A Big Fat Spoof Rush to judgment: Conservatives find Al Franken's book as funny as a punch in the gut. Liberals eat it up.

January 24, 1996|By Alice Steinbach | Alice Steinbach,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- In a minute, you will learn all about how Al Franken chose the title for his new book on modern American politics. But first: a word or two about the titles he rejected. "I probably should have called it were too confrontational."

Instead, satirist Al Franken, best known for his appearances on "Saturday Night Live," settled on a kinder, gentler title: "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations."

Leaning back into the sofa in his posh suite at the Jefferson Hotel, Mr. Franken -- who describes himself as a "mushball liberal Democrat" -- explains the compelling reasons for choosing such a title. "First of all, Rush is very fat," he says, his deep voice all analytical as he attempts to deconstruct his own work.

"And, secondly, I think we all agree there is far too much negativity in our public discourse these days . . ." He pauses. You hear the faint sound of gears shifting. Then: "And I just wanted to add to that."

Given the initial response to the title, "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations," it seems safe to say: Mission Accomplished.

And not since "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat," it also seems safe to say, has there been such a deliberately provocative title.

Naturally, some people love it.

Naturally some people hate it.

And, naturally, the people who love it are liberals.

And, those who don't are conservatives.

Al Franken is in Washington to promote his just-off-the-press book, which he says is "about holding the right accountable . . . and using Limbaugh as a way of talking about the entire Republican revolution." He's already drawing the wrath of the Limbaugh faithful.

"I was on C-Span last night and got some irate calls," he says good-naturedly. "They were from 'dittoheads' -- or 'didiots,' as I call them. They didn't seem to get that there's a level of irony to the title. I taunted them a little and they just got angrier." He grins. A look of pleasure passes across his face. "So it was fun."


Fun for him, perhaps. But don't bring up Al Franken's book with the likes of Republican strategist Mary Matalin, who is one of the hosts of CNBC's "Equal Time with Mary Matalin and Dee Dee Myers." The very mention of the title elicits this response: "I think Al Franken is a hypocritical big fat idiot," she says emphatically, throwing the words back at you like verbal hand grenades. "I haven't read it, and I'm not going to read it."

Ms. Matalin, who describes herself as "a friend, a proud friend of Rush's," doesn't just take issue with the title. She questions Al Franken's whole characterization of Rush Limbaugh. Which she definitely does not find "funny."

"Does he [Al Franken] listen to Rush? The essence of understanding that show is to listen with some longevity, because it takes a while to explain his philosophy. He doesn't understand the show," says Ms. Matalin who was deputy manager of the George Bush re-election campaign in 1992 and is married to James Carville, the Democratic strategist who ran Bill Clinton's successful presidential campaign.

Dee Dee Myers, on the other hand, can't wait to read it. "I'm a big Al Franken fan. And when I first saw the title, my reaction was to laugh out loud. From my side of the aisle, there's a certain amount of indisputable truth to it," says Ms. Myers, who ended her job as White House press secretary on Dec. 22, 1994, and became co-host of "Equal Time" in May 1995.

Still, she admits: "I don't know how I'd feel if the book were called 'Bill Clinton Is a Big Fat Idiot.' But there's a couple of differences between the two. One, Rush is not the president. And two, he's made a career, made a fortune, out of castigating people. Castigating them for their beliefs, for their looks, for their politics. And I think if he can dish it out, he ought to be able to take it."

Other targets

Of course, once people actually read the book -- which is to say, once they get to the "And Other Observations" part of the title -- they'll see that Rush Limbaugh is not the only ideological foe Al Franken hoists with his liberal petard. He also offers up opinions on:

* Newt Gingrich: "He's the father of the kid who spends a lot of time at your house."

* Cutting Medicare and Balancing the Budget: "Why not shoot the elderly into space? Stay with me. Because I'm not thinking about the budget here. I'm talking about science. Just think how many more manned space operations NASA could undertake if they didn't have to worry about getting the astronauts back?"

* Phil Gramm: "If you get beyond the fact that Gramm is ugly, mean, hypocritical, has a boob fetish, and drives his wife like a mule, he does have a certain folksy charm."

Some people might say the book is mean-spirited. Al Franken is not among them. "I call it mean -- but uncompromisingly fair," says the 44-year-old Harvard graduate. "I just hold them accountable -- especially Limbaugh -- for what they've said.

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