As this is my third time reading The Truth (With Jokes) since this meme began, it holds a record (as of now) as my most frequently-read book in the 52 Books in 52 Weeks meme. Why read it a third time? Well, if it wasn’t obvious enough, the recent election had something to do with it. I remembered Franken’s last chapter, modeled as a letter to his eventual grandchildren, about the 2008 election (the book was written in 2005) and how it represented a tipping point in the way the United States did business—read: the conservatives were out, the liberals were in, and everybody lived happily ever after.
Let me set the record straight: while an Obama supporter, I’d like to think that I’m not the sort of starry-eyed fool who thinks that he will sweep into office on swath of pixie dust and happy thoughts and magically right every wrong, effectively excise racism from our national collective conscience, and possibly heal leprosy1. At the same time, I can’t help but feel frustrated with 8 years of increasingly cynical government by the right, which is about as two-faced on the national level as I think it’s possible for a political movement to be in the context of a valid democracy; so I’m happy for the change, and feel sprightly and excited in spite of myself. It is from this motivation that I picked up The Truth (With Jokes) again. Also, Franken’s being in the news with respect to the extraordinarily-close Senate race in Minnesota did much to rekindle my interest.
Here’s the thing you have to remember about Franken: though he is a comedian by trade (I don’t find him all that funny, actually), reading one of his books is not like reading one of Bill Maher’s books, for instance, which is a lot of opining and jokes. Franken likes to couch a lot of snarky jabs in humorous paragraphs, yes, but he is in actuality a rather devastating political writer: his facts are generally rock-solid (even his detractors often note the quality of his research, though of course they generally don’t acknowledge the validity of his conclusions). As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, The Truth finds Franken a little more cynical and angry for the events of the 2004 election. All of the grassroots movements of 2003-2004 were not quite enough for a changing of the guard in January 2005, and Franken like most liberals suffered from a general malaise for much of that year—though not enough to keep him from writing this book. It’s very topical as a result, dealing largely with all the detritus littered in a ring around the explosion of the 2004 campaign. That, for instance, the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth were anything but is not surprisingly to me, since all of this was obvious in 2004, but it’s satisfying to watch Franken leave large ragged holes in so many of these ridiculous canards that conservatives like to trot out at election time—especially Karl Rove, Bush’s own personal Mephistopheles, who still manages to take the cake for below-the-belt blows.
In brief reprieves from the proximate timeline, Franken takes us on trips to the mid-90s, when Gingrich’s tidal wave of eager conservatives swept into the legislative branch and proceeded to bust Clinton’s balls for the next six years. Special attention is paid to Jack Abramoff (this before Abramoff was formally indicted in 2006, and some of his friends with him) and the Marianas Islands, a moral black eye on the conservatives prized free-market incubator.
Like MediaMatters (which Bill O’Reilly likes to characterize as a “smear” site), Franken’s most damning passages usually come in the form of the pairing of two quotes: one in which a conservative says something asinine, and then another where they deny that they ever said such a thing. At best, it proves a fundamental dishonesty on the part of politicians in general and conservatives in particular (or so the theory goes); but the regularity and obvious crassness with which the lying is done is enough to disgust you. In comparison to, say, Anne Coulter, whose noxious screeds consist mostly of excoriating liberals and intellectuals for holding differing opinions2, Franken tends to focus less on simply slinging mud across an aisle and more on underlining blatant hypocrisy, opportunism, or political cynicism wherever he sees it (granted, usually on the right, as is the thesis of the book).
I still don’t get the whole Franken qua Comedian thing, since I so rarely find his writing funny as opposed to insightful and compelling; but I do enjoy his books, and admit to being more than a little sad that writing has taken a back seat to his Senate campaign in Minnesota. Though a little angrier and (if possible) a little more partisan, The Truth (With Jokes) is a good read, and a solid piece of political journalism.