But on Friday night, I saw John Edwards on Bill Maher, and I found myself thinking I could support him. And yet I count myself as an Edward skeptic. His email list -- which I ended up on after I wrote in support of his bloggers after a religious intolerance group attacked them -- doesn't help: for all their asks for cash, the Edwards emails don't say much about his positions behind mere sloganeering. He's supposed to be the best candidate on substantive issues, so why don't they share that in these spammy newsletters? And he's not helped by his hair. If Edwards and Romney end up the nominees, we will never have seen more meticulous hair in a presidential election. I know that's shallow of me, but how you present yourself is a big part of politics. Edwards is always so together that you wonder just how passionate he is. When he speaks, he's passionate, but then he smiles and I almost feel like I was watching a little performance. That's what I was left with on Maher.
Aside: I wish someone would give us an objective comparison of everybody's plans for healthcare reform. It's a mess, and yet all I know about the candidates is they have plans and they've been talking about them for some time. So why don't we get any coverage of what these plans are? Edwards appeals because he sees the insurance companies as part of the problem. But he doesn't appeal to me if he plans to just dump it on the backs of employers. You can't expect small businesses to just take on the weight of financing healthcare. Our economy is driven by small businesses, and many, if not most, of the larger enterprises today started as small businesses. We can't make it impossible for people to start new businesses.
Last week I saw Hillary Clinton on some show or another -- was it This Week? -- and she impressed me more than she has in the past. She's more relaxed now, and it really seems like she's enjoying herself. She may be a natural. But I am extremely suspicious of her political machine and her DLC ties. Still, I'd vote for her.
And then there's Barack Obama. He apparently is drawing the biggest crowds and is raising a lot of money from a lot of people -- the latter part always a good sign -- but I'm not seeing him much on TV. That could be good, because his position is as the new guy, and if you look at him every day for months on end, he won't seem so new. I appreciate his willingness to question political orthodoxy. I like is stated opposition to how politics is practiced in Washington. Even though in the past he has struck me as wishy washy, today he seems much more clear and focused now. I'd vote for him.
Oh, and let's not forget Bill Richardson. I'd vote for him, too (though I don't think he is realistically in the running any more).
What a strange world. With most politicians most times, the more they talk the more I dislike them. That is still true for the Republican candidates, who every time they speak always remind me that they are indeed worse than I thought. But for the Democrats, there's a very strong slate of candidates.
And that's why I feel it's just too late now for Al Gore to get into it. He would throw confusion into the process, and I'm not sure that would be a good thing just now. Leave the confusion to the Republicans.
Imagine if the host of a popular TV show on dog training had made the following remarks:
â€œBlack people are the only species that is wired different from the rest. They always apply affection before discipline. White people apply discipline then affection, so weâ€™re more psychological than emotional. All animals follow dominant leaders; they donâ€™t follow lovable leaders.â€
Of course, if we were to ask sometimes-funny but always-self-important culture critic Bill Maher about this, Diane Dees points out that he'd dismiss us for not focusing on the important shit.
Tonight on Real Time, Maher said something about what the Bush administration had done to "the working man." Mary Frances Berry, one of the panelists, said "The working woman, too. You said just 'the working man.'"
Then he said it: "There are so many more important issues. Don't hang me up here."
No wonder we're seeing self-labeled "progressives" willing to advocate forced pregnancy pragmatism in pursuit of power. Self-autonomy and equal rights don't pass the hill-of-beans test.
Just shut up, girls, and go make us some sandwiches. You know we're on your side, right?
Now isn't this fall's election just so full of promise?
What do you say, Stephen? Does this deserve a wag of the finger?
I think what turned a lot of the paid pundits off is that he was uncouth, impolitic, brash and shameless in his application of mockery through buffoonery. Personally, I found the clips of Colbert's remarks to be hysterical -- to a large extent because he didn't play nice.
Update: Here are some funny clips via YouTube.com:
George Clooney must have laughed heartily but he and Helen Thomas were probably the only two who did. The rest of the room decided to crawl into the valley of depression the President was by then inhabiting. Laura Bush, meanwhile, creditably portrayed Medusa. Alas for her, she was unable to turn Colbert into stone as he then acknowledged the great big elephant in the room. "Joe Wilson is here, the most famous husband since Desi Arnez. And of course he brought along his lovely wife Valerie Plame. Oh, my god! Oh, what have I said. I am sorry, Mr. President, I meant to say he brought along his lovely wife, Joe Wilson's wife."
Had it been any other network, the camera would then have cut to Karl Rove's face. However, Steve Scully was probably standing with a knife at the cameraman's throat by then so all we saw was Valerie Plame throwing her head back to laugh.
The AP's first stab at it and pieces from Reuters and the Chicago Tribune tell us everything we need to know: Colbert's performance is sidestepped and marginalized while Bush is treated as light-hearted, humble, and funny. Expect nothing less from the cowardly American media. The story could just as well have been Bush and Laura's discomfort and the crowd's semi-hostile reaction to Colbert's razor-sharp barbs. In fact, I would guess that from the perspective of newsworthiness and public interest, Bush-the-playful-president is far less compelling than a comedy sketch gone awry, a pissed-off prez, and a shell-shocked audience.
This is the power of the media to choose the news, to decide when and how to shield Bush from negative publicity. Sins of omission can be just as bad as sins of commission.
I think Bill Maher has managed to keep himself funny while being explicitly political.
...which brings into question is sense of humor. (Bill has made the mistake of making his show all about himself, positioning the guests as the stooges. That's something that works for Colbert, but not for Maher's laid-back comedic sarcasm. Politically Incorrect: funny. Maher's HBO show now: unfunny.
George also makes the mistake of trying to compare Colbert to Jon Stewart and Johnny Carson. I've already noted how Stewart is much like Carson (and I also managed to misspell Jon's name). Every comic has a different style. The unique edge to Colbert's approach is that he doesn't let up, he stays in character, all the way down.
How else to spoof the shameless posturing of the right-wing media bimbos he emulates? Amrita says it so well:
But in a world obsessed with adapting oneself to the audience in a vain attempt to be loved by more and more people, Stephen Colbert stuck to his fake-pundit guns. He didn't pull his punches, he wasn't intimidated by a milieu that was far different from his own [or if he was, he kept it to himself] and he was exactly who he is on his show.
Put in a room with the President of the United States, administration officials, lawmakers and the men and women who bring you news of them, Stephen Colbert did something that should make every American proud.
He exercised the rights given to him by the Constitution of his country to speak his mind and to speak it freely even in the face of power. In those minutes I was reminded that in this country, in these United States, the citizen retains the ultimate power.
But, the point is -- there has to be a foil, a "straight man"to help put the vacuous boorishness of the Colbert persona in context. Without the foil, the character isn't nearly as interesting.
Ah, but the point is that Bush and the press superstars in attendance were the foils. They were the stooges. And while they may have been cringing, it was funny to anyone who wasn't in the room and feels the mainstream media circus needs its collective balloon popped.
A final thought: Bush's clownish banter with reporters -- which is on constant display during press conferences -- stands in such stark contrast to his administration's destructive policies and to the gravity of the bloodbath in Iraq that it is deeply unsettling to watch. This may be impolitic, but wouldn't refraining from frat-style horseplay be appropriate for this man? Or at the least, can't reporters suppress their raucous laughter every time he blurts out another jibe... the way they did when Colbert put them in their place?
No kidding. But hey, we're not inside the bubble -- er, I mean Beltway. They're all chums in there.
The reason it went over so poorly is because, we weâ€™ve mentioned before, Washingtonians have a bizarre sense of humor, and itâ€™s only funny to eviscerate the press if youâ€™re a member of the press. You can eviscerate the President, but only if the President knows who you are. Those are the rules.