Late-Night Comics Still in Thrall to Obama

As a fan of comedy in general and satire in particular, I've always enjoyed the late night television circuit. I'm especially fond of David Letterman, Stephen Colbert, and Jon Stewart's The Daily Show. One of the chief complaints I've been hearing from conservative friends over the last several years, though, is that these shows are nothing more than thinly disguised bastions of left-wing brainwashing where pseudo-intellectual elites bash the Grand Old Party and indoctrinate the nation's socialist youth against sound conservative thinking.

Examples abound, including a running series on Letterman titled, "Great Moments in Presidential Speeches." Clips of inspiring appearances by the likes of Eisenhower, J.F.K, and Reagan were juxtaposed against the last president caught in some of his moments of "Bushisms." Such treatments were widely viewed by the president's supporters as mean-spirited and shallow, but they provided a popular source of guilty pleasure for many viewers.

My argument against these charges and in defense of the entertainers has been simple and seemingly sound. Comedians who butter their bread with political commentary generally direct their fire at the figures currently in power. There is little fodder to be found in the party huddled in the minority. Thus, with Republicans holding the White House for the last eight years and Congress for a fair portion of that time, it was obvious who the easy targets would be.

As an example, I point to Lewis Black, a weekly comic analyst of current events appearing on The Daily Show. He's been a relentless critic of the Bush administration and its policies, an opponent of the Iraq war, and a huge fan of the Dick Cheney as Darth Vader meme. For these atrocities, Mr. Black is regularly labeled as a hopeless liberal windbag, offering nothing of substance to the national discourse. In response, I point his detractors to his 1999 release, The White Album. In it, he devotes nearly a third of the entire production to blistering attacks on William Jefferson Clinton. Black examines both the politics and personal peccadilloes of the former president, finishing with a declaration that Big Bill should serve as sufficient reason for no person from Arkansas being allowed to run for the Oval Office for the next 100 years.

When a new occupant moved in to the West Wing, Lewis turned his wrath on the Republicans, so I assumed that the ascension of President Obama would herald a similar sea change in comic gold mining. During the transition, however, I saw nothing of the sort. Of course, the "office" of president-elect doesn't carry much in the way of duties or authority beyond the naming of cabinet members. Also, Barack Obama was just entering his honeymoon period, so it may have been understandable. Even after the inauguration, though, I couldn't escape the feeling that these comics were still afraid to utter anything which might be viewed as negative regarding the new leader of the free world.