Conservative pundits exploded on Thursday when CBS announced that Stephen Colbert would be replacing David Letterman as the host of The Late Show. And they weren’t just mad because a highly paid and powerful position didn’t go to a member of the Bush family.
“Low-Rated Hyper-Partisan Lefty to Replace David Letterman,” screamed a headline from Breitbart‘s resident funnyman John Nolte.
Nolte’s colleague Ben Shapiro — whose act is based on calling liberals “bullies” — went further and accused Colbert of “conservativeface,” which to him is like blackface, but worse because it’s “racism” against conservatives. Shapiro says that it’s impossible to watch The Colbert Report, where Colbert performs as a caricature of a blustery right-wing O’Reilly wannabe, “without coming away with a viscerally negative response to conservatives.” And frankly, that’s Shapiro’s job.
But when it comes to bluster, the godfather of monetizing right-wing outrage, Rush Limbaugh, is still the alpha of the Fox pack.
“I’ll give you the short version: CBS has just declared war on the heartland of America,” Limbaugh said.
As many people have pointed out, Colbert is a practicing Catholic who literally teaches Sunday School. But the right has a point in that he’s a worthy target of their hate.
In 2006, Colbert performed at the White House Correspondents Dinner “in character” and delivered a searing indictment of both the failings of the Bush/Cheney administration and the media’s complicity. Though the Washington insiders at the event mostly reacted frostily to Colbert’s routine, the video went viral and helped put a crack in the baffling veneer that had shielded the administration from so many of its foibles.
So the anger is real, but the bluster is so comically inflated that it points to one of the charms of Colbert’s conservative character. He seems to be playing with a long-held liberal suspicion that the loudest clowns on the right are putting their fans on because they know extremism sells.
When Ann Coulter tries to speak for black people… when Michelle Malkin — author of a book defending Japanese-American internment — joins a short-lived movement accusing Colbert of racism toward Asian-Americans… when Glenn Beck takes a break from calling liberals Nazis and tearfully threatens to leave America because of the left’s incendiary rhetoric…
It’s a relief to imagine they’re parodying themselves.
And if Coulter, Malkin and Beck are joking, then Republican politicians too must be “in character.”