5 fun, random takeaways from Al Franken's new book

Everyone's pointed out the Ted Cruz bashing – but have you heard about the "black, tarry bowel movements" test?
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Early snippets from Al Franken's new book suggested it would avoid one of the main problems that plagues political memoirs: they're too PC to reveal anything interesting about politics.

And while Al Franken, Giant of the Senate ends up having more edge than the typical sitting senator's book, it's ultimately still too dull (outside of the Ted Cruz hate) to cut beneath the surface.

Does that mean it's a bad book? Not at all. Franken's writing is more conversational than most politicians, and there are some solid behind-the-scenes anecdotes. But you're not going to get all the dirty details.

Rather than focus on all the bigger themes of the book, we decided to pluck out five of the random, interesting nuggets we noticed while reading.

1. Avoiding inappropriate jokes is hard

An alternate title for the book could be, "How I trained myself to suppress my comedy instincts." Once Franken is on the campaign trail and in office, a primary responsibility of some of his staff is to make sure he knows when it's not OK to make a joke.

One example: During his second week in office, Franken was writing a note to a Marshall, Minnesota, woman turning 110 years old. His original draft:

"Dear Ruth,
You have a bright future.
Sincerely, Al Franken"

His staff saw it and immediately nixed it, to which Franken replied, "I thought maybe she'd get a kick out of it." The staffer reminded him her family might not.

2. The 'black, tarry bowel movements' Minnesota test

There's this thing called the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory some people take. It's hundreds of yes/no questions, and it's generally used as a psychological evaluation test. Franken says he did it as a young adult to help figure out which career he was "psychologically suited for."

It's a weird name for a test. But Franken managed to remember it because of a single question it asked – about whether you have "black-tarry bowel movements." Franken says he Googled that phrase, and someone discussing the weirdness of that question being on the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory was the top hit.

(For the record, we Googled that phrase – it was not our first result, though there are somementions online.)

3. He hated the phone number for the federal health exchange

While discussing the Affordable Care Act, Franken uses this anecdote as an example of how bad he thinks Democrats can be with messaging.

There was a phone number the White House set up where people could call and get help finding the right insurance plan, which Franken says was a "great idea."

"What was the number? 1-800-GET-CARE? 1-800-ACA-HELP? 1-800-NOT-SICK?

No. It was 1-800-318-2596. What does that spell? Nothing."

That missed opportunity "really cheesed me off," he writes.

4. Bean feeds: Very important, not very stinky

Bean feeds are basically a community social gathering. You go, eat beans (or sometimes other food), mingle, and usually there is a speaker. And they can be important for getting elected in Minnesota.

Franken describes them as "the organizing medium of DFL politics" (JFK even appeared at Minnesota DFL bean feeds). It's a way to meet people who vote in party caucuses, since they're the ones that eventually influence who the party will select as its official candidate. Franken apparently went to a lot of them.

But the now-senator also clarifies in a footnote that "the odor of bean feed farts" is far less stinky than other flatulence, calling it "generally inoffensive to the point of being virtually undetectable."

5. A ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ relationship with the Obama campaign

There are a couple telling stories about Franken's relationship with the Obama campaign and administration.

One, while closing in on 2008 election day, the Obama campaign paid for a bunch of door hangers encouraging people to vote Democrat on all races – but barely mentioned Franken, even though he was in a tight race with then-Sen. Norm Coleman.

Two, Franken "exploded" on Obama adviser David Axelrod in the lead-up to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, after Axelrod didn't offer a plan for getting the House to approve it.

Axelrod responded by saying if Franken "could tell him how to get 218 votes in the House, he'd be happy to" pass along that advice to the president. To which Franken writes he yelled back: "That's the president's f-----g job!"

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