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Book Review

Book Review: Truth with Jokes

by Lang Reid

The Truth With Jokes (ISBN 0-141-02316-3, Penguin Books, 2005) unashamedly begins with the final stages of vote counting in the last US Presidential election, with author Al Franken ready to celebrate the crushing victory expected by John Kerry. However, that crushing victory did not eventuate, the US electorate voted George W Bush back in for a second term, and Franken wants the reader to know why.
The underhand methods used in politicking in the US are laid bare in the book, with much given to the important role of innuendo (which is not an Italian suppository). Examples showing just how public opinion can be swayed by instilling “half truths” or just “downright lies” by infiltrating universities who spread the “facts”, with each sequential telling making it look even more “factual”.
Negative messages are also used extensively. Apparently Bush ran 49,050 negative adverts against Kerry, during the election campaign, while Kerry only ran 13,336 against Bush. This fact is used by Franken to show what an honorable chap John Kerry really was, compared to the evil monster George W Bush. However, to me it shows a certain sickness in the electorate. After all, Bush did win, didn’t he?
The book dissects every aspect of the way Americans relate to presidential candidates, even down to the fact that John Kerry took 82 percent of the vote among atheists and agnostics. Franken makes a wry point here writing, “Which I suppose makes sense, though you’d think agnostics would be swing voters.”
About half way through the book, Franken throws in a chapter about his being Jewish and his father dying and perhaps there is a God after all. I could not really see what this had to do with the subject matter the book alleged to be covering. Unless you are an agnostic perhaps!
It does cover the Republican tactics which he neatly refers to as the Three Horseman of the Republican Apocalypse: Fear, Smear and Queers. However, I am more than confident that these three represent two-edged swords and the Democrats do have dirty underwear hiding under their Gucci suits. Much of Franken’s evidence is in transcripts from the media in the US, but since these are very small clips, the risk of it being taken out of context is high.
I found the book heavy going at times, with Franken introducing a whole swathe of US politicians who he asserts were involved in the post 9/11 debacle, in one way or another. Both good and bad. For readers intimately connected with the American political scene, this is probably fine, but for those non-American readers who have been over-viewing the situation from afar, it is a little too confusing.
The book claimed on the front cover that it was “Hilarious, laugh-or-cry-out loud,” but I did not find it so. It showed for me just how two-faced politicians can be in a country where the media can not only be manipulated, but also revels in being manipulators. Was there a lesson for Thailand? Probably not, but it was interesting to surmise.
At B. 495 an expensive put-down on George W Bush.