It would be difficult for anyone other than politicians on the right, often the butt of his jokes, to disdain Colin McEnroe. We in the land of Mark Twain do love and forgive our humorists their hyperbole, and Mr. McEnroe is the closest thing Connecticut has to, say, Aristophanes, the famous Greek comic playwright of the 4thcentury BC.
Time, as we know, is the enemy of sound scholarship. The ruin of Greece has left huge gaps in our understanding of, among other things, Greek comic playwrights. Only eleven of Aristophanes’ 40 plays survive virtually complete. Modern scholarship, which relies on multiple disciplines –archeology, for instance -- to fill in the gaps, shows us an Aristophanes who was an arch political critic, though he wore many masks.
In his plays, Aristophanes mercilessly and subversively routed by means of humor the larger and more offensive pretentions of his day. Plato’s beef against Aristophanes was that his play “The Clouds” slandered Socrates and so led to the philosopher’s trial and execution, perhaps an over-reaction on the part of a shameless Socratic groupie.
Greek politicians, one may imagine, were none too pleased with him. Cleon, represented in “The Knights” as a political opportunist, a sharpie and a demagogue, felt his spurs. A populist leader of the pro-war faction in Athens, Cleon was a prime target of Aristophanes’ early plays, and the inevitable suit for slander brought by Cleon against Aristophanes, only served to further inflame the playwright against him.
Aristophanes was approached one day by one of the butts of his jokes, possibly a politician held up to ridicule in one of the lost plays, who demanded whether he took ANYTHING seriously.
“Of course,” said Aristophanes, “I take comedy seriously.”
So should modern politicians. Humor is dynamite. It entices populist sensibilities and focuses them on inconvenient moments that, having raised a laugh, stick in the memory.
Mark Twain, no slouch when it came to political invective, put in the mouth of his Young Satan the following fierce defense of humor:
“Will a day come when the race will detect the funniness of these juvenilities and laugh at them -- and by laughing at them destroy them? For your race, in its poverty, has unquestionably one really effective weapon-- laughter. Power, Money, Persuasion, Supplication, Persecution--these can lift at a colossal humbug -- push it a little -- crowd it a little -- weaken it a little, century by century: But only Laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of Laughter nothing can stand."
Mr. McEnroe is a serious student of Twain’s persuasion, and he’s very good at what he does, which is to create word cartoons of politicians and their foibles, all seen from a leftist point of view. But leftists, as we all know, are not inclined to blow leftists to rags and atoms. There are no moderates or rightists, for instance, in Connecticut’s Congressional delegation,a point underscored by Mr. McEnroe:
“As a political humor writer, I am very nervous about having [Chris] Murphy and Richard Blumenthal as our senators. They're bad for business. Murphy has not been funny since Lee Whitnum barked‘Whore!!’ at him in a debate, and you can't count on that kind of thing happening very often.” Where Mr. McEnroe sees a comic wasteland, a conservative writer would see an Elysian field abloom with comic possibilities, especially in respect of Mr. Blumenthal, the political manikin.
Pity there are no comics on the right writing for Connecticut’s media, overstocked as always with liberals like Mr. McEnroe. Is there anything more depressing than an old comic in a dry month? The number of cartoonists and political comics on the right in a state that used to pride itself on its political moderation – no longer, alas – is no greater than the number of Republican politicians among its Congressional delegation, which is none, and this is very curious.
As in most other states at the beginning of the 21stcentury, Connecticut’s two major parties have been sacked and conquered by conservatives on the right and progressives on the left, which is another way of saying that political ideas in the postmodern period have become serious. Since comedy by its nature is conservative and journalism by its nature is contrarian, one would suppose there would arise in Connecticut, chock-a-block with enthroned liberals and sans-culottes progressives, a contingent of conservative writers, commentators and journalists to kick at the progressive pricks.
This has not happened. The resistance to conservative ideas, in many other states a failure, has held in the Northeast. But moderation in both parties has been the first casualty of the 21st century war of ideas.
On the left, moderate Democratic liberals have been routed by bushy-tailed progressives; on the right, moderate Republicans have been driven out of New England by a conservative resurgence that had not yet ebbed. The last of the moderate Republicans in New England, former U.S. Representative Chris Shays, this year is running for the U.S. Senate as moderate in conservative clothing.
For Mr. McEnroe, politics has suddenly become complex. Ordinarily, a leftist with a conscience would drift toward the Democratic nominee for congress in the 5th District Chris Donovan, Connecticut’s progressive LeonTrotsky. But alas, the shadow of the prison has fallen upon him, and Mr. McEnroe has spent too much of his career pillorying corrupt politicians – mostly Republicans– to support Donovan:
"I really should support Donovan, but I can’t. For about two decades I have trumpeted the ideals of clean government and clean elections. I have made a point of holding elected officials and candidates responsible for the actions of their subordinates. I considered Rell responsible for Lisa Moody and Rowland responsible for Peter Ellef. I hold Lisa Wilson-Foley responsible for whoever set up the deal with Rowland, even if that wasn’t her."
Here and there in Connecticut, one finds a lonely editorial voice crying out in an empty theatre that the vital center must be preserved, as one preserves in a museum the dusty artifacts of the past. Epicenters have become centers. And even these lonely voices are fierce partisans, mostly progressives – wolves, in the memorable phrase of Winston Churchill, dressed in wolves’ clothing.
Real comic possibilities would present themselves to a conservative comic writer in Connecticut – since virtually all the fish in the political pond are museum styled liberals or Eugene Debs like progressives. But it is pointless to expect a political conversion from Mr. McEnroe at this late date. He is too emotionally committed to waggery on the left.
Aristophanes, the comic writer who said he took comedy seriously, would have converted.