Where there is no shame, there is no honor. - African proverbThis will, hopefully, be the last time I get political for a while here. The site's traffic can barely stand it. Y'all have been warned.
Last night, I finally got my hands on this week's New Yorker with Barack and Michelle Obama dressed in their right-wing Lie Show regalia. It's not really going to make me cancel my subscription (so long as they keep from hiring the inexplicably employed Gregg Easterbrook), but I'd like to address some of the kerfluffle that has ensued from it.
The cover has entered into a larger media narrative, namely that people are having a hard time making fun of this candidate. I'm not sure you were aware of this, but it seems that the job of the President is now to be the source of inexhaustible comedy fuel. If the Commander-in-Chief doesn't provide us with exceptional laughs (either through relentless character flaws, an intelligence gap that you could drive a Hummer through, possible senility, etc.), this makes he or she Unlikable.
(An aside -- I'm not sure where John McCain Is Old is exactly breaking great comedy ground. But far be it for me to be a hack throwing stones...)
One wonders, really, how much of this has been true of other post-catastrophic leaders in world political history. Were the Germans, Italians and Japanese in the late '40s annoyed with their governments for not being as easy to mock as their predecessors? Do the Cambodians sit back and reminisce about the chuckles they had with that wacky Pol Pot? Can we find some old-school Russians to talk about how funny the Stalin purges were?
I'm guessing... no.
Ah, but there I go again (Reagan voice off), living life outside of a media bubble that refuses to admit the following truths in print and in public.
1) The mocked left-wing celebrity opposition to the war in Iraq was not only the correct public policy, but now the overwhelming majority viewpoint in America.
It was never a fringe view, despite the best efforts of the media to portray it as such; even in the most frenzied War Is Fun And Easy days, two out of five Americans didn't support this. It's now closer to 4 out of 5, which makes it right up there with dentists who prefer that their patients chew sugarless gum. And can someone, for the love of God, revoke the license of the fifth dentist? He's a sadist.
2) The only reason that Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee, and the only Democrat who is in line to win a majority of votes in a Presidential election in 32 years, is because Hillary Clinton voted the wrong way on Iraq.
Which makes her, as far as I can tell, the first person in America to lose a job over this terrible decision. Of course, since she didn't have the job in the first place, you can probably argue the semantics.
3) The standard of living among average Americans -- you know, the folks for whom the actions of the President are more than a junior high school level game of Jocks, Nerds and Cool Kids -- has gone down dramatically under the Bush Administration. Mostly for the reason that they are paying two to three times more then they used to on transportation and heat, as a direct result of... the war in Iraq.
So no, it's not the case where people don't care about the war. They care about it because, despite no real amount of media linkage, they have gotten the wacky idea -- substantially less wacky that Iraq had no relation to 9/11 -- that one of the reasons why they're getting killed at the pump is because we destabilized the region that produces oil. They care about it because they can, actually, understand what happens to an economy that spends more than it takes in, because that describes their situation at home, too. Which is what we do every damn day of the year, as a government, and we all make up (or, at the very least, fund) that.
And that's why Obama is competitive in places like Montana, North Dakota, Virginia, Alaska, Idaho, Indiana -- i.e., places where a Democratic presidential contender hasn't won in so long, they haven't even tried. Despite the idea that Scary Screaming Black Men and Secret Muslims are coming to exchange Terrorist Fist Pumps after they take away your gun and set fire to the flag. (To all of my older relatives and their e-mail chains... now, really. How do they find the time to do all of that? You've got to give it up for their fiendish work ethic.)
But let's get back to the Shame.
Some of the people I work with like to tell me about the latest South Park episodes. It's something that appeals to them, and truth be told, it used to work for me, too. Good writing is good writing, and you put up with a lot for it. (Witness your tolerance of posts like this one.)
Me, I can't watch it anymore, because of what it represents -- which is to say, art without a conscience. Humor without shame. An antidote to honor. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Evil.
You see, Mssrs. Stone and Parker led the anti-war backlash with their noxious puppet movie, and the ethos that you are leaving some humor money on the table when you don't attack both sides. Besides, those uncool kids that opposed the war made for such better and easier targets. I mean, Janeane Garofalo is shrill and all, and well past the point (if she ever was there) of fuel for self-play. So have at it, gentlemen! Chant "No Blood For Oil" some more. That's good and funny! It might even be more high-larious at a soldier's funeral. Go nuts.
There's only one problem with this, and with the New Yorker "satire" cover... and that is this. Laughing at the victims of serious crime doesn't feel very good. It nags at the root of a healthy conscience.
Do it enough, and it eats away at any human instinct towards thinking that any single person among us -- even, say, brilliant scientific minds who must be concocting global warming tales for their great god Socialism, political leaders who actually see their occupation for more than Grand Theft Government, public health professionals who are genuinely motivated by a desire to ease human suffering, rather than ensure moral-free copulation and abortions for all, etc., etc. -- are not, at their core, base and craven.
It mocks hope, and tells us that anyone who speaks of such a mockable thing is humorless or naive at best, and a secret terrorist and more at worst. It demeans the listener and the teller. It causes real damage to the human spirit.
And if you don't believe me, please go find someone at a house fire, funeral home, or hospital emergency room, and give them a good Nelson Muntz-style "Ha Ha." See how that works out for you.
So in conclusion... no, the cover is not funny, ironic, or in any way worthwhile. Anyone that tells you that it is starts and ends at Wrong. It's also not important that the President should be easily mocked, someone you can imagine having a beer with, or Just Like You at your most petty and limited.
In fact, it's more than OK to want the person with an incredibly more difficult and demanding job than yours to be, well, better and smarter than you. In fact, we should probably demand it.
And if that makes for a world in which people who make us laugh for a living have to, you know, work a little harder to get it done, and maybe push the utterly delusional media into finding these better targets? That's no tragedy. Start with the oil company executives. Move on to the CEOs of the Fortune 500. Spend all day on actors and musicians and writers and performers. I can figure this out, and I'm just a guy with a blogging hobby.
In short, adapt. The same way that, well, the rest of the country has. Preferably without puling over how those pukey Obama kids are ruining your whole fun by realizing that who the President is does matter, and that when political -- and dare I dream it, media -- figures are wrong, they should lose their jobs.
Preferably, with speed. Even more preferably, with lasting historical scorn and whenever appropriate, prison time.
Where, one presumes, some small moment of Shame might happen. There I go, Hoping Again...