It's Dennis Miller Time for Bush

Following an afternoon appearance at President Bush's fundraising luncheon in Burlingame, California, and after hitching a ride on Air Force One to host the president's fundraising dinner in Los Angeles, Dennis Miller made his videotaped debut in his regular time slot on Fox News Channel's "Hannity & Colmes" program on Friday, June 27.

Like the luncheon diners who, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, paid $2,000 a plate for a "$23.95 lunch of grilled chicken on greens with shiitake and couscous salad, along with chocolate sponge cake, with no wine, no bar and not even iced tea," Miller's Fox viewers also got shortchanged.

I can't say for sure but I'm guessing that even Miller's most ardent fans and admirers were embarrassed by his lackluster performance on Fox. And, if I didn't know better, I would swear that co-host Sean Hannity, the hard-hitting know-it-all family, flag and apple pie guy from the far right, seemed a tad uncomfortable with what he had just heard. Heck, even L. Brent Bozell, over at the right-wing Media Research Center might have been embarrassed. (Well, maybe not Bozell.)

More on the Fox appearance in a moment.

Over the years I've occasionally watched "Dennis Miller Live" -- his regular series on HBO -- and seen bits and pieces of his one-man specials and appearances on the late night television talk show circuit. I've even seen him in a couple of truly forgettable roles on the big screen.

A few years back, when ABC announced that Miller would be the third man in the booth -- teaming up with play-by-play guy Al Michaels and color commentator Dan Fouts on the network's "Monday Night Football" -- I was amongst those who thought that that didn't seem like such a bad idea. After all, he just might bring something new and different to the broadcast: Mix a little of his so-called intellectual shtick, throw a nebulous historical reference in with some jock talk, and maybe he'd loosen up what had become a pretty drab football telecast. And better Miller than Rush Limbaugh, who was also being considered for the slot.

What a mistake the Miller experiment was. After only two seasons he was dropped faster than a bag of tofu burgers handed to a 350-pound defensive end at a fast food drive-in. Miller wasn't particularly sharp and there wasn't enough time for him to drop an obscure historical and cultural reference tying the Monroe Doctrine, Gulliver's encounter with the Lilliputians and Bronco Nagurski into his analysis of the action.

Miller's libertarianism has always irked me. The fact that he laughs at his own shtick appears appallingly self-serving. Don't get me wrong: Being a libertarian doesn't prohibit a comedian from being funny. Bill Maher has a libertarian bent and it hasn't marred his comedic sensibility. The late great Red Skelton often laughed at his own jokes but unlike Miller, Skelton's laughter seemed genuine.

After 9/11, Miller became an all-out supporter of the president's war on terrorism. Bush's war on terrorism: Miller's on board. Bush invasion of Iraq: Miller's on board. Bash the French: Miller's on board. Miller is, as he pointed out at the Burlingame fundraising luncheon -- in a bit of an overstatement --"a Rat Pack of one for the president in Hollywood."

Contrary to the popularly held wisdom, Miller is an intellectual lightweight masquerading as a modern day cross between Thucydides and Mort Sahl on steroids: A friend of mine says that Miller has the knack of being a "commercially intelligent middle-brow."

The Fox platform

The Fox News Channel recently signed Miller to offer up fresh, biting and conservative commentary on the "Hannity & Colmes" program each week. His first outing was neither fresh nor funny. His material sounded as if it had been borrowed from Rush Limbaugh. After bashing Mexican immigrants, Sen. Robert Byrd, and Sen. Hillary Clinton, Miller closed with this jarring advice:

"The next time we go to war, don't give a specific reason for the war that the left can seize upon and later flog us with it ad nauseam, just do it. Remember, the first rule of Fight Club is that you don't talk about Fight Club."

According to Reuters, at Bush's L.A. fundraiser, Miller criticized Howard Dean because of his opposition to the invasion of Iraq. He said that Dean, one of a large field of Democratic candidates for his party's presidential nomination, was comparable to Neville Chamberlain -- the British prime minister "who followed a policy of appeasement of Nazi Germany in the years before World War II."

In the summer of 1995, Brent Bozell's Media Research Center "named Miller's show the third worst program on TV," Duncan Currie wrote in a recent piece at the National Review Online Web site. In this case, Curie explained, "'worst' mean[s] most liberal, or most biased against conservatives and conservative ideas." And in November 1996, a columnist for the Rocky Mountain News wrote, "The meat of his [Miller's] humor comes almost exclusively off the bones of Republicans and conservatives."

Miller has come a long way since then. An early-April appearance on the "Tonight Show" with Jay Leno was characterized by the right-wing Media Research Center's CyberAlert as "Another round of pro-American patriotism, pro-President Bush and anti-liberal jibes, jests, zingers and slams from actor/comedian Dennis Miller."

A few Millerisms:

The war: "I cannot tell you how proud watching that war coverage makes me. I know a lot of people are saying that they think that it's, that you know what we're doing is imperialistic. I watch the way we handle ourselves over there and I've never felt more patriotic in my life."

Anti-war protesters: "I'll say this about the war protesters: At least most of them are only putting duct tape across their mouths so I can still tell the rest of them to blow it out their ass."

Michael Moore: "He's going to wake up every day for the rest of his life, and he's going to tell us how he hates everything about this country except his right to hate it. And then we say that we love it and he's going to tell us what naive sheep we are and that he's the true patriot because he hates it and he sees all the problems in it. Yeah, right, Mike. You know something, if my yawn got any bigger they'd have to assign it a hurricane name, okay?

"Michael Moore simultaneously represents everything I detest in a human being and everything I feel obligated to defend in an American. Quite simply, it is that stupid moron's right to be that utterly, completely wrong."

On justification for the war: "It is stupid for anybody in the world to say they're for war. But I am for this war because, you know, we've got to protect ourselves now. And we've got to remind the world that there is a point that we will not be pushed past before the [bleep] hammer comes down. Now, the simple fact is, do I think Saddam Hussein can bury the nuclear jumper from the top of the key? No, I don't. He's a putz. But I do think he can distribute the ball going down the lane and I think we've got to smack him around. It's time to circle the SUVs!

"The simple fact is, you've got to view this war like we've been on a long family car ride. Bush is the father and he's been screaming [gestures with arm as if a driver scolding kids in back seat] 'don't make me come back there!' for around 200 miles now and it just reached the point where we had to pull the car over and the bad kid is going to get the spanking of his life."

Miller's campaign appearances for Bush in California earned him a ride aboard Air Force One and a jaunt in the president's limousine. Historically, many comedians have aimed their political and social commentary at the establishment. These days, instead of taking on the rich and powerful, Dennis Miller prefers hanging out with them. It's Miller time for Bush, and it's Bush time for Miller in Hollywood.

Bill Berkowitz is a WorkingForChange columnist.

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