Two political candidates walk into a bar. The first one is a liar. The second one is not. Which one would you vote for? Neither. The second one doesn't exist.
Elections are still over ten months away yet the 2012 campaign season is in full swing with a 24/7 flood of candidates and pundits alike telling us all what it will take to win. They'll say it will take money, face-time, endorsements, registration drives, debates, money, positive commercials followed by the ("because they work") negative commercials, and of course, more money. What you won't hear about is what could be the wild card...
Satire at its best has always provides the most entertaining and biting take down of the pompous and powerful. It's David's pen that has the ability to hysterically and intellectually humble, no matter how imposing the Goliath. It reveals the hypocrisy, distortion and nonsense where facts themselves cannot be heard.
Of course, there'll be the usual standard-bearers of satire, from the cutting edge Onion to the New Rules of Bill Maher; from the razor sharp barbs of Jon Stewart and his Daily Show writers to the Bill O'Reillyesque facade of Stephen Colbert; from the hit and miss Saturday Night Live sketches to the mundane set-up-punchlines of the late night talk host monologues. While the Left supplies most (all?) of the satirical punch, satire should be an equal opportunity assaulter. Obama and his Democratic politicos should not get a pass when they set themselves up as a good target for ridicule.
And this year won't be much different, except for one new, albeit not from the world of wit, entrants into the satirical fray. There will be a concerted effort from more somber, even scholarly, entities to press issues and expose lies in the 2012 election.
Recently, ThinkProgress.org, not your typical humor site, jumped quickly to produce a satirical video satirizing Mitt Romney's commercial that distorted candidate Obama's 2008 statement, concealing the fact that Obama was actually quoting John McCain. The parody went viral and without hundreds of thousands from a media budget, it received far more air time than the Romney campaign staff calling on every news outlet in hopes of damage control. Despite calling itself "a nonpartisan organization," it proudly acknowledges itself as being voted "Best Liberal Blog" by the Weblog Awards. Still, it gave an inkling just how powerful satire can be.
But there will be a real attempt at satirical nonpartisanship. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage, the comedy stylings of Academia. Flackcheck.org, a new, well-funded Annenberg Policy Center web site went live January 5th and is planning to produce as many as 100 satirical commercials exposing the lies coming out of campaign commercials from both sides of the aisle.
Under the same umbrella as the well-regarded Factcheck.org, Flackcheck's stated objective is to stop campaigns from producing less than honest commercials. It would be nice if it actually worked, but here's the crux of the problem. Just pointing out their lies doesn't necessarily stop those candidates and their emissaries from misleading the public. The "all's fair in love and war," or "they do it because it works" rationales will far outweigh any moral issue that perpetuates deceit. It will only stop when dishonesty is shown not to work. Just the embarrassment in getting caught is a long way from enough. If embarrassment stopped politicians from lying, dishonesty would have gone the way of Watergate.
Instead it will take a strong, resonating message to the electorate, understood by the politician; a message that suggests that candidates disseminating the lies will not work in the best interest of the country and, more importantly, voters will actually withhold voting for those who lie.
Italian satirical playwright and Nobel Prize winner, Dario Fo said, "One can tell real satire from the reaction it arouses in the powerful." Unless that reaction is a total change in what is an acceptable form of honest political expression, no matter how smart the satire, political campaigns will remain a joke.
Author Steve Young is an award-winning TV writer and former political editor of National Lampoon. Find him on greatfailure.com.