Al Franken, Giant of the Senate, by Al Franken
I like Al Franken and have read all his books. Even the titles make me chuckle. This is the first book released since his contentious election to the U.S. Senate in 2008. On his recent promotion tour for the book he happily took digs at the senators he works with daily, as if finally released from the self-imposed gravitas he’s exhibited in most of his appearances in hearings and on the floor of the Senate.
This book reflects much of that lighter approach. And he admits that his staff has helped him generally avoid letting his sense of humor get him into trouble. He says he writes what he wants in letters and lets his chief of staff return the ones where he seems to have gone overboard. He also says his staff will frequently advise him to “keep it in the car” when he lets loose on the way to a meeting or fundraiser. He takes his role seriously, and talks about the extents he went to apologize to Mitch McConnell when, while acting as Senate President during speeches, he rolled his eyes and sighed at several statements McConnell made. He’s also given his staff permission to tell him whenever he’s “being an asshole.”
Those were nice things to find in the book. What was surprising was the open and honest autobiographical material included. He tells of his upbringing in Minnesota and his first meeting with long-time partner Tom Davis, and spares nothing on Davis’ long decline into drug abuse. He tells about their early partnership, from doing school announcements to the performance that first brought them to the attention of Lorne Michaels as the first Saturday Night Live team was being formed. He includes meeting his wife of nearly four decades, post-SNL life, and his tight election to the Senate after an excruciatingly long recount.
Once the story moves to the Senate he tells of his attempts to work with other senators from both parties, and how difficult that can be in the growing climate of enmity, what one colleague compared to the days when Charles Sumner was nearly clubbed to death by a southern representative Preston Brooks. Still, he says he works to develop better ties with the other side, even Jeff Sessions who, despite what they had established as a friendly relationship, Franken pounded during the hearings for the Sessions nomination for Attorney General.
Except for Ted Cruz. Everyone, he says, hates Ted Cruz, and he details some examples of why.
He also talks about the painfulness of the constant fundraising, even worse for those running every two years in the House, and his wish that there was public funding that could eliminate the demands to continually search for contributions. The story follows him through the Trump nomination and wraps up with suggestions for future actions progressives should be taking in the future.
A good book with Franken’s typical humor and dedication to fact-checking, along with more serious thoughts both about his life and the state of politics today.