The SNL Donkey Show, Featuring John McCain and Chuck Hagel

By James Fallows

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.
 
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*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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/02/the-snl-donkey-show-featuring-john-mccain-and-chuck-hagel/273067/