By C. Antonio Romero
SAN FRANCISCO, 9 November 2006—Even more overwhelming than the tsunami of voter discontent that
apparently washed away the Republican hold on both houses of the United
States Congress on Tuesday is the tidal surge that will leave us all
standing waist-deep in post-election verbiage (and bloggage) from now
until the seating of the newly elected represenatives and senators.
Stephen Colbert's The Colbert Report
To keep our addition to the problem to a
minimum, we will add only a few observations. File them under the rubric:
"Opposition is easy. Comedy is hard."
- John Kerry may be smart
enough, and brave enough, and sophisticated enough to be a better
President than George W. Bush. Yet his oddly tone-deaf, clumsy attempts
at humor—along with faux pas like ordering a Philly cheesesteak with
Swiss instead of American Cheese Whiz—leave us wondering about his
political savvy. While it cannot be said that the U.S. is better off
with Bush in the White House, in some critical moment, would he say or
do something else that would rub people the wrong way? Press an
advantage where he doesn't catch how it will aggravate an opponent with
a long memory? Perhaps the Democrats, at least, are better off with
someone else at the helm—someone more deftly spontaneous, less smugly
- Keith Olbermann, on MSNBC, has that deftness, on a good day, as well
as the bravery and the smarts—though, alas, he's just a sportscaster
turned news anchor. Olbermann's show is one of the few things that works
at MSNBC: straight (that is, true) news, but told with tongue
planted firmly in cheek, clear Democratic-leaning sympathies, and,
often, with an arch tone that generally weaves between irony and a
directness that, these days, seems like a kind of irony redoubled.
(Sincerity on television is so rare these days that it's
After a strong beginning during the 2004 election
cycle, the show faltered a bit, but when Olbermann's attention was
focused on the 2006 races, his news and analysis became ever better and
more frank, taking on topics from the Iraq debacle to the "death of
habeas corpus" and a series on the hollowness of the "faith-based
initiatives" the president tossed his evangelical base as a bone.
The only part of the show where the tone goes awry is, alas, his
occasional Comment segments—incisive, adult, sincerely felt, but a bit
bombastic, overwritten, and, ultimately too heavy to sit through, even
for many die-hard Olbermann fans. ("Bless him, he tries," said a Russian
observer, admiring his earnest, blunt critiques of the administration,
but nonetheless unwilling to watch him for more than 30 seconds at a
time.) The lighter touch that makes his show work goes leaden, which is
a shame, as these are clearly the parts of the show to which he is most
attached. Watch Olbermann every night—but once the
opening political segments are done, you can safely tune out
without missing much.
- Jon Stewart's
The Daily Show, for many
Americans a key source of news, was surprisingly flaccid in the face of
the a Democratic victory. The only moment with any real snap was a bit
about the Democrats of the House concluding that their victory was "a
trap", and forming a circle facing outward so that no one could sneak up
behind them. The rest, including much of an interview with an elated,
justly proud Howard Dean, was adolescent flailing. Stewart's heart is in
the right place, but he may be losing his edge.
- Stephen Colbert's The Colbert
Report, a spinout of The Daily Show, was much crisper, with a great
segment in which a wordless Colbert plunges into despair, drink, and dread
of gay weddings and "Speaker Pelosi", then finally rebounds when he sees
the hidden advantages of handing the Democrats—who "can't fix anything"—the flaming disaster of
Iraq , positioning Jeb Bush for his '08 run...
One of television's most subversive half-hours, Colbert is
known for giving bizarre mock interviews, which deliver an American
version of the Borat treatment from a
deliberately thick bizarro-conservative gasbag character (based, in
part, on right-wing blowhards like Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly).
These generally work, whether or not the subjects are in on the joke.
Colbert will have more room to work than Stewart going forward,
as his format builds in its own irony. No danger of sincerity ever
piercing the veil of truthiness here.
C. Antonio Romero is the Nouveau editor at