Al Franken, Giant of the Senate Rothdas book review RSS
2.6 Stars

This will be an inverted-sandwich review, where I talk about the bad, then the good, and then the bad.

As a teen I read a couple of Al Franken's books at Barnes and Nobles, and as per best practices I just read them in the store rather than paying for them. I enjoyed the books though and thought they hilarious and intelligent/informative/useful, and that prompted me to purchase Franken's newest book a few decades later. Unfortunately, the latest Al Franken doesn't live up to my memories. First off, _Giant of the Senate_ does not really succeed as comedy. Franken is an engaging writer, and there are a few genuine chuckles and many more sensible-chuckles in the book, but it mostly hovers around a Dave-Berry level humor. There's also a fair number of jokes that either fall flat or are simply mean-spirited. I can't entirely blame Franken for the book not being an outstanding comedy, since his high office places a lot of boundaries on what he can say/joke about.

Fortunately, comedy is not the main focus of the book, it is more of a light spice or garnish that is sprinkled though out. The meat of the book and where it does well is in the details of running for the Senate and then being a Senator. There's a lot of interesting and lived detail about the requirements of the campaign trail, public speaking, running an office, passing a bill, asking for donations, and interacting with other Senators. There are interesting personal stories about a dozen different Senators and as many constituents, and overall it does well as a sort of optimistic/patriotic/idealistic call to make US politics better and to bridge divides and do right by the country. Quite apart from his books and comedy, I've been a fan of Franken the politician, and he is up there with Sanders, Warren, Wyden, and Udall as people who are consistently in the right (as I see it) and fighting for things I believe in. So it is not too surprising that I enjoy him writing about politics and what he believes in and why.

I'm just not sure it is enough. One of the stories in the book was how during a hearing Franken rolled his eyes at something Mitch McConnell was saying, and how this eye-roll was considered a super-serious breach of Senatorial decorum. And Franken further writes about how he made an abject apology, and Mitch was a complete mensch for accepting the apology. And this is fine and all, and might have been entirely appropriate 20 or 40 years ago, but I'm not sure it is sufficient for the current situation. E.g. a few years later we have republicans shouting "You Lie" during the President's speech, or assaulting journalists, or in Mitch's case pushing forward health care cuts that would kill on the order of 10K Americans per year. This is on top of the 10K-15K Americans who are killed each year from Republican governor's refusal to accept federal money to expand Medicaid, as part of their efforts to sabotage health care for political gain. And it is not like that will be the end of it, these are just some of the current set of moves being taken. And at that point, I feel like the situation is serious enough that if considered clearly, you can't just engage in comity and making nice and deeply apologizing for your eye-roll. Again, I realize that there are boundaries to what Franken can write as a Senator in good standing, and maybe it is useful to have people like him as the Sinn Fein to Sander's IRA. Still, as a clear and honest appraisal of our politics I don't feel like this book is up to the requirements of our time.

Update: 1-1-2018 Annnnnnd he's out. I'm not going to say I called it, but I called at least little bits of it. Item 1) Franken's comedy really isn't that good. As a person with a terrible sense of humor, I emphasize with him, but I also wish that somehow he could have been the man he was without ever telling a joke. That is to say he was a much better politician than he was a humorist, and the good he could have done was sabotaged by his poor sense of what is funny and what is not, leading to that embarassing picture. Item 2) They were never interested in comity, and it was a mistake to think so. Franken was taken out by the the GOP's little league version of a FSB operation, as well as our own over eagerness to sacrifice an effective leader on some somewhat dubious grounds. It was a mistake for Franken to have focused on komity when his opponents were focusing on killing. Anyway, my best wishes go out to the guy. Against the odds I hope he comes back angrier and wiser.