Thursday, January 18, 2007

Stephen Colbert Demolishes Dinesh D'Souza -- There are some timely topics I'd like to cover (especially the court decision upholding Wal-Mart's challenge to Maryland's law meant to force the company to provide a health care plan for employees). It might seem frivolous to devote my blog space to Stephen Colbert’s show. On the other hand, this is a subject that I’ve wanted to cover for weeks, and last night’s show was such an extraordinary performance that I’ve decided it’s time. Since the Democrats took control of both houses of Congress, I have been wondering about whether "The Colbert Report" will continue to be relevant. Last night, Colbert hit Dinesh D'Souza with the verbal equivalent of a body-slamming suplex, and answered my question affirmatively.

Though his character was born on The Daily Show, Stephen Colbert’s right-wing TV political talk host, who opines nightly on The Colbert Report, is much more tied to the political dynamic than is Jon Stewart. The genius of the Daily Show is that, in its essence, it is apolitical...or, at least, nonpartisan. Stewart began his tenure on the Daily Show during the Clinton era, and he was happy to heap some deserved ridicule on the Democrats.

With the gross incompetence of the Bush Administration, Stewart’s powerful mocking of the White House and its Congressional allies has earned him plaudits and much love from liberals...even the suggestion that he has played a major role in directing the liberal turn in our nation's politics. But, Stewart’s role as an agent provocateur will continue regardless of who is in power.

The Colbert Report, on the other hand, exists to make light of conservative political talk show hosts. Even if its only a matter of guilt by association, Colbert satirizes conservative politics, as he lampoons the right-wing media. He was vital in the Democratic wave of 2006. Mockingly, he claims credit for the "Colbert Bounce," which he advertises as having elected those politicians that appeared on the show, including New York’s John Hall. The media, and even Hall, are more serious in claiming that Hall’s appearance was a crucial factor in his upset over incumbent Republican, Sue Kelly.

Colbert has powerfully portrayed conservative ideologues as being grossly out-of-touch with good sense and reality. Throughout the show's hysterically funny, brilliant first year, it was clear to me that there was a need for a satiric voice like Colbert’s. Air America wasn't catching on, and we needed someone to put the lie to the right-wing agenda, especially because the G.O.P. had a monopoly on power in the country, controlling all three branches of the federal government and exercising similar control over most state governments.

The GOP agenda has been, at the same time, both dangerous and ridiculous. By and large, Republican legislators were careful not to enact too much of their agenda, and put sunset provisions in the more extreme measures that they felt politically empowered or compelled to pass. Colbert had no trouble pointing out the absurdity of much of the right wing’s agenda.

With Democrats now empowered, I was wondering how effective and biting his satire could be? Would it still be as amusing and important to continue poking fun at what has suddenly become the minority party, and taking on the party's most ideologically strident, politically extreme supporters? He began the post election period with a GBCW moment that seemed to acknowledge the soft ground he was suddenly standing on, as those he satirizes were so roundly rejected by the voters. He agonized for minutes about what he was to do, before suddenly realizing he could now attack Democrats for their failure to end the Iraq War.

As it turns out, that bit of fun was prescient and fraught with political import than it seemed at the time. Last night, before Colbert's now legendary, momentous interview with D’Souza, Colbert took his biting satirical pen to scrawl some on the Democrats’ hide. His "Tonight's Word" monologue was about 'symbolism' – mostly, the ineffectual symbolism of the Democrats’ decision to take a symbolic vote against the President’s decision to escalate the deployment in Iraq – as Colbert noted the real symbolism of the vote was the Democrats ineffectiveness, or their unwillingness to take effective steps that would require they become politically accountable for the policies.

One might wonder whether Democrats should still be held accountable – in this case for their failure to take any action to limit future American war casualties – Colbert didn’t go there, but this was the first time I felt he showed some willingness to direct his satire so critically at Democratic politicians.

That act alone suggests that Colbert will continue to have a voice worth listening to, and a show worth watching, but the next segment showed that he is still gunning for the self-righteous conservatives who have gone unchallenged in the right-wing media he parodies. Once a leading 'light' among the self-righteous conservatives, Dinesh D’Souza came on to promote his latest reactionary ‘opus,’ with the shameless, despicable title of "Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11."

Colbert started seductively enough, calling the book "a revelation." Then, he allowed D’Souza to explain how Jimmy Carter laid the groundwork for the Islamic jihadist movement. While Colbert pointed out that Reagan sold missiles to Iran, he also one-upped D’Souza, as is his wont, by asking if it "is all the responsibility Carter and Clinton’s – doesn’t some of it lie at FDR’s doorstep?"

Then Colbert had some fun when D’Souza took this bait – Colbert said "I can’t wait" to hear why that was so. D’Souza pointed to Yalta, as setting the stage for the Afghan problem that began 45 years later, with the Soviet invasion. Colbert basically let that one go, because he knew he had the bigger fish to fry with D’Souza – on cultural issues. More specifically, on D’Souza’s premise that Muslims have had a violent response to having been exposed to American liberal culture.

He started that conversation by asking "Isn’t our culture corrosive and invites this kind of attack?" D’Souza warily circled his opponent, sensing trouble. Colbert tried to reel him in. "I’m with you – Our culture is depraved. Hollywood is depraved, isn’t it? Wouldn’t you agree with that?" When D’Souza refused to bite on that outlandish premise, and gave a qualified answer, Colbert joked "that won’t sell many books." This set the stage for his later, more vicious attack on D’Souza’s outrageous premise.

First, though, there was a weird moment while D'Souza was talking about the difference between traditional American and "liberal America." He started talking about the "Blue America" of gay marriage and "Americans eating maggots." Colbert didn't even bat an eye at this curious juxtaposition -- I guess D'Souza was referencing "Fear Factor," but Colbert saw a moment for some good, low comedy. He broke in by asking "Why do gays love maggots so much? Because, I've never been to a gay wedding...but I assume it's on the buffet?"

This light moment gave little sense of the bloodbath that was about to commence.

When D’Souza spoke of Muslim unease with Western culture’s sanction of homosexuality, saying we should show more of "traditional America," Colbert countered with "What other cultural editing notes should we take from the terrorists?" D’Souza tried to deflect this attack, claiming that wasn’t what he was saying. Colbert would have none of it, and bore in for the final, glorious kill.

"I agree with you," Colbert continued. "There are some good ideas these guys have. This is what you are saying: that there are some parts of our culture that are corrosive and you agree with some of the things that they (Bin Laden, et al.) are saying?" When D’Souza tried to wiggle away from that hook, Colbert pushed it back in front of him, daring him to agree with that characterization of his argument, by deeming it courageous. "You have the courage to say that, right? That you agree with some of the things that these radical extremists are against in America?" Colbert kept pressing: "Do you agree with that statement?" Finally, D’Souza said he did agree with this statement of his views.

In the next moment, Colbert made it clear that this admission was what he’d been angling for all along. "Finally, someone has the courage to say that there are things in America that the liberals do that are causing our destruction." D’Souza horrified, fought against this restatement of his declaration. He protested: "OK. That’s going too far."

There was no way Colbert was going to back off at this point, from what DKer ‘LitigatorMom’ correctly described as skilled "cross-examination." Colbert countered: "No. That’s what you are saying: 'The Cultural Left and its Responsibility for 9/11.' That’s why I had you on the show!" Colbert added, satirically, "Because I agree with THAT statement, sir."

For some reason, D’Souza replied by saying "But, I didn’t do 9/11!" I’m not sure what that meant, since that was exactly what his title suggests he was covering in his book – unless he was disavowing direct responsibility for the attack – which would be a strange response. Colbert absolved him of guilt by saying D’Souza was "not cultural left, and cultural left people did do 9/11...The cultural left is responsible for 9/11."

For me, this was the television highlight of the year, so far -- there are still another 50 weeks to go, but I will rank this highly. The show last night was the 199th edition of "the Report". I think it was as fine as any. Everyone is anticipating Papa Bear's appearance tomorrow, but I will keep watching every night, hoping for another show as electric, and intelligent as #199.

The satire was brilliant, and not one person who watched this segment will ever bestow any credibility upon D’Souza or his argument. Of course, Paula Zahn, with CNN, did have D’Souza on her program tonight – perhaps Time Warner has an interest in Doubleday Press. How can I say this interview is already the stuff of legends? Well, it was referenced on MSNBC's Countdown tonight. Keith Olbermann commented on Colbert's takedown of D'Souza...and gave D'Souza the much deserved nod as today's 'Worst Person in the World,' for the contemptible, shameless premise of his new book.

More importantly, though, Stephen Colbert served notice that his "Stephen Colbert" character is a long way from being played out. He’s still relevant, and he will continue to abuse extreme conservative idiocies, wherever and whenever he finds them. Hopefully, he will help carry a Democrat into the White House in November ‘08. I think he will continue to be relevant, even after Democrats have taken a firm hold on the reins of government.

Long Live Stephen Colbert and "The Colbert Report"!

...."Let the Eagle soar".....

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