From `Lies' to `Truth': Franken is back on the attack

November 06, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

The Truth (With Jokes)

Al Franken

Dutton Adult / 336 pages

The picture of Al Franken on the cover of Al Franken's new book is much bigger than the picture of Al Franken on Al Franken's last one. Franken has come a long way lately, not least in the area of self-promotion.

Since the 2003 publication of his Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, Franken has progressed from taking potshots at talk-show hosts to joining their ranks (via Air America Radio and the Sundance Channel). He has expressed nascent political stirrings, positioning himself as a possible senatorial candidate from Minnesota for 2008.

Now he is the author of The Truth (With Jokes), a book that can be read as an extended stump speech, complete with made-up memories (supposedly written in 2015) of "Senator" Franken's legislative triumphs. While raising the ante for insult humor derived from dead-serious convictions, he is poised to discover whether comedy and campaigning can go hand in hand.

The Truth begins with one Democrat's happy memories of the 2004 elections. Needless to say, they are brief. Once Franken realized that he would have no need for an inspiring monologue about John Kerry's presidential victory, he began "putting the gallows back in gallows humor."

As this book illustrates, he also began dissecting Democrats' timidity and Republicans' constant strategic emphasis on terrorism. He refers to the latter as "9/11/24/7."

How did Democrats fail to exploit the false-but-helpful rumor of President Bush's involvement in Texas chainsaw massacres? "This is a mistake we shan't repeat," Franken vows.

Thus inspired, his book provides many illustrations of how mud-slinging distortions and selective facts and statistics can be used to fan innuendoes and bolster false claims. "Now, I'm no partisan" Franken says - hilariously, under the circumstances - as he supplies case after case of partisanship taken to indefensible extremes.

Sometimes members of the Bush administration have made the author's work easy, as with the Pentagon's denial and subsequent admission that letters from Donald H. Rumsfeld to the families of troops killed in Iraq were signed by machine. Sometimes, as with the news that the Bush campaign ran 49,050 negative ads compared with the Kerry campaign's 13,336, as reported by The Washington Post, the specifics invite hair-splitting attention.

The Truth does keep its promise to be funny about extremely unfunny matters.

Franken jokes that his exploration of the Swift Boat Veterans' poisonous attacks on John Kerry's war record led him to check into a hospital suffering septic shock.

He also imagines himself awkwardly in John and Teresa Heinz Kerry's presence: "Uh, sure you should run again. Wow. That'd be great. How many books did you guys say you were going to buy?"

In describing the role of Ahmad Chalabi in American plans to invade Iraq: "He and his associates had explained that we would be greeted with sweets and flowers, leaving out the crucial modifier, `exploding.'"

The gags have bite as long as Franken sticks to his main purpose: delivering an entertaining polemic while rallying a dispirited post-2004 voting bloc. The book stays lively even when it dissects Bush's views on Social Security - not easy, no matter how much the author enjoys number-crunching.

The last part of The Truth asks a question: Now what? Then it must put forth ideas for the future.

This is an invitation for a right-wing Al Franken to give Al Franken the Al Franken treatment. But the real Al Franken sounds ready for that. He's also ready for "a more united America, an America where books like this one aren't necessary, but still sell millions of copies."

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