January 26, 2004
Dennis Miller, Swooning Bush Fan, Launches New Talk Show Today
BUZZFLASH GUEST COMMENTARY
Tonight sardonic comedian Dennis Miller launches his nightly talk show. If you're expecting trenchant wit slicing through the powers that be (and surely deserve to be) subjected to healthy scrutiny, you'll be in for a surprise. Nowadays when Miller takes aim, he nearly only fires at targets on the left.
That's right, the man who for many years lampooned George Bush has morphed into his biggest, swooning fan. There hasn't been such affectionate talk about a president since Monica Lewinsky confided in Linda Tripp.
Miller has become the official court jester of the White House, performing at Bush fundraisers and even sharing salted peanuts with the president on Air Force One. He remains on call to rally the wallets of wealthy Bush supporters. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Yet in contrast to topical TV comics appearing daily such as Leno, Letterman and Stewart, who pull no punches regardless of political stripes, Miller seems to have placed the Bush administration behind a "barb" wire fence, protecting it from his pointed humor. What happened to the skeptical eye of this funny guy? Did he experience a true conversion? Or is this a shrewd move to resuscitate his career and ride the lucrative wave of partisan bashing?
Miller's assessment of the president has gone through a transformation worthy of ABC's "Extreme Makeover." Only a few years ago, commenting on the president's acumen, he said, "Bush may not be smart, but at least he's smart enough to know he's not smart."
In another rant during that period, Miller observed that Bush "got into college by the skin of his teeth and into the Air National Guard the same way...Really, Bush's greatest achievement in his life up to this point has been to lower our expectations of him so that practically anything he accomplishes in the Oval Office is bound to impress us."
Yet now Miller is boundlessly impressed by Bush: "He's much smarter than his enemies think he is. I think he's a genius. People whine about him getting into Yale -- the way I see it, if your old man buys a building you should get into Yale! But I think he could have gotten into Yale on his own; he's a very smart man," Miller recently told a reporter.
What convinced Miller to shed the non-partisan robe and display such naked admiration for a sitting president? He says it was September 11 and Bush's decision to invade Iraq. This new Miller explains the need for war this way, "I wish there was a country called Al-Qaeda that we could have invaded, but there wasn't. Saddam was the only one who had a home address."
This doctrine may prompt a number of other countries, also with no connection to al Qaeda, to register with the "do not bomb" list in the event we run out of patience in pursuing bin Laden. Was all this just because Saddam was listed in the white pages? Perhaps the old Miller would have questioned whether the war in Iraq might have diverted attention and resources from the more immediate danger of the non-listed al Qaeda as well as protecting our homeland.
A year ago the administration issued dire warnings that Iraq possessed such an arsenal of weaponry that if we didn't go to war immediately, Saddam would appear like a scene from Dr. Strangelove, personally riding a missile to our shores. We were told to trust them on this.
Here's the old Dennis Miller on the topic of trust: "Trust will always be a magical commodity that is difficult to earn and easy to lose, and a healthy skepticism will always be needed to help you avoid getting conned." This time, though, Miller immediately threw his characteristic smirk behind the war. He challenged anybody who didn't believe Iraq had chemical weapons "to go over and take a sip out of the Tigris River." A bottle of Aqua Tigris anyone?
Even a former Bush cabinet secretary didn't see evidence to support an immediate war. This should fire up the synapses of any skeptic to ponder being conned, but Miller's trust, however, remains wholly intact. The administration may succeed in keeping him in comic code orange: scared quipless from further inquiry.
Here's the old Miller on another basic principle of democracy: "The ability to be critical of our government is what makes this country great." And here's the new Miller, criticizing anti-war activist Michael Moore: "he thinks he's more of a patriot than we are because he ‘questions' our government. That's boring."
In interviews, Miller explains his newfound antipathy toward the left, claiming their only message is "we want some more money and we're not going to protect you." There's plenty of valid criticism to direct at liberals...but not wanting to protect us? Miller may not realize who first proposed the Department of Homeland Security (hint: the Democrats) and who initially opposed it (think oval office). It's true that Democrats want more taxes, because the alternative is that Miller's kids will get the credit card bill for the spending spree of the Republican controlled congress.
Miller also laments that liberals equate Bush with Hitler. He's right, it is a shameless means of political attack. When Newt Gingrich became speaker of the house in 1994, Miller said, "This is actually Gingrich's second attempt to seize power, the first of course, being the ill-fated Beer Hall Putsch."
Unless his views on the nature of television news have altered as well, Miller comes to his show with the proper perspective. Here's Miller in 2002: "If you're looking for empirical truth on TV, you're watching the wrong kinescope...TV news wants you to be entertained first, informed maybe. The sad truth is, we don't object to the slanted nature of our news because being told how to think is easier than figuring it out for ourselves."
Credit CNBC for noting that humor and news may be a formula for bringing in new viewers, especially a younger demographic, in light of the success of "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central. However, the impact of having a galvanizing host so closely attached to one of the horses in this race that he's actually donning spurs remains to be seen.
According to advance press, Miller plans to debate those with alternative views, but reserves the ... well ... "right" to control the format by visually shrinking the image of those with whom he disagrees until they literally disappear. Perhaps he'll ditch this heavy-handed gimmick and give his audience credit for figuring out who's making valid points or his show may itself fade to black.
What's curious about Miller's crossing is not that he went from being a supposed liberal to a supposed conservative in less time than most sitcoms are cancelled. It's a matter of directing the humor at the privileged, who tend to abuse their power, while standing up for the little guy. Miller understood this in 2001 when he said, "But unfortunately, as our system stands, the one who always ends up shafted is the little guy, not the billionaire CEO. It's the 50-year-veteran." Miller might want to talk to an older veteran these days to find out how things are going.
A BUZZFLASH GUEST COMMENTARY
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