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Obama and Jon Stewart Owe It All to Mark Twain? Preview of Tomorrow's 'TIME' --and Arianna Q & A

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Each year for Independence Day, Time magazine presents a "Making of America" special, and in the past has focused on presidents (from Jefferson to JFK), with other icons (Lewis & Clark, Ben Franklin) sprinkled in. This year it makes a real departure, featuring humorist/novelist Mark Twain, coming on Friday.

The issue also features a "10 Questions" Q and A with Ms. Arianna Huffington.

Managing editor Richard Stengel writes that they picked Twain "because he represents a vital tradition in American politics and culture: the comedic commentator on serious matters, the funnyman as our collective conscience who can utter uncomfortable truths that more solemn critics evade."

Perhaps the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert craze has now hit the very top. Roy Blount Jr. writes, "News in the form of edgy drollery may seem a brave new thing, but it can all be traced back to one source, the man Ernest Hemingway said all of modern American literature could be traced back to: Mark Twain.... White, male, and didn't he write in dialect? What does he have to do with the issues of our day? As it happens, many of these were also the issues of his day, and he addressed them as eloquently as anyone has since."

Actually, I love the quote from Colbert producer Emily Lazar yesterday at the Aspen Ideas Festival: "If Jon Stewart is shooting pellets at the mainstream media and politicians, then Stephen Colbert is the pellet."

Of course, Twain's edgy writings related to race relations must be noted, especially in this election year. Richard Lacayo observes: "Not quite a century after his death, in 1910, we get a lot of our news from people like him--funnymen (and -women) who talk about things that are not otherwise funny at all ... It could even be said that Barack Obama owes a debt to Twain. In post-Civil War America, a nation struggling to fit together the pieces of its racial puzzle, Twain spoke loud and clear about race."

Novelist and Yale Law School professor Stephen L. Carter writes: "Was Twain a racist? Asking the question in the 21st century is as sensible as asking the same of Lincoln ... Twain, raised in a slave state, briefly a member of a Confederate militia, and inventor of Jim, may have done more to rile the nation over racial injustice and rouse its collective conscience than any other novelist in the past century who has lifted a pen. Or typed on a computer."

In her Q & A, Huffington declares (among other things) that:

-- Obama should learn from Karl Rove and go after his opponent's strength (national security)

-- Candidates should be able to change positions as they wish if new evidence emerges without being labeled a "flip-flopper"

-- She has no plans to run for office again because "I love my day job."
Greg Mitchell's new book is So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq.