David Surname's Musings
As the new week begins and the furore of the weekend stretches on predictably into the news cycle, I thought it was worthwhile to throw into the mix my own take, as a somewhat well regarded opinion columnist, on the White House Correspondents' Dinner. Unlike a lot of the voices piping up on either side of the supposed debate, I have the advantage of having been there- as one might expect a well regarded opinion columnist to have been. I sat between drinks and various members of the White House staff and listened to the comedienne- I await with eagerness the shrieks of the left for having used such an insensitive term, but as a very well regarded opinion columnist I am aware words have meaning and I use them precisely. They are my weapons, and as one cannot legislate against guns without knowing the difference between a magazine and a clip so one cannot cast stones into the kitchen of public discourse, overcrowded with cooks already, without knowing precisely how to use each blade vorpally. The kitchen is glass as well.
So, with that necessary throat clearing aside, what are my thoughts? Am I on the side literally baying for the head of a comedian who dared do her job, and do it well, or am I on the side of those celebrating the first amendment in all its rough hewn, earthy, fungoid glory? Reader, I shall spare you the effort of reasoning this out yourself.
The storm in a teacup currently raging is illustration, if one were needed (and one definitely disputes that such a thing were though that it is is evidenced by that it has- one will come back to one, too) of the vital service the WHCD performs. It is the semi-permeable cell wall across which the osmosis of that second most noble of journalistic endeavours- access journalism- occurs. The reporters and opinion columnists, some well regarded, others less so, are the salt, the politicians the water, and the WHCD is the potato in which one is transferred with one to the other ones. I am a writer, not a
scientist, though my columns on science should be considered in many more public debates than they currently are. The WHCD performs a function that literally nothing else can or will- it allows the influential to prod the mighty, with service that varies between average and terrible. As such, the invited speaker- normally a satirist- should be allowed to say anything. There is no purer expression of the first amendment. Period.
The set by Michelle Wolf was remarkable. It was sharp, yet pungent. Hard, but yielding. Powerful, yet damp. It was squalid, but ennobling. Within it was contained multitudes. Without it were the multitudes more watching on TV, and it is no exaggeration to say several of them might have had newspaper subscriptions. Lewd, crude, rude, shrewd, Freud. It was all these things and some others. One thing it was not, though, was prude. It reminded us, and the President, what it means to have complete free speech at an expensive private dinner. This is something unique to America. I can only imagine the envy the rest of the world has for such an event, where poor working stiffs like me get to don evening wear to rub shoulders with the most powerful people in the world whom we normally only meet in office casual.
The President herself very clearly did not want to be at the event. It was obvious to me, in the corner reserved for extremely well regarded opinion columnists near the kitchen where they can be sure to be served first, that her laughter- that shrill, horrid, harpy laughter- was like so much else in her persona a mere masque. One has to give Hillary Clinton credit- she did an almost flawless performance of a woman enjoying herself. You had to really want to see through the pretence to realise this. Sadly for her she was surrounded by exactly the sort of gimlet eyed scrutineers under whom her race to authoritarianism has been continually thwarted. People who know that when she smiles it physically hurts her and probably indicates a wasting disease of some sort. People like me, for instance, earthy, honest types who can spot a Washington phoney from a verst away. Though she "laughed" it was clear to all she hated it, and soon would collapse from the tropical illness she's trying to hide from the American people, all porridge skinned necrosis, exploding organs and constitutional crises, likely starting an epidemic in which millions will die.
Did Wolf's jokes hit the mark? Yes. Resolutely, one hundred percent yes. Every point she made about the President hit the mark with the accuracy of a William Tell-shot arrow. She was called out for her emails, a scandal it's still hard to believe she weathered, and though many are criticising Wolf for joking about Clinton's age this is an important point we should not overlook. Personally I think Wolf went a little too easy- there was nothing in her set about Clinton's laugh, or her health, or her laugh, or how horrible her smile is, or her laugh, or about how she should smile more, or about her laugh, or about her husband's infidelity twenty years ago. Being able to mock all of these things are important for the functioning of a healthy democracy, and in many ways Wolf let herself and all of us down by not including them in her bit. One wonders if this was because she is herself a woman, though her very appearance is angering the left as it clearly illustrates one need not support a woman simply because one is one. It is difficult to imagine Trump's supporters reacting in this way had roles been reversed. The divisive rhetoric of identity politics was another victim of
Wolf's big, sharp teeth, and rightly so.
Did all the jokes work? Not really. Personally I found her jibes at the press in poor taste and poorly delivered. She resorted to a mocking tone when addressing what is the collective bastion of the first amendment, humbly including myself, without seeming to realise that we were there to be feted. In addition, the rude, crude, lewdness sadly veered into swearing for which there is no place in civil discourse- as a satirist performing a roast must realise they are a tessera in the shimmering mosaic of celebrating. The rest of that mosaic, of course, is the press. And it is Byzantine in its splendour.
I can take a joke as well as the next well regarded opinion columnist- though I don't know who is the next well regarded opinion columnist, the table by the kitchen is a less than ideal place to network- but to hear Wolf outright insult the media by saying we were aggressive and needlessly hostile to Clinton was, I think, to miss the point entirely. It is our vocation and our triumph to be the thorn in the side of the powerful, however ill suited the skin of that powerful to taking a thorn may be. To hold to the fire of public scrutiny the feet of women in pant suits and power is not an easy task, and we deserve all the praise our lavish dinners suggest. It is our calling, nay even our duty, to hold the powerful to account. To paraphrase the Bard, if she lies to us shall we not loudly call it out? If she staggers, shall we not urgently declare her dying? If she coughs, shall we not do the same? If she laughs- and oh God how I hope she never does again- shall we not get to call it fake and shrill? If she refuses to laugh, oh happy day, shall we not get to call her sour and joyless? She may have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but she has the bossiness and shrillness of an utter bitch. If you want to call this needless hostility, I suppose you are merely another PC thug trying to close down rational discourse.
At this point I was a few drinks in and getting hungrier, but had I had the strength from sustenance I had thought I would have been provided earlier what with sitting right next to the kitchen I would have stood up and emulated Zola- J'accuse! in the name of all the salt of the earth folks from whence came I and whence I should return were my opinion columns not so well regarded. It is to them I owe allegiance. It is to them, the forgotten several, the powerless right left without representation whom my
paper covers in extensive interviews most days to hear their otherwise unheard
complaints about Clinton which were not voiced during their own hero's unsuccessful bid for the White House, that I dedicate my work. It is to them, my muse, I sing. And I will not sit waiting in tipsy hunger to be harangued by someone who probably thinks a feuilleton is a fold-out sofa.
I shall leave you with one question: can anyone imagine this same sort of angry response had this set been directed at President Trump?
Reader, I contend they would not. And my opinions are very well regarded.