Per­haps an early step to­ward a no-joke can­di­dacy

The Washington Times Daily - - EDITORIAL - By Al Franken By John R. Coyne Jr. John R. Coyne Jr., a for­mer White House speech­writer, is co-au­thor of “Strictly Right: Wil­liam F. Buckley Jr. and the Amer­i­can Con­ser­va­tive Move­ment” (Wi­ley).

The ti­tle, in case you didn’t no­tice, is in­tended to make us laugh — or more likely, to chuckle, typ­i­cal of much of the faux self-dep­re­cat­ing show-biz hu­mor that runs through this book — a com­bi­na­tion of mem­oir, po­lit­i­cal man­ual and party-line po­si­tion pa­pers.

The po­si­tion-pa­per ma­te­rial — global warm­ing, for in­stance, and the health care ar­gu­ments that have been aired to ex­haus­tion — take up a good deal of space and are strictly for true be­liev­ers, although Sen. Franken tries to keep peo­ple awake by in­ter­ject­ing jokes and wise­cracks.

But it’s an­other mat­ter with his nar­ra­tive of his early years, in­ter­est­ingly and freshly writ­ten, fea­tur­ing his hard­work­ing mid­dle-class fam­ily; his wife Franni, to whom he’s been mar­ried for 41 years (there’s a poignant story here about her bout with al­co­holism); and the plea­sure he takes in his own chil­dren and grand­chil­dren.

He de­scribes his work as au­thor and ra­dio host (al­beit never as suc­cess­ful as his neme­sis Rush Lim­baugh — talk ra­dio be­longs to the right), and his ex­pe­ri­ences as an early mem­ber of the orig­i­nal cast of “Satur­day Night Live,” a show that can claim a piv­otal place in the his­tory of Amer­i­can en­ter­tain­ment.

As a se­na­tor, he takes his work se­ri­ously, a prac­ti­tioner of what he calls the “Hil­lary model” (yes, that Hil­lary, who made the mis­take of leav­ing the Se­nate). “Be a work­horse, not a showhorse. Go to all your hear­ings. Come early, stay late. Do your home­work. Don’t do na­tional press. Be ac­ces­si­ble to your state me­dia and to your con­stituents.”

Although he’s very much an old– line Min­nesota lib­eral, he be­lieves in cul­ti­vat­ing bi­par­ti­san friend­ships. Of his Repub­li­can friends in the Se­nate, rang­ing from Chuck Grass­ley to Lind­sey Gra­ham, he writes, “my fa­vorite Repub­li­can col­leagues aren’t the ones whose pol­i­tics are the least ob­jec­tion­able, but rather the ones with the best senses of hu­mor no mat­ter how ob­jec­tion­able their poli­cies may be.” Be­ing a suc­cess­ful se­na­tor de­pends heav­ily on be­ing a good co­worker. “If you can be a plea­sure to work with, you’ll get more ac­com­plished than if you’re a pill whom no­body can stand.”

“Which brings me to Ted Cruz,” he writes.

Sen. Cruz is the only per­son to whom Al Franken de­votes a whole chap­ter. The os­ten­si­ble rea­son is that Mr. Cruz com­mit­ted “a breach of deco­rum” on the Se­nate floor in­volv­ing Mitch McCon­nell. But be­neath the de­fense of Sen. McCon­nell, the at­tack is ob­vi­ously mo­ti­vated by a deep per­sonal an­i­mos­ity that in a dif­fer­ent set­ting might best be set­tled by a trip out­side.

On a lesser scale, Mr. Franken him­self was once rep­ri­manded for a breach of deco­rum in­volv­ing Mr. McCon­nell. As pre­sid­ing of­fi­cer of the Se­nate when Mr. McCon­nell was speak­ing, he tells us, he got caught rolling his eyes and smirk­ing. At the end of his re­marks, Mr. McCon­nell walked to the podium, trailed closely by the C-Span cam­era.

“‘This isn’t ‘Satur­day Night Live,’ Al,’ he said, loud enough for the press to hear.”

For this breach, he apol­o­gized ab­jectly, both in per­son and in writ­ing. And in a de­scrip­tion of what dis­tin­guishes this book, he as­sures us, al­beit in dis­tinctly Satur­day-Night fash­ion, that he and Mitch McCon­nell are now on the best of terms:

“This book will be dif­fer­ent from other books writ­ten by U.S. Sen­a­tors. I’m not go­ing to write stuff like, ‘Mitch McCon­nell and I may dis­agree, but when we’re off the clock, we’re the best of friends — some­times, we go to din­ner and Mitch will laugh so hard that milk shoots out of his nose.’ No, I’m not go­ing to be writ­ing cliches like that.”

And for the most part, he doesn’t, ex­cept when the go­ing gets slug­gish. Fi­nally, the in­evitable ques­tion: why do sen­a­tors write books? By and large the an­swers are ei­ther to get re­elected or to make it to the next level. Mr. Franken has been com­fort­ably re­elected. So what’s next?

In a very short chap­ter ti­tled “No Joke,” Mr. Franken writes of the dif­fi­culty of get­ting the “na­tional po­lit­i­cal press” to fo­cus on his mes­sage. The day af­ter he an­nounced for the Se­nate, for in­stance, “news­pa­pers na­tion­wide fea­tured some ver­sion of what our team would come to call the ‘No Joke’ headline. Stuff like: ‘No Joke: Franken An­nounces Se­nate Bid.’”

So is spec­u­la­tion about 2020 just a joke? Or is this book an early step to­ward a no-joke can­di­dacy?

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