The art of satire, according our well-considered literary theory, should be rendered with a certain subtlety. A burlesque too broad is bound to be vulgar, and it also robs the more sophisticated reader of that smug self-satisfaction that comes with recognizing an inconspicuous joke. Alas, The Daily Mail’s account of President Barack Obama’s remarks before and during a recent high-dollar fund-raiser falls well short of this high standard.
The article is presented as straightforward journalism, in keeping with the Fleet Street mainstay’s usual offerings, but despite the paper’s impeccable reputation for accuracy it seems the work of a rather ham-fisted satirist. It claims that Obama sent one of those poverty-pleading e-mails soliciting donations from the basement-dwelling Democratic hoi polloi, in which he lambasted the Republican opposition as the party of the fabulously wealthy, then flew to Connecticut to headline a $32,400-dollar-per-ticket fund-raiser in the Greenwich home of a real estate mogul named Rich Richman. This is irony cut with a chain saw, rather than the requisite scalpel, and had we been the editors we would have insisted in the interest of verisimilitude on something slightly less gaudy.
Take the small detail of that mogul host’s improbable name, for instance. We’ve dabbled in fiction enough to know the exhilirating sense of omnipotence that comes with naming our creations, and have always looked to the hilariously overstated nomenclature of the great Evelyn Waugh as our model, but calling the rich, rich man “Rich RIchman” is a bit lazy and self-indulgent to our tastes. Not since Arthur Miller named the lowly protagonist of “Death of a Salesman” Willy Loman has a name been so uncomfortably pregnant with ponderous significance. At the very least, we would have insisted it be transliterated into French or some other obscure language. Other reports joshingly indicate that the president’s middle name is “Hussein,” however, so we commend the authors for omitting that rather over-the-top invention.
A wryer sort of satire can be found at The Weekly Standard, which quotes the president at length during another pricey fund-raiser, this one at a swank Manhattan restaurant. According the this account, the president acknowledged to his well-heeled supporters in the fight against income inequality that “there’s a sense possibly that the world is spinning so fast and nobody is able to control it,” then reassured them by citing his recent successes against the Islamic State terror gang, which continues its territorial gains in a key swath of the Middle East, rallying the North Atlantic Treaty Organization against the Russians, who currently control much of what used to be Ukraine, and mobilizing the entire “world community” against the carbon emissions causing global warming, which hasn’t been happening for the past 18 years. This is all quite droll, especially the implied suggestion that people would really pay $32,400 to hear such apparent balderdash, which should be especially satisfying to the class-envying sorts or who worry about income inequality, and we appreciate the painstaking effort to make it sound like something the president might have actually said.
There’s a disconcerting possibility, though, that both stories by these usually reliable publications are actually true. If so, we fear that the ancient art of satire might be rendered obsolete.
— Bud Norman