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The Hindenburg in Flames Al Franken Comically Explodes the Man, the Myth, the Mouth BY J. C. SHAKESPEARE RUSH LIMBAUGH IS A BIG FAT IDIOT And Other Observations. By Al Franken. Delacorte Press, 1996. 271 pages. $21.95. FOR YEARS, like Israelites before the camp of the Philistines, liberals and progressives have wailed and gnashed their teeth, waiting in vain for some hero to step forth and take on the giant Philistine, Rush Limbaugh. Now TV comic and comedy writer Al Franken has gleefully adopted the role of David and delivered the coup de grace in a delightful diatribe against Limbaugh and his Congressional cronies. Perhaps the David and Goliath metaphor is not entirely accurate. After all, in this of ideas. Al Franken is a Harvard grad with a twenty-year tenure on “Saturday Night Live,” the nation’s longest-running comedy show. Rush Limbaugh is, well, a big fat idiot! Henny Youngman’s line comes to mind: he refused to enter a battle of wits with an unarmed man. Consider for a moment the elegant artfulness of the title. Every person who sees itbe he dittohead or independent thinkeris forced to formulate the idea, “Rush Lim baugh is a big fat idiot.” It’s a practical joke with a double edge and the book sustains the effect, with razor-sharp satire, cutting intelligence, and the stinging lash of truth. Big Fat Idiot is an eclectic collection of essays and musings, ranging from serious factual analyses to outrageous farce. In the chapter “The Reagan Years: Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Liar,” Franken shows Limbaugh tweaking numbers and using carefully selected, out-of-context information to “prove” that Reaganomics was good for all Americans. “Operation Chicken J. C. Shakespeare is a freelance writer and standup comic living in Austin. hawk” is a fictional spoof, describing 011ie North leading a platoon of cowardskneejerk hawks Limbaugh, Phil Gramm, Pat Buchanan, Dan Quayle, and George Will through Vietnam; 011ie’s “troops,” of course, have all blasted Bill Clinton as a draft-dodger, despite themselves having managed to avoid the same war. As this sketch suggests, while Limbaugh is the primary target in the book, Franken challenges hypocrisy, pomposity, and faulty logic wherever he finds it, usually amongst conservatives who constantly crow about their love for reasoned debate and rational discourse. Franken’s popculture credentials provide him access to the upper echelons of the Washington hierarchy, but unlike many of his colleagues, to his credit he has had the cojones to ask his foes difficult and impertinent questions. The reader follows him as he takes his act on the roadfrom his early years of pestering Ronald Reagan \(which got him heaved through rounds of political dinners and it MICHAEL ALEXANDER conventionsFranken recounts hilarious face-to-face encounters with such notables as Al D’Amato, Newt Gingrich, John Kasich, and Ralph Reed. In contrast to Franken’s direct approach, Limbaugh is the pioneer of “non-guested confrontation”manly stuff indeed! Franken describes what has happened on the rare occasions when Rush leaves the cozy confines of his studiO packed with “pre-screened dittoheads.” Once, when Limbaugh was filling in for Pat Sajak on his short-lived, late-night talk show, “…audience members started attacking him for having made fun of AIDS victims, he panicked, and they had to clear the studio.” Nearly four years later, Limbaugh ventured out again: This time disaster struck on the “Letter man” show. The studio audience turned hostile almost immediately, after Rush compared Hillary Clinton’s face to “a Pontiac hood ornament.” Evidently, that’s the kind of thing that kills with the dittoheads, but Letterman’s audience wasn’t buying. When Letter man ended the interview with: “Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night and just think to yourself ‘I am just full of hot gas’ ?” the studio erupted in laugh ter and applause. Letterman’s gag also brings to mind perhaps the best Limbaugh joke, recorded for posterity by Garry Trudeau: “What’s the difference between Rush Limbaugh and the Hindenburg?” “One’s a flaming Nazi gas-bag, and the other is just a dirigible…” p REDICTABLY, Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Idiot has provoked a hue and cry from the right. Franken’s critics have accused him of being mean and unfair. So to drive home the point that liberals have no monopoly on whining, Franken drags Jeane Kirkpatrick into the debate, writingunder her bylinea parody of a New York Times book review in which “Kirkpatrick” takes Franken to task: 20 MAY 17, 1996