Colbert was wrong.
On Saturday, Stephen Colbert was a featured speaker at the White House correspondents' dinner. The monologue he delivered at the podium became the talk of the town, as it were. The mainstream news organizations refused to talk about it much, but it was all the rave in liberal blogs. Crooks and Liars, for example.
Yet, Colbert was wrong.
He was not wrong in what he said. In fact, I found little in what he said that I disagreed with. However, the context in which he said it was not appropriate.
The event in question is one in which reporters and the President himself gather for an enjoyable and entertaining evening. This was designed as a peace dinner in a relationship between the White House and a press that is generally hostile (until recently). It would not exist except under a banner of true.
Colbert violated that truce.
For an analogy, consider the Olympic Games. This is an event where people are supposed to come together in peaceful competition of the best athletes from each country. We can imagine two countries at war, both of which send competitors to the Olympics. We can also imagine that some of those competitors are members of the military of their respective countries.
Now, imagine that the members of one country's team attacks and kills members of the other team. Recall, these nations are at war. Back home, these individuals would be shooting at each other. Let's also stipulate that the attacking nation is in the right when it comes to the war back home. None of this mitigates against the fact that it is wrong -- it is completely inappropriate -- for any country to carry its conflicts into the Arena, and to launch an attack against the representatives on the other country.
It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the [event], like the Olympics, is a place where potential adversaries agree to put down at least their sharpest weapons and to get together in peace. Just as with the Olympics, it is good that people do this from time to time, particularly if it helps to promote the peace. As such, Colbert violated the rules of participation.
Colbert was wrong.
I do not know if he was intentionally wrong. He might have thought that his material was appropriate and discovered only later that it was not. Or, he might not have tried. Or, he might have felt that this was an excellent time to attack some people that he has wanted to attack to their face. I cannot say which description is the most accurate. Yet all of these options are consistent with his actions being wrong, They only diverge on the question of, "How wrong?"
Truth to Power
The Liberal blogsphere is using the term "truth to power" to praise Colbert for his actions. Ultimately, this supports my point. This phrase refers to the willingness of an individual to tell somebody in power what he or she does not want to hear.
The very use of the concept "truth to power" makes it plain that Colbert acted inappropriately for this setting. If this was a Presidential press conference, it would have been legitimate to attack Bush for his record. However, this was an event specifically designed with the intention that it NOT be a press conference, and to which the President could go without being made to feel uncomfortable.
If it is accurate to say that Colbert's presentation was an example of speaking truth to power, then it is accurate to say that Colbert's presentation was not appropriate for this particular venue.
More important, I suspect that most of the liberal blogs out there praising Colbert would recognize just how inappropriate it was if the situations were reversed -- if this turned into a rant from Dennis Miller, for example, against a Democratic President. Liberal bloggists from one end of the country to the other would point out how the event is supposed to be neutral ground, and this right-wing nut job violated the rules in order to score some cheep points.
(And, no doubt, right-wing bloggers would speak about the virtue of speaking truth to power -- demonstrating perfect hypocrisy in doing so, and doing so without a twinge of conscience, since partisans operate on the principle that one who is promoting the party can do no wrong.)
Indeed, there is evidence of this. In 1996, Don Imus made a similar type of attack on Clinton. Liberals condemned him for his rudeness. However, they do not call Colbert rude. Indeed, they praise him.
This is the typical partisan double standard. It is yet another example of the type of morality that governs those who are devoted to a party – that no act is wrong if the party benefits. “It’s only wrong if the other guy does it.”
It would be nice to have a party that one can point to as the party of principle. However, it does not seem to be realistic.
There is one context in which Colbert's skit would have been fitting. It could have been presented as an act of civil disobedience. There are things that needed to be said to the President whose lust for power is beyond the measure of any previous President, and a media that has sat aside and done nothing through all of his trangressions and usurpations. It would have been fitting for Colbert to have said, "I know that this is supposed to be a truce between the two factions, but there are things that my conscience requires of me."
If he had done this, then he could have broken the rules without condemnation. Like the sit-ins during the civil rights days, and Ghandi's civil disobedience, it is sometimes necessary to (non-violently) break the rules to accomplish important tasks. This could have been one of those instances. However, Colbert's act was not an act of civil disobedience. His violation has no such defense.