Al Franken, Giant of the Senate
Reviewed by: John Stokdijk
Although I am a Canadian, I have been interested in American politics since teenage. In 2016 I was quite interested in the speculation about who Hillary Clinton would pick as her running mate. Al Franken’s name came up from time to time and after reading Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken I think he would have been an excellent choice.
Does Al Franken consider himself to be a giant of the senate? Of course not and his title is merely a reflection of his satirical sense of humor. In his book he does identify three giants - Ted Kennedy, Mike Mansfield and Ed Muskie.
During my life I rarely stayed up until 11:30 on a Saturday evening and I rarely watched Saturday Night Live. I had an underappreciation of satire. However, I enjoyed reading about this incredibly successful television show. Al Franken was there from the start in 1975 and in total was a significant contributor to SNL for fifteen seasons. It seems like an improbable career path for a future politician.
Even though we know the outcome, Franken’s run for the Senate still reads like a suspenseful political thriller. He had to prove that he could transcend his past as a comedian and be taken seriously as an aspiring senator. He had to survive a very nasty campaign. He had to endure a long recount process and court challenge. And Al Franken succeeded by the narrowest of margins.
There were intermediate steps from comedian to senator for Franken. He was the host of a radio show and the author of other books. In 1996 he published Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot: And Other Observations and in 2003 he published Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. These books and other activities such as speaking engagements helped establish him as a credible part of the progressive political landscape. But that was not the purpose for which he wrote them and he came to politics reluctantly.
This book may not be of interest to some from the right side of the political divide. But one does not need to accept Franken’s views in order to gain insight from this book. He describes with great clarity the election process and what it takes to win. He describes what it is really like to be a senator and much of the role is not glamorous. Reading this book and getting to know the real Al Franken beyond the caricature of him as a comedian helps us understand how he was able to surprise many, exceeding the expectations of supporters and opponents alike.
Franken is optimistic about the future but with a lot of realism:
My story, the one you’ve just finished reading, is a small part of a bigger story— the story of how progressives picked themselves up off the mat and made an epic comeback. And now we have to do it again. This comeback starts with standing up for our values…
There is a very warm story within the story of Al Franken:
First and foremost, I want to thank my wife, Franni, with whom I’ve been sharing this adventure for nearly forty-eight years.
Here is some useful advice for any reader of Giant. Do not neglect the footnotes! That is where some of the author’s best humor emerges, causing me, an overly serious individual, to occasionally laugh out loud.
Al Franken, Giant of the Senate debuted number one on The New York Times hardcover nonfiction best sellers list and is currently in its fourth week on the list in the number three spot.