The SNL Donkey Show, Featuring John McCain and Chuck Hagel

HIllarySNL.pngRemember this great SNL skit five years ago, when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were bitterly fighting it out for the nomination? The point of the skit was that the national media had fallen completely in love with the shiny, heroic, "Hope and Change" new idol Obama, while being openly exasperated with the "annoying, pushy, grating, bossy, shrill," etc. Clinton. Therefore they were rigging the debates in Obama's favor. At their next real debate, Clinton was able to refer to the skit by saying that she half- expected the moderators to ask Obama whether he was comfortable enough "and would like another pillow."

I hadn't looked at this skit since it first aired, and I'd forgotten how viciously brilliant it really was. It is all the more fascinating in light of what we've learned about the main figures in the five years since (including the main interrogator, the late Tim Russert.) Do yourself the favor of seeing it.

The skit below, produced last week, is nowhere close in intrinsic-comedy value. In fact, it is forced-seeming rather than very funny.* That's what the SNL producers themselves apparently recognized, in pulling it from the lineup after the dress rehearsals and substituting one (also not that hilarious) about the power failure at the Super Bowl. But as a political marker, I think it could be significant.

By the time a habit or attitude becomes widely known enough to be worth an SNL parody, even a failed one, it is on the way to seeming ridiculous. Ridicule is generally more threatening to a public figure or a public idea than "logical" rebuttal is. That's why Colbert and the Daily Show matter, and why Rush Limbaugh first rose to influence in his early, funny-rather-than-angry-sounding phase. (And why Gerald Ford, a one-time varsity athlete, was damaged by the early-season SNL skits of his stumbling down the stairs of Air Force One.) In the case of the Hagel hearings, you could read all the analyses you want about the posturing and disproportion of the senators' grandstanding. Or you could watch the 65 seconds of the clip below that start at time 4:00.


*Why un-funny? Like the 2008 skit, this new one turns on a single joke, but by comparison it's belabored and overlong. Also, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Tim Russert were richer material to work with than Lindsay Graham, Carl Levin, Bernie Sanders, and Hagel.

Presented by

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

Why Principals Matter

Nadia Lopez didn't think anybody cared about her middle school. Then Humans of New York told her story to the Internet—and everything changed.


A History of Contraception

In the 16th century, men used linen condoms laced shut with ribbons.


'A Music That Has No End'

In Spain, a flamenco guitarist hustles to make a modest living.


What Fifty Shades Left Out

A straightforward guide to BDSM

More in Politics

From This Author

Just In