Franken's `Limbaugh' Is One Big Fat Chuckle

----------------------------------------------------------------- "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations" by Al Franken Delacorte, $21.95 -----------------------------------------------------------------

The big question about "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations" is whether the book can possibly live up to the promise of its title. Because if you're like me, you laugh out loud every time you hear it. It's not just a funny line; there's an "emperor has no clothes" quality to it, and I'm glad somebody finally said it.

The somebody in this case is Al Franken, who has been a staff writer for "Saturday Night Live" since its inception. One of his more memorable characters is the 12-step addict, Stuart Smalley, whose catch-phrase, "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me," became the title of Franken's first book. "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot" (never get tired of saying that) is his second.

There are hilarious bits here, humor on most every page, delightful low blows. The index is one long fat joke, with entries such as "syrup, Limbaugh's purchase of in thirty-gallon drums." Franken uses the cheap tactics of the far right against the far right, but with humor.

"(T)he Information Superhighway means different things to different people," writes Franken. "To Al Gore it means out-of-work aerospace workers accessing a video classroom to retrain themselves for the transition from a cold war economy to an information economy. To Clarence Thomas it means 24-hour-a-day pornography."

In a chapter titled "Phil Gramm: Everybody's Favorite Bastard," the erstwhile presidential contender tells CNN's Judy Woodruff that poll results which show him at 5 percent in New Hampshire might be off: " `These polls, you've gotta remember, Judy, have a margin of error of seven points.' " Observes Franken: "Which conceivably could put him at negative 2 percent."

Sometimes the big boys of the right wing seem almost beyond satire: war hawks who never went to war; men who make careers out of calling Bill Clinton a draft-dodger even though they themselves dodged the draft.

"I'm getting a little sick of cranky Republicans who can't keep their own families together telling everybody else about family values," grouses Franken. "Quick. What do Newt Gingrich, Bob Dole, Phil Gramm, and George Will have in common? Answer. They've all been married only one less time than Rush Limbaugh" (who has been married three times).

I feign no objectivity here. Rush Limbaugh is to the '90s what Father Coughlin was to the '30s: a blotch upon the decade for future historians to wonder over. I wanted Franken to sink his satiric teeth in and not let go.

But occasionally he does let go, or wanders in obvious directions (Newt Gingrich serving divorce papers to his cancer-ridden first wife), or engages in a good bout of liberal self-flagellation. That's the only problem I had with - one more time - "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot." Otherwise it's a scream. Erik Lundegaard is a Seattle free-lance writer.