The year’s most retweeted tweet on Twitter (sorry for that ridiculous string of words) was Stephen Colbert’s June 16 gag,”In honor of oil-soaked birds, ‘tweets’ are now ‘gurgles.’” It’s a great line, for sure. But its runaway popularity is telling. The BP oil-spill catastrophe meme was the most overhyped, under-questioned media fantasy we’ve seen propagated since George W. Bush left office. (For a sharp analysis of the spill hysteria and a comprehensive treatment of the reality, check out Robert H. Nelson’s new article in the Weekly Standard.) Which proves that no matter the administration or the age, a juicy lie will always outsell a boring truth.
Topic: Stephen Colbert
Don’t forget: “But most of America is white.” So it’s no big deal that the Jon Stewart–Stephen Colbert crowd was nearly all white. The Tea Partiers, on the other hand, are a bunch of racists.
Don’t hold your breath. Forty-seven percent of Democratic voters would like a primary challenger to Obama in 2012. The first sign of any serious challenge will be vilified and strangled in the crib.
Don’t expect comedians to be effective political organizers. Apparently, the Dems’ hopes were misplaced. “When Stewart turned serious near the end of the two-hour event, he called for calm in the public discourse but avoided any talk of the coming election and, to the likely dismay of Democratic operatives, he did not implore the surely left-leaning crowd to vote … ‘I’m really happy you guys are here, even if none of us are quite sure why,’ [Stewart] quipped.”
Don’t believe that the midterm elections’ impact will be limited to domestic policy. “[Rep. Tom] Price has ‘no doubt’ that the GOP will be allying with a number of Democrats on Iran, which he called ‘front and center’ on the party’s national security agenda as outlined in the ‘Pledge to America.’” Maybe Obama will figure out that conducting a robust national security policy is one of the few remaining ways to rescue his presidency.
Don’t underestimate the number of times you will hear the “R” word in the next week. Haley Barbour starts us out: “Well, there’s no question that this midterm election is a referendum on Obama’s policies. He talks about it, the public talks about it. The dominant issues in America are all of this spending, outrageous spending, sense of debt, skyrocketing deficits, joblessness. And what the American people are looking at and they’re saying, ‘The Obama policies aren’t working. They–we need new policies. We need a, we need an economic growth agenda.’ So it’s very clearly a referendum” (emphasis added). Or if you prefer: “They’re voting to, they’re voting to–they will vote, in my opinion, to repudiate these policies. If Republicans win, that’s what it will be, a repudiation of Obama’s policies” (emphasis added).
Don’t think you’ll find a better exemplar of the midterms than Florida. Bill Kristol on Fox News Sunday explains: “For Bill Clinton, with the blessing of the White House, to try and force [Kendirck Meek] out of the race one week out for this opportunistic governor of Florida who’s been a Republican, who’s embarrassed himself this year, who’s going to lose anyway, even if Meek got out of the race, I’m convinced, I think it’s pathetic. And I think it’s demoralizing for Democrats. Conversely, for conservatives like myself, seeing Marco Rubio as the face of the future of the Republican Party, as opposed to Charlie Crist, four years ago Charlie Crist was being heralded by the Republican establishment. He was the new governor of Florida, he was a VP possibility for John McCain. Everyone fought for his endorsement in 2008. The replacement of Charlie Crist by Marco Rubio for me is what’s so heartening about the future of the Republican Party.”
Don’t see much difference between the Democrats and the Republicans when it comes to midterm predictions. “Now, for Democratic consultants and campaign officials who have plotted and strategized for months to preserve the embattled House majority, there’s nothing left to do but sit and wait for the expected horrors of Election Day to unfold. There is nearly uniform consensus among Democratic campaign professionals that the House is gone — the only question, it seems, is how many seats they will lose. … A senior party consultant who was on the low end with his predictions said the party would lose between 40 and 50 seats. On the high end, one Democratic consultant said losses could number around 70 seats.”
David Brooks, in his online conversation with Gail Collins, observes of the upcoming rally by Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart:
By the way, I’m totally confused about what the political impact of Stewart-stock and Colbert-palooza will be. On the one hand, watching their shows I get the impression they are generally mainstream liberals. On the other hand I do think their shows are unintentionally conservative. Just as the show “60 Minutes” sends the collective message that political institutions are corrupt, so the Comedy Central shows send the message that politicians are buffoons. Both messages undermine faith in political action and public sector endeavor and so cut right against the intentions of their founders.
But normally their audiences are self-selected, largely liberal viewers who enjoy the collective experience of mocking conservatives. So they don’t really do damage to their “cause.” Their goal is more cultural than political: to reaffirm that they are cooler, smarter, and more clever than those dim-witted right-wingers.
How that comes off to the “public” – that is, a larger audience that is not in on the joke but rather the butt of the joke — is what has so many liberals nervous. The title of the event — the Rally to Restore Sanity — tells it all. Like Obama (but funnier), Colbert and Stewart are quite certain that Americans, after demonstrating sheer brilliance in 2008, are suffering from some mental affliction. If the comedians really wanted to restore sanity, they’d start with those on the left who are convinced that foreign money, Karl Rove, and Fox News are to blame for their party’s woes. But I don’t see that happening.
Call it the Backlash Midterms. Obama pushed through ObamaCare to pump up the base; it pumped up conservatives and angered independents. Obama took to the campaign trail; his peevishness and attacks on his own base further depressed liberals and reminded other voters why they were upset. Jack Conway runs an attack ad on Rand Paul; liberals and conservatives alike are appalled. Even NPR gets in on the backlash act — firing Juan Williams and thereby unleashing a furious attack on their funding and journalistic standards.
Then caustic liberals decide to have a rally on the mall. Bad idea. As this report explains:
Jon Stewart has tried to paint the “million moderate march” he will hold on the Mall this Saturday as a live-action version of his comedy show, a satirical take on political demonstrations. But some liberal groups are doing their best to adopt the rally as their own. … [G]roups ranging from PETA to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws are preparing props and making snarky signs in preparation for the event, and more than 200,000 people have said on Facebook that they will attend.
Many conservatives have watched smugly as liberal activists have become caught up in a gathering that will probably resemble a circus more than it does a serious political event and that is taking place on a prime day for campaign volunteers to help get out the vote.
Really — have these people learned nothing? Stephen Colbert’s performance on Capitol Hill seemed to personify Democrats’ fundamental unseriousness and disregard for the public’s concerns. Now the same comic, with Jon Stewart in tow, is going to mock and sneer at his fellow citizens as “snarky” (read: obnoxious) signs display the views of the liberal “cool” crowd. It is a disaster waiting to happen — and will fill the cable and network news shows on the weekend before the election. Great going, fellas.
Timothy Noah at left-leaning Slate is nervous about the upcoming Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart rally:
There’s still a lot we don’t fully understand about the Tea Partiers and the political independents who have lost faith in Obama. But one thing we should all be pretty clear on by now is that they hate, hate, hate anything that smacks of elitism. The spectacle of affluent 18-to-34-year-olds blanketing the Mall to snicker at jokes about wingnut ignoramuses and Bible thumpers will, I fear, have the effect of a red cape waved before a bull. Stewart and Colbert aren’t supposed to want to affect the midterm elections, and for the most part I believe they don’t. But let Republicans regain the House (and maybe even the Senate) in part because Comedy Central used mockery not merely to burlesque political protest but also, to some inevitable extent, to practice it—and I think Stewart and Colbert will be sorry they came.
Well, if it will make him feel better, the House is already pretty much lost, and the Senate isn’t going to be decided by sneering comics. It does, however, remind us that the “cool” set was originally entranced with the “cool” candidate Obama. Why? Well, aside from liberalism (Hillary Clinton had that after all), they shared a contempt for the Bible-and-gun huggers, a suspicion that their fellow citizens were dolts and racists, and a confidence that they were smarter than just about anyone else. Appropriately, in the final week of the campaign, Obama is appearing on The Daily Show. The host and his audience are indeed the president’s base.
Noah is nervous that it’s dangerous to the liberals’ cause to take this act out in public, where the voters might get the idea that Obama’s supporters are snickering at them. Well, they are. And Obama’s affinity for those who ooze contempt for Americans goes a long way toward explaining why he is now so estranged from the people he seeks to lead.
You do sense that the left is not only in the process of losing its congressional majorities but also its bearings. The Wall Street Journal‘s editors comment:
Only a week ago, President Obama and his media supporters were asserting that they had Republicans caught in their class-war pincers: They’d lure the GOP into opposing an extension of lower tax rates for the middle class in order to defend lower tax rates for those making more than $200,000 a year. … [But] the Democrats have cut and run, lest they get blamed for voting for a tax increase in a slow-growth economy. This is how legislative majorities behave when they’ve lost the political argument and can sense their days are numbered. They lose their ideological nerve and try to save their own individual careers.
So for fear of losing their base or losing a floor vote, the Democrats in the midst of a recession decide to flee and allow the Bush tax cuts to expire. It makes inviting Stephen Colbert to the Hill look downright responsible.
The Democrats are at an intellectual dead end:
The policies of spend, tax and regulate have undermined the recovery, causing capital to flee to Asia or the sideline and employers to forswear or delay new hiring. The American public has listened and watched and is slowly concluding that the hope they placed in these “progressive” policies was mistaken. This political reality is slowly dawning on Democrats, which is why so many of them are now denying paternity for the policies of the last four years.
What Democrats believe in doesn’t work, and what they could do instead isn’t supported by their left-wing base. So they do nothing, like a deer in the headlights. And like that proverbial deer, the Dems are headed for a smash-up.
The Democrats catch flak for their Stephen Colbert stunt. Steny Hoyer is embarrassed: “House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said on Sunday that comedian Stephen Colbert should not have appeared before a House subcommittee last week, blasting the move as ‘an embarrassment.’” Nancy Pelosi defends the move, affirming the sense that she’s going to be booted out of the House leadership.
The U.S. and Israeli media are catching on: Soros Street is a fraud. “The Washington Times report also revealed that one of J Street’s major donors was a Hong Kong-based businesswoman named Consolacion Esdicul. According to the tax returns, Esdicul donated $811,697 over three years. Asked if J Street had conducted a background check on Esdicul, [Amy] Spitalnick said she was not at liberty to divulge the process by which it examines whether to accept money from donors.” So maybe the money is Saudi? Or Iranian? Who knows?
Republican Charles Baker catches Gov. Patrick Duval: “With just five weeks to the election, Republican Charles D. Baker has pulled even with Governor Deval Patrick in a gubernatorial race shaped by anti-incumbent sentiment and unusually high excitement among Republican voters, according to a new Boston Globe poll. … Patrick, a Democrat, won support from 35 percent of likely voters, compared with 34 percent for Baker, a statistical tie given the poll’s margin of error.”
It’s not likely that Democrat Lee Fisher will catch Rob Portman in Ohio. “The numbers on the race to replace retiring Republican George Voinovich in the U.S. Senate … were in line with a number of other polls conducted in recent months, with the Republican — former Cincinnati congressman and Bush administration official Rob Portman — holding a 15 percentage point lead over the Democrat Lee Fisher, the state’s lieutenant governor.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer’s dismal record as senator is catching up with her. The liberal San Francisco Chronicle won’t endorse her: “The incumbent, Democrat Barbara Boxer, has failed to distinguish herself during her 18 years in office. There is no reason to believe that another six-year term would bring anything but more of the same uninspired representation. … It is extremely rare that this editorial page would offer no recommendation on any race, particularly one of this importance. This is one necessary exception. Boxer, first elected in 1992, would not rate on anyone’s list of most influential senators. Her most famous moments on Capitol Hill have not been ones of legislative accomplishment, but of delivering partisan shots.” Wow.
You really have to catch Candy Crowley’s State of the Union. After Dick Durbin declares that the Democrats have done everything right, Crowley asks: “So absolutely no culpability on the part of Democrats or the White House. This is all the Republicans’ fault that people are turning away from President Obama?” Priceless.
Chris Wallace catches Mara Liasson: Hasn’t the Obama agenda contributed to business uncertainty and kept billions on the sidelines of the economy? “Yes, I, on that part I totally agree,” admits Liasson.
It’s getting harder for Jeffrey Goldberg to be protective of J Street when Jeremy Ben Ami lies to Goldberg’s colleague.
It’s getting harder to pretend that this election will be anything but a Democratic disaster. “With a little over a month until Election Day, Congressional Republicans have the clear advantage with voters nationwide, a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll says. In a generic ballot match-up, the Republican leads the Democrat by 9 points among likely voters — 53 percent to 44 percent. … But the new survey suggests Republicans could be in even a better position than they were in 1994, when the GOP stunned the Democrats with their gain of 54 seats in the House and eight seats in the upper chamber.”
It’s getting harder to maintain the position that the Democrats deserve to govern. “Amid a high stakes struggle to connect with voters, House Democrats turned Friday to celebrity comedian Stephen Colbert to highlight the plight of migrant farm workers. He promptly returned the favor by turning Congress — specifically a Judiciary subcommittee — into his personal comedy club.”
It’s getting harder for Democrats to keep their base in line. “Liberals are expressing outrage that Democrats are not holding a vote to extend tax cuts for the middle class before the elections.”
It’s getting harder for Obama to come up with a plausible rationale for why his Iranian engagement policy makes sense. “To have a President [Ahmadinejad] who makes outrageous, offensive statements like this does not serve the interests of the Iranian people, does not strengthen Iran’s stature in the world community. And there is an easy solution to this, which is to have a Iranian government act responsibly in the international community, along the lines of not just basic codes of conduct or diplomatic norms, but just basic humanity and common decency.” Umm, but doesn’t Ahmadinejad’s speech suggest that … oh, never mind. I think Obama is hopeless (and also unwilling to suggest military force as a viable option).
It’s getting harder for Democrats to keep their heads about them. Bill Kristol writes, “[T]he Democratic party is in meltdown, the Obama White House is in disarray, and the voters are in rebellion against both of them. … It looks as if 2010 will be a bigger electoral landslide than 1994, and more significant as well.”
It’s getting harder to pretend the Tea Partiers are unsophisticated. Larry Kudlow points out that they are a lot brighter than the Beltway economic geniuses: “With all the Fed’s pump-priming since late 2008, there is still $1 trillion of excess bank reserves sitting on deposit at the central bank. This massive cash hoard suggests that liquidity is not the problem for the financial system or the economy. And putting another $1 trillion into excess reserves only doubles the problem. A much better idea would be a fiscal freeze on spending, tax rates and regulations. This is apparently what the tea-party-driven Republican congressional leaders intend for their election platform.” Sure is.
On Wednesday, upon hearing news that TV stunt comedian Stephen Colbert was to testify before a House panel on immigration, I wrote a blog post called “Scenes from a Political Meltdown” in which I predicted it would not happen, because someone would intervene to prevent the Democratic majority in Congress from making a suicidal error in turning over discussion of an important issue to a master mocker.
Well, I was wrong. It happened this morning. Colbert, playing his blowhard-conservative-pseudo-O’Reilly character, was screamingly funny (you can watch him here). Among other things, he attempted to introduce the results of his colonoscopy into the Congressional Record. The members of Congress were screamingly funny too, only unintentionally. There were expressions of surprise, motions to get Colbert off the stage, pained stabs at making jokes alongside a professional, and so on.
At least when Sasha Baron Cohen’s Borat and Bruno took politicians by surprise, the politicians had no idea who Baron Cohen was. Everybody in that room, including Committee chair Zoe Lofgren, knew exactly who Colbert was.
This may have been the single biggest pointless blunder in American political history, and I am not kidding. With an election only five weeks from now in which Democrats are poised for major losses, this morning’s depiction of Congress as ludicrous dupes of a TV personality — which will be replayed for weeks — will make the analogistic point that the majority is unfit to be running things. How exactly will they argue otherwise?
Did Colbert himself understand the damage he was going to do to the political and ideological forces he clearly supports by mocking the political process they control in this way? Is he, secretly, more O’Reilly than O’Reilly? Whatever is the case, the disaster was predictable and could have been avoided. I know, because I predicted it. What I didn’t predict is that the House leadership and the Democratic leadership generally are in such a state of degeneration that they didn’t know, or didn’t try, to intervene before this political Jonestown.
UPDATE: Oh my Lord. Speaker of the House Margaret Dumont Nancy Pelosi has defended Colbert’s appearance: “He’s an American. He has a point of view.”
CIA Director Michael Hayden says no. “China is a competitor–certainly in the economic realm, and, increasingly, on the geopolitical stage,” he said in a speech delivered yesterday at Kansas State University. “But China is not an inevitable enemy.”
No, it is not. The Chinese state-and its increasingly restive people-all have consequential choices to make. So, in both a technical and practical sense, Beijing is not inevitably anything: friend, enemy, or Stephen Colbert’s clever term, frenemy. We can study the history of other rising powers or even look into China’s past for guidance, but we will of course find no answers about the future.
With regard to that future, Hayden says, “There are good policy choices available to both Washington and Beijing that can keep us on the largely peaceful, constructive path we’ve been on for almost 40 years now.” If we ignore the second part of the sentence–which some might want to debate–it is of course true that both the United States and China will influence the future of their bilateral relationship, which some call the most important in the world. There is, however, an assumption, on this side of the Pacific, that the United States, as the sole superpower, can make China a “responsible stakeholder” in the international community, to borrow the State Department’s hopeful formulation.
Yet China’s future direction is largely out of our hands. China is too large, proud, and brittle for outsiders to have much of a say. Moreover, the leaders in Beijing have difficulty reconciling and controlling the various factions that end up shaping the country’s policy, and so it is wrong for outsiders to believe they can have much of a hand in guiding the Chinese state. Finally, there is the influence of the Chinese people on their nation’s foreign policies, a factor that became evident last month as nationalist Chinese protested in their own country as well as in Asia, Europe, and the United States.
This leads us to perhaps the most important point about Sino-American relations. Because we have only limited influence over Beijing, we cannot base our policy on what we believe Chinese intentions may be. Our touchstone should be Chinese capabilities. Whether Beijing appears to be friend or enemy, we have to recognize that China is one nation far beyond our control. In short, we should not let optimism prevent us from preparing for the worst.
The Nation is holding a poll on its website where readers can choose their ideal choice for the Democratic presidential nomination. Online polls are usually meaningless (the popularity of Ron Paul in such internet venues is a testament to his rabidly enthusiastic and technically savvy online fan base, rather than to his actual popularity among Republican primary voters) and the magazine’s editors at least note, in the fine print, that the poll is “not statistically valid.”
Though it’s true that the poll is “not statistically valid” in the sense that it is not an accurate prediction of what will happen in the Democratic primaries, the poll is nonetheless a useful barometer of where the magazine’s readership lies on the political spectrum. And thus it’s no surprise that Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich—whose most novel proposal has been the creation of a cabinet level “Department of Peace”—takes the lead at 34 percent (at the time of this posting), trouncing the actual front runners Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Barack Obama. Indeed, the fact that the presumptive nominee, Clinton, garners only 5 percent, speaks volumes about how radical the magazine’s readership is. That former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel (no longer invited to Democratic Party debates and given to holding his own, one-man rants across the street) has more than double her support (11 percent) speaks to the outright self-delusion of the Nation‘s readership. Kucinich’s campaign slogan is the inversion of an old Ronald Reagan saying: “Strength through Peace,” which makes about as much sense as “Satiation through Starvation.”
Earlier this month, Democratic Party officials in South Carolina rejected Stephen Colbert’s attempt to make it onto the state’s primary ballot on the grounds that he is a comedian and would distract from the real business of presidential politicking. But that’s nonsense. There are already at least two comedians running for president in the Democratic primary.