“Al Franken’s Memoir Complicates the Identity of Democrats’ Most Unexpected #MeToo Casualty” by Shawna Muckle

Few Democratic politicians in recent memory have spiraled so swiftly and so irrevocably from political stardom to scandal-ridden infamy as former Senator Al Franken. Since eight women leveled allegations of non-consensual kissing or groping against Franken, his abrupt resignation in December 2017 still occasionally haunts Democrats.

Franken’s 2017 memoir, “Al Franken: Giant of the Senate,” is a relic from the former senator’s glory days. I turned to Franken’s memoir to see if his account of events during his Senate career exposes any of the attitudes or actions that compromised him. What I found was simultaneous evidence of Franken’s current caricature, a remorseless, perverted product of Hollywood‘s hypermasculine underbelly, and the virtues that once endeared him to progressives: down-to-earth humor and artless candor.

At the beginning of his narrative, Franken describes S.N.L.-related controversies resurfacing during his campaign for Senate. Yet rather than confronting his comedic blunders with humility, he labors to explain away a rape joke he pitched about journalist Lesley Stahl. Somehow, Franken thrived in a liberal paradigm defined by crusades against rape culture, but he still defends (in print!) his own vulgarities by identifying himself with television’s “good ol’ boys” club. Franken’s sleazy justification for verbal misconduct — “I was a comedian” — suggests his liberal celebrity was all along a contrived myth, disguising latent toxic masculinity.

As clearly as Franken frames himself as a sorry-not-sorry misogynist, Franken’s later account of his time in Congress reminds readers of the heart and humor he brought to the Senate, a chamber notoriously bereft of either. Franken makes long-winded policy battles surrounding Obamacare and Native American rights genuinely entertaining, augmenting technical explanations with stirring anecdotes.

Not all of Franken’s comedy attacks liberal values, either. Many of his jokes, including ribbing against Ted Cruz and calling Antonin Scalia’s dissension against gay marriage “very gay,” inject casual satire into Franken’s tour of his Senate tenure. By dispensing with the cloying, 10,000-foot-high patriotism that typically bloats political memoirs, Franken reveals his main objective: appearing relentlessly authentic, even if that means becoming dangerously risqué.

Given his current reputation, marred by allegations of sexual impropriety, even Franken’s most convincing appeals to the heart — or the funny bone — appear less legitimate. His tainted credibility is by no means redeemed with a few laugh-out-loud one-liners. Nevertheless, Franken’s gut-busting, earnest progressivism explains why some of his Democratic colleagues delivered tearful farewell speeches on the Senate floor for him. The potent jokes contained in Franken’s prose recall the unique role he occupied in the Democratic Party: a charming, recognizable, funny senator, who, unlike every other talented Democrat, wasn’t seeking the 2020 presidential nomination. With the vacuum of genuine hilarity Franken’s left in Congress, reading his memoir two years later is nostalgic and disheartening, if not very exonerating.