Satire, at its best, is an artful blend of subtlety and wit. But often it plunges into heavy-handed ways. Then it becomes insufferably witless.
Live from New York, we’ve seen satire suffer under the "Saturday Night Live Syndrome" of ham-fisted un-funniness. Now this: Live From Washington — it’s the Bush White House.
Unwatched and uncovered in these lame duck days, the Bush White House was just revealed to have performed a heavy-handed takeoff of an old "Saturday Night Live" skit. It’s the one featuring a petulant child who doesn’t want to hear anyone giving do-this, do-that orders — and childishly covers both ears while screeching, "I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you!"
On June 25, The New York Times’ Felicity Barringer unearthed a front-page-type scoop that wound up on page A15 (perhaps it was played way back because it left the Washington press corps about as red-faced as the policy-makers we cover, as it was about a story that happened in December and was missed by all until now.)
The next day, The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin followed the competition’s exclusive and added a few fun details. Piecing them together, here’s what we know happened:
In December, the federal Environmental Protection Agency responded to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling by drafting a rule setting limits on greenhouse-gas emissions and stating this was being done because the emissions constitute a threat to public welfare. (In April 2007, the Supreme Court had ruled that the Bush EPA violated the Clean Air Act by refusing to look into whether emissions contribute to global warming and should be limited.)
At 2:17 PM on Dec. 5, 2007, EPA Associate Deputy Administrator Jason Burnett sent it via email to the White House Office of Management and Budget. (Alas, the official on the receiving end remains so-far unidentified.)
At 2:25 PM, an unidentified White House person telephoned Burnett ordering him to hold off on sending what he had just sent. Then the White House official who is the decider on such things decided the email would not be opened. The unnamed White House or OMB person then ordered the EPA’s Burnett to un-send the EPA email. Burnett refused to call back his email, which after all contained the agency’s answer to the Supreme Court.
It has languished, unopened yet unrecalled, in what Barringer described as "email limbo" ever since.
Meanwhile, the Bush White House thinking on the crisis of the ozone has evolved, though it has moved at the speed of slow ooze even as President Bush promised action to protect against global warming. The White House is not yet up to many of the EPA’s own experts, who appear far closer to the broad and growing global consensus that greenhouse gas emissions are a clear and present threat.
Apparently the EPA’s leader, Administrator Stephen L. Johnson, is not where many of his staff experts are, either. Under his watch, the EPA’s sent-but-never-opened proposed rule has been significantly watered down so it could be made public this week, the Times and the Post reported.
"Over the past five days, the officials said, the White House successfully put pressure on the EPA to eliminate large sections of the original analysis that supported regulation, including a finding that tough regulation of motor vehicle emissions could produce $500 billion to $2 trillion in economic benefits over the next 32 years," reported the Times.
While the Bush deciders were careful to move at what they thought was a glacial pace, it turned out that the glaciers were moving much faster. Ice is disappearing at the North Pole at such a rapid rate that the polar ice cap could actually disappear — not in some distant year, but perhaps even by the end of this summer. That news from the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., made a big news splash around the planet, from The Independent in London to the China Post in Taipei. But it was just a blip in Washington.
Not to worry. Live on the EPA’s website, you can find a world of assurance, including EPA chief Johnson’s pledged "Action Plan." It says: "EPA will accelerate the pace of environmental protection by taking actions that produce environmental results and are accountable to the public, and by embracing the tools of innovation and collaboration — all the while, ensuring that the best available science remains at the center of our decision making."
It’s great to see that someone in Washington is still performing, live on the Internet, the subtle art of satire.
(Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at martin.schram(at)gmail.com.)