Where were you the day political satire died? I was at home watching the inauguration, of course.
I saw it all go down. I watched President Obama address both America and the world with such purpose, integrity and humility that one thing became abundantly clear: he killed satire in cold blood.
With Clinton’s philandering and Bush’s floundering, the past 16 years have been an all-you-can-eat buffet of political buffoonery for columnists, pundits and comedians alike.
But the electoral process giveth, and the electoral process taketh away.
On January 20th I watched a green helicopter fly away with my meal ticket.
Our first eight years of prosperity were thanks to a president Shakespearian in both his brilliance and his flaws. The second eight years were thanks to a president more of the Mr. Gnu persuasion, though flawed just the same.
As if the spoil of riches wasn’t enough, John McCain came through in the clutch to deliver to us Wasilla’s very own Sarah Palin. Her “you betcha!” attitude and know-nothing politics promised to be a comedic resource of even more abundance than the arctic oil pits she calls home. Then Obama showed up and took her away from us.
Shocking as it is, we really should have seen this coming.
After all, by Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 we were beginning to take notice of the gathering clouds. We felt the raging storm coming, and we even cheered on Hurricane Barack.
But never did we stop to figure out how we would rebuild our satirical base.
How do you go after a president who has earned every bit of goodwill from both America and the world completely on his own merits?
How do you go after a president who is reshaping America’s international reputation by joining the global community rather than attempting to hover above it?
How do you go after a president who keeps his promises?
During two weeks in office he has already closed Guantanamo Bay, reinstated funding for abortion, lifted the ban on stem-cell research and promised the Middle East personally via his first presidential interview to help broker long-term peace in the region. He’s even begun addressing the daunting economic crisis with a plan to create 2.5 million new jobs by 2011.
There is only one thing Obama has failed to take into account, and that is the well being of us columnists, pundits and comedians who thrive on absurd politicians making wildly inappropriate decisions. Did he even stop to take into account how many jobs his decent- human-being approach will cost this market?
Can’t we get a little satire stimulus? Can’t he offer us some benign quirk that we can run with?
Since Obama took office the drop in the quality of political satire has been profound.
The problem is not that humorists are too left-leaning to attack him — the Clintons have been a cornerstone of political comedy for more than a decade now. Nor is the problem that humorists are worried about backlash for speaking out against such a popular president — many have already taken their shots at Obama.
The problem is that the jokes simply aren’t very good.
Why? Because Obama is a serious president in serious times. He’s a new generation of politician that doesn’t succumb to the same pitfalls previous leaders have.
At least so far, anyway.
So if Obama remains a competent, inspirational and humble president, are we witnessing the death of political satire?
The Daily Show host Jon Stewart pondered this question aloud just after he announced Obama as the president-elect on Nov. 5th, asking, “How are we gonna make this shit funny?”
Stewart has provided an invaluable service to America for which we are forever indebted: he offered unrelenting criticism of a broken system even while the mainstream media mostly held its tongue for fear of being labeled un-American.
In a 2006 interview with Larry King, Stewart explained, “If government suddenly became inspiring, and moved towards people’s better nature, and began to solve problems in a rational way, rather than just a way that involved political dividends, we would be the happiest people in the world to turn our attention to [other] idiots.”
I think this shift towards responsible government has finally occurred. And now those of us who aim to satirize and critique the people in charge will have to work vastly harder than we have become accustomed to over the last 16 years.
And if Obama turns out to be the president that he is shaping up to be, we will indeed have to turn our attention to other idiots.
Thankfully there are plenty more idiots to go around.
Just look at the spa-going, private-jet-buying, bailout CEOs for a little comfort.
I know Obama warned us that in the coming months we would have to make sacrifices. I just wasn’t prepared to sacrifice political satire just yet.