No small competition to run up against the State of the Union address, but Andy Borowitz and friends managed to fill New York's 92nd Street Y Wednesday night to the rafters. By and large the receptive crowd appeared delighted to have come out for Andy's political cabaret devoted to exploring Obama's first year as president.
The Y crowd definitely uses the geezer pass on the MTA and made me wonder about the Upper East Side generally, which I've always considered a bit creepy because there are no people on the streets; it's kind of an urban gated community, all those financiers sequestered behind armed doormen in their fortresses on Park Avenue. Where are the young people? Don't they come out at night? Maybe they're too busy betting in their Wall Street casinos for such frivolities as political cabaret.
Along with Borowitz, the panel weighing in on Obama's first year included Calvin Trillin, Janeane Garafalo, Jeffrey Toobin, and Jonathan Alter. The mix was a bit unwieldy -- two standup comics, Deadline Poet Trillin, and two heavyweight journos. In fact, it felt like a dinner party the audience paid to attend because we can't assemble our own A list. But the guests all played nicely, airing a wide spectrum of views, ranging from the facetious (Borowitz/Trillin), to the flaming liberal (Garafalo, who sparked much applause), to the liberal (Alter, calling for WPA type projects), to the solidly centrist (Toobin).
The evening's highlight was Borowitz himself, father as of three days ago to a baby daughter, whose photo got flashed on a screen. Baby Madeline appeared primed to weigh in on the evening's topic herself. Like Madeline Albright, Borowitz quipped, later in life she'll reveal she's Jewish.
The demands of fatherhood, said Borowitz, encourage more house-husbandly activities, like writing a book. Perhaps a Malcolm Gladwell type opus titled Do: Why some People Do What They Do -- And Others Don't. Maybe he'll also tackle a novel, "since novelists and blacksmiths are a growth industry." Borowitz floated some first lines designed to hook the reader, such as, "I've often been asked what it's like having the world's longest penis."
Borowitz asked the panelists to play TV pundit and grade Obama's first year -- "since he took the oath of office twice." He himself awarded Obama an A plus: after all, "he's an exchange student from Kenya and should be graded as such." Moreover Obama has fulfilled his promise to make it the people's White House -- "anyone can walk right in."
Borowitz also cited health care advances:
- People with no coverage can keep their current plan.
- Medicare for 55-five-year-olds will kick in once they turn 65.
- And folks can choose between medications and heating fuel.
Jonathan Alter awarded the prez lower grades, making the point that Obama didn't use his leverage on the banks. "He had his foot on their necks," but cut a no strings deal. Paul Volcker came in for praise all round for stopping the government from "backing the casino on Wall Street."
Janeane Garafalo -- adorable in boots, tights, and striped socks -- judged Obama's first year a big letdown. The audience clearly sided with her. "You can't be a real liberal activist and make it to the presidency," she said. Both Alter and Toobin assumed a slightly paternalistic air, acting as though she had unreal expectations given that Obama has always been a centrist.
Garafalo also faulted Obama's insistence on bipartisanship when in fact "the Republicans are a nationalist white front. Why should they have a seat at the table?" Borowitz chimed in with, "we've been more successful bribing Sunni warlords than Republican senators." A consensus was reached: Bi-partisan doesn't play when the Republican policy is to want you to fail.
There followed a not very sexy discussion of the filibuster -- did I detect a semi-yawn from Trillin? My mind wandered till I heard the felicitous term "Foxulist." Then it was on to the question, where Obama should go from here?
Trillin: "He should be tougher, less umpire-like."
Garafalo: "He should pursue social justice for the electorate. Why not go down swinging if maybe he's only got one term? If unemployment stays at 10% he's a failed president." She added, Who would want to be president? It's the world's toughest job. Toobin volunteered that he would; nor would he turn down a seat on the Supreme Court.
Re that august body, Toobin called them "radicals" who are for the corporations. Effing hypocrites, put in Alter. "They say they're against judicial activism yet they're legislating from the bench. Scalia is the biggest of the hypocrites. You could have Russian oligarchs putting money into the City Council race."
When things threatened to turn disheartening, Borowitz could be counted on to inject levity. Obama should be celebrated, he said, for "ridding the high seas of Somali pirates. In fact he got rid of three of those m---effers." And no way does Andy want a world for his daughter where Somail pirates are on the loose.