Well, true, I am Jewish, but growing up in the United States, that never made me feel the way I do now — like a persecuted minority. Yes, people who do what I do in the political realm are now the target of harsh rhetoric, abusive characterization and real boycotts. I am not exaggerating one iota. This is fact: a chill wind of censoriousness — how far censorship? — is blowing over the narrow patch of turf I occupy. To be a right-leaning political humorist today is to walk a solitary, bitter trail under the pelting rain of progressive disdain.
It all started with Roger Ailes, head of Fox News. Ailes is one of those guys who go through life being funnier than anyone working with him, for him or against him. Usually that translates into an advantage, or even a virtue, but in the new climate if you slay them with comedy you are charged with manslaughter (man’s laughter?). A fortnight ago Ailes made this joke in the comic intro to a speech about politics: “I know it’s true Obama is on the move. I don’t know if it’s true Bush called Musharraf asking why we can’t get this guy.”
At which point a firestorm erupted, or ignited, or whatever it is firestorms do to get attention. Why, the man compared Sen. Barack Obama to a terrorist?! That is racist and anti-Muslim and mean-spirited and ethnocentric — not to mention rude. This crosses the line. This is not pushing the envelope, it’s scribbling graffiti on it and mailing it anonymously. In consequence of such considered judgments, the Nevada Democrat Party (motto: filling slots for leadership) canceled a presidential debate sponsored by Ailes’ outfit. Democrat officeholders are off to the races, hounding Fox daily. All except the gracious Obama who shrugged it off: “I have been called worse.”
Hello-o-o? Is anybody home? Ailes did not call Obama anything, good, bad or indifferent. This was just a clever play on words, with no subtext at all. Dropping little gags like that around like Easter eggs for light recreation (say: Obama sin Laden) is what I do for a living, or used to. This has now made me an endangered species; endangered, funnily enough, by speciousness. And sure enough a liberal blog went right after me in the spirit of the moment.
I had written in a piece for American Spectator that President Bush should avoid contemplating his legacy — colloquially, studying his navel — and just focus on doing the right thing. I added this joshing line: "Most Presidents don’t join the navel academy unless they are totally at sea." A liberal blogger jumped on me, saying: "This conservative commentator is illiterate. He doesn’t know the difference between a belly button and an armada." A companion responded: "Aren’t they all?"
The fine art of word-based humor is dead. Especially if a person’s name is involved. Mark Twain said of Bret Harte: “He has no heart except his name.” To be fair, that one was an insult, but had he liked him he could still have joked: “I called his name from behind and he answered with his heart in the right place.”
Here are a few I was hoping to use someday, which I suppose I shall now have to retire. On disagreeing with Bill Buckley on any subject: “Sometimes I want to belt Buckley but I am afraid of losing my pants.” On George Will’s balanced approach: “Where there’s a Will, there’s a weigh.” A good-natured jab at Democrats: “They are so cheap they make their chairman and their dean share the same office.” A reference to a veteran legislator: “The senator from Delaware, prior to announcing for President, is just enjoying Biden time.” Or this headline, “WOMAN DENIES LIAISON WITH MAYOR BARRY: I’m not the Marion kind.” Even about Fox News itself: “It’s good for what Ailes ya.”
Looks like the unemployment line for me. Either that or make a first amendment to my style. Perhaps my job search would be facilitated if I attended Democrat re-education camp. But I do want to make one thing perfectly clear. Once, driving through Texas at high speed after a thick steak, my automobile went over a bump and I heard a crunch. I stopped the car and stepped out. Sadly, I had crushed one of those darling road creatures. I gathered its lifeless form and buried it at the side of the road. Yep, I not only know what an armada is, I know how to treat it with compassion.