So, after reading lots of stuff on the interweb about Stephen Colbert's comedy bit at the White House Correspondents Dinner, about how scathing his criticism of Bush was, if it was out of line to do what he did with Bush sitting a few feet away, I decided to download a copy. You can also read a transcript here.
I believe the government that governs best is the government that governs least. And by these standards, we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq.
I have to say, I just don't see it. There are a few barbs about the war in Iraq, the one above probably being the most harsh. Given the situation, that's nothing. Someone with the responsibilities that Bush has and who has messed them up so badly should have people saying things a hundred times more harsh than that to his face, not in a joking manner, every day.
I mean, it's like the movie "Rocky." All right. The president in this case is Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed is -- everything else in the world. It's the tenth round. He's bloodied. His corner man, Mick, who in this case I guess would be the vice president, he's yelling, "Cut me, Dick, cut me!," and every time he falls everyone says, "Stay down! Stay down!" Does he stay down? No. Like Rocky, he gets back up, and in the end he -- actually, he loses in the first movie.
I liked that bit. And it's completely fair (it's also funny in a meta sense because Mickey was played by Burgess Meredith, who also played the Penguin on the old Batman show, and Jon Stewart's impersonation of Cheney is based on Meredith's Penguin. Waugh!!). Except that Rocky is admirable for all his losing, while Bush...
The greatest thing about this man is he's steady. You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday. Events can change; this man's beliefs never will.
That's one of the best lines in the bit, and it might be seen as harsh, but in a good-natured way. Harsh would have been tying that in to Bush's failure to stop the attacks of 2001, or the inept reaction to the hurricanes of 2005.
So the White House has personnel changes. Then you write, "Oh, they're just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic." First of all, that is a terrible metaphor. This administration is not sinking. This administration is soaring. If anything, they are rearranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg!
Another contender for best line, and again completely fair and good-natured.
Look, by the way, I've got a theory about how to handle these retired generals causing all this trouble: don't let them retire! Come on, we've got a stop-loss program; let's use it on these guys. I've seen Zinni and that crowd on Wolf Blitzer. If you're strong enough to go on one of those pundit shows, you can stand on a bank of computers and order men into battle. Come on.
Is it crossing a line to point out that, in an unprecedented move, many now-retired Generals directly involved in the Iraq war are calling for the SecDef to resign? I don't think so. And to tie that in to another controversial policy that the administration defends?
The next section is shout-outs to a few people in the audience, on both sides of the political aisle. A few of those were actually far harsher than anything Colbert said about Bush, including calling John McCain on his sell-out to the religious right and greeting Scalia with the same "Sicilian" gestures that Scalia himself used.
Mayor Nagin! Mayor Nagin is here from New Orleans, the chocolate city! Yeah, give it up. Mayor Nagin, I'd like to welcome you to Washington, D.C., the chocolate city with a marshmallow center. And a graham cracker crust of corruption. It's a Mallomar, I guess is what I'm describing, a seasonal cookie.That's the best joke I've heard about Nagin's rather unfortunate (but understandable) metaphor of a while back.
He ended with a video of himself as White House press secretary, using clips from actual press questions. That was almost all mocking the press secretaries and the media, not Bush. Helen Thomas is pretty funny in that as well.
Maybe it's my raging liberalism, but I thought Colbert was entirely within bounds for what he was hired to do, and in fact erred on the side of being too polite. No real mention of the hurricanes and Bush's inept handling of those. No mention of Bush's failed domestic agenda (social security reform, medicare reform, immigration reform, rising gas costs). No mention of Bush's many personal issues (acknowledged drinking problem, unacknowledged drug rumours, proven drunk driving arrests, speaking problems, falling down a lot more than is normal). Only minor joking references to issues of law-breaking by Bush's administration (wire-taps, CIA leaks). No specific criticism of the role of his own decisions in the problems in Iraq. Let's face it, Bush got off easy.
And in fact, despite some press reports, Bush didn't seem too upset (see photo uptop), and neither did Laura Bush.
Now, if you want to talk about crossing the line, let's talk about Bush's "comedic" turn, coming just before Colbert, where Bush did a speech with a Bush impersonator (Steve Bridges) standing beside him as his "inner thoughts". Among other things in that skit, they said point blank that Cheney (not attending the dinner) was drunk when he shot a guy in the face. Could you imagine the hue and cry if Colbert had said that? There were a lot of other lines of questionable taste, though I can't find a transcript and don't want to watch it again. One was quoting the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. (an American hero who knew how to talk) but mis-attributing it.
The most interesting thing was that Bush's skit, while much more offensive (though not topping his "looking under the cushions for weapons of mass destruction" trainwreck of a few years ago) and much less funny got much more laughs from the crowd than Colbert's often genuinely clever bit. Which I guess only goes to show you that the White House Correspondents and their guests are by and large a bunch of ass-kissing toadies.