Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Quantum of Solace

Today's a day to search out silver linings, and for taking a quantum of solace (to appropriate the title of the new James Bond flick) where it can be found. And I've hit on at least one bright spot.

Barack Obama's victory almost certainly marks the beginning of the end for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, as well as The Colbert Report, since both shows primarily appeal to Bush-haters and neither will dare heap similar scorn on the new president, or on Congressional Democrats, with whom the "talent" and staff have such an affinity. The Bush-bashing networks of CNN and MSNBC (especially) face similar challenges adapting to the new political landscape, unless they can retain what audience loyalty they have by consistently genuflecting before the Messiah.

I predict, therefore, that both Comedy Central shows will be off the air within a year. That's little consolation, I know, if the ship of state strikes a reef with Obama at the helm. But at this point, I can live with the country's further decline easier than I can stand a few more years of The Daily Show schtick.

Without President Bush to kick around, and with Republicans reduced to footnote status in Congress, much of The Daily Show's source material immediately goes away, leaving a huge void. Republicans, while they clung to power, made ideal punching bags. But will the punches be pulled now that the people in power are of the same political persuasion as the folks writing the jokes? And how much edginess and appeal will such shows lose when they turn from cynics into sycophants?

Obama's honeymoon will last two or three years, and possibly longer, depending on how long the new president and his followers can blame the intransigence of certain problems on "the Bush years." It may be years before the Messiah's acolytes are willing to concede he's only human; and years more, perhaps, before he's seen as fallible enough to become the butt of jokes. Self-righteousness numbs the funny bone, which is why the left is notoriously loath to laugh at itself. Stewart won't be inclined to rain on Obama's parade, having done so much to smooth his path to power.

Can one really imagine Stewart, who takes such glee in mimicking the current dunderhead-in-chief, similarly mocking Obama, without running the risk of coming off as a modern-day Al Jolson? Will The Daily Show's audience hoot as loudly when the object of all their political fantasies is savaged or lampooned, assuming Stewart & Co. have to courage to do this? Will Michelle Obama receive the same scathing treatment that Republican first ladies have on Saturday Night Live and other shows?

I'm guessing a double standard will be in force, probably for years to come, while the left tries turning Barack Obama into the black JFK. Obama's race will to some extent Teflon-coat him against such mockery, since comedians and other critics must tread lightly, lest their jokes and critiques come off as racially-charged.

America will know it's overcome its race hang-ups not when it elects a black president, but when it rejects a black president -- when it holds Obama to the same standard of performance, and treats him as irreverently, as it has white presidents. But I suspect that this president's skin color will intimidate comedians and insulate him from criticism.

To some extent, at least initially, an Obama double standard could be beneficial, since I think some Americans take an unhealthy glee in chopping presidents down to size. Although I may differ with him on ideological grounds, I would take no satisfaction in seeing Obama, as the president, destroyed or humiliated. Republicans blew it and Democrats deserve a chance to see if they can do better. Republicans have had a grip on power for so long that many Americans have forgotten how bad the alternative can be. The repudiation of Obama's ideas will come in time, stemming from their unpopular or unfortunate consequences.

But if, on the other hand, we see a personality cult developing, in which one man's charisma blinds Americans to the flawed or dangerous nature of his policy decisions, and all objectivity is lost and criticism muted, for fear of knocking an icon off its pedestal, that too is unhealthy -- and potentially threatening to free discourse and democratic institutions. Obama deserves his shot at success, and greatness. But it will be interesting to see how his worshipful followers respond when it becomes clear that, like most mortals and all past presidents, he turns out to have feet of clay.

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