I've written in the past that the secret political weapon available to presidential candidates is SATIRE.
This week, Hillary Clinton proved my point. Her "Reveal Her Song" Soprano's parody didn't have to be good. Neither did her performance. And the selection of Canadian Celine Dion's song... Well, absurdity doesn't necessarily mean funny, unless it's in the hands of Albert Brooks. It only needed to be a solid effort. After all, the lady's website received over a million hits from her effort.
I would hope it would be enough to take my satire suggestion seriously.
To reiterate...and rewrite... The public isn't dumb, but they will lean towards the side that makes understanding an issue the easiest, even if most times that is somewhat misleading. Talk show radio does it brilliantly using anger (their audience's and their own) to spin every issue into a diatribe against you. One of the reasons liberal radio hasn't worked as well as the one-note "we are right and they are wrong...hate-America wrong" is that the Left believes things are a little more complex. But just being smarter doesn't necessarily make for better radio. Except for Harry Shearer and Stephanie Miller. NPR is so, well, so-so.
But "simple" doesn't have to be witless. I give you The Daily Show, out of little bitty Comedy Central. Stewart and his crew have gotten everyone's attention. Why? Satire. Smart humor that points to the absurd and gives the audience a little credit for having to think.
I suggest that candidates be well-equipped with a well-honed sense of humor and fast comeback. If not, you better be handled by someone who can make you appear to have both. Kind of like a funny Karl Rove but, without the disdain for truth.
And candidates better be ready to commit to a wide-scale offensive. Turning every potential trip-up or rip by your opponent to your own satirical advantage isn't a drive-by effort; but it should look that way. The best ad-libs are the ones that no one can tell was written before hand. And for that to happen it will take a fully-charged, pull-no-punches, war-room operation.
Candidates will need your own writing staff - a miniature "Daily Show," if you will - ready to take the crap thrown at you and churn it into satirical fertilizer; pointing out the absurdity in the attack or diffusing an actual hit with self-deprecating humor. Television, radio, blogosphere, print, in person - everywhere you can be seen or heard, you've got to be prepared. Balls ahead, ready to wax satirically.
And when you are in trouble - and you will be - nothing says "good guy" better than a scoundrel's quick acceptance of blame. If only Bill C. had immediately admitted Monica as a mistake. If you can do it with a sense of humor, you're in better shape than if you had never made the mistake in the first place. (Though in the case of Bill and Monica, being too quick with a "should have never taken the cigar out of my mouth," might have been what we call in the funny biz "too soon.")
From the stump speech to debate, from talk show to nomination acceptance, clever serve-and-return is necessary to parry every real or Swift Boat-ian assault from your opponent (or his surrogates). Who do you think would be running for his second term right now if Gore had a response prepared by a comedy staff whipping up punch-lines pointing out the insanity of the Swift Boat vets blaspheming a war hero while they cheer on a war dodger? Sure, their attack was hypocritical, but you have to say so and make the voter recognize its full-fledged lunacy. You need your own professional lunatics churning out your retort.
But it's not only the candidate. If you are to win you cannot go it alone. Besides those closest to you, those on the blogosphere and the anywhere-else-sphere must be pumping out the satire. Hear that blogger-guy? Get your underwear-clad bod over to the computer, tell your Mom who you still live with that you can't take out the trash right now. You're too busy saving America, one joke at a time. No attack, no matter how overt or how subtle can go un-satirized. It's about killing the malignancy before it has time to spread. And mark my words, the liberal mainstream media will take whatever the Right echo-chamber hammers into the "debate." It needs no factual basis.
Think "Gore said he invented the Internet." Think "Kerry was a coward." Think Dick Cheney giving Judy Miller the WMD misinformation that she copied verbatim into The New York Times and Cheney then pointing to the Times as the best place to find out what is really happening. Brilliant? Yes. True? Not so much. But it helped get us into a war. A war, for crissakes! All I'm asking is that you tell a damn joke so it doesn't happen again.
You can do it. You really can. If you don't, 2008 might end much like Hillary's spoof...
NOTE: Award-winning TV writer, Steve Young, is the former political editor of National Lampoon and is sitting in his underwear at his mom's house, writing his upcoming book, "The Power of Satire," waiting for you to contact him to get this thing started: Steve@greatfailure.com