Conservative pundits exploded on Thursday when CBS announced that Stephen Colbert would be replacing David Letterman as the host of The Late Show. And they weren't just mad because a highly paid and powerful position didn't go to a member of the Bush family.
"Low-Rated Hyper-Partisan Lefty to Replace David Letterman," screamed a headline from Breitbart's resident funnyman John Nolte.
Nolte's colleague Ben Shapiro -- whose act is based on calling liberals "bullies" -- went further and accused Colbert of "conservativeface," which to him is like blackface, but worse because it's "racism" against conservatives. Shapiro says that it's impossible to watch The Colbert Report, where Colbert performs as a caricature of a blustery right-wing O'Reilly wannabe, "without coming away with a viscerally negative response to conservatives." And frankly, that's Shapiro's job.
But when it comes to bluster, the godfather of monetizing right-wing outrage, Rush Limbaugh, is still the alpha of the Fox pack.
"I'll give you the short version: CBS has just declared war on the heartland of America," Limbaugh said.
As many people have pointed out, Colbert is a practicing Catholic who literally teaches Sunday School. But the right has a point in that he's a worthy target of their hate.
In 2006, Colbert performed at the White House Correspondents Dinner "in character" and delivered a searing indictment of both the failings of the Bush/Cheney administration and the media's complicity. Though the Washington insiders at the event mostly reacted frostily to Colbert's routine, the video went viral and helped put a crack in the baffling veneer that had shielded the administration from so many of its foibles.
So the anger is real, but the bluster is so comically inflated that it points to one of the charms of Colbert's conservative character. He seems to be playing with a long-held liberal suspicion that the loudest clowns on the right are putting their fans on because they know extremism sells.
When Ann Coulter tries to speak for black people... when Michelle Malkin -- author of a book defending Japanese-American internment -- joins a short-lived movement accusing Colbert of racism toward Asian-Americans... when Glenn Beck takes a break from calling liberals Nazis and tearfully threatens to leave America because of the left's incendiary rhetoric...
It's a relief to imagine they're parodying themselves.
And if Coulter, Malkin and Beck are joking, then Republican politicians too must be "in character."
Remember how the party that blew the surplus turned into the world's biggest deficit hawks when the country needed government most? Good one.
The guys who spent years connecting Saddam Hussein to 9/11 and pushing bad evidence about weapons of mass destruction? They're mad that the Obama administration didn't have flawless talking points a few days after the Benghazi attacks. And get this -- the party that was behind the color-coded terror-alert system that mysteriously withered away after the 2004 election says that those talking points were all about presidential politics.
But seriously, folks.
Those guys who say no actual evidence of voter fraud swinging elections means we need to make voting harder for groups who were discriminated against for centuries? They also say that 30,000 deaths a year by gunshot means we don't need any new gun laws.
We all love that "deregulating business while regulating vaginas" bit. And my new favorite? The fear that gay people are having their rights too protected, even though they're denied the right to marry and can be fired for being gay in a majority of states. What's better than that, except telling a Republican congressman from Louisiana he must resign for kissing his mistress even after a senator from that same state admitted to visiting prostitutes -- and was rewarded with re-election? Hilarious!
Who would take these guys seriously?
A 2009 study found that conservatives actually found Colbert funny, but they were far less likely to get that the joke was on them.
Limbaugh says that CBS has "declared war on the heartland of America." But what about the Ryan Budget, which would savagely cut programs that poor people in rural communities depend on while cutting taxes for the richest?
On Thursday, 219 Republicans voted for a budget that immediately cuts Medicare benefits for all seniors, then cuts them in four more distinct ways for every American under the age of 55. It's a budget that guarantees that most Americans will have to work harder, longer and with less support from the government, especially if they become indigent or disabled. And Ryan introduced this formula to put millions of America's poorest into Depression conditions after months of pretending to care about alleviating poverty.
That's no joke. It's actual Republican policy, which includes cuts that the GOP has been campaigning against for years -- and will continue to campaign against this year.
The reason Colbert's "character" was so effective was because his stunning lack of introspection, his callous indifference to the poor and his willingness to contradict himself all reflect the reality of the modern conservative movement. It was a potent formula that made the Report extraordinarily popular with young people who increasingly watch almost no TV news.
Conservatives should be glad Colbert's "character" is going away. It will make it easier for them to keep doing theirs.