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Sorry, but "The Truth" just isn't as funny as "Lies" even if, to give Al Franken's new book its full title, it's "The Truth (With Jokes)".
Perhaps it's Franken's need to fill a three-hour program five days a week on Air America, the liberal radio response to Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Michael Medved, Laura Ingraham, Mike Gallagher, Lars Larson, Mark Davis and all the rest. Or perhaps it's the prospect of campaigning for the Senate from Minnesota in 2008, a possibility that Franken has joked about but which would make any sensible person rethink the whole "mocking people in public" approach to running for office.
Whatever the reason, Franken's new book has a more significant target than his previous best-selling venture, "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them," which laughed at all the conservative talking heads.
He still swats at them here, notably Limbaugh's unconscionable "Who cares, nobody got hurt" defense of the Abu Ghraib tortures. But Franken has moved from media critic to media pundit. Now he's after the Bush White House itself the election, the cronyism, the war and the Republican majority in Congress that protects it.
There are funny lines, of course. Franken describes President Bush's manly swagger in his flight suit in front of the premature, Halliburton-paid-for "Mission Accomplished" banner: "Bush's codpiece led the way onto the carrier deck, followed a few inches later by the President himself."
But the laugh-to-lambasting ratio here is decidedly different from "Lies." There, he had a lot of fun catching media figures when they spouted nonsense. Now it's President Bush starting a war because of his faith in Ahmed Chalabi's accounts of Iraq, which Chalabi hadn't visited since 1958.
Franken's anger doesn't get the better of him. Rather, he simply needs more space to explain why President Bush's plan to save Social Security will, instead, ruin the most successful financial safety net in history, all for the sake of insurance companies and banks.
To be sure, Franken doles out his data with his trademark joshing tone. And you're likely to learn things, even if you keep up with the news. But much of this is well-trod territory. He makes the case that the Swift Boat Veterans were lying, that the Bush tax cuts have hurt us, that the Bush White House has used careful applications of fear to rally support (Homeland Security alerts, curiously, have dwindled since the election). Twenty-two percent of Americans, Franken points out, get their news from talk radio, so some of this may be news to them. But one suspects they'll never read "The Truth" anyway.
So, truth be told, "The Truth" is neither great belly laugh nor resounding battle cry. It concludes with Franken's dream vision of the future, something of a pep talk to his imagined grandkids. In this future, at last, a president has broken free of the oil companies' grip and launched an Apollo program for renewable energy. And, at last, the Democrats have gotten their act together.
That's just to show Franken knows this really is a fantasyland.
(c) 2005, The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.