Friday, May 27, 2005

Feeding Frenzy

You want proof the republicans have gone crazy? Here it is: this week Congressman Spencer Bachus, republican of Alabama, called comedian Bill Maher a traitor for a throwaway joke he made in his monologue. Maher, the libertarian host of HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” commented on the army not reaching its recruiting goals so far this year by saying that, “More people joined the Michael Jackson Fan Club. We done picked all the low lying Jamie Englund fruit and now we need warm bodies.” This was, in Congressman Bachus’ eyes “tantamount to treason,” and he is lobbying to have Maher’s show cancelled. Fat chance. Maher’s earlier show on ABC, the aptly named “Politically Incorrect,” was famously cancelled after Maher said that you can’t call the 9/11 hijackers cowards because it takes a lot of courage to die for your beliefs. HBO gave him a platform where he could express his unpopular views, and I don’t see them taking it away over this. Maher has argued that he's "just a comedian" and so how can his comments hurt the troops? I don't buy this line of thinking. I do, however, buy this one: like the poet, it is the comedian's job to speak truth to power. The beautiful thing about comedy, satire, irony and other forms of humor is that it is able to revel truths to us that we are unable to see in other forums, Aristophanes knew this when he wrote Lysistrata, and it hasn't changed in 2500 years. We may not like the truth comedy reveals, it may not even be our truth, but it will be truth, none the less. This is why the fool and the poet were both protected in ancient socities. Think on that for a minute.

This morning, House majority leader Tom DeLay objected loudly to the use of his name in another throwaway joke, an offhand wisecrack by a detective on the NBC crime drama “Law and Order: Criminal Intent” (which, as I’ve argued elsewhere in these pages, is actually a very conservative show). In an episode about the murder of a federal judge, when asked how they could find some suspects, the detective suggests putting out an all points bulletin for “somebody in a Tom DeLay t-shirt.” DeLay, predictably, went nuts. He accused NBC “manipulating” his name and “trivializing” the important issue of judicial security. Dick Wolf, just as predictably, fired back at DeLay, saying the congressman was just trying to deflect attention from his own problems. Others said it was an example of "Hollywood Liberalism." (the conservatives are nothing if not consistent in their meaningless catch phrases and scapegoats).

Wolf (though I hate to give Dick Wolf any credit on anything) is in his way correct. Whether calculated or not, focusing on a few humorous negative comments on television allows the conservatives to make themselves look like sympathetic victims while not actually addressing the issues which gave rise to the comments in the first place. Maher’s point, as he published in a response to Bachus (and why he or Wolf thought these two nuts were worthy of response is beyond me) was that instead of sending the uneducated and the economically disadvantaged to fight the President’s (or as I would argue Halliburtan’s) war for them that the people who got us into this mess, and their children, should be sent over there to fight. There is nothing treasonous about that. It is a valid point that has been made over and over again since war stopped being a favorite pastime of the aristocrats (sometime after the Teddy Roosevelt administration, obviously). I suppose John Fogerty was treasonous when he wrote “Fortunate Son.” I’m sure Bachus thinks so. The West Wing did a great episode in which a democratic congressman from a predominately black district suggested that a draft was a good idea because the suffering of war falls disproportionately on people of color. Treason. I saw a panel discussion on politics in the media in which one of the participants, when asked how to get young people to care about politics, replied “there’s nothing wrong with your generation that a good old fashioned draft wouldn’t cure.” Big time treason. In John Singleton’s brilliant film “Boys from the Hood,” Lawrence Fishbourne’s character argues that there is nothing for a black man in a white man’s army because it’s just a way for the white man to get somebody else to fight his wars and kill off the black man at the same time. Treason, certainly. It is all, also, very valid political speech, and has an element of truth to it—even Maher’s monologue. Perhaps congressman Bachus should go look up “Treason” in the dictionary, and then go read the constitution. Hell, he can skip all the rest of that stuff: just read the amendments, the first one will do.

As for Tom DeLay, his attack on NBC is an obviously Orwellian ploy to avoid recent speculation that the anti-judicial flames he fanned in that little temper tantrum he threw after the judiciary refused to give him his way in the Terry Schiavo case has made the world a more dangerous place for judges. If DeLay were so interested in judicial security (and he should also be interested in judicial independence, but that is really too much to ask) then he would not be vilifying judges in the press. DeLay knows full well that his own words and actions are coming back to haunt him in this joke, and that no less an authority then federal judge Joan Humphry Lefkow, whose husband and mother were murdered by someone who was looking to kill her, has suggested that the anti-judicial comments of members of congress contribute to the dangers judges increasingly face. As she said in her testimony before congress this month, “In this age of mass communication, harsh rhetoric is truly dangerous. It seems to me that even though we cannot prove a cause and effect relationship between rhetorical attacks on judges and violent acts of vengeance by a particular litigant, fostering disrespect for judges can only encourage those that are on the edge, or the fringe, to exact revenge on a judge who ruled against them.” DeLay knows that this means him, but he also knows that he can’t attack a grieving widow and daughter whose suffering came about because she was serving the American people. TV, on the other hand, is an easy target, and one tailor made for distracting the public.

Nothing new here. It behoves the republicans to intimidate their critics and to silence debate. I suspect that getting Bill Maher off the air would rank right up their on their agenda with muzzling Michael Moore and pulling the plug on Al Franken. Maher is, very likely, the most effective critic of the administration around today. Although not as popular (nor as good) as "The Daily Show," "Real Time" seems to be taken more seriously as political commentary, as witnessed by Congressman Bachus' objection. If it was not political Bachus would have no objection to it. Furthermore, as I've argued in the past, the act of condemning or attempting to censor any type of speech politicizes that same speech. So let's look at that again, shall we: Bachus wants Bill Maher pulled off the air becuase of a political comment he made. Tom DeLay would like some sort of reparation from Dick Wolf becuase of a political comment he made. If this isn't censorship through intimidation by officials of the government then I'm not a liberal accademic. Oops: guess I'm next.

There have been innumerable cases of the now mythical “Emboldened Right” pressing their agenda on all fronts since the last election, including their now endless attacks on the freedoms of speech and of the press. Whether it is some knuckle-headed parent who doesn’t want little Johny to see Paris Hilton in a bathing suit or a White House press secretary who wants to turn Newsweek Magazine into a mouth-pice for the administration, the conservatives are going crazy. From Terry Schivo to filibusters to the United Nations, they are trying to steam roll America, and they believe that since they now control all branches of government they have every right (and I suspect a duty passed down unto them from God on High) to do so, to create God’s Country on Earth™, and woe unto those who oppose them, for they shall know fire and brimstone and the IRS should they try to stand against God’s army. Once again I say that comparisons to Germany in 1933 are not unwarranted. Read up on the famous “Degenerate Art” exhibit of 1937. These yahoos are no longer pigs at the troughs. They have evolved into sharks, perfect killing machines, and they smell blood in the water. Of course, once the feeding frenzy is over what they will have devoured is the constitution, but that doesn’t matter because they will have replaced it with the bible which is, to them, a document of much higher purpose and more perfect form.

Tell me I’m wrong. I dare you.

Check these pages out:

Congressman Spencer's press release at
Bill Maher's response at

CNN story on DeLay and "Law and Order" at

FOX News story on the same subject at,2933,157850,00.html

Judge Lefkow's testimony at,1,5379999.story?coll=chi-news-hed&ctrack=1&cset=true

Degenerate Art in "A Teacher's Guide tot he Holocaust" at

The US constitution at


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