Why Not Me: The Inside Story of the Making and Unmaking of the Franken Presidency by Al Franken

Delacorte Press 1999 289 pp. 23.95

Copyright © Steven E. Alford


Al Franken's 1970's announcement of the "Al Franken Decade" seems to have been a bit premature. Franken's completed evolution from stand-up comic and sketch writer to political satirist was secured by the success of 1996's Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations (a book whose title cannot be too often repeated). Franken expanded his visibility with the Stuart Smalley film, "Stuart Saves His Family," numerous appearances on the Comedy Channel's Politically Incorrect, and a starring role on the sitcom "Lateline." Franken's latest effort is another hoo-hah political satire, Why Not Me?

Why Not Me: The Inside Story of the Making and Unmaking of the Franken Presidency traces the quest by Franken, "the son of the son of immigrants and the son of a daughter of a son and daughter of immigrants" on his quest to become the leader of "the last remaining superpower." The book traces Franken's life, from his humble origins as a comedian to the holder of our nation's highest office-not chairmanship of Microsoft-but the American presidency. We begin, suitably enough, with Franken's days on NBC's Saturday Night Live.

"I still remember the night the French intellectual Simone de Beauvoir and I brainstormed 'the baseball been berry-berry good to me' routine for Garrett Morris while Buckminister Fuller kibitzed on the sidelines." The event, along with the equally cerebral 1977 sketch, "The Guy with the Unusually Long Nose Hairs," didn't sufficiently prepare the American public for Al Franken, the politician, whose quest for the highest office in the land came to include hookers, beer, and a recurrent face-off with his hapless opponent, someone named Al Gore, over the issue of lower ATM fees.

The failure of Gore to address the real problems of this county was experienced first hand by Franken when calling the State Department, where he was greeted with a series of recorded announcements. "No number to press," he laments, "if brother arrested in foreign country for whacking preoperative transsexual with board. Some reinventing government!"

Campaign financing was secured with a lesbian coed phone sex line and massive payments from the insurance industry. Aided by noted toe-sucker Dick Morris, as well as Dan Haggerty, star of TV's Grizzly Adams-and drinking buddy of Franken's alcoholic sex-addict brother, Otto-Franken took New Hampshire (in the candidate's words, a group of "brain-dead mouth breathers") and Iowa ("Iowans are really fat") by storm, hammering again and again on his single issue: lowering ATM fees. Indeed, after Iowa Franken vows to have a Cabinet that does not resemble America, since most Americans are overweight.

But Al Franken, the seasoned politician, also has time in this tome to show his softer side, revealed in the story behind his romance with the most important person in his life, his wife, Franni.

"Did I mention I was married? Right after college I met Franni Bryson. We fell in love, blah, blah, blah."

Why Not Me is a pastiche of newspaper articles, Franken's own diary entries, his campaign biography, Daring to Lead (with Tony Schwartz), campaign memos (most labeled "Destroy After Reading"), interviews, and, most important, the text of Bob Woodward's The Void: The First One Hundred Days of the Franken Presidency. Woodward's account is particularly insightful regarding the Franken brain trust, which features Ralph Lauren as Secretary of the Interior: "The entire gestalt of the welstanschauung of these former wunderkinder was characterized by a certain gemütlich attitude toward each other's schadenfreude."

Following his surprise election, all was not well with the Franken presidency owing to several problems. First, Franken realized that the campaign had "occasionally strayed into questionable areas, at least from strictly legal point of view." Second, despite the wide appeal of his split ticket (Franken was Reform, vice-president Lieberman was Orthodox), Franken failed to win over the American public with his inaugural speech. Quoting Ecclesiastes, he noted "that there is both a time to kill and a time to heal. And while I am certain there will be a great deal of both during my administration," he chose to focus primarily on healing. Nor was there a positive response to his plan to personally assassinate Saddam Hussein with a plaque that read "World's Greatest Grandad." So as not to spoil the reader's enjoyment, we will not mention his clone, carried to term by Anne Heche.

And thus, in a flurry of depression and Zoloft, the Franken presidency ended, after scarcely four months of catatonic inaction brought on by Franken's clinical depression. Readers wishing to know more about this important period in our nation's history are encouraged to consult a copy of Why Not Me?