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May 3, 2006
Cohen: Colbert "A Bully"

The debate over the performance of Stephen Colbert has already lasted long past its expiration date, but Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen's shares his reaction to the performance. The reliably liberal Cohen correctly identifies Colbert for what he was at the White House Correspondents Dinner:

... Colbert was not just a failure as a comedian but rude. Rude is not the same as brash. It is not the same as brassy. It is not the same as gutsy or thinking outside the box. Rudeness means taking advantage of the other person's sense of decorum or tradition or civility that keeps that other person from striking back or, worse, rising in a huff and leaving. The other night, that person was George W. Bush.

Why are you wasting my time with Colbert, I hear you ask. Because he is representative of what too often passes for political courage, not to mention wit, in this country. His defenders -- and they are all over the blogosphere -- will tell you he spoke truth to power. This is a tired phrase, as we all know, but when it was fresh and meaningful it suggested repercussions, consequences -- maybe even death in some countries. When you spoke truth to power you took the distinct chance that power would smite you, toss you into a dungeon or -- if you're at work -- take away your office.

But in this country, anyone can insult the president of the United States. Colbert just did it, and he will not suffer any consequence at all. He knew that going in. He also knew that Bush would have to sit there and pretend to laugh at Colbert's lame and insulting jokes. Bush himself plays off his reputation as a dunce and his penchant for mangling English. Self-mockery can be funny. Mockery that is insulting is not. The sort of stuff that would get you punched in a bar can be said on a dais with impunity. This is why Colbert was more than rude. He was a bully.

Cohen gets this exactly right. Some in the blogosphere believe that Colbert gave George Bush the criticism he needed to hear, somehow thinking that this President has no awareness of the raging criticism that goes on every day. They believe that he took some kind of existential risk in delivering his clumsy performance in the same room as Bush, a notion as laughably ludricous as it is pretentious.

Skewering a man who cannot answer back does not take courage. Hijacking an event for one's own political purposes in order to embarrass its guest does not take courage. It's more than bad manners, as Cohen notes; it's more than bullying; it's posing.

Standing in front of a tank in Tianenman Square is speaking truth to power. Lech Walesa forming a workers party in Communist Poland to demonstrate the plight of the oppressed is speaking truth to power. The bravery of West Berliners in the opening days of the Cold War is speaking truth to power. Humiliating Joe McCarthy on national TV by scolding him for his indeceny is speaking truth to power. Equating these actions to Colbert's performance should embarrass those who make the argument.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 3, 2006 11:38 PM

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