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The Not-outrageous Al Franken

The Daily Beast has an article today suggesting that Al Franken may becomePublic Enemy #1 for Republicans because he's so outrageous and uncivil:

"Al Franken is a very tempting target because he is so outrageous," said Republican strategist Brad Blakeman. ... Franken provides an inviting target. His style of politics runs directly counter to the civility preached by the incoming president. Franken is author of the bestsellers Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations and Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, which trashed conservative talk hosts like Bill O’Reilly and baited some to respond with their own heated attacks.

This completely misunderstands Franken. I wrote a short piece about him for Slate last fall:

Critics who take note of Franken's political books treat them as the left's answer to Coulter or Bill O'Reilly. But this misses the satirical point. To get the joke of Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot, you need only to look at the cover, which features Franken posing in a tweed jacket in front of a wall of musty bound volumes, clutching a pipe, looking comically pompous. Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right has the joke in the title itself. Coulter writes books with titles like Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right, whose charge is meant to be taken at face value. Franken's title mocks the accusation itself with over-the-top redundancy and subverts its own claim to truth by appropriating the corrupted slogan "Fair and Balanced."

Franken does resort to invective on occasion, but this hardly defines his satirical style. (You could just as easily cherry-pick Jon Stewart's most obscene sentences—he recently said "Fuck you" to Sarah Palin—to paint him as a foul-mouthed ranter.) His books are laced with wonky disquisitions on economic policy that are themselves laced with jokes. He evinces vastly more knowledge about domestic policy than most members of Congress or national political reporters I've met.

Franken is actually a fascinating character, and my article tried to get at what it is about him that's so misunderstood.

--Jonathan Chait