With her scorching comments at the White House Correspondents Dinner, comedienne Michelle Wolf has touched off a national debate about decency and civil debate in our political life, led by conservatives professing outrage at her harsh attacks on President Trump, Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, among others.
I say fine, let’s have that discussion. And let me begin by stipulating that the annual correspondents’ dinner has become an embarrassment to American journalism and ought to be ended, at least in its current form. I’ve been saying that for years, and the controversy over Wolf’s remarks this year only confirms that belief. The reservoirs of bipartisan good will, trust and restraint that once made such events possible and even entertaining dried up long ago, and it’s time we acknowledge that change and move on.
However, we should also note the incredible degree of hypocrisy required of conservatives to complain about the harsh remarks of a shock comedienne, while tolerating if not celebrating even worse behavior from the president himself. If anyone is bringing down our standards of political rhetoric, it’s not some obscure comic.
To cite just a few examples:
Trump has repeatedly and publicly called Megyn Kelly a bimbo. He once sent New York Times columnist Gail Collins a copy of her column, with her picture circled, calling her a liar and a dog with the face of a pig. He publicly attacked the appearance of Ted Cruz’s wife, and accused Cruz’s father of having helped to assassinate JFK. He attacked Cher for “bad plastic surgery.” He attacked Arianna Huffington as “extremely unattractive,” then defended doing so on the grounds that “she’s a dog who wrongfully comments on me.” He attacked Bette Midler’s “ugly face and body,” and continues to publicly attack a Democratic congresswoman as “a very low-IQ individual.” He has bragged about pouring red wine down the backs of women who had offended him.
We won’t even go into that whole “Access Hollywood” tape or his personal attacks on Hillary Clinton. Let’s just say that nothing that Wolf said in her comedy routine Saturday night was anywhere near as insulting and degrading as those and many other comments by Trump, our reality star turned president of the United States.
You may also recall that in a 2016 primary debate, Kelly confronted Trump about his history of attacking women on the basis of their looks. Merely by daring to ask the question, Kelly drew boos and hisses from the Republican crowd. And when Trump responded smugly that "I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct," the audience went wild with cheers and applause.
In short, it’s not that they like Trump despite that behavior -- it’s not something that they have to overlook as part of the overall Trump package. Quite the contrary. Much of his base finds his public cruelty appealing --they adore him because of it, not despite it. It not only thrills them, it gives them permission to say and do similar things in their own lives.
So please, spare me the sanctimony.