August 21, 2004


The State of the George W. Bush Joke (JASON ZENGERLE, 8/22/04, NY Times)

IN December 1992, just weeks before departing office, President George Herbert Walker Bush invited Dana Carvey to the White House. Mr. Carvey had spent the previous four years impersonating Mr. Bush on "Saturday Night Live" as a patrician wimp, and turning Bushisms like "it's ba-a-ad" and "wouldn't be pru-dent at this juncture" into national punch lines. But as Mr. Carvey performed from behind a podium in the East Room, the president, according to press accounts, laughed and looked happier than he had in weeks. It wasn't hard to see why: the humor was gentle and apolitical, making light of minor personal foibles. Speaking with reporters afterward, Mr. Bush recalled a conversation with the comedian: "He said, `I hope I've never crossed the line.' And I knew exactly what he meant. And as far as I'm concerned he never has."

The second President Bush's relationship to comedy is a different story. To mangle a presidential line, the state of the George W. Bush joke is mean and partisan. On late-night shows, in political advertisements and in the fertile new realm of Internet comedy, jokes about the president are much harsher than were the jokes about his father or Bill Clinton, or even the jokes that were circulating when George W. Bush first took office. Back then, the president was teased about poor syntax and low I.Q. Now many Bush jokes portray the president as an irresponsible, duplicitous menace. In part, this change is due to an increasingly unpopular war and an unsteady economy. It also may be that all comedy has become harsher in recent years. But partly it is because, since Mr. Bush took office, the left has belatedly rediscovered humor as a political tool.

Not quite. It's because, just like with Ronald Reagan, they thought he was a joke until he got elected and started kicking their butts on legislative matters. Now they see him headed for easy re-election so of course they're increasingly bitter. The joke, as always, comes at their expense.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 21, 2004 3:48 PM

I tried watching The Daily Show again the other night. Man, had Jon Stewart gotten shrill! Wah, wah, wah! George Bush is the devil! Isn't that funny?! George Bush is the living reincarnation of Adolph Hitler! Haaaa!" Phoo! I think I'll wait to watch The Daily Show again untill after Bush wins, just to watch Stewart freak out. At least Conan O'Brien stays stuck in the comfortable "Bush is dumb" rut. Plus, he admonishes the audience to "Vote in November, not on a talk show."

Posted by: Governor Breck at August 21, 2004 5:46 PM

I remember the Bush Sr-Carvey thing and thinking both were class acts (although I've since seen Carvey take some swipes at W). I can't see W inviting Will Farrell or any other comdians to the White House.

Posted by: AWW at August 21, 2004 7:51 PM

Oh I have my grand tour of the lefty site all planned out for Bush's re-election.

First, I'm going to start on Mark Moreford's column (I predict he'll be so enraged he'll be speaking in tongues), then a tour the Democratic Underground forums, then, if I can still breath for laughing, I'm going to go to Warblogger watch and repost all of Shropshire's confident predictions of a Kerry win in his comments section.

Oh yes, it will be a great day for me, a great day for Australia, a great day for America! Then I'm going to switch on the TV and watch the live feed of US cruise missiles blowing up Iran's reactor and bomb research facilities.

Bring! It! On!!!!

Posted by: Amos at August 21, 2004 11:16 PM

The left in America and Europe are doing to Bush what they did to Reagan. Nothing is different.

Posted by: pchuck at August 21, 2004 11:25 PM