“The White House correspondents’ dinner was pretty awful,” Jonah Goldberg, American conservatism’s senior Trekkie wrote on the National Review blog yesterday “details in the morning”.

Came the morning and Goldberg’s next comment revealed the continuing turmoil in the ranks of the right — “It’s funny how criticising the White House Correspondents’ Dinner generated piles of really nasty and asinine email overnight.” The poor buggers can’t even chew the fat on their own blog.

So what was the problem? Aside from Goldberg’s quibbles over the pre-dinner drinks, he and other conservatives were unhappy about the comedy act, Wanda Sykes, a black stand-up specialising in the sort of outrage style, whereby you keep throwing more unacceptable jokes on top of another until the audience finally demurs.

Sykes’s killer line at the dinner on Saturday night was suggesting that right wing shock jock Rush Limbaugh’s remark that he wanted the President to fail, should give cause for him to be investigated “maybe he’s the 9/11 20th hijacker — only he missed the plane cos he was off his face on Oxycontin.” (Limbaugh, a stern zero tolerance law and order type, forged prescriptions to satisfy his painkiller habit).

“Talk about hope — I hope his kidneys fail,” she said, before smiling demurely at the audience and saying “too soon?”

Sykes had followed the President who had given a genuinely funny speech, stuffed to the gills with gags from writers who I’m presuming were drawn from The Daily Show ranks.

Some of them were a little lame — the Air Force One NY thing being blamed on his daughters taking it for a joyride — but some of it, ribbing black GOP “hip hop” chairman Michael Steele was pretty funny:

Michael Steele is in the house tonight. (Applause.) Or as he would say, “in the heezy.” (Laughter.) Wassup? (Laughter.)

Which he returned to later in classic form to hit GOP congress leader and sunlamp aficionado John Boehner:

In the next hundred days, our bipartisan outreach will be so successful that even John Boehner will consider becoming a Democrat. After all, we have a lot in common. He is a person of colour. (Laughter.) Although not a colour that appears in the natural world. (Laughter.) Wassup, John? (Laughter.)

The best lines were probably those directed against himself:

During the second hundred days, we will design, build and open a library dedicated to my first hundred days.

Sykes followed the Prez so she had to top it with something. The failing kidneys joke was probably over the limit — for anyone but Limbaugh. This is a man who accused Michael J Fox of faking Parkinson’s, conducted an extended attack on the 13-year-old Chelsea Clinton as a “dog”, and played I Know I’ll Never Love This Way Again before interviewing a man dying of AIDS. If anyone is fair game it’s Limbaugh.

Indeed is there anything more bizarre than the sudden attack of the vapours the Right is having about strong language and forthright attacks? Andrew Bolt’s blog consists of little these days but whining about how mean the left is. This is the gang, beginning in the 90s, who systematically lowered the tone of public debate to a crude series of personal attacks that made more reasoned discussion impossible, leaving one little choice but to bite back with redoubled strength. Now that their political tradition is exhausted, and all that remains is the bile, they suddenly want to change the rules back. I’ll bet they do.

But it’s unlikely to happen. The US right have saddled themselves with Limbaugh as a leader. The Australian right have no-one. They’re going to have to take their lumps for some time to come. Small wonder that so many of them. Like Goldberg, are Trekkies – at some point an alternate universe becomes a necessity.

Watch Obama’s speech.


Peter Fray

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