Dennis Miller IS the Joke

05/25/2011 12:00 pm ET

For years now, the Rush Limbaugh set has been telling this joke: "What do you call a liberal who's been mugged? A conservative."

It's a pretty good joke, too, because it says so much about the people who delight in telling it. I don't mean conservatives or Republicans, necessarily, because the punch-line has less to do with politics than with human nature.

No, these joke tellers are merely hypocrites who, whether or not they ever had a selfless thought, can't quite cope with the shame of their own fear, cowardice and selfishness, so they project it onto others. They tell us: We're all out for Number One; only, liberals can't admit it. But what they really mean is: I'd sell out my own brother for a tax rebate; wouldn't you?

These days, the comedian Dennis Miller is a prime mouthpiece for this shabby, "but-at-least-we're-honest-about-it" world view. As a social commentator, the pseudo-intellectual Miller is far more glib and smug than he ever was thoughtful.

Back in the 1980's, he turned what had begun as a sweetly goofy Saturday Night Live "news" segment into an exercise in mean-spiritedness. Then, on nine-eleven, Miller looked down at the wet spot on his pants and discovered not shame but salvation.He would cash in on the country's post-attack hysteria and proclaim himself a reformed liberal. Terrorism, you see, feeds on the muddle-headedness that is all things liberal.

Miller's latest gig is a feature on Fox News Channel called "Real Free Speech" -- a snide, unimaginative and, thus, typically Fox-like takeoff on the misguided CBS Evening News feature, "Free Speech." If there's anything funny about Miller's effort, it's the idea that another one-note, right-wing rant on the Republican house organ run by Roger Ailes and John Moody can call itself, with a straight face, either real or free speech.

Miller's year-end RFS commentary, recently posted on the Fox website, is a case in point, and one which reminds us just how stale and bitter his brand of political satire has become.

In the course of three minutes, Miller fires off no fewer than a dozen rounds, all but one aimed at liberals, Democrats, liberal Democrats, and everything they supposedly stand for, no matter how tired the cliche.

He starts with the discovery of water on Mars -- but there was a "sucker fish" in it, so we're not allowed to study it anymore. If you don't remember the Carter administration, file that under "snail darter," and we'll get back to you. But Miller still finds room for another line about "eco nuts." They are, after all, red meat for the wing nuts who pay Miller's salary.

Then there's Hillary Clinton, who enjoys "the trappings of wealth" without ever having earned a paycheck. Meanwhile, the rest of us might as well turn over all our salary to the state; we'd have a better shot at it as petitioners than as proprietors. Gee, that's fresh.

But, hey, we should be happy to put the Democrats back in power. (RIM SHOT!) No, really. With the media in their pockets, they can get away with those dirty tricks the Bush administration only hoped to use against the "radical Islamists." Like illegally tapping into your "friends and family" phone plan, I suppose.

Miller goes on, rapid-fire, ticking off one right-wing target after another, no matter how far back he has to reach: Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein, political correctness, diversity training, and Wall-Mart critics. But it's the two occasions on which Miller wallows in self-loathing, ex-lefty muck that are the most revealing.

Explaining his conversion from liberalism, Miller says, "I wanted to stop my sentences one word short of the word, 'but.' You know, as a liberal, I found myself using the word, 'but,' more frequently than a proctologist filling out his day planner." I guess this is his apology for ever having committed the liberal's most grievous sin: giving actual thought to an issue when, as any real American knows by now, facts just get in the way of good policy. Like attacking a country without a reason or, for that matter, a plan.

Even more revealing, though, is Miller's baleful admission that, "My main reason for being pro-choice is that I am not a fetus that's about to be aborted." It's a line that he apparently has used before, and one which twice serves cynicism's purpose. It falsely suggests a certain cultural open-mindedness on his part while, at the same time, allowing him to bow down in (mock) shame before the political right.

Were Miller a more skillful social commentator -- or comedian, for that matter --we might not even notice his cheap attempt to bring all pro-choicers down with him. But his humor lands with a heavy thud. And I, for one, wonder why Dennis Miller can't see the obvious.

As that pee-stained former liberal who's been mugged, he is the joke. And worse, he isn't even funny.