Youthful fans of Saturday Night Live may be forgiven for assuming, however mistakenly, that SNL invented satirical television comedy. The patent for this invention probably ought to go instead to other earlier contenders, Jack Paar, Sid Caesar, Imogene Coco or Steve Allen. While I love these past and present paragons of humor, I’ll never forget the laughs my Dad and I shared watching an earlier NBC show, a precursor to SNL, the short-lived political revue, That Was the Week That Was.
TW3, as it was known, an émigré from the BBC, hosted in the U.K. and the U.S. by David Frost, ran here only for two seasons, from 1964 to 1965 — but a hilarious two years they were. The format for the show was simple: Take the news of the past week and turn it into song-and-dance sketches reeking with ridicule, irony, satire and scorn. With ballads by piano-thumping political troubadour, Tom Lehrer, TW3 featured timeless classics like “National Brotherhood Week” (enjoy the audio here, and the lyrics here).
That Was the Week That Was came reverberatingly to mind with the news of the last seven days.
The week began with the airing of a surreptitiously recorded video of presidential candidate Mitt Romney wishing out loud to an audience of wealthy contributors that, if his dad, George, the late Michigan governor, had not been born in Mexico of an American mother and father but instead of “Mexican parents, I’d have a better shot at winning this. I mean, I say that jokingly, but it would be helpful to be Latino.” As the week proceeded, his campaign staff had to walk back Romney’s claim that he’d never met anti-immigrant lawyer and father of AZ’s SB1070, Kris Kobach (according to CNN, “Romney and Kobach have, in fact, met before at campaign events — but not in formal policy meetings”). The week ended with the resolution of a controversy stirred up by Stephen Colbert suggesting that the candidate had applied tanning spray before his appearance on Univision as a pander to its Latino viewers. The truth is that Romney’s Ricardo Montalban look, as Univision has confirmed, came at the heavy hand of the network’s make-up artist who daubed on too much “MAC Studio Fix powder and foundation.”
President Obama likewise had his turn on the Univision hot seat, admitting (duh!) that his biggest failure was failing to pass comprehensive immigration reform, and splitting hairs with the moderators over whether he had promised or not promised to do so (or merely try) in his first year in office or first term.
Another laughable moment came when the White House issued a statement and the State Department a video claiming how much easier than perceived it now is to visit America. Yes, they are right that more consular resources, enhanced customer service training and better queuing at ports of entry, among other measures, will improve the inbound traveler’s experience. But nothing will fundamentally create better first impressions until minimal standards of fairness are established for consular visa interviews and CBP interrogations. Yet another Administration official, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, surprised many with the risible observation that immigration hasn’t been much of “a linchpin, red hot issue” in the presidential campaign. Tell that to the 10 million Hispanic-Americans whose votes may be suppressed this year.
Congress too contributed to the week’s fatuous merriment with the “BRAIN-STEM” follies. Senator Schumer proposed a new BRAINS act which would allow a smart foreigner with family members to enter every time we deport an equivalent number of permanent residents. In the other chamber, House partisans bickered and failed to pass a green-cards-for-STEM-students bill that failed — as Bill Clinton might say — over “arithmetic.” Republicans wanted to eliminate 55,000 Diversity-Lottery visas to provide the immigrant-visa currency for the additional Science, Technology, Engineering and Math graduates from U.S. universities who would receive green cards, while the Democrats wanted to add, not subtract, green-card quota numbers for additional STEM graduates.
On the international front, an Italian court affirmed criminal convictions in absentia of 22 Americans (allegedly CIA operatives) by tossing a creamy tiramisu (a confection translated as “lift me up”) at a Bush-era immigration policy known as rendition — the act of removing (airlifting?) individuals from one country and forcibly immigrating them to another where they are likely to be tortured. In other judicial news, a federal judge in Arizona lifted an injunction on the surviving piece of SB1070, known as the “show me your papers” provision, which many fear will play out as a “driving or walking while Hispanic” basis for arrest and removal.
The week’s levity aside, some important and serious things happened as well:
- 600 city and county government agencies in Georgia reportedly face penalties for failing to comply with the state’s mandatory E-Verify enrollment law, an analogue to the Arizona statute upheld last term by the Supreme Court.
- Reports like this one, entitled “Time to reject false choices and fears about immigration: Basic freedom of movement across borders is fundamental to human dignity,” added to the body of work showing that economic prosperity and human rights can be married successfully by revising outdated immigration laws.
- The pejorative, “illegal immigrant,” continued to be lambasted by such courageous DREAMers as Jose Antonio Vargas and others as a grammatically and legally incorrect term meant to demean and demonize a population.
- Rinku Sen of Colorlines wrote a must-read piece entitled, “Immigrants Are Losing the Policy Fight. But That’s Beside the Point,” emphasizing the importance of real-world stories on immigrants and immigration as the best way to win over American hearts and minds.
- R. Blake Chisam issued a report through the National Foundation for American Policy, “DOL Threatens Personal and Commercial Privacy in Proposal Directed Against Skilled Foreign Nationals” — ironically, the very same H-1B workers entitled to DOL’s statutorily mandated labor protections.
- Both presidential candidates pledged, if elected, to fight for comprehensive immigration reform.
Thinking back to TW3, I am reminded that the polarization and class warfare we see today likewise existed in ’64 and ’65, as acerbic songster Tom Lehrer croons in his timeless ditty, “National Brotherhood Week”:
Oh, the poor folks hate the rich folks,
And the rich folks hate the poor folks.
All of my folks hate all of your folks,
It’s American as apple pie.