SNARK WON'T SAVE US
Over the weekend I was reading the recent New York Observer article about Congressman Anthony Wiener, which quotes a bit of his schtick in front of a sympathetic crowd:
Congressman Anthony Weiner bounded into a DJ booth at a fashionable Lower East Side bar one recent Wednesday night, grabbed the microphone with his left hand and unleashed his inner Borscht Belt.
"Every single moment that we are stroking our beards and gazing at our navel and thinking about the world we'd like to be and singing 'Kumbaya' is another day we're not punching Bill O'Reilly in the nose."
"I follow Twitter for the Tea Party and just show up to fuck with them," he said. The crowd of 20-somethings crowed.
"No, I don't actually do that. I just sit at my desk and they send me talcum powder every couple of weeks."
This kind of talk is raising Wiener's profile. It's getting him on MSNBC. It's getting him on The Daily Show. He's now the Democrats' other snark-meister, after Alan Grayson.
Which is good as far as it goes. But Wiener and Grayson -- even a few dozen Wieners and Graysons -- aren't going to move the political needle.
Don't get me wrong -- I love snark. But snark isn't how you seize control of the debate. Snark certainly isn't how Republicans seize control of the debate.
Republicans pols (and, to some extent, Republican media personalities) seize the debate by seeming Very. Very. Serious. They're somber. They're deeply concerned. They just don't know if the Republic can survive, and they speak in concerned, humorless tones, or angry, humorless tones, because These Are Perilous Times.
You know that tone. You hear it from Mitch McConnell and John Boehner and Newt Gingrich, and lesser-known Republican mouthpieces, practically every day.
Snark? A snark-meister seems as if he's unfazed by what's happening to him. Read the Weiner excerpt above -- Weiner seems as if Republicans really haven't gotten the better of him. Alan Grayson's riffs suggest the same thing -- what Republicans are doing isn't putting us in peril, it's a joke (or they're a joke).
Republicans don't talk like that. Even joke-tellers on the right don't talk like that. Glenn Beck frequently acts like a giddy four-year-old on a sugar rush, but then he goes deadly earnest about the danger we evil lefties and Democrats are putting the country in. Same for Rush Limbaugh -- he tells a few cornball jokes, but the menace of liberalism is, to him, really serious. Even the frequently sarcastic Sarah Palin drops the sarcasm and talks as if everything we do is a life-or-death matter for America.
Much as I appreciate the Graysons and Weiners, we need some people (besides Olbermann and Maddow) who can do that life-or-death thing back to the GOP. We need some politicians who can do it -- who can go on Sunday morning chat shows and proclaim melodramatically that if we follow the Republicans' lead, we're doomed.
It happens to be true. But until we have a phalanx of pols who can say it, and say it as if they mean it all the time, we won't really have a chance of getting through to the public at large.