Last week Barack Obama changed relations between America and the Arab world with his speech in Cairo, dragged Israel kicking and screaming to the negotiating table, and began the political slugfest to get an epochal health reform through Congress. Not a bad week.
The Right spent their time attacking a talk show host and defending a beauty queen as a conservative hero. Not a good week.
The host was David Letterman, a man whom until the months leading up to the election last year, had played his political cards close to his chest — for the simple reason that half his potential audience (or about a third now) was Republican. Among America’s great inventions is the late night talk show, which rounds out the evening perfectly (the ABC by contrast, and to suck up to the conservatives in the Howard era, has Lateline Business, the single most boring and inexplicable programming decision in the history of broadcast television).
But it was clear by August last year that Letterman was subtly, and very effectively, leaning his shoulder to the Democratic cause — the ridicule of Bush went from merely opportunistic to excoriating, a deliberate attempt to paint the Republic party as failed and hopeless.
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When John McCain pulled out of an appearance at the last minute — and then did a Katie Couric news appearance — Letterman had a license to go the hack. He said what other people couldn’t — that McCain was campaigning like a hero but acting like a politician — and the extended riff (including a live cross to McCain being dusted by a make-up artist prior to his Couric appearance, like a fossil being prepared for museum display) did incalculable damage to McCain.
The right have been grouchy with Letterman ever since, even though they all love going on his show. Last week Sarah Palin was in New York, and Letterman went the full riff, culminating in a version of his running joke about former Madonna gigolo, Alex Rodriguez, saying “…and A-Rod knocked up Palin’s daughter.”
Cue huge laughter. Unfortunately, the daughter Palin had brought with her to New York was not Bristol, the 18-year-old single mother, now a spokesperson for teenage abstinence s-x education, but Willow, fourteen-year-old named not after the Buffy character, but after a valley nearby the Palins’ Wasilla hometown.
It was obvious who the gag was aimed at — and even then slightly off-colour, children being, it should be said, off-limits, even if they’ve become political activists — but the right, bizarrely, constructed “knocked-up” as “r-pe” (which it clearly isn’t), and made it appear as if Letterman was making a joke about the (allegedly) well-endowed baseball player savaging Sarah’s underage daughter.
Fox News spent three days on the thing. Closer to home Bolt and Blair had a go, Sarah Palin being their secret girlfriend. And so on. Pointlessly, because if there’s anyone more powerful than FOX News and News Limited in the US media, it’s David Letterman, a place where about 30% of Americans who actually consume a quasi-news source get their info from.
But wait — there was more. While anyone interested in actual politics was focused on trying to decipher Obama’s health-care plan — which if it is passed, will transform American life — the right was focused on Carrie Prejean, Miss California, who allegedly lost the Miss Galaxy title (or something) because she made an anti-gay marriage statement in one of the “bimbo opinions” sections of the contest.
After n-die pics of her emerged, Prejean almost lost her Miss C title, but was saved by Donald Trump, who “owns” Miss America.
By now she’d become a conservative culture hero, persecuted for her beliefs. But when she didn’t turn up for Miss California appearances, the Donald sacked her, because she was costing him money.
And then she became a conservative martyr.
Note to the Right: if the only person you can get behind is a surgically-enhanced bottle-blonde bimbo who can’t keep a diary, you are officially in the political hospice.
Which is why Time Magazine has a lead article this week (actually last week) making public what a lot of people have been saying — that the Republicans are the Whigs de nos jours, the party that collapsed in the 1850s when Lincoln and others departed to form … the Republicans. If they can’t expel their religious right and get back to a centre-right position, they’re gone in sixty seconds. Obama and the Democrats now have total hegemony over the American political imagination.