Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jay Leno

The Nasty Presidential Comic

Pete and I recently commented on Obama’s unfortunately snippy tone and nasty approach to his political adversaries. The evidence continues to mount that this president is lacking in basic graciousness and possesses, even for a politician, an overabundance of arrogance. The Washington Post reports on his comedy routine at the Correspondents’ Association Dinner over the weekend:

Breaking with presidential punch line tradition for the second consecutive year, Obama dropped zinger after zinger on his opponents and allies alike at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. Obama went all Don Rickles on a broad range of topics and individuals: Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, presidential advisers David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel, the news media, Jay Leno, and Republicans Michael Steele, Scott Brown, John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Except for a mild joke pegged to his falling approval ratings, Obama mostly spared Obama during his 14-minute stand-up routine.

It did not go unnoticed by those who expect the president to be self-deprecating and ingratiating at these events:

Obama’s derisive tone surprises and dismays some of the people who’ve written jokes for presidents past.

“With these dinners you want the audience to like you more when you sit down than when you stood up,” says Landon Parvin, an author and speechwriter for politicians in both parties, and a gag writer for three Republican presidents (Reagan and Bushes I and II). “Something in [Obama’s] humor didn’t do that,” he said Sunday.

Parvin advises his political clients to practice a little partisan self-deprecation when they make lighthearted remarks: “If you’re a Democrat, you make fun of Democrats and go easy on the Republicans; if you’re a Republican, you do the opposite,” he says.

Presidents past have generally hewed to that tradition, even when they were under intense criticism or were deeply unpopular.

In isolation, one night of barbed humor doesn’t amount to much. But when seen in conjunction with his general lack of respect for adversaries and his nonstop attacks on everyone from Sarah Palin to Fox News to his predecessor, one comes away with a picture of a thin-skinned and rather nasty character. It’s not an attractive personality in a president, and he may regret having failed to extend a measure of kindness and magnanimity that we have come to expect from presidents.

Pete and I recently commented on Obama’s unfortunately snippy tone and nasty approach to his political adversaries. The evidence continues to mount that this president is lacking in basic graciousness and possesses, even for a politician, an overabundance of arrogance. The Washington Post reports on his comedy routine at the Correspondents’ Association Dinner over the weekend:

Breaking with presidential punch line tradition for the second consecutive year, Obama dropped zinger after zinger on his opponents and allies alike at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. Obama went all Don Rickles on a broad range of topics and individuals: Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, presidential advisers David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel, the news media, Jay Leno, and Republicans Michael Steele, Scott Brown, John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Except for a mild joke pegged to his falling approval ratings, Obama mostly spared Obama during his 14-minute stand-up routine.

It did not go unnoticed by those who expect the president to be self-deprecating and ingratiating at these events:

Obama’s derisive tone surprises and dismays some of the people who’ve written jokes for presidents past.

“With these dinners you want the audience to like you more when you sit down than when you stood up,” says Landon Parvin, an author and speechwriter for politicians in both parties, and a gag writer for three Republican presidents (Reagan and Bushes I and II). “Something in [Obama’s] humor didn’t do that,” he said Sunday.

Parvin advises his political clients to practice a little partisan self-deprecation when they make lighthearted remarks: “If you’re a Democrat, you make fun of Democrats and go easy on the Republicans; if you’re a Republican, you do the opposite,” he says.

Presidents past have generally hewed to that tradition, even when they were under intense criticism or were deeply unpopular.

In isolation, one night of barbed humor doesn’t amount to much. But when seen in conjunction with his general lack of respect for adversaries and his nonstop attacks on everyone from Sarah Palin to Fox News to his predecessor, one comes away with a picture of a thin-skinned and rather nasty character. It’s not an attractive personality in a president, and he may regret having failed to extend a measure of kindness and magnanimity that we have come to expect from presidents.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Joe Lieberman, who continues to confound his critics, is championing the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The Left blogosphere will no doubt discern a plot to drive them bonkers.

The AP gets into the Rahm Emanuel drama – – “a narrative that some (though it’s still unclear who) think Obama’s chief of staff is smarter than the president, an awkward development in Washington’s deeply ingrained tradition of aides staying behind the scenes and not upstaging the boss. At the least, it creates an embarrassment and a distraction at a perilous time. And it belies Obama’s own prized no-drama culture, where neither dirty laundry nor disagreements are aired and theatrics aren’t tolerated. At worst, it sets in motion a dynamic that could lead to shakeups and further doubts about Obama’s leadership.”

Charles Krauthammer in defense of snail mail and scented love letters: “You can’t smell your e-mail.”

Scott Johnson: “The Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy K-8 public charter school in suburban St. Paul. It appears to be is an Islamic school operating illegally at taxpayer expense. Among other things, the school’s principal is an imam and almost all of its students are Muslim. It is housed in a building that was owned originally by the Muslim American Society of Minnesota (I’m not sure who owns it now). The school has in any event had a mutually beneficial relationship with MAS Minnesota since the school’s inception. The study of Arabic is required at the school. The Arabic comes in handy for the Koranic studies that follow the regular school day.” The ACLU is suing, and there is evidence that “TiZA has sought to intimidate witnesses.”

Rep. Bart Stupak says there are 12 votes that will switch from “yes” to “no” on the ObamaCare abortion-subsidy issue.

Ron Kampeas shares my amazement at Maureen Dowd’s latest column:  “To suggest [Israel] — and even its Orthodox — are sliding into theocracy is just nutty.”

The Cook Political Report (subscription required): “The retirement announcement of Democratic Rep. Eric Massa puts his Upstate New York ‘southern tier’ seat in grave jeopardy for Democrats. Massa won by only the barest of margins in 2008 after outspending a badly flawed GOP incumbent. … This seat moves from the Lean Democratic column to the Lean Republican column.”

Jonathan Capehart or Matt Continetti on Sarah Palin’s Jay Leno appearance? “Palin’s comfort in front of the camera and with the material, not to mention her don’t-mess-with-me jeans-and-heels outfit, made Palin a feast for the eyes and ears.”

Rep. Pete Stark, new House Ways and Means chairman, is too much even for Democrats who are looking for an alternative: “Looming over his bid for the top job is a long history of rash public statements. In 2004, a San Francisco talk radio station posted a voice mail message that Mr. Stark left for a constituent that said, in part: ‘Probably somebody put you up to this, and I’m not sure who it was, but I doubt if you could spell half the words in the letter and somebody wrote it for you.’  In late 2007 he apologized for saying that Republicans were sending American youth to Iraq ‘to get their heads blown off for the president’s amusement.'”

Joe Lieberman, who continues to confound his critics, is championing the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The Left blogosphere will no doubt discern a plot to drive them bonkers.

The AP gets into the Rahm Emanuel drama – – “a narrative that some (though it’s still unclear who) think Obama’s chief of staff is smarter than the president, an awkward development in Washington’s deeply ingrained tradition of aides staying behind the scenes and not upstaging the boss. At the least, it creates an embarrassment and a distraction at a perilous time. And it belies Obama’s own prized no-drama culture, where neither dirty laundry nor disagreements are aired and theatrics aren’t tolerated. At worst, it sets in motion a dynamic that could lead to shakeups and further doubts about Obama’s leadership.”

Charles Krauthammer in defense of snail mail and scented love letters: “You can’t smell your e-mail.”

Scott Johnson: “The Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy K-8 public charter school in suburban St. Paul. It appears to be is an Islamic school operating illegally at taxpayer expense. Among other things, the school’s principal is an imam and almost all of its students are Muslim. It is housed in a building that was owned originally by the Muslim American Society of Minnesota (I’m not sure who owns it now). The school has in any event had a mutually beneficial relationship with MAS Minnesota since the school’s inception. The study of Arabic is required at the school. The Arabic comes in handy for the Koranic studies that follow the regular school day.” The ACLU is suing, and there is evidence that “TiZA has sought to intimidate witnesses.”

Rep. Bart Stupak says there are 12 votes that will switch from “yes” to “no” on the ObamaCare abortion-subsidy issue.

Ron Kampeas shares my amazement at Maureen Dowd’s latest column:  “To suggest [Israel] — and even its Orthodox — are sliding into theocracy is just nutty.”

The Cook Political Report (subscription required): “The retirement announcement of Democratic Rep. Eric Massa puts his Upstate New York ‘southern tier’ seat in grave jeopardy for Democrats. Massa won by only the barest of margins in 2008 after outspending a badly flawed GOP incumbent. … This seat moves from the Lean Democratic column to the Lean Republican column.”

Jonathan Capehart or Matt Continetti on Sarah Palin’s Jay Leno appearance? “Palin’s comfort in front of the camera and with the material, not to mention her don’t-mess-with-me jeans-and-heels outfit, made Palin a feast for the eyes and ears.”

Rep. Pete Stark, new House Ways and Means chairman, is too much even for Democrats who are looking for an alternative: “Looming over his bid for the top job is a long history of rash public statements. In 2004, a San Francisco talk radio station posted a voice mail message that Mr. Stark left for a constituent that said, in part: ‘Probably somebody put you up to this, and I’m not sure who it was, but I doubt if you could spell half the words in the letter and somebody wrote it for you.’  In late 2007 he apologized for saying that Republicans were sending American youth to Iraq ‘to get their heads blown off for the president’s amusement.'”

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Like LBJ Losing Cronkite?

It wasn’t too long ago that Obama wasn’t funny. That is, none of the late-night comics thought he was funny. The New Yorker couldn’t run a funny cartoon on its cover. Obama was above jokes. You don’t laugh at “sort of God,” you see. But as the mask of competence slips and the blunders mount, he becomes once again a comic target. Howard Kurtz tells us Obama is now really in trouble because he’s lost Jon Stewart:

It was inevitable that Obama would become a late-night target, at least when Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and Dave Letterman have taken time out from sliming each other. But Stewart, who makes no secret of leaning left, is a pop-culture bellwether. And while the White House notes that Obama used the prompter to address journalists, not the students, the details matter little in comedy.

Stewart’s barbs are generating partisan buzz. …

“He’s clearly become an important cultural arbiter,” says Robert Lichter, director of the Center for Media and Public Affairs. “He’s pulled off the trick of being taken seriously when he wants to be and taken frivolously when he wants to be.”

What is even more remarkable is that “real” news people seem to take their cues from a comic. He’s an “icon” to real journalists, Kurtz tells us. He quotes Brian Williams: “A lot of the work that Jon and his staff do is serious. They hold people to account, for errors and sloppiness.” Well, everything is relative, I suppose. The “real” media’s disinclination to treat Obama as roughly as they have treated previous presidents has left the field wide open for a cable network comic to play the role that independent journalists used to — holding the White House accountable, skewering the president for errors, and refusing to take seriously the spin coming from administration flacks.

It may be that Stewart’s newfound boldness in ribbing Obama is indicative of a change in Obama’s fortunes. But it also speaks volumes about the reluctance of the entire media — serious and otherwise — for the better part of a year to critically assess Obama’s policies and political instincts.

Now that the spell is broken and Obama is “funny,” maybe the media will discover he is also fodder for serious reporting. Perhaps they will ask some serious questions — when and if he ever gives another press conference. How was it that he claimed that the Christmas Day bomber was an isolated extremist? Did he really let Eric Holder come up with the idea all on his own for a New York trial for KSM? Did Obama not know that his own health-care plan would chase Americans out of their own health-care plans? Why did he sign an omnibus spending bill with 9,000 earmarks if earmarks are nothing more than petty corruption? How can he say the stimulus is a success if he promised it would keep unemployment at 8 percent?  There is nothing funny about any of those issues, but the media might want to press the president for answers to these and other queries. At least if they want to stay ahead of Jon Stewart.

It wasn’t too long ago that Obama wasn’t funny. That is, none of the late-night comics thought he was funny. The New Yorker couldn’t run a funny cartoon on its cover. Obama was above jokes. You don’t laugh at “sort of God,” you see. But as the mask of competence slips and the blunders mount, he becomes once again a comic target. Howard Kurtz tells us Obama is now really in trouble because he’s lost Jon Stewart:

It was inevitable that Obama would become a late-night target, at least when Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and Dave Letterman have taken time out from sliming each other. But Stewart, who makes no secret of leaning left, is a pop-culture bellwether. And while the White House notes that Obama used the prompter to address journalists, not the students, the details matter little in comedy.

Stewart’s barbs are generating partisan buzz. …

“He’s clearly become an important cultural arbiter,” says Robert Lichter, director of the Center for Media and Public Affairs. “He’s pulled off the trick of being taken seriously when he wants to be and taken frivolously when he wants to be.”

What is even more remarkable is that “real” news people seem to take their cues from a comic. He’s an “icon” to real journalists, Kurtz tells us. He quotes Brian Williams: “A lot of the work that Jon and his staff do is serious. They hold people to account, for errors and sloppiness.” Well, everything is relative, I suppose. The “real” media’s disinclination to treat Obama as roughly as they have treated previous presidents has left the field wide open for a cable network comic to play the role that independent journalists used to — holding the White House accountable, skewering the president for errors, and refusing to take seriously the spin coming from administration flacks.

It may be that Stewart’s newfound boldness in ribbing Obama is indicative of a change in Obama’s fortunes. But it also speaks volumes about the reluctance of the entire media — serious and otherwise — for the better part of a year to critically assess Obama’s policies and political instincts.

Now that the spell is broken and Obama is “funny,” maybe the media will discover he is also fodder for serious reporting. Perhaps they will ask some serious questions — when and if he ever gives another press conference. How was it that he claimed that the Christmas Day bomber was an isolated extremist? Did he really let Eric Holder come up with the idea all on his own for a New York trial for KSM? Did Obama not know that his own health-care plan would chase Americans out of their own health-care plans? Why did he sign an omnibus spending bill with 9,000 earmarks if earmarks are nothing more than petty corruption? How can he say the stimulus is a success if he promised it would keep unemployment at 8 percent?  There is nothing funny about any of those issues, but the media might want to press the president for answers to these and other queries. At least if they want to stay ahead of Jon Stewart.

Read Less




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