Saturday, September 25, 2010


I'm confused by the headline for Jonathan Martin's Politico story about Stephen Colbert's appearance at a congressional hearing on immigration:

Colbert Knocks Dems Off Message

You mean prior to this Democrats were on message? First I've heard about it.

The right is trying to make hay of this:

Republicans were more harsh.

"I thought top libs were out of touch elitists. Colbert's visit to Congress proved me right," Dan Gainor, vice president of business and culture for the conservative Media Research Center, told the world from his Twitter account.

Over at Think Progress, I see the headline "Fox Apoplectic Over Colbert Testimony: Megyn Kelly Demands Apology, Rep. Steve King Calls Him A Liar." But my impression of the mainstream press coverage of this is that only agenda-driven ideologues and political junkies are arguing about whether this was a gaffe or a disgrace -- elsewhere, it's being covered, as far as I can tell, as a "light" political story. It's not harming the Democrats (or undocumented immigrants), but it's not helping them, either. It's just seen as odd and somewhat amusing.

So it's not much of an error. Still, I'm not sure why Democrats thought inviting Colbert to testify was a good idea. I know the point is that he once took up a challenge to do the kind of grueling farm labor illegal immigrants do. But has anyone involved in the decision to invite him ever actually watched him? Did they understand that his comedy is off-kilter and only sometimes in sync with the Democrats' message?

Yesterday, writing on a different subject (the Democrats' new logo, which looks like what the copyright logo would look like if the word were were "dopyright"), Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland, quoted an old MyDD post by Matt Stoller, who's written for Hollywood:

We are expert message machines offering our (generally overpriced) services for free, and the Democratic Party does not use us. We create villains and good guys, we write America's jokes, we create the narrative of America, the lines that are repeated by boys and girls, men and women, over lunch and the water cooler, and we have been left completely unconsulted.

Stoller, writing in 2004, went on to say:

Why didn't Michael Bay direct an awesome action adventure ad where John Kerry singlehandedly blows up the terrorist insurgency with a solemn nod of his granite-chiseled chin? Why weren't the writers of SNL and the Daily Show brought in to create hilarious, ruthless anti-Bush spots that would have been forwarded all around the internet? Why wasn't James Brooks hired to create a touching, pull-the-heartstrings Kerry-Edwards-cares-about-the-voter commercial?

Maybe the answer is: entertainers wouldn't know what works politically, and Democrats would be utterly clueless about the difference between entertaining and effective. But why is that?

And meanwhile, today's New York Times has an article about Michael Caputo, the obnoxious Roger Stone protege who's crafting Carl Paladino's you-wanna-piece-of-me? message in the New York governor's race:

From Mr. Caputo's pen have come some memorable gibes at Mr. Cuomo, Mr. Paladino's Democratic rival, whom they have dubbed Prince Andrew, Status Cuomo and Br'er Andrew.

From Mr. Caputo's mind have come blistering attack advertisements, including one that featured a fake photo of Mr. Cuomo, the state's attorney general, shirtless in the shower and covered in mud, as part of an effort to portray him as a slimy politician....

Mr. Caputo is unapologetic. He wasted no time in cooking up another madcap advertisement on Wednesday when Mr. Bloomberg, New York's billionaire mayor, came out in support of Mr. Cuomo.

In an e-mail to reporters, Mr. Caputo dismissed the two men as political elites who traveled in the "same royal coach."

"One upside to this," Mr. Caputo wrote. "The two can stop passing Grey Poupon back and forth from their limousines. It's holding up traffic on Park Avenue."

This material isn't all that good, and, on balance, the polls show Cuomo comfortably ahead. But why is this stuff connecting at all? How many pro-Democrat, anti-GOP jibes have ever gotten good press coverage in the thick of a political race? If our side dominates the entertainment industry, why aren't we better at this?

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