Friday, May 17, 2019

DON'T BLAME YOURSELF FOR BIDEN'S SUCCESS, ONION GUY (update: or blame Alec Baldwin for Trump's)

Joe Garden, formerly of The Onion, is apologizing for the satire site's portrayal of Joe Biden:
I worked at The Onion for 19 years as a writer and features editor. By the time I left in 2012, the publication had developed its take on Vice President Biden: “creepy but harmless,” with the emphasis on “harmless.”

... I didn’t take him seriously enough to think we were doing anything wrong. I thought of him as little more than a political necessity: the older, more conservative white guy who softened Barack Obama’s image in regions where the prospect of a black president was too radical. A deeper dive on Biden never felt necessary.

I’ve since changed my mind. Today, Biden is the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination.... As I watch him campaign as an old (-fashioned, -school, -old) centrist, I realize how badly we screwed up. Instead of viciously skewering a public figure who deserved scrutiny, we let him off easy.

... I wish we had looked more at his actual career in politics ... and tried to really puncture him, rather than just turning him into a clown. We helped make him more likable by inventing a version of Biden that never existed.
I understand the concern, but I wonder how much effect The Onion's treatment of Biden had on the voters who are supporting him now. Here's a 2016 demographic breakdown of the readership of The Onion and its spinoff sites (ClickHole, A.V. Club, StarWipe and Onion Studios):

More than half of the sites' readers were under the age of 34. Now look at Biden's numbers.

In a recent Emerson poll, Biden was trailing Bernie Sanders in the 18-to-29-year-old age range by 41% to 11%, and trailing among 30-to-49-year-olds 29%-26%. Biden's 8-point lead in the Emerson poll was all from people over 50.

The Onion's readership skews male. Yet in a recent Quinnipiac poll, Biden had more support among Democratic women (46%) than among Democratic men (40%).

Biden's core supporters are older whites and (especially) non-whites. Does that sound like The Onion's readership?

I realize that The Onion's treatment of Biden influenced the way the mainstream media covered him. But a much greater influence was the imprimatur imparted by Barack Obama. He said Biden was okay, so the press didn't delve into Biden's past.

The Onion was a factor in Biden's rise. But I think he'd be in first place now even if The Onion had never existed.


And now here's Politico's Peter Canellos arguing that Alec Baldwin's Donald Trump impression is a gift to the president:
... to look back over the full Baldwin/Trump oeuvre since 2016 is to realize just how tame it is—and, in an important way, what a favor it does the president. Baldwin’s Trump bears a closer resemblance to the befuddled governor on the old “Benson” sitcom than it does “Dr. Strangelove” or “The Manchurian Candidate” or any other of the darker historical figures to whom he’s been compared. In Baldwin’s hands he’s foolish and self-deluded, all right, but he also sometimes seems abashed by the reactions he provokes and the trouble he accidentally stirs up. (“It’s awful. Everything’s falling apart. Sometimes I wish I had never been president,” he moans at the start of an “It’s a Wonderful Life” parody; “All alone again. No one understands me,” he sighs in a skit on his trip to South America.)

By giving Trump qualities he’s shown little evidence of in public—conscience, introspection, even regret— “SNL” does him an enormous favor. It offers a glimmer of sympathy about his motives, inviting the generous assumption that there’s a better and more self-aware man lurking behind the Twitter feed.
There's a fair amount of truth in this assessment, although it jumps the shark in the next sentence:
In portraying the president as a beleaguered figure, it even allows the conclusion that the real threat to democracy isn’t Trump’s venomous rhetoric or disregard for constitutional norms, but the ruthlessness of the Washington system that confronts this blustering, fumbling uncle.
No one reads Baldwin's Trump as a hapless victim of a ruthless system. Those of us who despise Trump don't think he's a hapless victim, and the fans who think the system is out to get him believe he's a capable and powerful superman.

I agree that Baldwin's Trump has too many endearing qualities (if Trump were portrayed appropriately, he wouldn't have any at all). But a Saturday Night Live portrayal of a president isn't what keeps his approval numbers out of the 30s or 20s. The softest presidential imitation in SNL history was Dana Carvey's "wouldn't be prudent at this juncture" portrayal of George H.W. Bush. It was kind enough to the president that he embraced it, striking up a friendship with Carvey that lasted long after Bush's presidency.

And yet Poppy Bush is the only incumbent president to have lost a reelection bid in the past 35 years. So this isn't how we choose our presidents.

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