Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Election 2006 - No Laughing Matter for Olberman

Posted by Cardozo

Is it just me, or have our national elections turned into bad comedy? A few days ago I heard a piece on This American Life about a man who tried out an old comedy routine…at a Karaoke bar. His halfway decent jokes failed to crack open a single smile or jar loose a single belly laugh, and after a while he was booed off the stage. People just weren’t expecting it. They felt betrayed.

And that’s kind of how I feel lately, Bush, about the upcoming election. The images in my head are of Senator George Allen – with his sly off-hand grin - mocking a volunteer from his opponent’s campaign; and of politician after politician lining up to sit opposite Stephen Colbert, happily construing his witty barbs and their lame responses as precious free publicity.

Why is it that candidates feel so much pressure to be charming and funny? This kind of pressure only leads to trouble, as it did recently for John Kerry with his botched ribbing of you, Bush. And as it did for you, too, when you made light of the failed U.S. intelligence surrounding WMDs in Iraq.

A little humor must always be welcome, but when humor becomes the substance of our political debate then we have a problem. In our profit-driven media, sound bytes are all we have left to inform ourselves of the important topics of the day. And now even these sound bytes are being co-opted by awkward attempts at humor, as if our candidates for Senate and Congress are actually running for class president: no serious issues at stake, and plenty of time for laughs.

So I want to say thanks, Bush, to Crooks and Liars for calling my attention to Keith Olberman’s recent commentary, which everyone should listen to. This one you won’t like, Bush, because the venom in Olberman’s voice contains no trace of humor, and his solemn disgust at your administration’s policies and consistent aversion to truth travel well over the airwaves. I think Olberman's style should be emulated, in a time when we so clearly need serious dialogue yet are so seemingly afraid, unwilling, or incapable of engaging in it. Olberman eschews humor in favor of genuine conviction, and I believe that this style (if adopted by elected officials) may prove even more appealing to voters than the sound byte humor that currently prevails. It’s the same appeal that voters feel for John McCain, whose history as a prisoner of war and clearly authentic patriotism allows him, every once and a while, to break the ice with a well-timed quip.

If the Olberman/McCain paradigm shift takes hold, after a while, as in many other parts of the world, politics might again be considered a worthy topic of discussion in mainstream America, leading to the kind of education and voter interest so sorely needed for the development of good public policy. For your sake, Bush, you had better hope that I am wrong, because right now an uninformed public is the only thing keeping you on this job.

1 comment:

PK said...

I saw that, welcome change. Too bad we don't have any security in this country. The Bush administration, to busy 'swift boating' everyone, has made another great blunder. Posting papers from Iraq on how to make a nuclear bomb... on the Net... in Arabic no less. Let's see them minimize and chuckle this one off!