Sunday, July 18, 2010

Mark Williams’ satire for dummies

Mark Williams’ future as a fledgling American satirist is in jeopardy. His recent attempt at satire — a response to calls for rhetorical restraint from the Tea Party Express of which he was a spokesman — sidesteps a basic requirement of satire, even as it laid bare the deeper existential issues facing the movement he supports.

The National Tea Party Federation — the umbrella organization that includes the influential Tea Party Express — formally excommunicated Williams on Sunday over the blog post, a fictional letter from "Colored People" to President Lincoln that Williams wrote on his blog last week.

The post, since removed from Williams’ Web site, was a reaction to the recent broadsides fired by the NAACP at the Tea Party movement denouncing the racism of some of its supporters, and calling for denunciation of that racism by Tea Party leaders.

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Writing as "Precious Ben Jealous ... NAACP Head Colored Person," Williams wrote: "Mr. Lincoln, you were the greatest racist ever. We had a great gig. Three squares, room and board, all our decisions made by the massa in the house.

"We Coloreds have taken a vote and decided that we don't cotton to that whole emancipation thing. Freedom means having to work for real, think for ourselves, and take consequences along with the rewards. That is just far too much to ask of us Colored People and we demand that it stop!"

Williams kept it up, saying that black Americans don’t want taxes reduced: “[H]ow will we Colored People ever get a wide screen TV in every room if non-coloreds get to keep what they earn?”

The National Tea Party Federation (putting more distance between itself and Williams than that between the Federation and the wavers of blatantly racist signs at its rallies) issued a press release saying it ordered the Tea Party Express to remove Williams and to say so "prominently" online.

The Express refused, tacitly announcing its gravitas in the conservative ranks. The group reportedly raised more than $2 million this year, and played a role in electing Scott Brown of Massachusetts to fill Ted Kennedy’s vacant Senate seat last year.

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The federation, which claims to represent more than 1 million people in 85 Tea Party groups nationally, was not impressed, and jettisoned Williams publicly on Sunday.

"We in the last 24 hours have expelled Tea Party Express and Mark Williams from the National Tea Party Federation because of the letter that he wrote," federation spokesman David Webb said on CBS's "Face the Nation," calling the blog post “clearly offensive.”

Williams' response, effectively undercutting the role of the Federation, revealed a basic problem with the Tea Party: it’s a party without a leader, and by extension, without a vision.

"There are internal political dramas amongst the various self-anointed tea party 'leaders' and some of the minor players on the fringes see the Tea Party Express and Mark Williams as tickets to a booking on Face the Nation," he said.

There is no tea party leadership,” Williams observed in a rare moment of candor, “every tea partier is a tea party leader."

Those last eight words perfectly distill the biggest problem for this restless, mercurial offshoot of the Republican Party. When everyone’s a leader, there is no leader. Lapses in judgment and common sense like Williams’ couldn’t happen if that weren’t true.

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Williams, whose discourse has no doubt been honed and developed during his day job as a radio talk-show host in California, is at least an equal opportunity maligner. He previously called out President Obama as an "Indonesian Muslim turned welfare thug." More recently, Williams has condemned the proposed location of an Islamic community center and mosque two blocks from the site of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks. Williams called the proposed community center a monument to the 9/11 hijackers meant to “worship the terrorists' monkey-god.”

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who supports the center, was labeled a “Jewish Uncle Tom who would have turned rat on Anne Frank.”

At the end of the day, Williams’ sad jibes overlook something from Satire & Parody 101: effective satire has to reflect the underlying reality of a situation, circumstance or event before the satirist goes over-the-top with it. If there’s no foundational truth behind the satire, it doesn’t work.

Considering the lack of leadership within the broad descriptors of the Tea Party, Williams’ efforts at satire might be better used elsewhere. Maybe he’ll write a little something about the movement that would lead America without having a leader itself.

Then again, that’s not so much over-the-top satire or parody as it is the stone cold truth.

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