Make no mistake about it; Minnesota Democratic Senator Al Franken is a very funny man. His new book is true to tradition.

In 2009, after a decade of experience on “Saturday Night Live,” he crossed over to join the United States Senate. Since all things are relative, Franken quite justifiably declares himself a “lion.” Compared to the likes of Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz, no lo contendre!

Franken’s name has come up as a possible Democratic presidential candidate in 2020. He is making the rounds. His recent local appearance with Chelsea Handler at Glendale’s Alex Theatre in July was very well received.

Democrats need someone to reverse their 2016 debacle, characterized by John Podesta’s gross mismanagement of the losing Clinton-Kaine ticket. Therefore, Franken’s book, “Al Franken, Lion of the Senate” is important reading. Dejected Democrats need to assess whether Franken is the answer.

The Vehicle

Serious presidential contenders must have their name appear as author of a nationally recognized book. The appearance of such books tells us that political leaders are doing what they normally do — positioning themselves for a step up the food chain. Politics is returning to normal.

Franken’s book is a catechism for all “normal” presidential aspirants. Such autobiographies introduce the candidate to the electorate. Candidates tell their personal stories, the people who inspired them, how they evolved and how they envision the future. Essentially, the candidates interview themselves, create their own political context and choose issues to highlight or avoid. None of what is said needs to be true; the perception of truth is sufficient. In addition, such books permit the candidate to explain to the public about the skeletons in their closets. Then the skeletons become “old news” if they are raised on the campaign trail. Lastly, the candidates appear self-effacing and willing to embrace criticism — they become “human” above all.

The Inspiration

  Franken claims inspiration from a true lion, the late US Sen. Paul Wellstone. In 1988, Wellstone, a professor at Carlton College, emerged to chair the Minnesota presidential election primary campaign of Jesse Jackson. Later, he was a co-chair of Jackson’s national campaign.

Then Wellstone was elected to the United States Senate in 1990 and re-elected in 1996, supporting single,-payer health care and opposing the war in Iraq. He became “The conscience of the Senate.” Republicans despised Wellstone for his issues and his embrace of Jackson, black America’s most popular politician. Wellstone and his wife died in a plane crash while campaigning for re-election in 2002; Wellstone’s senate seat fell to Republicans. Franken took Wellstone’s seat back for the Democrats in 2008.

Wellstone, Franken’s purported inspiration, supported Jackson and Medicare for all. This begs a question to the sidestepping Franken: “What would Wellstone say?”

Curiously, Jackson’s name is not mentioned in Franken’s book.

Furthermore, Bernie Sanders, today’s most prominent proponent of single-payer health care, is mentioned only once in passing as Franken dismisses Sanders saying, “We need 60 votes to pass anything and unfortunately we are about 50 votes short.”

The Skeleton

Franken openly discusses the personal family tragedy of his wife Franni’s struggles with alcoholism during his tenure at “Saturday Night Live.” The couple’s joint struggle to recover is deeply moving on a very personal level. It is quite convincing. No sugar-coated stuff written by slick Washington political staff. Mrs. Franken’s disease, alcoholism, ruined the lives of millions throughout history. Franken demonstrates good political smarts in putting this demon to rest. Be assured, the Republicans will raise Franni’s disease anyway. After all, they are Republicans and that’s what Republicans do.

Humorous Struggles

Franken’s past as a humorist emerges at its finest when he describes an incident where he gave credit to his staff while speaking in public. Afterwards his chief of staff reminded him of one of the most important Senate rules: Senators do not make mistakes — their staff “makes mistakes”; staff does not have good ideas — the Senator has “good ideas.” This well-known Washington charade is a never-ending source of delight to those who follow politics closely.

This “staff error” is well illustrated in Franken’s book. In addition to sidestepping the question of Medicare for all, the book never mentions these “good ideas”:

1. Universal tuition-free higher education

2. Increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour

3. Abolition of the death penalty

4. That almost half of the delegates to last year’s Democratic National Convention supported a “democratic socialist”’

Al Franken has written something well worth reading despite a few “staff errors.” 

The author is a founding member of the Democratic Club of Pasadena and the Foothills. He was a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions of 1988, 1992 and 2016.