The Washington Post editors who select one person for the dubious achievement of having had the worst week face a conundrum. There are three obvious finalists: Arnold, DSK, and Newt. Arnold and DSK have obvious pop culture potential. Jon Stewart already offered up mockings of Arnold movie posters (“Bonin the Barbarian”), noting that on some you didn’t even need to change the title (“True Lies”). The Law and Order: SVU folks are probably already shooting their “ripped-from-the-headlines” episode based on the DSK saga.
But what about Newt? Is there pop culture potential here? Scott already noted the comic potential of the press release from Newt’s aide Rick Tyler.* Turns out Scott has been done one better by actor John Lithgow, who rendered Tyler’s remarkable lyric prose into free verse on The Colbert Report. Now, connoisseurs of this technique will recognize that it is entirely derivative: William Shatner did it first, in the same style, with Sarah Palin’s 2009 resignation speech, and then some of her tweets. Palin showed her game by appearing on the Tonight Show and going mano-a-mano with Shatner. I suppose it goes without saying that these effective lampoons are always directed at people on the right, but never to anyone on the left. The Shatner-Lithgow treatment could be just as effective to any number of ponderous liberal utterances, such as George McGovern’s “Come Home America” speech of 1972, Jimmy Carter’s “malaise” speech, or any Senate floor speech by John Kerry. (Obama’s “hope and change” schtick would be too easy.)
Anyway, this all comes just in time. The popular “Rick-Roll” Internet prank of a few years ago has been long in the tooth for a while now, but the Lithgow rendering of Rick Tyler’s press release will do nicely for an updated substitute. So let’s get to it people and start Rick-Rolling again (here’s another version done as if by John Rhys-Davies); lyric talent like this deserves to be acknowledged as widely as possible.
More seriously, though, there may be, somewhere, a method to this madness. Recall Michael Kinsley’s famous axiom that a “gaffe” is when someone unaccountably speaks the truth. I noted here on Power Line back in March the importance of “consent,” broadly understood, in our political process, and what Newt said on Meet The Press was entirely congruent with this perception. However, his mistake was couching his teaching of moderation in the most immoderate language possible. And is Newt a plausible messenger for the idea of moderation rightly understood?
But Newt is right about the larger point, which is that if something like the Ryan plan is going to carry the day, we have a large job of persuasion ahead of us. If the American people can be persuaded, then the Democrats will be compelled to consent to serious reform. We might, possibly, look back on this moment some day as an inflection point, though I doubt Newt meant it to play out exactly like this. But then, we’re still talking about him, aren’t we?
*Rick Tyler is a casual acquaintance whom I’ve always liked and got along with well. And I used to talk to Newt now and then when he was two doors down from me at AEI. There is an authenticity to Rick’s portrayal of Newt as someone at odds with the Beltway Establishment, even though Newt has been based within it for years now.
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