In a minute, you will learn all about how Al Franken chose the title for his new book on modern American politics. But first: a word or two about the titles he rejected.
“I probably should have called it ‘Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Liar’ or ‘Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Hypocrite,’ ” Franken says matter-of-factly. “But I thought those titles were too confrontational.”
Instead, satirist Franken, best known for his appearances on “Saturday Night Live,” settled on a kinder, gentler title: “Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations.”
Leaning back into the sofa in his posh suite at the Jefferson Hotel, Franken explains the compelling reasons for choosing such a title. “First of all, Rush is very fat,” he says, his deep voice all analytical as he attempts to deconstruct his own work.
“And, secondly, I think we all agree there is far too much negativity in our public discourse these days. …” He pauses. “And I just wanted to add to that.”
Given the initial response to the title, “Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations,” it seems safe to say: Mission Accomplished.
And not since “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” has there been such a deliberately provocative title.
Naturally, some people love it. Naturally, some people hate it.
And, the people who love it are liberals. And, those who don’t are conservatives.
Franken was in Washington to promote his book, which he says is “about holding the right accountable … and using Limbaugh as a way of talking about the entire Republican revolution.” He’s already drawing the wrath of the Limbaugh faithful.
“I was on C-Span and got some irate calls,” he says good-naturedly. “They were from ‘dittoheads’ - or ‘didiots,’ as I call them. They didn’t seem to get that there’s a level of irony to the title. I taunted them a little and they just got angrier.” He grins. “So it was fun.”
Fun for him, perhaps. But don’t bring up Franken’s book with the likes of Republican strategist Mary Matalin, who is one of the hosts of CNBC’s “Equal Time with Mary Matalin and Dee Dee Myers.” The very mention of the title elicits this response: “I think Al Franken is a hypocritical big fat idiot,” she says emphatically, throwing the words back at you like verbal hand grenades. “I haven’t read it, and I’m not going to read it.”
Dee Dee Myers, on the other hand, can’t wait to read it. “I’m a big Al Franken fan. And when I first saw the title, my reaction was to laugh out loud. From my side of the aisle, there’s a certain amount of indisputable truth to it,” says Myers, who ended her job as White House press secretary on Dec. 22, 1994, and became co-host of “Equal Time” in May 1995.
Still, she admits: “I don’t know how I’d feel if the book were called ‘Bill Clinton Is a Big Fat Idiot.’ But there are a couple of differences between the two. One, Rush is not the president. And two, he’s made a career, made a fortune, out of castigating people. Castigating them for their beliefs, for their looks, for their politics. And I think if he can dish it out, he ought to be able to take it.”
Of course, once people actually read the book - which is to say, once they get to the “And Other Observations” part of the title - they’ll see that Limbaugh is not the only ideological foe Franken hoists with his liberal petard. He offers up opinions on:
Newt Gingrich: “He’s the father of the kid who spends a lot of time at your house.”
Cutting Medicare and balancing the budget: “Why not shoot the elderly into space? Stay with me. Because I’m not thinking about the budget here. I’m talking about science. Just think how many more manned space operations NASA could undertake if they didn’t have to worry about getting the astronauts back?”
Phil Gramm: “If you get beyond the fact that Gramm is ugly, mean, hypocritical, has a boob fetish, and drives his wife like a mule, he does have a certain folksy charm.”
Some people might say the book is mean-spirited. Franken is not among them. “I call it mean - but uncompromisingly fair,” says the 44-year-old Harvard graduate. “I just hold them accountable, especially Limbaugh, for what they’ve said.
“The first time I turned Rush on, he was railing about ‘feminazis,’ saying feminism was established so that unattractive, ugly women could have easy access to the mainstream of society. Now it’s my theory that he’s sort of able to get away with this because he’s clearly a sad, fat loser wounded by a pathetic history with the opposite sex.”
Which brings up the question: What does Franken have against sad, fat losers?
“Nothing,” he says quickly. “Listen, no one is more sensitive to overeaters than the creator of (“Saturday Night Live” character) Stuart Smalley. So I feel for - and Stuart definitely feels for - Rush.”
“I don’t hate Rush,” says Franken. “I really don’t. I hate what he does. … I think he’s talented, and I think he does funny things. But I think he tries to have it both ways. When he says things that are offensive or misleading, he will say he’s an entertainer. But obviously his dittoheads believe that he speaks the truth. … I theorize the easiest job in America must be to be Rush Limbaugh’s fact checker. Because his facts clearly are not checked.”
Franken hired a fact checker to do research for the book. The result is a hilarious send-up of a conversation between a fictitious Limbaugh fact checker and Franken’s real fact checker. It’s a conceit that allows Franken to repeat some of what he considers Rush Limbaugh’s most egregious claims.
“He has said in his book, ‘See, I Told You So’ that there are more American Indians alive today than there were when Columbus arrived,” Franken says, guffawing. “He has said that if you have a Bible on your desk at work, then you’re guilty of religious harassment. And he has said that there are more acres of forestland in America today than when Columbus discovered the continent.”
He pauses, then swoops in for the kill: “Turns out Rush was off by about a quarter of a billion acres.”