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Jewish World Review Sept. 29, 2000 / 29 Elul, 5760

Ben Wattenberg

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Consumer Reports

Of dupes and dopes -- "THE STIFF GUY VS. THE DUMB GUY" screams last week's lead piece in the Sunday Magazine of the New York Times. On the cover is Jay Leno, eyes and mouth stuffed with campaign buttons, two of Gore-Lieberman, one of Bush-Cheney. The button ratio is appropriate. The article's theme is flagged in the deck head: "Satire isn't impartial."

If it's not impartial, says writer Marshall Sella, then it's unfair. Millions of Americans get their political news from late-night comics. And, says Sella, funnymen like Jay Leno have a left-wing pro-Democrat bias. Sella's evidence comes in two parts. Comedy writers admit it. And the Gore jokes are about "The Stiff Guy," while the Bush jokes are about "The Dumb Guy." Sella says that voters may go for a stiff guy, but not for a dumb guy, which makes Sella a smart guy. On smarts alone, the best ticket would be Lieberman-Cheney, in that order. Alas, that is not available as a votable unit, so consider a dumbness scale of the three subjects of the article: 1) Bush, 2) Gore, 3) Leno and the twerpy late-night comedy writers.

Is Bush dumb? The smug kids who serve as comedy writers seem to believe that dumbness is measurable by the number of "gaffes" committed. When Bush several times said "subliminable" instead of subliminal, that was terribibble.

Is Gore dumb? (Stipulated, he is stiff, but getting less so.) Gore gaffes also. For example: "Welcome to President Clinton, Mrs. Clinton and my fellow astronauts." Fair is fair; full-time television coverage always reveals gaffes.

But might dumbness be something more than gaffiness? Consider Gore's wee-wee defense. Questioned by the FBI about the Buddhist Temple fund-raiser, Gore says he drank so much iced tea he must have been relieving himself when the matter was discussed. Former White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, and Gore's own aides, have stated that wonky Gore was taking notes throughout the meeting. A bursting bladder defense? To the FBI? In this climate of political criminalization? Smart? Dumb?

Is Gore dumb? How could he be? He wrote a best-selling book about the environment, in favor. If you write gags for a living, a book author, any book author, is high cotton. Gore's book, "Earth in the Balance" claims, repeatedly, that there will be a 21st century "holocaust" due to a "civil war." The combatants? Those who believe in global warming versus those who don't.

What about Leno and his little friends? How do they rank dunce-wise? Leno's take on political humor: "How many Ralph Nader jokes do you hear? You don't. Here's a guy, he comes out and tells it like it is."

Nader? Telling it like it is? Nader is the biggest bull-slinger of the bunch! Does Nader tell it like it is when he agrees with Pat Buchanan that Republicans and Democrats are really the same? Ask Jesse Jackson and Tom DeLay.

A Leno line on Bush: "They executed a guy with an I.Q. of 63. Can you believe it? Bush turning his back on one of his own." Is that a fair joke? Yes it is, Leno tells Sella. Why? It "rests on moral law," says Leno, because "innocent people go to the electric chair." Who? When? Where? In Texas? President Leno has committed a gaffe!

Consider the writers. Ben Karlin of "The Daily Show" says the program is not partisan, but the Bush-Gore match-up is "a clear case of one candidate being inferior to the other." He adds, "You almost have to be left-of-center to be a comedy writer." His colleague Lewis Black is "a self-avowed Socialist," which justifies taking the paycheck of television networks living off public spectrum rights worth $100 billion in corporate welfare. The gag industry has at least one dissenter; Jerry Nachman, executive producer of "Politically Incorrect." He describes comedy writers as "highly paid Marxists ..."

And so it goes. The gags, says Sella, which originally portrayed Bush as a fratboy and a cokehead, have solidified into an image of a dunce, a fool, a dope and plenty dumb. (What a jerk! He thinks Americans should control some of their Social Security investments!)

Gore, meanwhile is only stiff. Why? Maybe that's all that's wrong with him. No, says Sella. An equally comic stereotype could be made that Gore is -- a fraud. Or, as Dennis Miller cracked, "Al Gore couldn't be more phony if he were a professional Al Gore impersonator."

Bush, the dunderhead, has one thing in his favor. America has had dumb presidents before, like Ronald Reagan, the "amiable dunce." The comedy-writer types laughed him off when he said the Soviet Union was an evil empire, that it would end up on the ash-heap of history and that American-style magic of the market would prevail.

Ben Wattenberg is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and is the moderator of PBS's "Think Tank." You may comment by clicking here.

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