Review

The Truth (with Jokes)

by Al Franken



Centuries ago the Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu observed that
warriors should "keep [their] friends close, but [their] enemies
closer." Humorist and talk show host Al Franken has followed that
advice all the way to the top of the bestseller lists, from the
publication of his first book to his latest work of political
humor, THE TRUTH (with jokes).

Franken, a comedian known for his stint on "Saturday Night Live,"
entered the political fray with the publication of RUSH LIMBAUGH IS
A BIG FAT IDIOT. In a media market clogged with conservatives, the
book established Franken as one of the few liberal political
commentators with national credentials. His next book, LIES AND THE
LYING LIARS WHO TELL THEM, received two unexpected boosts from
unlikely sources on its way to becoming a national bestseller.
First, during a public appearance promoting LIARS at Book Expo
America in Los Angeles, Franken appeared on a panel with political
columnist Mollie Ivins and FOX News's Bill O'Reilly. Franken used
several anecdotes from his forthcoming work to skewer O'Reilly, who
rose to the bait and responded with boorish behavior. The
performance was broadcast live and repeated for months on C-SPAN,
clearly whetting the public appetite for Franken's book. Then, as
LIARS was nearing its release date, FOX News went to court to stop
its publication. The lawsuit was quickly dismissed and essentially
laughed out of court, but the publicity was money in the bank for
Franken.

Franken is now the star of the Air America radio network, a liberal
alternative to right-wing talk radio. He also appears to be
contemplating a run for the United States Senate from his home
state of Minnesota in 2008. Franken hopes to reclaim the seat of
one of his political heroes, the late Paul Wellstone, killed in an
airplane crash in 2002 while campaigning for re-election. THE TRUTH
is a collection of material from Franken's radio show and from his
publicly stated political philosophy.

Like his conservative counterparts, Franken has hit upon a method
for publishing political books that is the closest thing to a
money-printing machine known to mankind. The O'Reillys, Hannitys
and Coulters of the world seem to come out with an annual book that
is simply a compilation of their on-air rants and political
tirades. Obviously, based on the sales of each of these works,
there is an audience willing to digest this material in its written
form. Franken takes the same tactic in his book, presenting
material familiar to any listener of his daily Air America show,
but with one major difference: Franken is funny. Conservatives are
slightly more aggressive and bitter in their writing. While Franken
is bitter in his criticism of current government policies, he
maintains a sense of humor throughout that makes the agony of
current events somehow endurable.

Reading THE TRUTH reminds one of Dickens's A CHRISTMAS CAROL, as
Franken views the world from the ghosts of politics past, present
and future. The past takes us back one year to the presidential
election of 2004 and its immediate aftermath. It is hard to believe
that it was only one year ago that George Bush, re-elected by 51%
of the electorate, claimed a mandate for his administration.
Franken and other political observers denigrated this claim, and
events of the past year have borne out that view. Chapters 1
through 8 discuss the election of 2004 and how the Republicans won,
not by hook or by crook, but by "Fear, Smear and Queers."

In the present, Franken reminds the reader of how quickly things
have fallen apart. The demise of social security reform, the
burgeoning scandals of Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay, the abysmal
political posturing surrounding Terry Schiavo, and --- perhaps most
tragically --- the growing quagmire that is Iraq, all come under
Franken's scrutiny. While it is difficult to look at these issues
in a humorous vein, there are several sly and entertaining
digressions. In discussing the figures cited in Bush's social
security plan, Franken notes, "In order to get that number, they
had to assume that people would live to an average age of 150, but
still retire at 67. That's an eighty-three year retirement. They're
never gonna get that without stem cell research."

Finally, in book three of THE TRUTH, we learn how liberals regain
power. The information comes to us in a letter written in October
2015 to Franken's three grandchildren --- Barack, Hillary and Joe
III. Having begun this review with a Chinese proverb, we end it
with a Yiddish proverb: "From your lips to God's ears." Al, I hope
and pray you are correct and, perhaps most importantly, that you
never lose your sense of humor or your passion for justice.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on January 23, 2011

The Truth (with Jokes)
by Al Franken

  • Publication Date: September 26, 2006
  • Genres: Humor, Nonfiction, Politics
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Plume
  • ISBN-10: 0452287677
  • ISBN-13: 9780452287679