While White House press briefings over the last year have, on occasion, been little short of Roman gladiatorial engagements, Colbert--assuming the persona of his talk-show character, a supposed supporter of the Republican administration--managed to take down the prez with ironic, ingenious, and subtle jabs that left Bush backers in the 2,600-member audience stonily silent and his opponents roaring like lions. Some of the comedian’s best bits:
● “Wow. Wow, what an honor. The White House Correspondents’ Dinner. To actually sit here, at the same table with my hero, George W. Bush, to be this close to the man. I feel like I’m dreaming. Somebody pinch me. You know what? I’m a pretty sound sleeper--that may not be enough. Somebody shoot me in the face. Is [Dick Cheney] really not here tonight? Damn it. The one guy who could have helped.”
● “I believe the government that governs best is the government that governs least. And by these standards, we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq.”
● “Now, I know there are some polls out there saying [Bush] has a 32 percent approval rating. But guys like us, we don’t pay attention to the polls. We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in ‘reality.’ And reality has a well-known liberal bias. ... So don’t pay attention to the approval ratings that say 68 percent of Americans disapprove of the job this man is doing. I ask you this, does that not also logically mean that 68 percent approve of the job he’s not doing? Think about it. I haven’t.”
● “The greatest thing about this man is he’s steady. You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday. Events can change; this man’s beliefs never will. As excited as I am to be here with the president, I am appalled to be surrounded by the liberal media that is destroying America, with the exception of FOX News. FOX News gives you both sides of every story: the president’s side, and the vice president’s side.”
● “But, listen, let’s review the rules. Here’s how it works: the president makes decisions. He’s the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put ’em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know--fiction! Because really, what incentive do these people [at the White House] have to answer your questions, after all? I mean, nothing satisfies you. Everybody asks for personnel changes. So the White House has personnel changes. Then you write, ‘Oh, they’re just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.’ First of all, that is a terrible metaphor. This administration is not sinking. This administration is soaring. If anything, they are rearranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg!”
Colbert managed, over the course of his address, to insult--with deft, almost compassionate precision--pretty much every notable in the room, from Senator John McCain and outgoing press secretary Scott McClellan, to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (whom Colbert greeted with a flurry of expressive hand gestures, alluding to Scalia’s recent use of an obscene Sicilian hand gesture toward a Boston Herald reporter who had asked him about impartiality as it relates to issues involving church-state separation). My favorite greeting, though, was of Jesse Jackson. Remarked Colbert:
Jesse Jackson is here, the Reverend. Haven’t heard from the Reverend in a little while. I had him on the show. Very interesting and challenging interview. You can ask him anything, but he’s going to say what he wants, at the pace that he wants. It’s like boxing a glacier. Enjoy that metaphor, by the way, because your grandchildren will have no idea what a glacier is.Editor & Publisher reports that, as Bush listened, he “quickly turned from an amused guest to an obviously offended target as Colbert’s comments brought up his low approval ratings and problems in Iraq.” The publication adds that “As Colbert walked from the podium, when it was over, the president and First Lady gave him quick nods, unsmiling, and handshakes, and left immediately.” I guess the White House televisions won’t be reset from FOX News to Comedy Central at any time soon.
READ MORE: “The Truthiness Hurts,” by Michael Scherer (Salon); “Ignoring Colbert: A Small Taste of the Media’s Power to Choose the News,” by Peter Daou (The Huffington Post); “Colbert’s White House Correspondent Dinner Performance Underscores Irony’s Power and Delicacy,” by Joe Gandelman (The Moderate Voice); “Stephen Colbert at the White House,” by Annie Wu (TV Squad); “Heavens to Betsy,” by Digby (Hullabaloo).