The Stuff of Comedy

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, October 24, 2008; 12:45 PM

There is something flat-out comical about the lengths to which Republican presidential candidate John McCain has gone to avoid any contact with the incumbent president who has endorsed him as a worthy successor.

Traditional journalism, however, hasn't quite been able to capture it.

So in comes Saturday Night Live, for the win.

Will Ferrell, Darrell Hammond and Tina Fey reprised their roles as President Bush, McCain, and McCain vice presidential pick Sarah Palin on last night's prime-time edition of SNL, and in so doing created a memorable work of satire that may well be truer than anything you've read in weeks.

You've just got to watch it.

At the climax, McCain -- tracked down and brought to the Oval Office by Todd Palin -- literally tries to break out of Bush's grasp as the president looks into the camera and tells the nation: "John was there for me 90% of the time over the last eight years. When you think of John McCain, think of me, George W. Bush. Think of this face. When you're in the voting booth, before you vote, picture this face right here. A vote for John McCain is a vote for George W. Bush."

Ferrell as Bush then turns to Hammond, playing a miserable, squirming McCain and says: "You're welcome. So I want to be there for you, John, for the next eight years."

At which point Fey as a chipper Palin pipes in: "The next 16 years!"

The skit opens brilliantly as well: "Hello, my fellow Americans," Ferrel says from behind the presidential desk. "I have chosen to schedule this impromptu address at night because quite frankly every time I speak during the day, the stock market goes in the crapper. So, sorry, Asian markets. You take the hit on this one."

He explains that "with the country on a big upswing and my numbers on the rise, I thought it was time to give a proper, large scale 'much love' to McCain and Palin." After an aide whispers in his ear, he explains that he didn't know "the country is actually in a horrible downward spiral and that my approval numbers are lower than ever" because four months ago, he "declared the Oval Office a bummer-free zone."

There's even a disquisition on the role of the vice president. Says Ferrell: "As you know America, the office of vice president is the most important office in the land. The vice president decides when we go to war, how we tax the citizens and how we interpret the Constitution. The president can do nothing without checking with the vice president."

Fey as Palin: "Actually, Mr. President, I don't want to go all Katie Couric on you, but I think it's actually the other way around. I think the vice president reports to the president."

Ferrell as Bush: "Really? That's not what Dick Cheney told me when he sat me down on the first day."

The entire transcript is here.

David Zurawik blogs for the Baltimore Sun: "Watching the Thursday night installment of Saturday Night Live, I was reminded yet again what a profound service political satire serves in this democracy. . . .

"Given the general sense of insecurity and even confusion as to the role of the press in this era of vast economic and technological change, I don't think there are any journalistic voices that could comfortably say what SNL said Thursday night. . . . And yet, I am sure SNL's actions and words spoke to what millions of Americans are feeling (as the record ratings for SNL's overall skewering of the candidates and current administration has shown this year)."

Bush the Punching Bag

Richard Sisk writes in the New York Daily News: "John McCain Thursday looked to beat Barack Obama by stealing the Democrat's top argument - that George W. Bush has been a lousy President. . . .

"On the stump and in interviews, McCain took Bush-bashing to a new level by charging that an Obama presidency would be a replay of the last eight years of Republican rule.

"At a Florida rally, McCain seized on a new jobless report to claim that 'Obama's only answer is to double-down on the Bush administration's legacy of out-of-control spending.' . . .

"Democrats saw the trashing of Bush as a desperation tactic by McCain to cut Obama's growing lead among independents.

"'The fact is, over the course of 20 months of campaigning and three debates, McCain hasn't offered a single thing that he would do differently from George W. Bush on the economy or foreign policy,' said Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor."

Mark Z. Barabak and Bob Drogin write in the Los Angeles Times: "John McCain and Barack Obama finally found something they could agree on Thursday: Both assailed George W. Bush, and each attempted to link the other to the economic policies of the unpopular president. . . .

"At the White House, Press Secretary Dana Perino offered a terse response: 'I'm not going to comment on the words that our candidate chooses to use. All I'll say is that the president stands by his policies. He also stands by John McCain.'"

Elizabeth Holmes blogs for the Wall Street Journal: "The new charge from McCain that Obama and Bush are close ideologically on economic policy matters hangs on the thread of proposed spending increases by Obama. However, Obama opposes most major aspects of Bush's economic legacy, including making permanent the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, which McCain supports."

Also see yesterday's column, McCain v. Bush.

Empty Schedule

James Gerstenzang blogs for the Los Angeles Times, comparing President Clinton's frantic last two weeks on the campaign trail before election day 2000 (see Wednesday's column) with Bush's barren schedule, entirely empty of campaign events.

"Let's see.

"Friday is pretty busy: Briefings at the National Security Agency, an Oval Office meeting with the secretary-general of NATO, and a ceremony bringing Albania and Croatia into the Atlantic alliance.

"The president is spending this weekend at Camp David, the ultra-private presidential retreat in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains.

"On Monday, he is meeting with the president of Paraguay, and, with Laura Bush, he is speaking at a White House reception marking the 150th birthday of Theodore Roosevelt.

"And on it goes."

Bush in the Battlegrounds?

Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post about how McCain appears to be losing the key battleground states to Democrat Barack Obama. One big factor, of course, is that McCain is "weighed down by Bush's unpopularity. The president's approval rating is under 30 percent, and in many of the battleground states, it is far below that. That means the GOP nominee has to win over lots of voters who are unhappy with the performance of a Republican president."

Indeed, the latest Quinnipiac poll found Bush's approval ratings at 27 in Florida, 22 in Ohio and 21 in Pennsylvania.

Even worse, today's Strategic Vision poll found Bush's approval rating at 24 in Florida, 19 in Ohio, and a brutal 16 in Pennsylvania.

"The President's job approval number could be the number one detriment besides the economy to McCain winning in Pennsylvania particularly," Strategic Vision CEO David E. Johnson said in an e-mailed statement. "Even traditional Republicans do not approve of his job performance. Absent George W. Bush, McCain would probably be more competitive in the state."

The Revolt of the Bush Voters

Jim Rutenberg and Marjorie Connelly write in the New York Times: "Senator Barack Obama is showing surprising strength among portions of the political coalition that returned George W. Bush to the White House four years ago, a cross section of support that, if it continues through Election Day, would exceed that of Bill Clinton in 1992, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News polls.

"Underscoring his increasing strength in the final phase of the campaign, Mr. Obama led Mr. McCain among groups that voted for President Bush four years ago: those with incomes greater than $50,000 a year; married women; suburbanites and white Catholics. He is also competitive among white men, a group that has not voted for a Democrat over a Republican since 1972, when pollsters began surveying people after they voted. . . .

"Senior strategists of both parties have viewed the unpopularity of Mr. Bush and the Republican Party as major drags on Mr. McCain's chances. Favorability ratings for both are at all-time lows. Mr. Bush's approval rating of 22 percent is tied for its worst in the history of the Times/CBS poll, and opinions of the Republican Party are at their lowest since the poll first included questions about the political parties in 1985."

The Times quoted respondents who said they had voted for Bush in 2004 but were planning to vote for Obama.

"'I've always been a Republican, but I've switched in the last four years,' said Helen Taylor, 63, of Los Fresnos, Tex., in a follow-up interview. 'I voted for Bush because I knew more about him than Kerry, and I stuck with the Republican stance on things at that time. But I became concerned about things Bush was doing, and now I'm more in line with the Democratic platform."

Opinion Watch

I wrote Monday about how so many newspaper endorsements of Obama stress the need for a dramatic end to the Bush era.

The New York Times editorial board continues the trend this morning, writing: "The United States is battered and drifting after eight years of President Bush's failed leadership. He is saddling his successor with two wars, a scarred global image and a government systematically stripped of its ability to protect and help its citizens -- whether they are fleeing a hurricane's floodwaters, searching for affordable health care or struggling to hold on to their homes, jobs, savings and pensions in the midst of a financial crisis that was foretold and preventable. . . .

"Under Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the justice system and the separation of powers have come under relentless attack. Mr. Bush chose to exploit the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, the moment in which he looked like the president of a unified nation, to try to place himself above the law.

"Mr. Bush has arrogated the power to imprison men without charges and browbeat Congress into granting an unfettered authority to spy on Americans. He has created untold numbers of 'black' programs, including secret prisons and outsourced torture. The president has issued hundreds, if not thousands, of secret orders. We fear it will take years of forensic research to discover how many basic rights have been violated. . . .

"It will be an enormous challenge just to get the nation back to where it was before Mr. Bush, to begin to mend its image in the world and to restore its self-confidence and its self-respect. . . .

"This politics of fear, division and character assassination helped Mr. Bush drive Mr. McCain from the 2000 Republican primaries and defeat Senator John Kerry in 2004. It has been the dominant theme of his failed presidency."

Heck, even some of the McCain endorsements are full of contempt for Bush. The Detroit News editorial board writes today: "The 21st century is not even a decade old and yet already the hope for an era of peace and prosperity that greeted its dawning has been squandered. It is a challenge and opportunity for the man who succeeds President Bush.

"Financial markets that rose to incredible heights without an ethical foundation have brought the economy to the brink of collapse. Tyrants emboldened by the often heavy-handed and inept foreign policy of the Bush administration have established rogue regimes in every corner of the world to threaten U.S. interests and security."

Columnist Tom Teepen writes in his Cox Newspapers opinion column: "Bush's sins of commission are already legend: the needless Iraq war, terribly damaging to us even if we finally sort of 'win' it; the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression; the corrosion of American values, civil liberties and rights; the incompetence at even the simplest tasks of government.

"Less accounted are Bush's sins of omission, and notable among those is his failure during two terms to build a Republican Party with any discernible relationship to the 21st century."

Teepen calls Bush "the president of 19th-century-like Republican thralldom to industrialists and financiers, of rigid conservative doctrinalists and of a yahoo know-nothingism that couldn't admit to global warming or even to evolution.

"The Bush presidency has rung up no human capital, has produced no corps of promising, appealing young Republicans whose proven ability at governance and those thoughtfulness recommend them for a Republican revival before too long.

"Bush's progeny are a generation of lawyers tainted by their association with a politically subverted Justice Department, cadres from a vice presidency plotting a restoration of the authoritarian, imperial presidency of Richard Nixon and political place-holders who mismanaged the bureaucracy for partisan advantage and to serve, not the public, but a clientele of special interests."

And actor/director Ron Howard kicks off his screamingly funny trip down memory lane and endorsement of Obama by pointing out: "For the last eight years, our country has been going down a divisive and wrong-headed path, which is why it is so crucial that we vote for change. I'm talking about real change. The kind of change which will allow us to trust our government."

McClellan's Endorsement

From AFP: "Former Bush White House spokesman Scott McClellan is backing Democrat Barack Obama for president, CNN reported Thursday.

"McClellan, who was the face of the Republican administration of President George W. Bush for three years, told CNN in an interview that Obama has the best chance of getting things done in Washington, compared to his rival, Republican Senator John McCain.

"'From the very beginning I've said I'm going to support the candidate who has the best chance of changing the way Washington works and getting things done,' McClellan said, according to a transcript of the interview to be broadcast on Friday.

"'I will be voting for Barack Obama,' he said."

David Bauder writes for the Associated Press: "McClellan is the second former administration official to back the Democratic candidate this week. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell came out Sunday for Obama."

Economy Watch

Bruce Crumley writes for Time: "Convincing George W. Bush to host a global summit on reforming the world's crisis-stricken financial system, set for Nov. 15, was the easy part. But now French President Nicolas Sarkozy and other like-minded leaders have to get Washington's free-market advocates to subscribe to what they consider a vital regimen of new regulations. Despite the scary lessons of the last two months, that is almost certain to prove considerably more difficult.

"Sarkozy set high expectations for the summit by calling for the 'moralization of financial markets' and a wider push to 're-found the capitalist system.' When he and Bush announced the agreement for the summit, the French President envisioned a new regime to prevent 'those who have led us to where we are today from being allowed to do so once again.' Bush's emphasis was elsewhere: he talked of common rules to 'preserve the foundations of democratic capitalism, (and) the commitment to free markets, free enterprise and free trade.' So which will it be?"

And hey, remember that first bailout proposal Bush solemnly insisted was the only way out of this mess?

Binyamin Appelbaum and David Cho write in The Washington Post: "The asset-buying plan pitched to Congress starting last month has been set aside in favor of an initiative to invest at least $250 billion in banks, and possibly more, with almost no restrictions on how the banks can use the money."

Alison Vekshin writes for Bloomberg: "Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd said President George W. Bush should consider nominating his successor's Treasury secretary to facilitate a 'seamless transition' during the financial crisis.

"Dodd said the president-elect should identify a successor to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson soon after the Nov. 4 election. Dodd, whose committee would consider the nominee, said Bush, a Republican, should send the nomination to the Senate in time for a 'lame-duck' session to be held in mid-November. The new Congress will take office in early January."

White House Interference Watch

Renee Schoof writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "After the White House intervened, the Environmental Protection Agency last week weakened a rule on airborne lead standards at the last minute so that fewer polluters would have their emissions monitored.

"The EPA on Oct. 16 announced that it would dramatically reduce the highest acceptable amount of airborne lead from 1.5 micrograms of lead per cubic meter to 0.15 micrograms. It was the first revision of the standard since EPA set it 30 years ago.

"However, a close look at documents publicly available, including e-mails from the EPA to the White House Office of Management and Budget, reveal that the OMB objected to the way the EPA had determined which lead-emitting battery recycling plants and other facilities would have to be monitored."

A Popular Firing

Carrie Johnson writes in The Washington Post: "Office of Special Counsel chief Scott J. Bloch resigned under pressure after meeting with White House officials yesterday, five months after the FBI raided his home and his government office as part of an ongoing obstruction of justice probe.

"Bloch had refused persistent demands from lawmakers and his own employees to leave before the end of the Bush administration, writing to the president on Monday that he would fulfill his five-year term and exit in January. . . .

"The OSC is supposed to be a haven for federal whistleblowers and disgruntled employees. But the tables turned under Bloch, who previously worked at the Justice Department's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

"Bloch came under fire shortly after joining the whistleblower unit in 2004. Employees claimed that he engaged in political bias and improperly handled scores of cases. By his own account, White House officials twice had asked him to resign, but he refused.

"Debra S. Katz, an attorney representing OSC employees who had chafed under Bloch's leadership, said she is pleased that 'the Bush administration has finally acted to remove this rogue presidential appointee.'"

Bloch briefly tried to recast himself last year as a courageous watchdog by investigating political dealings by the White House, but he wasn't convincing.

Froomkin Watch

I'm taking Monday off. The column will resume on Tuesday.

Cartoon Watch

Larry Wright on approval ratings and John Trever on endangered species protection.

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