Laughing at the Liars

Al Franken is a Democrat, a pal of the Clintons and the Gores.

Mr. Franken is also a socialist, and a self-described statist. He supports the welfare state, increased regulation over all manner of private economic activities, gun control, Al Gore's environmental policies, and abortion.

His new book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, is hilarious, and you should probably read it.

Why? Because even though Franken has little depth on many or most important ideas and issues, he does have something of value to offer the libertarian: a hard look at what some of our most outspoken sometime-"allies" on the right are really like.

Too many liberty-minded individuals are lulled into thinking that many or most of the mainstream conservatives in government and the media are our friends, that some part of their hearts is in the right place, and that they are merely misguided at times.

Lies throws cold water on all of that: the Republicans in Washington and on TV are mostly vicious, power-hungry liars, even when they're not warmongering. Their apologists on Fox News and in other ostensibly conservative media are not necessarily well-intentioned or just misguided: they are often liars, willfully ignorant, or both.

And if reading about that doesn't do anything for you, there's also a lot of bathroom humor. (I don't get into the humor much below, but you should know that, above all, this is a very funny book.)

Now, those of us who view the Bush Administration's warfare state activities as legalized murder don't really need to be reminded of the fact that these are bad people. But even if you can get past the foreign policy issues as honest, reasonable disagreements, and consider the Republicans the lesser of evils, this book is a useful way to remind yourself or others that the "lesser of evils" can still be pretty evil.

Government Liars

I don't need to tell readers of that there's been a whole lot of lying going on about terrorism and the war in Iraq. Franken gives a nice, humorous summary of all of this that's worth checking out.

He also gives the people who accuse war opponents of wanting to "blame America first" the what for. To give you a taste, here, in its entirety, is his chapter entitled, "Our National Dialogue on Terrorism":

Why do they hate us?

They hate us because they are evil.

That's it, huh? That's the entire story?

Yes. They're evil and they hate us because of our freedoms.

I know they're evil. I was just thinking that maybe if we understood what specifically seemed to trigger the–

Why are you apologizing for the terrorists?

I'm not. They're evil. You have no quarrel there. It's just that maybe if we understoo–

Why are you on the terrorists' side?

I'm not! I hate the terrorists. I was just saying that we might be able to prevent the next–

Three thousand Americans are dead. How can you defend al Qaeda?

Believe me, I was not defending them. What they did was horrific and inexcusable. They're evil. I was just–

Then why are you apologizing for them?

I'm not. I'm trying to say that maybe there are lessons we can–

Why do you hate America?

Normally, I wouldn't spoil the jokes for you, but since that's not a joke so much as an accurate summary of conversations heard every day for months on Fox News, I figure I'm not spoiling much.

What's more interesting to me than the material on war and terrorism is how the Republicans lie when they seem to be on your side.

Maybe you couldn't help but feel warm and fuzzy if you heard the following exchange between Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman in the 2000 Vice Presidential debate, which Franken recounts:

LIEBERMAN: You did pretty well over the last eight years, didn't you?

CHENEY: Yeah, and the government had nothing to do with it!

Heartwarming, at first. I smiled when I heard it. (Why I was watching a vice presidential debate, I have no idea.) It's a good line, and it sounds good, because Cheney is, in fact, speaking for most Americans who do well for themselves, who do not rely on handouts from the government, and who vote Republican.

But of course, Cheney wasn't speaking for himself, because he was just another pig at the Washington trough like all of the rest of them during his years of benefiting from government contracts at Halliburton. But too many voters with fundamentally libertarian instincts fail to consider the source, and instead simply contrast his rhetoric with that of the Democrats who are calling for more taxes and welfare, and fall for the Republicans' lies again and again.

Inevitably, when all of the "limited government" promises have been broken, the nave, well-meaning conservative blames the other party, political reality, national security emergencies, or similar. But Franken reminds us that Republicans don't just break promises about their desire for less government: they are lying when they make them. And decent people don't tell lies, or at least they don't make a career out of doing so. (Franken implies with all of this that it is otherwise with the Democrats, but we know better, and what they promise isn't desirable even in the first place.)

Media Liars

"I have a great deal of respect for many conservatives in the media," writes Franken, "Terry Bradshaw, for example."

Bill O'Reilly is Franken nemesis #1, as anyone who's seen the C-SPAN footage of their confrontation at a book promotion event knows. (Recalling the event, Franken writes: "Bill was hawking his latest, Living with Herpes, while I was promoting (with evident success) the book you are enjoying right now.")

Their bone of contention at that event involved O'Reilly's false claim that his old show, Inside Edition, had won two Peabody Awards. In fact, it won no Peabody Awards, and instead won Polk Awards. Who cares, you might say, but what's telling was the way O'Reilly handled it. Instead of saying, "Okay, big deal, it was one and not the other," he denied that he ever claimed to have won Peabodys at all, and he called anyone who said otherwise a liar.

In that day's confrontation, O'Reilly resorted to yelling "SHUT UP! SHUT UP!" As you may have read, that is also what O'Reilly did to the son of a WTC victim who appeared on his show to criticize the war in Iraq. And as Franken here describes, after that show was over, O'Reilly added, for good measure, "Get out of my studio before I tear you to f***ing pieces."

Franken gives example after example of O'Reilly's behavior as a "lying, splotchy [see the book's unflattering cover photo] bully."

I have, at times, agreed with Bill O'Reilly on various matters, and sometimes it feels good to watch him read a leftist the riot act. Apparently, a few years back, the people then running the Foundation for Economic Education agreed with him on enough stuff that they thought he would make a good speaker at their Trustees Dinner. But that's another story.

O'Reilly is no friend of freedom, and I don't want him on my side. He is nasty, brutish and ignorant; that he is, like a broken clock, occasionally right about something should not be sufficient to redeem him in our eyes.

Ann Coulter gets what may be even harsher treatment, which she, of course, fully deserves. (Chapter 2 is titled "Ann Coulter: Nutcase," while Chapter 3 is titled, "You Know Who I Don't Like? Ann Coulter.") Franken demolishes her book, Slander, as a pack of lies and hypocrisy.

Coulter brags in interviews that she footnotes all of her "facts." Actually, she endnotes them, and Franken and his team of Harvard researchers checked them out, unlike the majority of sheep who bought her book. It turns out that some of the "facts" she asserts are simply untrue or unsupported, sometimes directly contradicted, by her sources. Others are presented so far out of context that their meaning is entirely changed.

It's fun to trash Bill Clinton. It's fun to trash any left-wing politician. That's why too many liberty-minded people like to dumpster dive in Coulter's garbage. But she and her ilk are not about ideas and issues at all. They are about the mantra, "REPUBLICANS GOOD, DEMOCRATS BAD," and Franken here points out numerous examples of how Coulter, within the same book, will contradict herself in order to stick to that theme.

Example: Democrat Senator Jim Jeffords went to Yale? Big deal, says Coulter, he's still "D-U-M-M," because you didn't have to be smart and ace the SAT to get into Yale back when he went there, you just had to be privileged. "Quick," writes Franken, "Yale, low SATs, social class. You thinking who I'm thinking about?" But to critics who say President Bush is dumb, Coulter says, elsewhere in her book, no way: How could anyone say President Bush is dumb when he "graduated from Yale and went to Harvard Business School"?

You get the idea. Ann Coulter is no friend of anyone who is intellectually honest, no matter which side of any issue she takes on a given day.

Incidentally, Franken doesn't recite my personal favorite outrageous Coulter statement. In her December 6, 2002, column, she wrote: "The odds of an innocent man being found guilty by a unanimous jury are basically nil."

Sean Hannity's ridiculous flag-waving book gets similar treatment. So does his sham debate show, "Hannity & Colmes." Franken gives Colmes, Hannity's liberal co-host, the tiny-font treatment in reference to his tendency to roll over for the show's more dominant personality (and his failure to call Hannity on the hypocrisy of having criticized Clinton during the war in the Balkans, but now branding any dissent on the Middle East wars as un-American).

The Rest

As I said above, Al Franken is a socialist and a lock-step statist. You can't go very far in this book without seeing that.

He imagines himself in a world where all things good come only from government, and all things bad can be fixed only by government. He maintains, and this book reflects, the childish view that the President of the United States is in a position to make each of our lives better, if only he chooses to exercise his power to do so. That is, the president is personally responsible for whatever good or bad fortune befalls us as individuals and as a nation. Crime went up in the 1980’s? Ronald Reagan did it by not giving the poor enough handouts. Crime went down in the 1990’s? Bill Clinton did it with "100,000 more police on the streets" and by giving people new and better ways to feed at the government trough. And so forth.

Various other bits of leftist dogma are regurgitated here and there, too. Many LRC readers will likely be especially irritated by the chapter called "Fun with Racism" and its cursory treatment of the Civil War and Confederate flag controversies.

Thus, the book gets weak near its end, as it loses its focus on his main theme ("conservative" politicians and pundits are often ignorant, hypocrites, and/or liars) and shifts instead to an emphasis on policy. For example, one chapter non-satirically takes on President Bush as "the worst environmental president in our nation's history." This material almost had me liking the Republicans again. Yikes!

Other chapters filling space near the book's end are just amusing experiences Franken had with members of the right that don't really fit within the "liars" theme, but were too good not to include.

One chapter tells of his trip with a young assistant to Bob Jones University, posing as a prospective student and his guardian, hoping to get a good scoop on the nutty fundamentalists you hear so much about during election years. (That's right, they lied, just like the lying liars, to the BJU people). What they learned was that students and staff at Bob Jones are really nice people who just have different beliefs.

Another chapter amusingly tells of Franken's failed attempt at a pleasant chat with Barbara Bush in first class on an airplane. (She is not the world's warmest, friendliest person, if you can imagine such a thing).

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them is a book that was inevitable. The neocons, Coulter, O'Reilly, and the like were asking for it. What we really need now is a libertarian humorist to take them all on, left and right alike, and show the world that the emperor never has any clothes, never should be trusted, and always should be laughed at, no matter what party he's from.

October 25, 2003