- The Washington Times - Friday, April 23, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

I suppose the thinking runs something like this: All things considered, the polls on Obamacare aren’t totally disastrous, and the president’s approval numbers seem to have bottomed out in the low 40s, and when you look at what that means in terms of the electoral map this November, you’ve only got to scare a relatively small percentage of squishy suburban moderate centrists back into the Democratic fold, and how difficult can that be?

Hence Bill Clinton energetically on the stump, summoning all his elder-statesman dignity (please, no giggling) in the cause of comparing Tea Partiers to the late Timothy McVeigh. Oh, c’mon, they’ve got everything in common. The Tea Partiers want to reduce the size of government, and so did McVeigh - McVeigh through the use of fertilizer bombs, the Tea Partiers through control of federal spending. But these are mere nuanced differences of means, not ends. Also, both “Tim” and “tea” are three-letter words beginning with T. Picture him upon your knee, just Tea for Tim and Tim for Tea, you’re for him and he’s for thee, completely interchangeable. To lend the point more gravitas, Mr. Clinton packed his reading glasses and affected his scholarly look, with the spectacles pushed down toward the end of his nose, as if he were trying to determine whether it was his 10 a.m. intern shuffling toward him across the broadloom or a rabid armadillo Al Gore brought along for the Earth Day photo op.

Will it work? For a long time, Tea Partiers were racists. Everybody knows that when you say, “I’m becoming very concerned about unsustainable levels of federal spending,” that’s old Jim Crow code for “Let’s get up a lynching party and teach that uppity Negro a lesson.” Frank Rich of the New York Times attempted to diversify the Tea Party racism into homophobia by arguing that Obamacare opponents were uncomfortable with Rep. Barney Frank’s sexuality. I yield to no one in my discomfort with Barney Frank’s sexuality, but, with the best will in the world, I find it hard to blame it for more than the first 4 trillion or 5 trillion dollars of federal overspending. Eschewing such cheap slurs, Time’s Joe Klein said opposition to President Obama was “seditious” because nothing says sedition like citing the U.S. Constitution and quoting Thomas Jefferson. Unfortunately for Mr. Klein, thanks to “educator” William Ayers’ education reforms, nobody knows what “seditious” means anymore.

So, enough with all the punch-pulling about seditious racist homophobes. It was time to go for broke and bring out Mr. Clinton to explain why the Tea Party is the new front in the war on terror. Don’t worry about Iran’s nuclear program, but if you meet a Tea Party supporter waving some placard about the national debt, try not to catch his eye and back away slowly without making any sudden movements lest he put down his placard and light up his suicide belt.

As longtime readers know, I have enormous respect for the Democrats as masters of the politics of personal destruction. What a track record. “Bushitler,” “General Betray-Us”- excellent stuff, up there with Oscar Wilde. But this is, like, a whole new level: Mr. Clinton is on the road demonizing (and with an impressively straight face) half the American people as the express lane to ka-boom! And the poodle media are taking it seriously.

Meanwhile, Comedy Central - you know, the “hip,” “edgy” network with Jon Stewart, from whom “young” Americans under 57 supposedly get most of their news - just caved in to death threats. From a hateful 83-year old widow who doesn’t like Obamacare? Why, no. It was a chap called Abu Talhah al Amrikee, who put up a video on the Internet explaining why a “South Park” episode with a rather tame Muhammad joke was likely to lead to the deaths of the show’s creators. Just to underline the point, he showed some pictures of Theo van Gogh, the Dutch film director brutally murdered by (oh my, talk about unfortunate coincidences) a fellow named Mohammed. Mr. al Amrikee helpfully explained that his video incitement about the murder of Matt Stone and Trey Parker wasn’t really “a threat but just the likely outcome.” All he was doing, he added, was “raising awareness” - you know, like folks do on Earth Day. On Earth Day, lame politicians dig a hole and stick a tree in it. But aggrieved Muslims dig a hole and stick a couple of comedy writers in it. Celebrate diversity.

Faced with this explicit threat of violence, what did Comedy Central do? Why, it folded like a Bedouin tent. It censored “South Park,” not only cutting all the references to Muhammad but, in an exquisitely postmodern touch, also removing the final speech about the need to stand up to intimidation. Mr. Stone and Mr. Parker get what was at stake in the Danish cartoons crisis, and many other ostensibly footling concessions: Imperceptibly, incrementally, remorselessly, the Free World is sending the message that it is happy to trade core liberties for the transitory security of a quiet life. That is a dangerous signal to give freedom’s enemies. So the “South Park” episode is an important cultural pushback.

Yet in the end, in a craven culture, even big Hollywood A-listers can’t get their message through. So the brave, transgressive comedy network was intimidated into caving in and censoring a speech about not being intimidated into caving in. That’s what I call “hip,” “edgy,” “cutting-edge” comedy: They’re so edgy they’re curled up in the fetal position whimpering at the guy with the cutting edge, “Please. Behead me last. And don’t use the rusty scimitar where you have to saw away for 20 minutes to find the spinal column.”

Terrific. You can see why young, urban, postmodern Americans under 57 get most of their news from Comedy Central. What a shame 1930s fascist Europe was so lacking in cable.

Fifteen years ago, Bill Clinton set out to hang Timothy McVeigh around the necks of talk radio and, with a further stretch, Newt Gingrich and the congressional Republicans. It was an act of contemptible but undeniably brilliant opportunism. It worked so well for him that a couple of years later, after the Princess of Wales’ fatal car crash, George Stephanopoulos enthused to Christopher Hitchens: “Tony Blair’s handling this really well. This is his Oklahoma City.” As Mr. Hitchens remarked, this is the way these people think.

That works fine when you’re up against phantom enemies of the kind Mr. Clinton preferred to take on while giving real threats the run of the planet. If the Tea Partiers were truly the murderous goons they’ve been portrayed to be, they would draw the obvious lesson from the kid gloves with which Comedy Central strokes Islam. They would say, “Enough with peaceful rallies where we pick up the litter afterward. Let’s just threaten to decapitate someone. You get more respect that way. At least from the media.”

But they won’t do that. Because, notwithstanding their outrageous demonization by the media, they’re not terrorists. So, in the end, Comedy Central has incentivized Islamic violence and nothing much else. Nevertheless, we should be grateful to its jelly-spined executives for reminding us that the cardboard heroes of the American media are your go-to guys for standing up to entirely fictitious threats. But for real ones? Not so much.

Mark Steyn is the author of the New York Times best-seller “America Alone” (Regnery, 2006).

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