Sunday, June 11, 2017
Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken
It had never occurred to me that reading the memoirs of a sitting senator could be an interesting and informative way to spend time. Congress has infuriated me for awhile now. Before I became laser-focused on politics in Washington, listening to the “can’t manage it” complaints from Democrats really burned me up, so the thought of giving a Congressperson more time to blather at me was unappealing.
Since I have been paying attention, however, I can see lots of areas where “can’t manage it” complaints are perfectly in order, leaving me free to be angry with the GOP and their many allied organizations, e.g., far right, libertarians, religious right, etc. Franken points out many ways the best laid plans go awry, and suggests those who are tempted to complain about politics try it themselves. Not a bad idea. It may be time we send our best to Washington to try to make some headway.
So why does sitting-Senator Franken write a book now? He began it in 2015, shortly after he won his Minnesota seat by a comfortable margin for another 6-year term. He points out that Congresspeople do not make a large salary, but he’d better not say that too loudly in this climate where the enormous wage differentials between different types of work are an enduring and growing source of confusion, contention, and anger.
A congressperson doesn’t make as much as a Hollywood celebrity, no. So? He has trouble living on his Senate salary? Anyway, he may have written the book because he can, because it is a something he is good at, and because his books are bestsellers, bringing in real income. I doubt it will allay the need for more fundraising, but it would be nice if it did. It may simply mean campaign funds do not become a temptation.
But I think he also wrote it also to stir the pot and make sure we've heard the message that we need to work hard on our side to become involved and not allow the current administration to go beyond 2018. He's doing what he can to keep our spirits up. As Bernie says, now is not the time to throw our hands up in despair and resignation.
Franken spent most of thirty years trying to be funny and after he became a senator, he had to cap the well so that he’d be taken seriously. After his re-election Franken thought he’d earned the right to be funny again in public, and the truth is, we yearn to find something funny about Washington. We know it is absurd. We want to hear a professional’s take.
It seems effortless for Franken to be funny, so used he is to drilling down to the absurdity in everyday happenings in Washington, to make jokes about the ridiculous posturing and outright lies, to recognize his fellow performers in the Senate as a kind of troupe, some of whom are easier to work with than others. And it is a kind of a relief to look at these politicians as humans, with human foibles.
I admit I was surprised to hear his stories about Orrin Hatch’s credentials writing country songs, or Chuck Grassley’s apparent willingness to work across the isle with a fellow midwesterner. We’d always heard about the startling collegiality among a group who by day fights rancorously in public, though in recent years, with congressional incumbents going back to their districts on Thursdays and returning Monday afternoons, members of Congress have little opportunity to meet casually.
Everywhere I turn I see Franken promoting this book, so I’m sure everyone has some idea what is in the book itself. I was more interested than I thought I would be to hear how it is to campaign every day and every night, to win an election, to suffer through a recount and a challenge, to find co-sponsors for bills, to sit on committees, to fundraise constantly, to answer to constituents, etc. It does sound as though they are pretty busy, and Franken tells us the best way to help, rather than hinder, their efforts to conclude legislation that makes an impact. Calling one’s representatives does help, it appears, useless as it seems at the time.
Anyway, this is not a struggle to listen to—Franken himself reads the audio—and it made me laugh aloud in places. I learned a lot, and find myself interested to look at his earlier work, Lies & the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair & Balanced Look at the Right. Franken is such natural. Let’s hope he doesn’t fall for the really ridiculous claim that Minnesotans are going to gain a lot of long-term well-paying jobs if the Keystone Pipeline from Canada’s tar sands goes through. It would make me happy if he could convince his people that pipeline is not going to save them and it will probably ruin the rest of us.
I know senators represent their states, but those states are in a nation. I’d be happy to carve out a Minnesota-shaped space (or an Idaho-, Florida-, etc. -shaped spaces) if they think their needs more important than those of a nation. There is a balance between needs, and this is another thing getting out of kilter in Washington these days.
This is an excerpt from the audio:
You can buy this book here: Tweet