When the Onion Doesn’t Fall Very Far From the Tree

February 22, 2012

by John Schachter

“I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts,” Will Rogers famously retorted. In 2012, his aphorism applies to all the branches.

This week’s satirical news source the Onion ran a story with the headline, “Disturbed Beltway Sources Report Congress Eerily Cooperative Today.” Among the highlights of the piece:

“I don't know what's going on here, but I know I don't like it,” said Time political columnist Joe Klein, who watched C-SPAN in disturbed shock as the Senate proceeded quickly and smoothly on a federal judicial confirmation. “Something's off. Something is definitely off. It's almost as if lawmakers are putting the well-being of the country above their own self interest and hard-line party ideology.”

“This can't be good for America,” he added.

Who would have thought that the judicial nominations logjam would become fodder for political satirists? Unfortunately, the vacancy crisis is more than a laughing matter, with scores of unfilled seats on benches across the country limiting the access to justice that many Americans need and deserve. It truly is time for members of Congress to become more “eerily cooperative” and provide up-or-down votes on the many nominees awaiting action.

Meanwhile, a recent Washington Post article by esteemed Supreme Court reporter Robert Barnes delved into the subject of the high court finally getting its turn on the comedy spotlight, though perhaps not as all its members may have hoped. “All of a sudden,” Barnes wrote, “the Supreme Court is fodder for late-night comedians.” The Daily Show with Jon Stewart has lavished great attention on the high court and on issues such as campaign finance reform and marriage equality. And as Barnes notes, Stephen Colbert has “done as much as any newspaper editorialist to mock the court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which eased campaign finance rules.” Slate columnist Dahlia Lithwick adds, “Nothing has ever prepared the justices for the public opinion wrecking ball that is Stephen Colbert.”

Is the Supreme Court pleased with the new attention it’s getting? Justice Scalia, Barnes reports, once told a Federalist Society audience that he could “ham it up with the best of them. I’d do very well.” But he probably would prefer his wit generating deliberate laughs rather than his opinions generating unintended ridicule.