I'll get to First Lady Laura Bush's bawdy stand-up routine in a minute. But I want to highlight a related new book out about how young conservatives are shaking up the dominant liberal media culture. It's called "South Park Conservatives." My name is listed on the cover along with many other (mostly) right-leaning pundits, websites, and bloggers, but I must confess to having mixed feelings about the honor.
The best-selling book's author, Brian C. Anderson of the Manhattan Institute, writes a fun, breezy survey documenting the rise of talk radio, FOX News, the Internet, conservative publishing, and college Republican activism. Anderson's chapter on the success of conservative talk radio and the abysmal failure of liberal Air America to replicate it is incisive. Another chapter on the blogosphere (alone worth the price of the book) gives readers a useful history of the explosion of news, opinion, and political websites that have smashed the left-wing media monopoly.
But how did such a wide-ranging list of individuals and organizations -- Anderson's book cover includes the names of conservative-leaning Internet pioneer Matt Drudge and center-left journalist Mickey Kaus, the libertarian Tech Central Station, the culturally conservative WorldNetDaily, political upstart Arnold Schwarzenegger and political chameleon Andrew Sullivan, plus Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, and myself, along with a feature blurb from Jonah Goldberg -- all get lumped under the umbrella term "South Park Conservatives"?
Anderson argues that Comedy Central's cartoon series "South Park" embodies the "fiercely anti-liberal comedic spirit" of the "new media" from Kaus to Coulter. The cartoon, he writes, reflects a "post-liberal counterculture" that is "particularly appealing to the young, however much it might offend older conservatives."
Well, I'm 34 and no fan of "South Park." I have many good friends who are indeed huge boosters of the show, but I find that the characters' foul language overwhelms any entertainment I might otherwise derive from the show's occasional, right-leaning iconoclastic themes.
"South Park" may be "politically incorrect." But "politically incorrect" is not always a synonym for "conservative."
My discomfort with "South Park's" increasingly mainstream vulgarity is not a matter of nitpicking. We're not just talking about a stray curse word here or there. As liberal New York Times columnist Frank Rich points out, "South Park" "holds the record for the largest number of bleeped-out repetitions (162) of a single four-letter expletive in a single television half-hour." That's probably about the same number of profanities uttered at John Kerry's infamous New York City celebrity fundraiser last summer, which Republicans rightly condemned for its excessive obscenities.
Rich is wrong about most things, but he's painfully on target in noting the incongruous pandering now taking place by some in the cool-kids clique on the Right. Conservatives criticize Hollywood relentlessly, but as Rich notes, "the embarrassing reality is that they want to be hip, too."
Which brings me to Mrs. Bush. She demonstrated at the celebrity-studded White House Correspondents' Dinner this weekend that you can entertain without being profane. Most of her humor was just right: Edgy but not over the edge. But her off-color stripper and horse jokes crossed the line. Can you blame Howard Stern for feeling peeved and perplexed? And let's face it: If Teresa ("I'm cheeky!") Heinz Kerry had delivered Mrs. Bush's First Lady Gone Mildly Wild routine, social conservative pundits would be up in arms over her bad taste and lack of dignity.
The First Lady resorting to horse masturbation jokes is not much better than Whoopi Goldberg trafficking in dumb puns on the Bush family name. It was wholly unnecessary.
Self-censorship is a conservative value. In a brilliant commencement speech at Hillsdale College last year, Heritage Foundation president Ed Feulner called on his audience to resist the coarsened rhetoric of our time: "If we are to prevail as a free, self-governing people, we must first govern our tongues and our pens. Restoring civility to public discourse is not an option. It is a necessity."
Lighten up, you say? No thanks. I'd rather be a G-rated conservative who can only make my kids giggle than a "South Park"/"Desperate Housewives" conservative whose goal is getting Richard Gere and Jane Fonda to snicker. Giving the Hollyweird Left the last laugh is not my idea of success.