Book Review: Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them by Al Franken (2003)

I bought this book as a four books for four bucks selection from Quality Paperback Club, as the soft covers do less damage to the walls and furniture when I read, hm, opposing viewpoints. So that’s why I paid over a quarter for this book, and my bookshelves and floor appreciated the comfortable soft binding.

In spite of Al Franken’s best efforts, I learned two things from Al Franken’s book:

  1. It’s important to remember, when someone tells you something, a fact or set of facts is being relayed to you through the prism of the teller’s experience and interpretation, and your miles may vary; that is, when someone tells you something happened, remember to seek out other sources for a richer context of any event. Hey, even if you’re present. More knowledge will lead to better judgment.
  2. Al Franken is so full of excrement his hair should be brown? It is? My point, exactly!

Franken slaps around the label of liar widely. According to Franken’s definition, anyone who builds an argument by presenting any group of facts in a light to build to a conclusion, unless that conclusion is Franken-approved, it’s a LIE. Say that Walter Mondale chaired a committee that issued a report that concluded something, and you’re a LYING LIAR who tells LIES if you don’t say Mondale disagreed with the report. Got that? To avoid the LYING LIAR who tells LIES tag, which Franken would build into HTML 6.0 for his convenience, one must not only tell facts, but one must tell all facts, in all contexts.

Let’s illustrate:

Prosecutors?  

LYING LIARS who tell LIES
Defense attorneys?  

LYING LIARS who tell LIES
Debate teams?  

LYING LIARS who tell LIES
Philosophers?  

LYING LIARS who tell LIES
Grad student writing theses?  

LYING LIARS who tell LIES

You get the idea.

Franken illuminates, inadvertently but gleefully, the poison infecting our political discourse; a lack of empathy for people with other viewpoints, a recognition that perhaps we share common ground and we can discuss, even argue, our viewpoints honestly. Nah, never mind, anything with which we disagree is mendacity on the part of those with whom we disagree.

Franken likes to posit himself as an answer to Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, George Bush, The National Review, Sean Hannity, and other popular commentators on the other side of the political divide. Unfortunately, he lacks one component they do: they’re arguing in good faith, even when they stoop to fire-and-brimstone rhetoric.

Franken’s book is so over the top in its own mistruths that I couldn’t stand it. Part canard, it recycles some of the basic talking points of George W. Bush’s opposition without reflection, but not without invective. In other places, it blatantly presents its own misrepresentations; I particularly disliked the imaginative “Operation Chickenhawk” chapter, which imagined a mission in Vietnam led by John Kerry featuring a platoon comprised of Republican leaders who did not serve. An underground campus literary magazine would reject the piece if submitted by a college sophomore, but since it’s Al Franken, it’s worth printing in a book? Jeez, at least Motley Crue’s filler material was sophomoric and prurient.

If pressed, undoubtedly Franken would respond that he’s a comedian, not a thinker. That’s a convenient cop-out. Sorry, Al, if you want to play, you’ve got to be subject to all the reasoned scrutiny I can muster after a couple beers. I give you an F, for Farce. Farce you.

I mean, to take this book seriously as a political statement would be like taking financial advice from Triumph the Comic Insult Dog.