Patterico's Pontifications


SNL and the Obamalypics: Only the beginning?

Filed under: General — Karl @ 6:24 am

[Posted by Karl]

This weekend’s SNL cold opening, in which Pres. Obama (impersonated badly by Fred Armisen) riffs over his list of non-accomplishments, may be a blip — or the beginning of something larger. Allahpundit notes the omissions from that list, e.g., doing anything about Iran’s nuclear program, but that is no surprise. Even including the infamous bailout sketch, the number of SNL sketches written with any sort of conservative viewpoint over the show’s decades on-air can probably be counted on one hand.

More broadly, while SNL always tries to cultivate an “edgy” image, the reality is that its treatment of the presidency has never had much of a sharp, satiric edge. Nor has it been based much on policy. Writing at Big Hollywood earlier this year, Chris Stigall accurately describes what the show really does:

Pick your high-profile candidate or president of the last 30 years and Saturday Night Live created a lasting and often crippling parody of their character and leadership flaws. Chevy Chase’s Ford was a bumbling klutz and Dan Aykroyd’s Carter, a smooth and smiling empty suit. Dana Carvey’s elder Bush was stilted with scripted throwaway lines. Phil Hartman’s Regan [sic!] was gentile on the outside but a calculating power-broker on the inside. Every year, every election they kept them coming.

Bill Clinton was a McDonald’s-starved sex fiend. George W. Bush was a cocky moron led by the cold, sinister Dick Cheney. Remember Ross Perot and his charts, Admiral Stockdale’s loony rants, and Al Gore’s petulant, haughty sighs? Michael Dukakis had bushy eyebrows and a losing attitude. Hillary Clinton was a woman desperate for power at all costs and Joe Biden is a slick-talking, loud, brash, phony everyman with a Cheshire Cat grin. All classic SNL created characters still sold on collector DVDs to this day.

Stigall had already covered the show’s treatment of Sarah Palin, which was much in the same vein.

That SNL treated Pres. Obama essentially the way it treated Carter, after months of sketches where wacky things happened around the cool, collected Pres. Obama, is not a good development for the White House. It may be, in itself, a small thing, but it is potentially a telling one. The sketch included a reference to Chicago’s failed Olympic bid, and — as an e-mailer to Jonah Goldberg noted:

Unlike much of the political and economic arcana that has illustrated Obama’s failures, this one comes in an area that tens of millions of largely apolitical Americans are very emotionally invested in, sports. This is the lead story on ESPN right now. Lots of people who to this day have never heard of ACORN or Tim Geithner or TARP are being exposed to a major Obama failure. So I don’t at all see this as just an “inside the Beltway” failure; it’s more outside the Beltway than anything that’s ever been laid at his feet before.

Similarly, it is a fair guess that much of the SNL audience is not glued to C-SPAN the rest of the week.

The fact that Obama has yet to accomplish much of his agenda, even with a Democratic Congress (a fact the sketch pointedly mentions) is bad for the administration on several levels. It encourages his critics, depresses his supporters, and suggests to the apolitical middle that Obama is not competent. The last is significant because competence is perceived as a non-partisan issue. Whatever someone thinks of the Obama agenda, his failure on so much of it to date reflects badly on him.

Competence may not be a voting issue per se (In 1988, Dukakis tried to run on competence to run away from ideology), but it can be a accelerant to pre-existing discontent as he makes further missteps, much as Pres. Bush’s perceived failure in response to Hurricane Katrina further fueled his waning popularity over Iraq. It is the sort of thing likely to leave a mark, subconsciously or otherwise, on the weekend when unemployment reached its highest point since 1983. It is not a narrative Obama wants to take hold in the popular culture.

Such jokes carry more political sting than than jokes about Bill Clinton not being able to keep his fly closed, as some could dismiss that as a private matter. Indeed, Clinton survived the Lewinsky scandal in large part because he could always talk about working hard for the American people. He also survived in part because the economy was in good shape. Here, Obama is being mocked as ineffectual in the midst of economic misery.

Of course, if Obama can muscle a government takeover of the US healthcare system through Congress, folks on the staff of SNL will go back to honeymoon mode. But if he falters, he can look forward to being the butt of incompetency jokes for years.


20 Responses to “SNL and the Obamalypics: Only the beginning?”

  1. Has His Royal Hopieness jumped the shark?

    OldGeezer (996c34)

  2. The only truly moderate conservative/libertarian writers on SNL were the awesomely talented Jim Downey, who wrote Norm MacDonald’s wickedly funny SNL weekened updates, and of course Robert Smigel, who is now well – known for his “Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog” on Conan’s show. They got away with their viewpoints because they were both brilliant writers.

    Dmac (5ddc52)

  3. All I could think of during the skit was the dreadfully bad acting. Not remotely at the level of the election season.

    Brother Bradley J. Fikes, C.O.R. (0ea407)

  4. SNL actually did some very telling Obama satire prior to the election; not only on the deferential treatment he received vs. Hillary, but also including some Tony Rezco stuff that was really to the point and was surprising for me to see. The issue with that was the higher ups very quickly killed on-line availability of that skit while allowing the anti-Palin stuff to be viewed.

    MD in Philly (d4f9fa)

  5. “This weekend’s SNL cold opening, in which Pres. Obama (impersonated badly by Fred Armisen)”

    Eh. Chevy Chase didn’t do much of a Gerald Ford, he just fell down a lot. Dan Aykroyd did an OK Jimmy Carter, though.

    Rick S (323473)

  6. …was gentile on the outside but a calculating power-broker on the inside…

    Hmmm. What do we have here? A misspelling of gentle, or code words for Jews who are the shrewd, behind the scenes, real powers. Given the Reagan misspelling, it’s probably gentle. If that be the case, I’d suggest this guy get himself enrolled in the second grade class DRJ used for quotes about their moms. Not a single misspeller in that entourage of one-liner prodigies.

    political agnostic (3acaf1)

  7. Robert Gibbs can explain away failures and NYT can airbrush over same, but neither can drown out the sound of a sustained laugh-track. An administration as thin-skinned as this one is a target-rich environment (e.g., Robert Gibbs = “Family Guy”) for those with Comedy Courage.

    Maybe SNL is the first spiderweb crack in the windshield, or maybe their corporate parent GE will “re-direct” their writers as part of the Cap-n-Trade payoff. Only time will tell.

    furious (71af32)

  8. political agnostic,

    Good catch. I was too focused on the Regan to catch the gentile.

    Karl (092fb2)

  9. I’m not sure this is the beginning of anything much. I’ve seen other bloggers approach this with a “Is Hollywood finally catching on?” The answer being no, of course. The truth is, people are upset the economy is still tanking, despite what analysts say, people are seeing unemployment rising as the sole evidence that the economy is still in the can. People want to know what’s wrong after Obama promised to fix things. To make matters worse, even ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith knows there are problems. The ESPN community isn’t completely in the dark, though of course they aren’t running for the political channels either.

    SNL’s rants on Obama show they are angry with him being unable to pass his agenda. They know that with the majorities he has this is unacceptable. They can blame Republicans all they want, but of course then they would have to admit that the Republicans they’ve been bashing all these years are competent enough to stop Obama’s agenda. And the One cannot be fooled by those pesky Republicans.

    The writers of SNL live in a fantasy world, they know they now have the most left wing president in recent memory, yet he can’t do a damn thing. Not good. Even with celebrity endorsement he still can’t pass healthcare, or cap and trade, and he hasn’t even started with immigrant reformation. Obilly the kid didn’t pace himself and he overestimated his popularity.

    Truth is, people aren’t angry solely at Bush and Republicans. They are angry at the actions of Bush and Republicans. They are angry with the bad economy, lost jobs, lost companies, bail outs for irresponsible businesses and homeowners, corrupt polticians, big government, and infringements on freedoms. Obama was elected because he promised his administration would be anything but those things. He has proven to be wrong. People are angry about the stimulus (millions to a yacht club in Salton Sea…really?). Obama has proven to be just like any other politican. And people are tired of it.

    Sorry, Obummer. You’re out in 2012.

    TheAudacity (2fd5ad)

  10. Hi there, just stumbled across your blog as linked over from Big Hollywood reference the Polanski boondoggle. A recent college graduate, took the LSAT and realized law wasn’t my strong suit, currently working on my MBA, and found this to be an outstanding read. I see you’re an Assistant DA, outstanding. Look forward to reading more!

    TheUConservative (e97e46)

  11. Obama is really thin skinned so this sort of thing probably had the wires humming this morning. As Chris Wallace said, these are the worst crybabies he’s seen in Washington in 30 years.

    Mike K (2cf494)

  12. Well, there *is* this:

    Fineman: “Obama seems to think he’ll get credit for the breathtaking scope of his ambition. But unless he sees results, it will have the opposite effect—diluting his clout, exhausting his allies, and emboldening his enemies.”

    The talking has begun, it would seem, and the digs have begun, and a groundswell seems imminent.

    Bonnie (105da3)

  13. “…a groundswell…”

    Been to a Tea-Party lately?
    If the “groundswell” that has generated the Tea-Parties builds to Tsunami proportions,
    the GOP will be in danger of becoming just like the party they replaced: The Whigs!
    The Democrats, on the other hand, must be the political equivelant of cock-roaches:
    No matter what thermo-nuclear devices go off in their midst, they survive to face an angry world.

    AD - RtR/OS! (03146a)

  14. I really wish they’d get a better actor for Obama. I could do a better impersonation than that. At least with Chase doing Ford, the joke was that he wasn’t even trying for an impersonation.

    SNL making fun of the president isn’t really big news, though. Unless they’re supremely easy to caricature as candidates, i.e. Ross Perot, there tends to be a learning curve. Even Dana Carvey’s Bush didn’t become what we remember until Bush’s first year in office (go back and watch the Republican primary skit from that election season; he plays it quite differently). Same with Phil Hartman as Clinton.

    I would even argue that Will Ferrell’s GWB got better once he actually left SNL, but I seem to be in the minority on that.

    LYT (797c6c)

  15. Don’t forget that SNL skit last fall lampooning the NYTers preparing to go to Alaska. That was wicked!

    I’ve always enjoyed SNL regardless of the cast and politics. They bust their asses to put that show together in a week. Doing it live adds a tightrope tension; surprises abound. It’s a pleasure to watch when you see a host step up and show talents you never expected them to have. I’ll really miss SNL when its gone.

    gp (cb5e61)

  16. […] “Yes, really”). So at least some of the president’s media enablers have the concerns about it I raised this […]

    Patterico’s Pontifications » Comedy News Network FAIL (e4ab32)

  17. I thought SNL was remarkably balanced last year. Two particularly biting skits come to mind. One, which had a lot of humorless conservatives fit to be tied, was actually a huge gift to the right, laying into the press in general and the NYT in particular for obsessively scouring Alaska for any potential dirt on Sarah Palin they could dredge up, while ignoring real news. [One reporter, for example, was pulled off the his Wall Street assignment for the Alaska project because “Lehman Brothers isn’t going anywhere.” Another pursued a story about Todd Palin supposedly banging his daughters, on the theory that even though there is no evidence he is doing that, well gee, there’s no proof he isn’t, either!] The other skit was a press conference with Nancy Pelosi trotting out “victims” of the foreclosure crisis who were not remotely sympathetic, and even included the Sandlers, first portrayed as victims but then re-characterized as “people who should be shot” (the latter part was taken off their web site, alas).

    Overall, SNL ain’t fair and balanced, but it’s fairer and balanceder than most of what passes for objective news.

    Xrlq (ff3a6a)

  18. Thank God CNN is fact checking comedy routines! Especially those about our Dear Leader.

    Come check out CNN’s past comedy checking glories:


    naturalfake (a0f5d3)

  19. Ronnie was a stand-up goy!!!

    liamascorcaigh (a0e251)

  20. SNL, you finally got it right, congratulations!

    m vale (f06dad)

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