There is a strangeness in Washington as we return to the two-party system. Like Moses leading his people in the wilderness, the Democrats are slowly returning to power. Was it any different in 1994 when the tables were turned?
The conservatives say, at least in some circles, that the Republican defeat was not all that bad and in two years the people will come to their senses and re-elect a Republican government like we've had since 2000. Perhaps. But, that's not the interesting story.
For two years, we will have a different voice in Congress and this will be a chance for the Democrats to re-frame the issues.
I think of when Rush Limbaugh could be a foil against a Democrat Congress, or at least against President Clinton, and though he had his own personal problems, I think what really killed it for him was that the Republicans got into power. His rage really had no place to go, except kicking the people who weren't in power.
Now the strangeness comes back. The two-party system might have a chance, and two of the first losers are Steven Colbert of the "Colbert Report," and to some extent Kos of "The Daily Kos." "Does their schtick still work?" asked a friend. The Daily Show is not as invested as Kos and Colbert in the brand of anger in the case of Kos and humor in the case of Colbert.
I don't go to Kos any more, but I have peeked in on and off, more on than off, on Colbert, and suddenly his feigned right-wing stance falls flat. Nothing against Steve. It's just that in a matter of a week, the entire humor base has shifted along with the power base. In the case of Colbert, his humor worked when the Republicans were the only party in real power and his feigned support was great counterpoint. Now the Republicans are a minority in Congress (slim though it may be) and the President is a lame duck. Not as funny to be a feigned zealot.
Colbert and Kos suffer the fall out. Their base has a place to go for real power, just as Rush found out.
We'll see where Washington goes in the next several months, but the new balance of power has unexpected consequences in the strangest of ways.
Two political scientists found that young people who watch Stewart's faux news program, "The Daily Show," develop cynical views about politics and politicians that could lead them to just say no to voting.
That's particularly dismaying news because the show is hugely popular among college students, many of whom already don't bother to cast ballots.
Jody Baumgartner and Jonathan S. Morris of East Carolina University said previous research found that nearly half -- 48 percent -- of this age group watched "The Daily Show" and only 23 percent of show viewers followed "hard news" programs closely.
Assumption #1: "hard news" programs actually contain "hard news" -- which is questionable for anyone who is willing to actually question whether the mainstream media emperor has any clothes.
Stewart has made his name poking fun of mainstream media, including the so-called "hard news" shows, and gained a big boost in 2004 when he said, literally, "I won't be your monkey!" to the CNN Crossfire twits.
But get a load of this logic that Morin seems to buy:
"Ultimately, negative perceptions of candidates could have participation implications by keeping more youth from the polls," they wrote.
This is Bush-league logic, right along with notions that the real problem with Iraq is that the reporting is negative, not that the bad news is in fact really happening. Now that is what I would call cynicism!
I don't think I'm being cynical when I say that, just because many of our politicians are revealed to be, well, lunatics doesn't mean that hiding the fact will somehow improve democracy.
A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. Hence the custom among the Scythians of plucking out a cynic's eyes to improve his vision.*dons shatter-proof goggles*
Morin does report, however, a study that cuts right to the unacknowledged racism that exists in the so-called progressive population:
Democrats and independents were far more generous; on average, they gave Katrina victims on average more than $1,500 a month, compared with $1,200 for Republicans, and for 13 months instead of nine.
But for Democrats, race mattered -- and in a disturbing way. Overall, Democrats were willing to give whites about $1,500 more than they chose to give to a black or other minority. (Even with this race penalty, Democrats still were willing to give more to blacks than those principled Republicans.) "Republicans are likely to be more stringent, both in terms of money and time, Iyengar said. "However, their position is 'principled' in the sense that it stems from a strong belief in individualism (as opposed to handouts). Thus their responses to the assistance questions are relatively invariant across the different media conditions. Independents and Democrats, on the other hand, are more likely to be affected by racial cues."
One can rest assured that the "hard news" programs are not going to report on this. However, I could very easily see Jon Stewart poking some fun at this.
Bad for democracy? I suppose it depends upon your perspective.
On Wednesday, C-Span, the nonprofit network that first showed Mr. Colbert's speech, wrote letters to the video sites YouTube.com and ifilm.com, demanding that the clips of the speech be taken off their Web sites....
...After the clips of Mr. Colbert's performance were ordered taken down at YouTube â€” where 41 clips of the speech had been viewed a total of 2.7 million times in less than 48 hours, according to the site â€” there were rumblings on left-wing sites that someone was trying to silence a man who dared to speak truth to power.
But as became clear later in the week, this was a business decision, not a political one. Not only is the entire event available to be streamed at C-Span's Web site, c-span.org, but the network is selling DVD's of the event for $24.95, including speeches and a comedy routine by President Bush with a President Bush imitator.
And C-Span gave permission to Google Videos to carry the Colbert speech beginning Friday. The arrangement, which came with the stipulation that Google Videos provide the entire event and a clip of Mr. Bush's entire routine as well, is a one-time deal. In other words: ka-ching!
Money talks, and the people walk, people. I'm tempted to add, "C-SPAN wants you to get all the content that corporations can buy from them," but that would be a step ahead.
But what really is disturbing here is that money-making opportunities immediately and completely trumped the purportedly "public affairs" focus of C-SPAN.
"The reviews from the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner are in, and the consensus is that President Bush and Bush impersonator Steve Bridges stole Saturday's show -- and Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert's cutting satire fell flat because he ignored the cardinal rule of Washington humor: Make fun of yourself, not the other guy."Froomkin says that captures the sentiment of the Washington Post newsroom. Surprise! But for all the opinionating that has come from the blogosphere, it's the Washington reporters -- the butts of the jokes -- who wind up looking like asses.
Milbank: "I don't think he really crossed the line. I just think he wasn't terribly funny. And he had the misfortune of following Bush, who actually did put on one of the better performances of his presidency."
...which is an observation that reveals so much about how the DC press corps just love to chum it up with their Beltway colleagues. See, silly me for seeing the humor in Colbert's biting satire and not seeing humor in a negligent, incompetent and prevaricating president's clowning around for the press.
"But I also had the sense that Colbert's toughness on Bush made people squirm because it raised that age-old question that goes back to the republic's start. How do you criticize the president without disrespecting the presidency?"Easy: You make fun of the president, not the office of the president. (I even thought that up myself. Obviously I went to college. Me so proud!)
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.