“Let me say here and now that I regret very deeply the harm that I’ve done both to people I care about and people I don’t really care about all that much,” said Al Franken, as Americans tuned in to see him announce his resignation from office. “I am sorry. I apologize. It was wrong. What I did was wrong. I’m sorry. I am so, so sorry. Boy, am I sorry.”
That speech came on June 10, 2001, at least according to then-comedian Al Franken’s 1999 book, Why Not Me?, subtitled The Inside Story of the Making and Unmaking of the Franken Presidency.
The book came up on Twitter on Thursday morning, two weeks after Franken, not kidding at all, said, “I feel terribly that I’ve made some women feel badly” and a few hours before he gave in to mounting pressure from his own party and agreed to leave office. He still had offered no apology for his actions toward those women but rather declared that “some of the allegations against me are simply not true. Others, I remember very differently.”
Which recalls something the Franken character says early in Why Not Me, as he ticks off his five lawyerly ground rules “intended to elevate the discourse beyond the tawdry obsessions of tabloid journalism” and detailing what he will (and mostly will not) say as a presidential candidate about his admission of “‘causing pain’ in my marriage”:
“If, at any point in my campaign, I am accused by a woman of having had improper sexual relations with her, my silence should be interpreted as a sincere belief that she is crazy or a skank or both, though it would not be appropriate for me to say so out loud.”
Anyway, this is the Stuart Saves His Family of books, a Saturday Night Live skit puffed out to unbearable length. That helps explain why Why Not Me is out of print, and not in the vast New York Public Library system or the City University one. It’s apparently available as an eBook only in Australia. The Strand had one copy for sale, though, in its humor section.
I paid $7.50 for it Thursday afternoon, and read all 290 pages about a SNL writer and actor named Al Franken—married like his author and namesake to a woman named Franni, and aided by parodies of real-life swamp figures like Norm Ornstein and Dick Morris—who stumbles his way into, and then out of, the presidency on a platform of cutting ATM fees and a campaign illicitly paid for with a 900-number “lesbian phone sex line.”
On his way to beating Al Gore (the Franken campaign sends “very swishy homosexuals” to appear at his rallies with signs that say “We’re Here, We’re Queer, We’re for Gore”) and then Newt Gingrich, this Franken sleeps with every woman he can while keeping a diary about his sex life and other campaign matters that ends up triggering his eventual fall.
Women appear in the book only as hookers or campaign volunteers or phone-line operators, all there solely to be slept with except for his wife, who’s there to do work her husband can claim credit for while not realizing who else he’s sleeping with, including a model he casts to play her in a campaign ad.
July 13, 1999
Held auditions for local actress to play my wife in ad. N and P concerned that introducing “fake wife” to American public could bite me on ass. But I explained I need someone who will just read fucking script and not give me a lot of grief.
July 14, 1999
Disastrous rehearsal with Terri (T). She is not a good actress. N and P took me aside to express severe misgivings about T. Took T for walk in woods to explain situation to her. Ended up having sex with her on rotting tree stump. T very good at sex. So what to do?
It’s fiction, and Dave Barry knock-off fiction at that, but it’s hard to escape the author’s evident contempt for the political process and the men (I’d say people, but again it’s all men here) involved in it given Franken’s subsequent political career. The guy who wrote the gag book about a comedy writer like himself getting elected president became a U.S. senator who, just a month ago, was talked about as a prime 2020 presidential contender.
I’m not sure, politically or otherwise, that Franken should have resigned based on what we know now (Michael Tomasky lays out his concerns here), but it’s hard not to connect the book’s misanthropy and misogyny with its author, who also takes several shots at other political players caught up in sex scandals.
A letter to Clarence Thomas: “While you may believe that you have not been the butt of jokes since the whole ‘Coke can’ business during your confirmation hearings, I can assure you that within the humor fraternity you are still considered a very easy target.”
An aside about Bill Clinton (in “The Void,” a mini book-within-the-book about the new president's disastrous first 100 days supposedly written the the omniscient Bob Woodward): “Franken was rumored to have said, ‘Why do I need his advice? I already know how to get a blow job.’”
Still in “The Void,” a bank shot that’s especially ironical after last year’s election, and especially after Roger Stone’s suspicious tweet a day before the first allegation against Franken came out last month about how “It's now Senator Al Franken's time in the barrel”:
“While a lesser man might have disappeared into a twilight world of Internet sex and mail-order dominatrixes like Roger Stone had, the ruggedly handsome (Dick) Morris considered his own temporary disgrace a wake-up call, and capped his pilgrimage through political purgatory with the stewardship of Franken’s campaign.”
Why Not Me ends with an acknowledgements page that includes some people who are minor characters in it, but who Franken didn’t mention at all in his Senate resignation speech Thursday, along with one key word he never used in that speech:
“And finally, to my wife and kids, I’m sorry.”