Franken calls out Ted Cruz, talks bluntly about ending his friendship with Jeff Sessions, and still evinces serious dislike (to put it mildly) for Norm Coleman, whom he defeated in his first campaign for the Senate in 2008. Franken also nails President Trump, and an almost joyous contempt for him just rolls off the page. Most right-wingers hate liberals and let their contempt flow freely. Few liberals do the same, preferring a generous, largely even-handed (and for that reason, largely ineffective) response. But Franken returns the invective, even if he softens it with humor.
2. Franken is refreshingly honest in his discussion of Barack Obama. He makes clear his admiration, respect, and agreement with the former President – but he also expresses disappointment that Obama did so little for him in his 2008 election, when he really needed the help (Franken won by 312 votes out of more than 2.8 million cast), and not much more thereafter. For Democrats who believe Obama has not done enough to support Democrats not named Obama, or to build a party that would thrive after his presidency, Senator Franken is a witness on your behalf.
3. Franken makes a strong case that no one who has had a reasonably full career doing anything at all can run for office without having all of the negative episodes of their life distorted, cast in the worst possible light, and broadcast in an endless media loop of defamation. Or at least they cannot if they are Democrats. Franken offers these observations about the irresponsible, frequently scurrilous “liberal media” -- who embrace sensationalism and scandal in the pursuit of ratings and clicks -- in Chapter 18, “Tax-Dodging, Rape Joking Pornographer.”
4. Not surprisingly, the book overflows with one-liners, and Franken's wisecracking is consistently endearing, rather than annoying. He notes that his onetime opponent Norm Coleman “landed on his feet and continues to serve the people of Minnesota as a paid lobbyist for the government of Saudi Arabia.” Franken describes Justice Antonin Scalia’s angry dissent in a same-sex marriage case as “very gay.” After quoting Ted Cruz’s law school roommate recalling that Cruz didn’t want his Harvard Law study group to include anybody from “minor Ivies” like Penn or Brown, Franken concludes that Cruz is “a world-class butthole.” And reflecting on Trump’s choice of senior staff, Franken says: “To be fair though, maybe president is more of a ‘big picture’ job. You know you can hire people who know stuff, like your son-in-law, or some creepy white supremacist.”
5. Finally, Franken has the educational credentials to write a highly informed work of political science, as his book jacket biography makes clear: he holds a bachelor’s degree from Harvard and a doctorate in Right-Wing Megalomania Studies from Trump University.
I could go on, but you get the point. Read the book. Franken is the rare American liberal who is not grandiose, bloodless and arrogant, or humorless and hectoring. In fact, this comedian-turned-Senator is one of the few politicians these days we should take seriously.
-- Jim Kaplan