Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Book Review: The Truth (With Jokes)

by Al Franken

In my Recommended Reading post, I’ve included Al Franken’s book Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. Since I liked it enough to include in my Recommended Reading list, I obviously thought it was good, so I was looking forward to reading The Truth (With Jokes). So when we were in the mall recently, and I saw it on sale for $5, I scooped it up.

Unfortunately, The Truth isn’t as good as Lies was. Go figure, eh? The book lacked the humour and biting wit of Lies. And I think the problem is this: When Al goes after the right wingers, it’s easy to point out their lies for the farce that they are. But when he tries to articulate his own politics, the humour just isn’t there. Of course, the net result is that he ends up going back to pointing out the lies of the right wingers some more.

So what are Al’s politics? Well, he calls himself a “liberal”, but he’s not. He’s a Democrat. I know, I know; most of my readers are probably rolling their eyes at me right now. “Oh ha ha, serna, very funny. The Democrats are too wishy-washy, so you accuse them of not being liberal.” But I’m not being over the top. In poll after poll, survey after survey, on issues the Americans care about, the Democrats are just as conservative as the Republicans. But for Al, it’s an “us vs. them” mindset; Republicans are out to destroy America, and the Democrats are out to save it. When the Democrats don’t behave in this way, in Al’s mind, one of two things is happening:

  1. It’s an anomaly. Normally the Democrats try to do the right thing, but sometimes people make mistakes.
  2. The Republicans are preventing them from carrying out their plans. The Democrats want to do the right thing, but the Republicans won’t let them.
Take healthcare as an example. Al will talk about healthcare, since the majority of Americans want government provided (or at least subsidized) healthcare, and he’s right in saying that “liberals” want healthcare too. But to claim that Democrats want public healthcare, well, that’s just not true. (They’re getting bribed by the same drug companies and health insurance companies that the Republicans are.)

There was another aspect of the book that I disagreed with, but I don’t think it’s partisanship that’s getting in Al’s way. (It’s probably “Americanism”; Al, like most Americans, considers himself a patriot, and it’s always abhorrent to a patriot to consider the idea that their leaders are committing war crimes—even if the patriots really loathe their leaders, like Al loathes Bush.) Al goes to great lengths in his book to demonstrate the the Republican leadership really messed up the whole Iraq situation. They ignored the advice of their experts, and the situation got much worse than it should have. Those knuckleheads! If only they’d listened, they could have been out of Iraq by now!

But I disagree with Al. I think that everything went according to plan. Yes, if they’d listened to their experts, they would have anticipated the looting; they would have anticipated the chaos after the fighting was over. They could have been out by now, and Iraq could have been running itself. But here’s the thing: They don’t want to be out. As long as Iraq is a mess, as long as the country is in a shambles, and the government is incapable of running itself, America will be there. And that’s where America wants to be: In Iraq. Could they have had the infrastructure back up and running, almost immediately? Yes, I’m fairly sure they could have. Why didn’t they? Because as soon as Iraq is independent again, as soon as they’re a real country, with their own leadership, they’ll start making their own decisions. And when that happens, suddenly America might not have as much control over the oil flowing out of Iraq as they’d prefer.

So yes, I believe that things in Iraq have gone pretty much as the Bush Administration planned. They’re in Iraq, and they’re in it for the long haul. (They’ve been claiming all along that they were only going to be there for as long as it took for the Iraqis to get back on their own feet—but meanwhile they’ve been building “super bases” for their troops, which are definitely not intended to be temporary. No, America wants to be in Iraq as long as Iraq is pumping out oil. And when it’s not, then they’ll claim that Iraq is ready to be on its own, and they’ll leave. Even though I’m guessing that the country will be in the same state it’s in now.)

So over all, do I recommend this book? No, not really. It’s not terrible, but Al’s an unapologetic Democrat, and that taints the whole book. Sometimes I find myself nodding along with him, but much of the time I find myself rolling my eyes, because he seems to feel that life in America would be so much better if the Democrats could just get back in power again. (Tell the people in Kosovo that Clinton was a great president, and see what kind of a reaction you’ll get.)

Instead, if you haven’t already, I’d recommend that you just forget about this one, and read Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. Al’s politics shine through in that one, too, from time to time, but the main thrust of the book all liberals can agree on: we may not agree on whether Democrats are liberals or not, but we definitely agree that the Republicans are an evil scourge.