— Bud Norman
What a sorry state of affairs for Barack Obama’s re-election campaign when he can’t even go on the Daily Show without feeding another bad news cycle.
In the latest of a series of missteps, the president appeared Thursday on Jon Stewart’s cable television comedy program and described the murder of four Americans during a Sept. 11 terror attack on the embassy in Libya as “not optimal.” The jarring understatement will likely be replayed on various other media, and repeatedly at the conservative outlets, which can’t be helpful to Obama’s cause.
The president’s many die-hard defenders will note that the questioner had introduced the term “optimal,” a slightly mitigating point, but it won’t spare him another day of damning headlines nor spare him the damage of the sound bite. Combined with the widely reported fact that Obama embarked on a fund-raising trip to Las Vegas in the immediate aftermath of the murders, the president’s description of the terror attack as a “bump in the road” during a later interview, and his many week’s of dissembling about the true nature of the incident, the latest statement is likely to bolster an ever more widely held impression that the president’s sympathy for the victims is, well, less than optimal.
Nor is the president in any position to complain that his critics are harping on a mere choice of words, having spent much of the day on harping on Mitt Romney’s brief mention during Tuesday’s debate of considering “binders full of women” while hiring workers during his term as Governor of Massachusetts. The president seemed to find this a most hilarious misstatement during Thursday’s stump speeching, as did several of the commentators at the friendlier cable news services, but after a day’s consideration we’re still unable to find exactly what’s wrong with Romney’s boast.
In a speech to a typically sycophantic crowd the president said that he doesn’t have to resort to binders to find qualified women to work for his administration, presumably because the resumes and background checks and other necessary paperwork are delivered on silver platters or some other such conveyance, but that only attests to Romney’s relative frugality. The tactic also provided unfriendly media such as this to remind readers that Obama’s White House has been described by a woman there as a “hostile workplace” and has a history of paying its women employees less than their male counterparts, and it’s unlikely that voters concerned with the dire state of the economy and the growing dangers of the international scene will agree that Romney’s admirable desire to find qualified women workers, through binders or any other means, are a more significant matter.
Let us hope that many voters will also be slightly irked by a reminder that Obama was appearing on the Daily Show. The appearance was in keeping with the president’s preference for presenting himself mainly on such lightweight programs as The View, Entertainment Tonight, and, as we never tire of mentioning, the Pimp With a Limp’s radio show. This schedule has solidified Obama’s standing as Celebrity in Chief, a title that probably impresses many people who won’t bother to find their way to the voting places, and while that might diminish his stature with the more serious-minded it usually has the compensating advantage of shielding the president from tough questions.
Stewart’s more awe-struck fans will insist that he’s a serious satirist in the tradition of Jonathan Swift or Mark Twain, and an influential conduit of the news to today’s youth, but he’s basically a guy who makes funny faces into the camera and flatters the pretensions of his slacker audience with sneers and snarkiness, and Obama had every reason to expect the usual gentle treatment. Indeed, Stewart’s unfortunate choice of the word “optimal” was seemingly intended to euphemize the situation as much as possible, making it all the more embarrassing that Obama was somehow able to turn it into a snippet for an upcoming Romney ad.
— Bud Norman
The observation is prompted by a story over at the invaluable Bretibart.com’s Big Hollywood site, gloating over the surprisingly paltry ratings for “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” both of which are attracting fewer viewers than such fare as “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” “Bad Girls Club,” and professional wrestling. The paltriness of the shows’ ratings is surprising because both “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” are widely hyped by other media, and their stars are often lauded as the modern days heirs to Jonathan Swift or Mark Twain, but upon reflection it is not difficult to believe that the shows have a limited appeal.
Left-wing humor has been a rather smug and self-righteous genre since at least the late-‘60s heyday of Lenny Bruce, The Smothers Brothers, Dick Gregory, and Mort Sahl, but in recent years it has become especially tedious, predictable, and downright mean. The left-wing comic continues to think himself a brave and intrepid iconoclast, challenging the stale conventions of an uptight and conformist society with devastating wit, but they never challenge the assumptions of their like-minded audiences nor seem to notice that it’s no longer the 1950s and that all of the conventions of that era have already been quite thoroughly demolished. Lenny Bruce did indeed run afoul of the law by dropping a few naughty words into his stunningly un-funny routines back in the pre-cable days, and has been hailed as a champion of free speech ever since, but these days an equally un-funny comic such as the execrable Louis CK can devote an entire set to a stunningly vulgar rant about Sarah Palin’s daughter having Down’s Syndrome and instead of an arrest he gets an invitation to address the Radio and Television Correspondents Association.
The past three years or so have been particularly tough for the left-wing comic, not just because they lost their favorite whipping boy in George W. Bush but because it’s so glaringly absurd for a comic to pose as brave and cutting edge while speaking truth to the out-of-power.
One of the last episodes of “The Daily Show” we bothered to watch was during the early days of the Obama administration, when the euphoria of hope and change was still rampant in the popular culture, and we tuned in merely to see how Jon Stewart would continue his anti-establishment pose now that his hero had become the establishment. The big headline story of that day was Obama’s executive order to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, and we were curious to see what humor he might find it that. Predictably enough, the joke was that there were still a few Republicans left in Congress and they were so laughably absurd as to raise questions about the decision. The show aired some footage of a Rep. Pete King wondering if the prisoners would be set free to continue their terrorist activities, transferred to an American prison in a community that would become a natural terrorism target, tried in a court with the defense given access to top-secret anti-terrorism protocols, or some other problematic solution, followed by a cut back to Jon Stewart responding with one of his “can-you-believe-this-guy” stunned expressions. The audience howled at this Swiftian riposte, but we couldn’t help thinking that King had raised some reasonable and not at all funny questions, and we now can’t help noticing that three years later the best and brightest minds of the Obama administration are still trying to come up with better answers than a comically stunned expression.
— Bud Norman