Jewish World Review Dec. 3, 2003/ 8 Kislev, 5764

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Bush bashers and Bush tenacity | That weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth from Bush haters spring from the president's Thanksgiving Day visit to Iraq. Mr. Bush went to boost the morale of the troops and fling raspberries at the UN and the world's peaceniks. Mr. Bush's message was clear, "We ain't leavin." Steam erupts from the ears of the Bush haters who, these days, resemble Wile E. Coyote, flummoxed by this elusive roadrunner from Texas.

Turnabout is fair play. Here on the right, we groaned daily about the Clintons during their agonizing reign. But, true to conservative principles, we found a way to make a buck from it. Clinton bashing was a cottage industry. Clinton vaudeville provided embarrassing riches from low-hanging fruit. Comedic punditry rolled if you just woke up each day from 1993-2001.

But Bush Bashers are so consumed with hatred that humor eludes them. Al Franken sent me two e-mails last month. The former Saturday Night Live comic/political analyst/foreign policy/tax expert/Renaissance B comedian is miffed about my criticisms of his not-funny book. I hear also from Will Farrell, also taking umbrage at my humor critiques. For two men who were part of a show that hasn't been funny since 1974, they surely are thin-skinned.

Venomous hatred toward your subject matter stifles whimsy because comedic detachment flees. David Letterman has lost comedic flair with his nightly "Mock Bush" features. He has done 110 "Top Ten" lists on Bush since 2000. All three Clintons (Roger, Hillary and Bill) had only 285 in 9 years.

A sample from the "Top Ten Surprises in the Bush UN Speech: Admitted taking longer than expected to mismanage the rebuilding of Iraq." "Top Ten Bush Complaints in Britain, Everyone is speaking some crazy foreign language." And the "Top Ten on Jeb Bush being dumb, So dumb he used to cheat off George."

Almost nightly Letterman excerpts a Bush speech with the segment, "George W. Bush joke that's not really a joke." The clips show the president offering one of those icebreaker lines speakers use ease the sting of formality. Tsk! Our president's humor isn't Letterman's.

Other Letterman segments, repeated often, show Mr. Bush in unflattering moments. One shows Mr. Bush spitting. Another shows Mr. Bush explaining "the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing," as Mr. Bush uses the opposite hand.

We got the point two years ago: Mr. Letterman and his writers believe Mr. Bush to be an imbecile. Letterman's obvious political ideology produces mockery, not witty segments.

Last week Letterman stage hand Biff Henderson went on the road with Howard Dean. Mr. Henderson asked Mr. Dean what he thought of Mr. Bush. Mr. Dean said the president was "odd." There was no laughter.

The irony was delicious. Mr. Dean, a man who us more likely to snap than Playtex at a Weight Watchers meeting, called the president odd? Decorum and respect. aside, the line garnered no laughs because Americans, whether they agree or disagree with Mr. Bush, see a normal man, indeed, the average man. Howard Dean was condescending about Americans who drive pickup trucks. Mr. Bush drives one on his ranch.

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Being consumed with hatred also takes its toll on logic. Bushwhackers call Mr. Bush, at once, a buffoon and a diabolical liar hell bent on getting oil for Texas buddies and contracts for Halliburton, Mr. Cheney's former employer. The incongruity! Is Mr. Bush stupid or a cunning shill for the rich? Fool? Or power-grabbing genius? Wile E. Coyote or Gilligan?

The current Bushwhackers make a mistake we never made with the Clintons. Know thy opponent. We understood from the first Sixty Minutes adultery confession during the primaries that Bill and Hill were like weeds. You may stomp them one day, but they're back the next.

Bushwhackers have "misunderestimated" Mr. Bush. He is a simple soul with tenacity. Damn the polls, Mr. Bush, unlike the Clintons, unabashedly pursues terrorists despite dropping numbers. That Mr. Bush is willing to risk his re-election for the sake of finishing the work in Iraq speaks to the hearts of the American people. If this is diabolical, they'll take it.

Know thy subject, and, know thy audience. Such are the first rules of speeches and comedy. Letterman, Franken, et al., have not only "misunderestimated" Mr. Bush, they have gauged inaccurately Americans' temperament. Like Mr. Bush, Americans are tenacious.

Bush's stealth visit to Iraq was tenacity writ large. We witnessed a visionary president who wants the job done. In language that was no joke, Mr. Bush charmed those troops and warned the "thugs and assassins." His simple soul and unwavering goals touch a nerve, even in the most callous of us. Our president wants human rights and democracy in a country that has known neither for generations.

That's tough fodder to shape for comedy and punditry. Yes, yes, Mr. Bush is not much on ex temp speaking. But that theme is old and loaded with mockery. Comedy is truth highlighted; parody is born in detached observation. Punditry combines both. Lose those roots and laughter dies. Tenacity, the Bush antidote for arrogant mockery. Works like a charm.

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JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.

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© 2003, Marianne M. Jennings