Who was that masked man? ‘Tis a question devoutly to be wished in our present age of “let it all hang out.” We nowadays know not only who he was, but what he wears, his sexual orientation, his capacity to do something about it, how much hangs out when it all hangs out and what he had for breakfast and with whom. Worse yet, we are told that we deserve all of this information and failure to reveal it all is a political death knell.
No matter how you feel about Al Gore’s political future, or Trent Lott’s, it may give you pause to consider the venues required for their final acts. The Al Gore who appeared on “Saturday Night Live” in a nude hot tub scene with a fantasy running mate Lieberman, who performed an outrageous satire on the current tribulations of Trent Lott, and who engaged in a reprise of his passionate convention clutch with a woman his own wife would be assumed to be bowing out of elective politics and entering show business. Right?
Whoa! CBS Correspondent Lesley Stahl, whose interview with Gore in which he took himself out of the race was already in the can and ready for “60 Minutes” the next night, says you have no right to think that. The Washington Post quotes Ms Stahl as saying “My whole sense of ‘SNL’ is that people would think he is running.
“‘SNL,'” she continues, “is one of the ritual stops now on the campaign. You do the late-night comics and SNL — it’s one of the Stations of the Cross.”
In other words, there is no limit to which one may go in the name of satire that will be a liability, but there are in fact minimums of self-revelation and parody one must meet in order to be eligible for public office, and the highest one in the nation, at that. Gore’s performance on SNL was not conditioned by what he’d already taped for CBS.
Trent Lott was on that same trail at the same time, searching desperately for a dog that would hunt, tree his reputation, and allow him to recapture it intact. His appearances on friendly talk shows by phone were having little effect, and his live “Passion of Pascagoula” press conference had not had the desired rehabilitative effect.
So he attempted to redeem himself on the Black Entertainment Network, submitting to an interview Monday night with correspondent Ed Gordon.
The half-hour was riddled with commercials for a Foreman Grill, Fajitas, Earthlink, Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls, the Fannie-Mae Foundation, J.C. Penney. It was somewhere right after a Stay-free Maxipad blurb that Lott declared his allegiance to affirmative action.This surprised interviewer Gordon as much as Al Gore’s disavowal of a 2004 Presidential bid surprised the “60 Minutes” audience the night before. But Lott stuck to his guns, muzzle-loaders though they were. BET rounded out the hour with interviews with African-Americans who tore the preceding Lott appearance to pieces. New York Democratic representative Gregory Meeks declaring the Black Caucus “will not stand for that kind of language” (referring to the Lott praise for the politics of Dixiecrats in 1948 that got him in trouble in the first place). Meeks cannot be presumed to speak for the BET, which has no problem with any kind of language.
But to the question: Is Stahl right? Does the road to the White House lead through Saturday Night Live, through self-abasement and self-parody? Would a re-incarnate Ike have to bend Mamie backwards on a national stage in order to qualify for the job of President of the United States? And Sen. Lott. Had C-Span not telecast the birthday party for Sen. Thurmond would Lott’s look backward have turned him into a pillar of political salt? It took several cycles for the media to catch on and hit the rewind button.
But wait a minute. Assuming the Stahl spin theory is correct, then Lott is being booked on the wrong shows. He belongs on Saturday Night Live, in full Klan Regalia, rubbing it in, whooping it up, setting fire to a… And say, could we get Ed Gordon for a parody interview? Lott in white sheets; Gordon in, oh hell, a knotted noose. (BET is canceling the Gordon show anyway, along with much of its news and discussion programming). It’s entertainment that sells.
Can we return to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when we knew only the essentials of our neighbor’s lives, the qualifications of mechanics to fix, politicians to lead, and comedians to make us laugh? And the difference was always there.