14 October 2007

Lies And The Lying Liars Who Tell Them, by Al Franken

Lies And The Lying Liars Who Tell Them; A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.
By Al Franken.
Dutton, New York, 2003. ISBN 0-525-94764-7.
379 pages.

Although this book is a little out of date I'm glad I read it. Franken is, first and foremost, a comedian. But he is no slouch as a journalist, and does a forceful and effective job of pointing out the bluster, mendacity, and just plain bullshit that spews from the likes of Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and even good old George W. Bush.

He enumerates and debunks lies from the Bush campaign in 2000, the era up to and immediately after 9/11. He deplores the war in Iraq, even though he personally supported it at first -- as many liberals did, including Senator Clinton. I found his willingness to own up to his own erroneous endorsement of that effort refreshing in a political atmosphere where seldom does anyone admit to a mistake. He believed the WMD explanation, and feared an Iraq with nuclear weapons and Saddam Hussein in command.

The book is entertaining and funny, but I'm not sure how much actual good this type of writing does. I agree that Bob Jones University is a joke and that the facility with which the Bush administration will lie to support its positions is actually funny in a black sort of way -- but I wonder who has read and will read this book. Has it changed anyone's opinion? Would a neo-conservative pick this book up and read it, and evaluate the facts in it, and come to any conclusion; or would he be more likely to discard it after reading the title or the first few words?

I hope that Americans are still open to discourse, but the real climate seems to be more one of extreme polarity and commitment to political ideology that is more like religious faith (and is often mixed up with it) -- not to be questioned. If you are an American liberal or conservative today and someone presents an argument with one of the pillars of your ideology, no matter how well-reasoned or insightful, it seems to me most likely that you will take offense and consider that you have been personally attacked. There are very few of my acquaintances with whom I would be comfortable questioning such core beliefs. Those with whom I would feel comfortable are very close and trusted friends who would understand that any argument I present comes only from a standpoint of philosophical inquiry. Otherwise, I'd be afraid of making an enemy with whom I would have to deal in the future.

Mockery is a time-honored method for dealing with unpopular yet powerful institutions. Satire lets us laugh at the injustice and dishonesty that we see in our government. These tools have existed for centuries, and perhaps as long as they continue to exist no tyrant is safe indefinitely. But I sense that we live today in a climate of increasing fear of that with which we do not agree, and intolerance of those with opposing viewpoints.

Al Franken is an accomplished comedian and comedy writer. He understands the power in a well-timed, effectively-delivered sarcasm. I hope that he and others like him will continue to throw rocks at the monolith that rises in our midst.

For even if you don't agree with Al Franken's politics you must love the existence of an established and successful performer who openly taunts and ridicules the government in power for this is one indication that we still enjoy at least some of the freedoms guaranteed to us in the Bill of Rights.

On the last page of his book (before the appendices) he relates a conversation with a Methodist minister on an airplane.

"...'Do you know what God's punishment is for liars?' he asked me.
"Guessing wildly, I tried, 'They're turned into donkeys?'
"'No,' he said. 'God's punishment for liars is that they believe their own lies.'"
I went looking for a website featuring the author and his works, as I usually do when I write these reviews. I discovered that Franken is running for Senate in Minnesota. I have no idea how well or poorly he's doing, but I'll be interested to see how that goes.

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