For more than a decade, Andy Borowitz has made his living as a freelance political satirist, publishing everywhere from the L.A. Times to the New Yorker. His Web site is borowitzreport.com. He will be appearing at UCSB tonight, Thursday, April 24. We spoke by telephone about the Bush years and the campaign.
Are you in professional mourning for the end of the Bush presidency? The Bush years have been a great era for political satire. The Clinton years-you think of ’98 and the impeachment and the Lewinsky scandal. But the problem was that it really all boiled down to one blowjob joke. It wasn’t really political satire-it was just dirty jokes.
The Bush administration-between the wars, the Department of Homeland Security, domestic surveillance, and Dick Cheney, who was sort of a category unto himself-it’s been a pretty great source of comedy. The perverse thing is that what’s bad news for the rest of the country is good news for me.
Aside from Bush himself, who provided you with the most comic fodder? Cheney, for instance, strikes me as so impervious to any kind of public sentiment that it’d be hard to satirize him-like satirizing a black hole. Well, what I especially loved about Cheney was when he tried to define executive privilege in a whole new way. At one point, when Congress was trying to haul him in on some subpoena, he said that he was not part of the executive branch because he presides over the Senate. But he’s not in the judicial branch and he’s not a senator, so he’s essentially a fourth branch of government unto himself.
He was fantastic. [Donald] Rumsfeld was great. I personally miss Tom Ridge [former director of Homeland Security]. : And let’s not forget [John] Ashcroft. Or [Alberto] Gonzales. Apparently Gonzales can’t get a job, so maybe there is some justice.
Well, you can’t be too distraught right now, what with the campaign. We now have three candidates running for president, all of whom are having enormous problems with their memory. McCain can’t remember whom Iran is training. He needs to be prompted by Joe Lieberman. How bad does your memory have to be that you need Joe Lieberman as your lifeline? Then you’ve got Hillary, who can’t remember that she wasn’t shot at by Bosnians. That seems more like an LSD trip than a memory problem. And then you have Barack Obama, who can’t remember hearing Reverend Wright saying anything inflammatory in the 20 years he attended his church. Out of the three of them, I guess I understand Obama the best because I can’t remember how many times I sat through a sermon at temple and haven’t been fully conscious.
Obama strikes me as a little harder to satirize than the other two, although I can’t put my finger on why. There are some things that are funny about Obama. You get the impression that this is a guy who likes the sound of his own voice. He’s got that rock star thing going where it’s like if the Kinks play just the first couple bars of “Lola” and everybody goes crazy. : I think he’s a wonderful politician. But his soaring rhetoric-there’s a thin line between being inspirational and being a gasbag, and he treads that line very carefully.
I don’t think people knew, when Bush was elected, what a goldmine he was going to be. Remember, when he was running he seemed like an appealing, good-looking Texas governor, and the first thing he did when he got elected was cancel the agreement between nouns and verbs.
We’re always hearing about how refreshingly funny and blunt McCain is and how disarming reporters find him. Is he that way in private, or am I missing something? I have to say, I don’t find McCain funny. I find him really scary, actually. He says things where I just don’t know what reality he’s living in. One thing he says a lot is that if he’s elected, he’s going to follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell. And I’m like, are you going to MapQuest that? What does that even mean? It seems like John McCain thinks that when he’s president he’s going to be crawling around on his hands and knees with a knife between his teeth looking for bin Laden.
But isn’t that just standard boilerplate-another campaign stop in Omaha and time to curdle some blood and rile some ferment? I think McCain has done a really good job, sort of the way Bush did when he was running for president, of concealing what he really stands for. The fact of the matter is that McCain is pretty much as conservative as Bush is in every metric, except for when it comes to the war in Iraq, in which case he’s further to the right of Bush.
For the sake of argument, let’s imagine that Hillary still has a chance. From a professional standpoint, whom of the three would you most like to win? From a professional standpoint, Hillary would probably be the best. Not so much because of Hillary, but because she would bring Bill back to the White House, and Bill right now is just comedy gold. Bill, by the way, is just out of his mind.
It’s true this hasn’t been an auspicious few months for his legacy. He’s just taken leave of his senses. Every day he says something that makes him sound more and more like an outpatient. I think Hillary would be a fine president, and would be a big improvement over whom we have now, but it would be bad for her to be elected because of the way she’s gone about doing it. However, just for the comedic gold of having Bill Clinton in the White House, I think that she would be the best. McCain would be easy to make fun of because he’s very vague and doesn’t seem to be on top of things. And Obama, who I think of the three of them might make the best president, might be the worst from a comedy standpoint, because it’s a littler subtler getting at what’s funny about him. His wife is pretty funny. You don’t want to cross Michelle.
The fact of the matter is that anybody who becomes president of the United States is so much in the spotlight that they always wind up doing stupid things, and that’s what makes my job fun.
Andy Borowitz speaks at UCSB’s Campbell Hall on Thursday, April 24, at 8 p.m. For tickets, call 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.ucsb.edu.