Yeah, we were going to change the world, but when we graduated from college in 1969, it was clear that the world wasn’t going to cooperate. Richard Nixon, of all people, was now our president, and the Beatles had all gone their separate ways, and many an ex-hippie was selling insurance or working on Wall Street. No one was living in communes anymore. Now girls had that feathered Farah Fawcett hair and guys were wearing polyester leisure suits. Disco thumped away, not angry rock about injustice and foolishness. The sixties really were over – dead and gone – but then, on October 11, 1975, Chevy Chase, with a headset on, popped up on everyone’s television and bellowed out “Live from New York, its Saturday Night!”
That helped. George Carlin hosted the first show and did three of his subversive monologs, and John Belushi did his first sketch. Andy Kaufman stood, silent and weird, beside a record player playing the Mighty Mouse theme song, and then would suddenly strike a heroic pose and mime the words “Here I come to save the day!” Then he’d fall silent and look embarrassed – over and over. This was a cultural critique of some kind. Billy Preston ripped into his hit – Nothing from Nothing – stark existentialism meets pure funk – and Janis Ian sang her proto-feminist song At Seventeen – about the plight of an ordinary woman in an age of the required but impossible ideal woman. The sixties were back.
The next week was even better. Paul Simon was the host and Art Garfunkel was there. They sang their hits from the previous decade and Simon sang the appropriate new song – Still Crazy After All These Years – and the even more appropriate American Tune:
We come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
And sing an American tune
But it’s all right, it’s all right
You can’t be forever blessed…
Randy Newman sang his surreal slave song Sail Away:
In America you’ll get food to eat
Won’t have to run through the jungle
And scuff up your feet
You’ll just sing about Jesus and drink wine all day
It’s great to be an American…
In America every man is free
To take care of his home and his family
You’ll be as happy as a monkey in a monkey tree
You’re all gonna be an American…
We will cross the mighty ocean into Charleston Bay
Yeah, well, things didn’t work out like that, did they? Jerry Rubin showed up on that second show too. The whole first season was like that – the sixties were back, more or less. There was a lot of sheer silliness too.
That couldn’t be sustained. The critiques of cultural and social and political issues gave way to general comedy – comedy about what was still absurd, but not terribly important – and then John McCain gave America Sarah Palin, and Saturday Night Live gave America Tina Fey as Sarah Palin. That was devastating. The show got its groove back, and then Sarah Palin was gone. Now what? Mitt Romney was boring, Paul Ryan was even more boring, and Barack Obama had always been too easy and graceful at making fun of his own goofs, leaving the SNL writers nothing to work with. They needed public clowns, clowns who were gloriously unaware that they were clowns. The Republicans had let them down.
That’s been fixed. This was the weekend of the South Carolina Freedom Summit: Getting America Back on Track – and every Republican who wants to be the next president showed up. The Saturday Night Live writers had their clowns, in a clown show, so they imagined that summit as it might be introduced by a with-it DJ introducing the next very cool rock stars:
First there was Mike Huckabee shredding Obamacare and the IRS with his sweet bass riffage. And then there was Ben Carson, who will “blow your mind” with quotes like “Obamacare is the worst thing since slavery.” You might want to “put this guy in prison because he’s gonna steal your vote,” the DJ warned, “but watch out because if sexuality works out the way he says it does, he’s gonna turn gay.”
There’s also Ted Cruz – “hard on immigration and soft on chins” – and he’s about to do what he did to the government, and “shut this mother down.”
Carly Fiorina rode in on a Harley; and Rand Paul skateboarded his way in. “He loves small government and fat blunts,” the DJ said of his mildly pro-legalization stance. Also, he’s “anti-abortion except in the cases where the fetus harshes his buzz.”
And lastly, there’s Marco Rubio, who was all oiled up and tangoing. “Sorry, mamis,” he voted against the Violence against Women Act.
“Won’t it be fun to watch all these guys lose to Jeb Bush?” the DJ closed.
Okay, this was a bit lame. There are too many of them for any clear and unified satiric focus, and the jokes depend on an audience that follows the odd things that they’ve been saying – but it’s a start. It is hard to keep them all straight, but the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza offers his list of the current contenders and how they seem to rank in the polls – with Rick “Oops” Perry dead last. “Perry might not get a second chance to make a first impression.” He barely makes the top ten, and Bobby Jindal is in ninth place. Cillizza says Jindal feels like the “me too” candidate in the field. He tells conservatives to stand on principle, but they already do. And next, Chris Christie is floundering. There are too many issues back in New Jersey. John Kasich, the eccentric Ohio governor does a bit better, but no one knows why. Who is he? And then there’s Ted Cruz:
The senator made a mistake recently when he left Washington before the final confirmation vote on Loretta Lynch as attorney general to make a fundraiser in Texas. Why? Because Cruz’s image is built on being a sort of un-politician – the sort who doesn’t do things like miss votes to go to fundraisers. Does anyone in Iowa make their mind up about Cruz based on this missed vote? No way. But the more he looks just like all the other politicians, the worse his chances of being the nominee become.
Next, in fifth place, but only fifth place, there’s Rand Paul:
The senator from Kentucky might have picked the wrong election cycle to put his non-interventionist foreign policy views forward as he runs for president. National security and terrorism now rank No. 1 on a list of issues that Republican voters say are most important for the country to address. The increased concern about our role in the world, coupled with a new/old hawkishness, could make things very difficult for Paul.
Then there’s Mike Huckabee – his populism plays well, and there’s Scott Walker:
Walker seems to have gone a bit incognito — at least at the national level — since earlier this spring, when he made a few amateur mistakes that robbed him of some of the considerable momentum he was building in the race. But the Wisconsin governor remains well positioned as a top-tier candidate; he has a conservative record as governor, he can raise the money, and he fits the profile (Midwestern, swing-state governor) that Republicans are likely to be looking for.
Marco Rubio is in second place:
The senator from Florida is, without question, the momentum candidate at the moment. He got a major boost from a well-executed campaign rollout last month, and his speaking ability and the figure he cuts – young, Hispanic, charismatic – have combined to catapult him into the top tier. Anyone who has watched politics for more than a few days knows that Rubio’s rise will slow and be followed, inevitably, by a dip. But he has soared higher than many people thought he might, so even some slippage will keep him in the top tier.
But Jeb Bush is the man to beat:
No one will come close to raising the sort of money that Jeb will. It’s rumored that his Right to Rise super PAC will have raised $100 million through the end of May – an eye-popping total even to jaded political watchers like me. That money alone won’t win him the nomination, but it will allow him to weather a poor performance (or two). Bush has problems with the base – on immigration and the Common Core – but the latest NBC-Wall Street Journal poll had good news for him: The number of Republicans who said they definitely wouldn’t vote for him is declining.
That’s the raw material the Saturday Night Live writers have to work with. Two are not mentioned, for good reason – retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former tech executive Carly Fiorina. We may not have to take them seriously. Fiorina was CEO of Hewlett-Packard and they fired her ass. She got a golden parachute to just go away. She nearly ruined the company, and we remember her out here – HP shed thirty thousand jobs on her watch. With Carson it’s the paranoid style. People are afraid to speak up because the “IRS might audit them.” The government just wants you to “keep your mouth shut.” We can’t trust unemployment statistics because “You can make the unemployment rate anything you want it to be.” And anarchy from “this pathway we are going down” could lead to the 2016 election being called off, as Obama declares “martial law.” He’s compared America under Obama to Nazi Germany and called Obamacare the “worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.” And prison turns men gay, by the way. These two aren’t going anywhere, except to the summit in South Carolina.
That wasn’t what Saturday Night Live imagined, because of what Cillizza identifies in the current polling:
Republicans say that national security/terrorism is the single most important issue facing the country.
More than a quarter of Republicans (27 percent) chose that option, putting it ahead of “deficit and government spending” (24 percent) and, somewhat remarkably, “job creation and economic growth” (21 percent), which has long dominated as the top priority for voters of all partisan stripes.
But there are two other factors to consider:
The first is that Republican voters are twice as concerned as Democrats about national security and terrorism. In the NBC-WSJ survey, just 13 percent of Democrats named national security as the most pressing issue for the government; job creation and economic growth was far and away the biggest concern among Democrats (37 percent), with health care (17 percent) and climate change (15 percent) ranking ahead of national security and terrorism.
The second is that national security is a rapidly rising concern for Republicans. In NBC-WSJ poll data from March 2012, just eight percent of Republicans named it as the most important issue for the government to address.
There’s no single or simple explanation for that threefold increase, although the focus on the Islamic state and its barbaric (and high-profile) killing of hostages has clearly played a major role. In a recent conversation, a savvy Republican media consultant told me that the Islamic State attacks coupled with the release (and subsequent controversy) over “American Sniper,” a film that tells the story of Chris Kyle, has had a profound effect on the average Republican base voter.
That effect amounts to unease about the idea that the Islamic State operates by no rules or common humanity combined with a sort of rally-around-the-flag sentiment occasioned by a belief that some Americans have lost the necessary focus on the threat posed by militant groups.
Somehow this feels like the sixties again. We did need to win in Vietnam, right? That would keep us safe, but Cillizza sees a problem this time:
What remains to be seen is how and whether the eventual Republican nominee can make the case that Hillary Clinton the eventual Democratic nominee is insufficiently committed or able to keep the country safe. That could be a tough sell given the relative thinness of the GOP field’s experience on foreign policy – especially when contrasted with the depth and breadth of Clinton’s resume on those same issues.
That’s what drove that South Carolina summit. This was about going to war:
Ted Cruz bluntly remarked that a police officer who killed two gunmen who were likely inspired by the Islamic State helped them to “meet their virgins.” Bobby Jindal quipped that gun control means “hitting your target.” Marco Rubio quoted the violent action film “Taken” to describe his plan for defeating radical Islam.
One after another, Republicans with an eye on running for president used intensely strong language to describe their hard-liner positions at a conservative summit here on Saturday. Although national security and foreign relations have long been a dominant issue at forums like this, many candidates seem to have greatly intensified their rhetoric as they angle to be seen as the staunchest enforcer and fiercest protector of the country.
No sixties hippies would be welcome here:
Several zeroed in on a shooting in Garland, Tex., this week – including Cruz, a U.S. senator from the state who is running for president.
Cruz praised the Garland police officer who shot and killed two gunmen who on Sunday opened fire outside a conference center that was hosting a cartooning contest and exhibit depicting the prophet Muhammad, which is forbidden in Islam. The men were likely inspired by the Islamic State, U.S. officials say.
“We saw the ugly face of Islamic terrorism in my home state of Texas, in Garland where two jihadists came to commit murder. Thankfully one police officer helped them meet their virgins,” Cruz said, referring to a belief that such martyrs are greeted in heaven by dozens of virgins.
Jindal, the governor of Louisiana who is thinking about running for president, echoed Cruz and said he was “thankful that those two terrorists were sent to their afterlife.” He also remarked that the men were foolish to carry out an attack in a Southern state where many people own guns and know how to use them.
“In our states, we think of gun control – we think that means hitting your target,” Jindal said. He received a thunderous applause.
And there was this:
Rubio, a U.S. senator from Florida who is running for president, summed up his strategy for fighting radical Islamists with a quote from a Hollywood blockbuster.
“When people ask what our strategy should be on global jihadists and terrorists, I refer them to the movie, ‘Taken,'” Rubio said. “Have you seen the movie ‘Taken’? Liam Neeson, he has a line – this is what our strategy should be: We will look for you, we will find you, and we will kill you.”
Who says Republicans hate Hollywood? And add this:
Rubio tried last week to burnish his hawkish foreign policy credentials by toughening a bill designed to give Congress oversight of the tentative deal the Obama administration and other nations have reached with Iran to prevent them from building a nuclear weapon in exchange for easing crippling economic sanctions.
The Republicans addressing the crowd bashed the deal and warned that it endangers Israel. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is moving closer to officially entering the presidential sweepstakes, received a standing ovation when he said: “We need a president who is going to back away from that deal In Iran.”
The Wicked Witch of the West had her say too:
Carly Fiorina, the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard who is also running for president, has said several times on the campaign trail that one of the first things she would do in the White House is to stop negotiations with Iran until officials agree to inspections. But on Saturday afternoon she breathlessly fired off the loaded message that she would want to send to the country: “Whatever the circumstances were, the circumstances have changed now, and until and unless you submit to full and unfettered inspections of every single nuclear facility in your country we will exact and enact the most crushing sanctions we can.”
Fiorina added, “We have a lot to do with how easy or how hard it is to move money around the global financial system – and I would ensure that it was very, very hard.”
This particular crowd loved it all:
The remarks played well among the older, mostly white crowd, which was eager to hear the speakers explain why they are tough on national security and well-versed on foreign policy matters. One man sold buttons referring to the deadly 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya. Another wore a shirt that said “I’d rather be waterboarding.”
Rand Paul didn’t even bother to show up. He was in San Francisco opening an office there. Perhaps he visited the Berkeley campus, the epicenter of the sixties antiwar movement. Perhaps he wore some flowers in his hair. This crowd will never forgive him:
Donald Trump, the celebrity real estate entrepreneur who, like the Republicans who spoke before him, used pointed language. Trump went after Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. soldier who left his patrol base in Afghanistan in 2009, was captured by the Taliban and was held for five years until the United States bartered for his release.
“I call our president the five-to-one president,” Trump said of Obama. “We got Bergdahl; they get five leaders, killers that want to kill us all. And they’re all back on the battlefield, by the way, and we got this piece of garbage named Bergdahl, who years ago we would have shot for treason.”
And there was this:
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) said Saturday the military should damage the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to the point of impotence.
“If these folks want to return to a 7th Century version of Islam, then let’s load up our bombers and bomb them back to the 7th Century,” he argued during the South Carolina Freedom Summit in Greenville, S.C. …
Santorum said President Obama had made the situation worse by disregarding America’s traditional diplomatic relations.
“I would be happy if the president were able to tell the difference between our friends and our enemies,” he said.
“Iran: Enemy. Israel: Friend,” he argued. “Iran will never keep anything that they promise to do.”
The word is he will announce his candidacy in late May, in his native Pittsburgh, and there’s the guy from Wisconsin:
Gov. Scott Walker (R) brought a South Carolina crowd to its feet Saturday during his remarks on national security, a topic generally considered Walker’s Achilles heel as he weighs a run for president. Addressing the South Carolina Freedom Summit, likely GOP candidate Walker used foreign policy as the climax for his speech, framing the issue as a matter of courage and emotion rather than “something you read in the newspaper.”
“On behalf of your children and mine, I want a leader that is willing to take a fight to them before they take the fight to us,” Walker said, referring to ISIS and “radical Islamic” fighters. The line received a standing ovation.
Walker also repeatedly referred to his trip to Israel, scheduled for this weekend, where he will undergo what the Washington Post described as a “crash-course in foreign policy.”
Hey, the guy never finished college. He dropped out. He has some catching up to do.
And that’s what Saturday Night Live has to work with. The show can get its antiestablishment groove back, letting us know that the sixties never really ended, because this large Republican crew is calling for war, far away, to keep us safe here, just like old times, even if there are far too many of them at the moment for any clear and unified satiric focus. That will resolve itself and this will be fun, and oddly depressing. Maybe we shouldn’t be laughing.