Books Are Pretty

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them

I know, I know. There’s nothing quite like a new review of a three-year-old political book. I wanted to read it when it was new, but I didn’t feel like paying for it. So I got on the waiting list for it at my local library.

“The list is a bit long,” warned the librarian. “You might be waiting awhile.

“That’s okay,” I assured her. “I’m not in a hurry.”

I checked in with the library a year later. “Did that book ever come in?” I asked.

“Mmmmm, no. No, I don’t think so.”

It was another full year before I stopped waiting by the phone and a year after that before I finally stopped crying.

Finally, last Saturday, when I took my six-year-old to the library to get him a library card, I checked the political science shelf, just for old times sake. And lo, there it was, sitting on the shelf. Cursed librarians!

So I got to read the thoughts of a younger, more naïve Al Franken. An Al Franken who is blissfully unaware that Dick Cheney shot an eighty-year-old man in the face, that Tom Delay spiraled down in flames, that Scooter Libby was indicted, that we still haven’t found either weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or Osama bin Laden in the mountains in Northern Pakistan. Other than that, it’s still sadly relevant.

To help him write Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, Franken hired a team of Harvard students to do his research, and, in at least in the case of one of the students, to travel to fundamentalist college Bob Jones University to pose as a potential college student. With their assistance, he methodically dissects the arguments of his favorite arch-enemies such as Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity, gleefully pointing out some of the more outrageous lies he spots on the Right wing. Along the way, he animatedly shares several anecdotes where he tangles face to face with the other side, including his infamous Book Expo battle with Bill O’Reilly.

Although I’m as liberal as Franken is, I did have a small bone to pick with him. In his chapter about racism on the Right, “Fun with Racism,” Franken recounts the now-notorious story of Trent Lott’s toast to Strom Thurmond at the late Senator’s one-hundredth birthday. (If you’ll remember, Lott said, “when Strom Thurmond ran for presiden, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years.”)

The planks of Thurmond’s 1948 presidential platform, as you history students well remember, were segregation, a pro-poll tax, a plank against anti-lynching legislation, and a plank against anti-miscegenation laws. What puzzled Franken was that nobody asked Strom Thurmond himself what he thought of Lott’s toast.

Maybe I can help you out, Al. His daughter, the late Nancy Thurmond, went to my rival high school back in the mid-eighties in South Carolina, and let me tell you, he had the mental faculties of a potted plant back then. By the time he was one hundred years old, he probably didn’t remember he had any daughters, not Nancy, and not the daughter he made by forcing himself on the teenaged black girl that worked in his house while he was busy stumping for those anti-miscegenation laws. (Actually, that’s not true. By the time he began busily fighting integration, he was quietly putting that illegitimate daughter through college. As you can see, Al has inspired me to sling my mud more accurately.) There’s no way Thurmond was capable of talking to the press about anything. (Yet oddly, he kept getting elected into office.)

As you can see, if you’re a liberal it’s very easy to get carried away talking about the distortions and fallacies of Republican politicians and their lapdogs at Fox News. Franken and his team of researchers do a good job of categorizing everything, which is harder than it sounds because there’s an awful lot of overlap.

If you see it in the library, it’s worth checking out. Is it worth waiting three years for? Eh, no. No, it isn’t. But it’s fun and easy to zip through anyway, even though sometimes it’s still depressingly current.


Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them
by Al Franken
2003 by Dutton Adult
Hardcover, 368 pages
ISBN: 0525947647

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