The Showbiz Party
I watched Hillary Clinton's appearance on The Tonight Show with low expectations. I have never been much impressed with the theory that Jay Leno is a trenchant critic of the Clinton administration. He has made fun of them, of course, but always in a good-natured and light-hearted way, as we make fun of our friends; and always from a personal, not ideological angle. A person whose entire understanding of U.S. politics had been garnered from watching Jay Leno's show would have the following impressions.
- Bill Clinton: Zipper problem. Scared of wife. Tells fibs. Lovable rogue.
- Al Gore: Stiff, wooden, boring.
- Janet Reno: Butch, ugly.
- George W. Bush: Loves executing criminals. Republican.
- Republicans: Cold-hearted friends of the rich, supported by religious fanatics and gun nuts.
- Democrats: No general impression.
- Pat Buchanan: Admirer of A. Hitler, supported by the Klan.
- Ralph Nader: No impression.
Even within the context of these different approaches (Dems — personal; Others — ideological), there is no balance. "George W. Bush loves to execute criminals" — yes. "Hillary Clinton loves to suck the brains from half-born babies" — no. "Republicans want tax breaks for the rich" — yes. "Democrats want to raise taxes on the middle class" — no. The great outrages of the Clinton years — his lying under oath, the "Wag the Dog" bombing of Sudan, the soliciting of party funds from the People's Liberation Army, the use of the IRS as a political weapon, and so on — are not considered good joke material by Leno and his writers. Clinton has a zipper problem; that's the main thing. Could happen to any guy.
I doubt there is any malice aforethought here. This is network TV, after all; these are not serious people, reflecting deeply on serious issues. There is no Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy here; just the vapid hedonism and the bogus sincerity of showbiz. These are comics and comic writers, trying to make their way in TV- and movie-land, where the tiredest of leftist clichés, the thinnest of arguments and the most preposterous of misconceptions are part of the air, soil and water. From interviews with Leno and off-line comments of his I have seen, I doubt he is a political animal. His (more likely his writers', I suppose) best-known apothegm — "Politics is show business for ugly people" — probably expresses his true feelings. The guy is not political.
Which is to say, he's a liberal Democrat. If you don't care about politics, you will probably fall in unthinkingly with the opinions of those around you. In showbiz, those opinions are left-liberal. The Democrats are, for well-rehearsed historical and psychological reasons, the showbiz party. They own this territory; and if you live here, to be a liberal Democrat is normal. To be anything else — Reform Party, Republican — is strange, outlandish, a little scary. In the only political conversation I have had with a showbiz professional recently, she told me she would not vote Republican because: "They want to take away all my rights as a woman."
So Hillary was among her own on Friday evening: schmoozing with Leno and the band, exchanging mutual flatteries, charming them effortlessly — they wanted to be charmed — doing the good-sport thing, as if any of Leno's mild, laddish jokes had ever done her the slightest harm. Did Leno ask her any tough questions? ("Have you yourself ever fingered anyone for an I.R.S. audit, Mrs. Clinton?") Don't be silly. Did she address any issues? Oh, sure. She was "for the children"; she was distressed at "run-down schools"; she supported "a woman's right to choose." She was normal. We Republicans — who hate children, go out breaking school windows of a Saturday night, and keep our women's noses to the kinder, kirche, küche grindstone — we are sinister freaks, lurking out there in the dark forest beyond the warm camp-fire glow of the TV studio.
Get ready for more of this stuff. Tipper will be on Leno's show this week, and the Gore kids too. Wood Man himself may make an appearance. And no doubt some of the Hollywood narcissistentsia will turn up too, to reinforce the message. It's unpaid political advertising, is what it is. God save us from politicians who want to entertain us, and entertainers who want to help them.