Most presidents become a joke at some point. It’s a matter of when and how. Both points should concern this president. In Winston Churchill’s words, “a joke is a very serious thing.” Or it can be, when the joke is about a very serious thing.
“Saturday Night Live” has long been a comedic benchmark. Last weekend, SNL took its first hard hit at President Obama. Fred Armisen, who plays the president, gave an Oval Office address questioning why some critics were distraught with him transforming the country: “When you look at my record it’s very clear what I’ve done so far and that is nothing. Nada. Almost one year and nothing to show for it.”
Political satire matters when it is larger than the joke. The growing rap on Obama is that he is a man both ineffective and meek; a man who is loved by all and feared by none.
Bill Maher hit the punch line first in mid-June: “You don’t have to be on television every minute of every day. You’re the president, not a rerun of ‘Law & Order’… TV stars are too worried about being popular and too concerned about being renewed.”
Soon Maher came to his key point: “You’re skinny and in a hurry and in love with a nice lady, but so is Lindsay Lohan. And just like Lindsay, we see your name in the paper a lot but we’re kind of wondering when you’re actually going to do something.”
Jon Stewart has been in on the joke all week. On Monday, Stewart hit Obama for “appeasing” the health care and energy industries. On Tuesday, Stewart showed clips of Obama’s repeated campaign promises to allow gays to serve openly in the military.
Stewart to Obama: “I know you have a lot on your desk plate. But as a thin man who smokes, you may not understand the concept. All that stuff you’ve been putting on your plate, it’s f-cking chow time, brother. That’s how you get things off of your plate. ”
The Olympics only helped reinforce the punch line. The president went to Copenhagen to rally for his hometown. Analysts assumed that the White House was in on a secret. The president could tip the vote? But Chicago lost on the first round. The president looked powerless.
Many Sunday political shows touched on Obama’s Olympic failure. Was it a metaphor? On ABC’s “This Week,” George Will said yes. He listed Obama’s big initiatives abroad and the absence of progress. “Saying no to the president is a habit,” Will argued. “The world adores him and ignores him.” The digs came from all sides. But SNL brought the point home.
Wow — who on earth could have seen that happening last year on the campaign trail?