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Al Franken, Giant of the Senate


An Optimist’s Guide to Politics

In the eight years since I came to Washington, probably the question I’ve been asked more than any other is some version of this: “Is being a United States senator as much fun as working on Saturday Night Live?”

The answer has always been NO!!! Why would it be?

When people ask me my favorite moment from my fifteen seasons at SNL, I always tell them it’s all the late Tuesday nights or very early Wednesday mornings when the show got written on the seventeenth floor of 30 Rock, when I was rolling on the floor laughing at a line that Dan Aykroyd or Gilda Radner or my partner Tom Davis just came up with or a character that Dana Carvey or Chris Farley just invented. Nothing could be more fun.

That said, I’ve always told people that representing my home state of Minnesota in the U.S. Senate is, without a doubt, the best job I’ve ever had. I get to wake up every morning and go to work on behalf of five and a half million people—taking their best ideas to Washington, fighting for what they need to make a better life, and improving their lives in real, tangible ways.

Which would often prompt them to ask, “Are you talking about the same U.S. Senate that is one of the two bodies in today’s U.S. Congress? And isn’t today’s Congress just an unrelenting horror show?”

The answer is YES!!! Today’s Congress is a polarized, dysfunctional body, rendered helpless by partisanship, more focused on scoring short-term political points than on solving our nation’s urgent problems. In short, the Washington of the past decade has been awash in nincompoopery.USS*

And that was before Trump.

Watching Donald J. Trump take the oath of office to become the 45th president of the United States was perhaps the most depressing moment I’ve had since I entered politics, although that record has been repeatedly surpassed since January 20. The heartless and counterproductive Muslim ban; the barrage of racist and/or corrupt and/or unqualified staff appointments and Cabinet nominees; the unhinged tweets attacking anyone who opposes his agenda; the constant, constant, constant lying—Trump’s presidency so far has been one shock to the system after another.

And while we’re still finding out exactly how bad, and exactly what specific kind of bad, President Trump will be, it seems very likely that things in Washington are going to get worse before they get better.

Indeed, people have stopped asking me whether I’m having fun in my new career. These days, the question I get more than any other is some version of this: “What the hell do we do now?”

We’re all going to have to figure out the answer together. But, as unpleasant as my job is going to be in the coming months and years, I’m still glad to have the chance to be part of the fight. And, really, while nobody could have prepared for the grim reality of a Trump presidency, when I look back at my own political journey, I can’t help but feel like I’m as prepared as anyone could be for this moment.


This book is the story of that journey.

It’s the story of a midwestern Jewish boy of humble roots (the first in his family to own a pasta maker) who, after a thirty-five-year career in comedy, moved back home to challenge an incumbent senator.* It’s the story of how a satirist who had spent a good part of his career heaping scorn and ridicule upon conservative Republican officeholders developed a solid working relationship with (many of) his Republican colleagues. It’s the story of how a novice politician learned not just how to win an election, but how to be good at serving in office: how to find common ground when possible, but also stand his ground when powerful interests come after the middle class. It’s the story of how, after spending a lifetime learning how to be funny, I learned how not to be funny.

This book will be different from other books written by U.S. senators. For instance, I’m not going to write stuff like, “Mitch McConnell and I may disagree, but when we’re off the clock, we’re the best of friends—sometimes we go to dinner and Mitch will laugh so hard that milk shoots out of his nose.” No, I’m not going to be writing clichés like that.

Instead, I’m going to tell you what it’s really been like to go from writing political satire to actually being in politics. I’m going to tell you how Washington really works. And I’m going to tell you what I’ve learned about the direction of our country and our prospects for the future.

Is what I do more fun than Saturday Night Live? Not by a long shot. But this book will tell you why, despite all the hugely disheartening moments I’ve experienced since I got into politics, I still think I have the best job in the world (some days) and why, despite the rise of Trump, I’m still (kind of) optimistic about our future (most of the time [albeit certainly less than I was a few months ago]).

—Al Franken Washington, D.C


* A note on style from the author: Because I’m a United States senator, I can’t use the word “bull——.” Even though Washington is indeed awash in bullshit. So throughout this volume, whenever you see a very mild oath like “Fiddlesticks!” (or some gentle name-calling like “numbskull” or “dimwit,” or some old-timey synonym for “bull——” like “poppycock” or “flim-flummery”), followed by the letters “USS” in superscript, that means I’ve replaced something far more plain- spoken with a less offensive phrase or expression. The “USS” stands for “United States Senate,” the body in which I now serve. I feel I have a duty to both my colleagues and my constituents to make at least a token effort to preserve its dignity and decorum. I wish I could say the same for that dunderheadUSS Ted Cruz.

* Don’t worry. Former senator Norm Coleman landed on his feet and continues to serve the people of Minnesota as a paid lobbyist for the government of Saudi Arabia.

Al Franken, Giant of the Senate
by by Al Franken

  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Twelve
  • ISBN-10: 1455540412
  • ISBN-13: 9781455540419